Serving God Outside Your Comfort Zone
Text: Philippians 2:25-27
The central concept of this chapter flows from v3-4. It is the concept of real humility that puts the needs of others before our own. That esteems the needs of others higher than our own rights. It is putting duty before privilege.
And we’re coming today to the fourth example of that, after Christ, Paul, Timothy, we’re now coming to Epaphroditus. All great instruments in the hand of God are marked by humility.
He is not mentioned in any other book, just Philippians. However, he is is an important character because of the language Paul uses concerning him. If Paul held him in high esteem and wanted those at Philippi to hold him in high esteem, then what was it about him that deserved such recognition?
Thankfully, Paul is not silent on some of the particulars. It seems that he was from the church at Philippi and was likely a spiritual leader if not a pastor to the people there, and he had been given the responsibly to take a gift from the church to Paul in Rome. A long, treacherous journey of some 800 miles. However, while he made it to Rome he fell sick. Very sick. In fact, Paul says he was near death. And somehow the church at Philippi find out. Perhaps he had a companion who made the journey with him and returned to get the church to pray for him.
But God preserves his life, not by instant apostolic healing, but in divine mercy. After he recovers, Paul writes this letter and sends it back to the church at Philippi by the hand of Epaphroditus to thank them for their gift, update them on his condition, and to instruct them in their struggles.
Now there’s an important observation that needs to be noted here. Paul stresses that the church should receive Epaphroditus back among them. Why would he do that if he was one of them? Wouldn’t it be natural for them to receive him? So why write this?
In all likelihood it is because they expected him to stay in Rome until more was known about Paul’s future and they may have thought he didn’t fulfill the initial commission by returning early. But Paul tells them that he is returning because I told him to go back. v25 – blame me for his return, not Epaphroditus.
What we have in Epaphroditus is a man willing to serve God outside his comfort zone. And that’s what true servanthood requires. Servanthood requires you to step out of your comfort zone to step into God’s will.
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCH A PERSON v25
Imagine the apostle Paul said this about you. It’s almost like he is overstating his character. Perhaps he wasn’t esteemed as highly as he ought to have been in some quarters in the church. Well, Paul is in a mission to correct their faulty view of this man of God.
“my brother” – Paul recognizes him as a genuine brother and follower of Christ. This is the most important thing we can say about someone. I wonder can that be said of you? Could I greet you as a brother or sister in Christ? This is a term of affection and relationship; 1:12,14, 2:25; 3:1,13,17; 4:1,8. This is a warm term of affection. The first minister of this church would use the term often, Rev. Whiteside.
“companion in labour” – everyone in a family has responsibilities in that family. They have service that they can do, and by which the family benefits when they give their time to that labour. Mothers being mothers, fathers being fathers, and kids doing chores. We should work for our families. And the same goes for the household of faith. We are saved to serve. And it’s not a matter of you doing your work over there detached from my work. We are to be companions in labour, standing shoulder to shoulder for the same cause.
“fellowsoldier” – labour for Christ will inevitably bring battles for Christ. Spiritual warfare is a reality for Christians. Now if your Christian life is one of swinging in a hammock in bright summer’s day, enjoying the sweet smell of wild roses while reading your favourite novel, then you’ll know little of Christian warfare. But if you’re pressing the battle to the enemy. If your prayer life is a wrestling to subdue your sin and sob for souls, then you’re going to feel like you’re in a battlefield.
And let me say to you beloved, if you aren’t praying with purpose you won’t serve with purpose. Some of you can’t win the battle over your weekday evenings to get here on a Tuesday to pray with us.
“your messenger” – i.e. a sent one, delegate. It is the greek word for apostle. So was he an apostle, is that what Paul is saying? There are two ways the word is used in the NT.
The first is with reference to the twelve and Paul, a unique office with unique authority given by Christ (Eph 2:20). The second is that of a status given, not by Christ, but by the church. “Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ.” 2 Cor 8:23. Epaphroditus was an apostle who received his commission from the church at Philippi. He had been entrusted with the task of getting a significant financial gift to Paul (4:16-18).
“ministered to my wants” – he was a servant of the servant. A bit like Timothy who had given his life to serve God under the authority of Paul. The word here is where we get the word liturgy from. It’s not used much in the greek NT, but in the Septuagint it is used almost exclusively with regard to the Levitical priesthood. So Paul is showing the devoted service of Epaphroditus.
II. THE CONCERNS OF SUCH A PERSON v26
“he longed after you all” – 1:8. He is not just a conscientious worker, he feels for the people of God. And his concern for them is seen in how he didn’t want them to be worried about him during his sickness. He is staring death in the face and he’s still thinking in line with 2:3-4.
“full of heaviness” – i.e. great distress and anguish caused by him learning that they knew about how unwell he was. To understand the graphic nature of this word it will help you to know that this word is only found in two other places in the NT, and both of them are in the record of the Saviour’s experience in Gethsemane when both Matthew 26 and Mark 14 record that he was “very heavy”. It’s the same word. That distress almost brought Christ to death, and combined with his sickness Epaphroditus was also nearly brought to death by this.
And yet, it was the distress of his sickness, it was the distress of bearing some sense of responsibility for the church at Philippi. He doesn’t want them to worry about him. “sick” – i.e. powerless, without strength. Have you ever been like that, where you can literally do nothing? I’m not talking about a bit of sickness where you’re better to rest, but if you had to you could get up. I’m talking about literally unable to move. I’ve had this maybe twice in my life. Once was a case of glandular fever which zapped literally all my energy when I was 17. The other time was when I got food poisoning on our honeymoon. That was rough. There was a period I actually thought I was going to die! I was semi-conscious and remember little for a period of 24 hours.
But his worry isn’t himself, it’s those at Philippi. While I’m not advocate for everything about C.S. Lewis, he was right when he said; “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
III. THE CONDITION OF SUCH A PERSON v27
No doubt this was brought on by his travels and the mission given him. He was giving until he had no more to give. You may have heard the expression, “It is better to burn out than to rust out!” by Welsh evangelist, Christmas Evans. An ex-pastor said to me at a stage where his own ministry was but a short time from a premature end, “either way you’re out”. To burn out is merely the lesser of two evils. No man should labour to burn himself out before his time.
I have made an observation in Christian history, and it seems that the men who burned with the most energy and needed less rest were moving evangelists and moving missionaries. Not resident pastors. There is a daily grind with a lack of variety about the ministry that can get to people. Men who move around a lot face different challenges, but the variety prevents the grind. Any of you that have had more than one job in your life will know that. Putting in 60-70 hours in one job is much tougher than doing the same hours in two different jobs.
I say all this to encourage you that in your prayers for me you would remember to prayer that God would give me extraordinary strength. While I feel fine, I am conscious that the failure rate of pastors is ridiculously high. The percentage that either burn out or feel they have to move on after a few years is startling.
Epaphroditus didn’t do anything foolish. He did what he was called to do, and God providentially called him to sickness, and graciously brought him through it.
“but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” – This mercy of God to spare his life, did not merely do good for Epaphroditus, his family, and the church at Philippi, but also for Paul. Paul had deep affection for other labourers, especially men that step out of their comfort zone to step into God’s will.
Close – This passage does not call us to burn ourselves out, but it does call us to get out of our comfort zone. That’s what Epaphroditus did, that’s what Timothy and Paul were willing to do, and it’s ultimately what the Saviour did.
How many times do we make decisions around how little we can give of ourselves?
You’ll never know real Christian joy until you make real Christian progress. And the only way to make real Christian progress is to get out of your comfort zone. For some of you that might be praying on your knees instead of in your car on the way to work. For some it might be praying for 15 minutes instead of 5. For some it might lifting the having a coffee with an unsaved friend and looking for a way to invite them to church. For some of you that’s saying, Tuesday evening is the Lord’s.
For many of you, God is not asking you to make a treacherous journey, but stretch yourself a little, believer. Last Tuesday we considered the life of Robert Murray McCheyne. He spent 12 years as a Christian, 7 years as a minister, and yet nearly two centuries later people still talk about him. Why? Every day he stepped out of his comfort zone to step into God’s will.