Letter of encouragement to the church plant in Philippi. if you’re off on holiday to Northern Greece you can see the city’s extensive ancient ruins. At the time of Paul’s writing of this letter from prison in Rome (1:7), Philippi was a bustling, strategic, cosmopolitan centre - the fledgling church was a very diverse but tiny minority. Pressure from an unbelieveing society was causing a little bit of discouragement and disagreement within. They needed encouragement. The church always needs encouragement.
And here in 2:19-30. Paul updates the Philippians on some plans he has to send a couple of his co-workers to them to encourage them and bring them news and teach them. But what this little section does is it gives us a lovely insight into two of Paul’s friendships. The Apostle Paul often gets bad press. He is seen, wrongly, as overly intellectutal and dry, sometimes harsh and judgemental. But little insights, like these into the real Paul correct that wrong impression showing us a warm, vibrant, deeply loving man. A great friend who made great friendships.
That’s something that we don’t always find easy to do. Sometimes we can have many ‘friends’ but only the beginnings of friendships. So, We’re given a vision here, i believe, for something that God wants to enable for us. Friendship
The two friends of Paul who we meet here are Timothy and Epaphroditus
Timothy is well known in the NT. He was one of Paul’s closest co-workers. Two of the letters in the NT are addressed to him! Many of the letters of Paul were co authored by Timothy. Timothy was from Lystra a market town in the Roman province of Lycaonia in south central modern-day Turkey. His mum and grandmother were Jewish, his Dad was Greek and he was raised as a Greek even though his mum and granny, we’re told, instructed him in the Jewish faith. Tim had become a Christian through Paul and they had become very close friends. Paul recognised Timothy’s gifts and brought him onto his church planting team. Paul was older than Timothy and he describes their friendship doesn’t he v22 as being like that of a father and a son.
Epaphroditus is the other friend here. They must have shortened his name surely? Paph; Ep; Ditus? I”d definitely have called him Paph so let’s stick with that.
We don’t know so much about Paph. He doesn’t feature in the rest of the NT. He was from Philippi, part of the church there and was sent to Paul in prison in Rome with stuff to care for Paul’s needs. Cash basically. But Paul clearly used Paph on his team too. in 2:25, he calls him "my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier.”
It seems he got seriously ill when he was with Paul and nearly died. We’ll come back to that.
So this little section speaks to us about friendship. That’s our theme. 3 things
The importance of friendship
The heart of friendship
The power for friendship
The importance of friendship
Friendship is at the heart of Christianity;
Friendship is at the heart of what it means to be human.
Friendship is so important..
Genesis 1 and 2 God creates the world, animals, people. There’s this cadence; repeated refrain, “It was good, It was good, It was good. And then you get to chapter 2:18 and suddenly the cadence is broken. “It is not good…” Something in paradise is not good?
And we’re told what it is..
It is not good… for man to be alone …
In paradise man had all things, a perfect relationship with God and yet this was not enough. it was not all food, there was an absence, a further need. the need for deep loving human relationships.
Now the solution to loneliness in Genesis is a marriage. But human friendship which is also vital in marriage is the bigger solution. Jesus, himself never married but he chose disciples - friends to be with him. 3 of the 12 became particularly close friends. And Jesus had a best friend - John. Jesus demonstates that marriage is not the heart of the solution to aloneness friendship is. Interestingly there will be no marriage in the New Creation - marriage is a temporary sign. But there will be the continued development of friendship eternally.. including friendship between people who were married!
So in eden God answers human aloneness with friendship. But there’s a question.
Was there then a flaw in paradise,
could we eveb say was there a flaw (heaven forbid) in God (!)
if humanity is needy in this way?
Not at all.
God was always going to make lots of human beings.
always going to create friendship..
Always going to create this human need for the other.
Because …. this human need comes from our being made in the image of God who is in himself a community of friendship.
when God makes human beings for the first time Ge 1v28 he makes this strange declaration.
God says ‘Let us make man in our own image.”
Let us? Our Image? What is this?
It’s an early indication.. that the rest of the Bible backs up and reveals …That God himself is not alone. A Monad. He is not a lonely God. He is.., Triune. Three in One. Three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit = One God. God is a Tri-unity. God is Trinity. And therefore God is relational, God is loving IN HIMSELF. Which means that Friendship is part of the very essence of God. Friendship is at the heart of the universe. The eternal friendship of the divine persons , loving one another, taking joy in one another, serving one another, Laughing with one another.
If human beings are made in the image of God then it is never as we are alone that we bear his image. It is as we love, take joy in, serve others that we reflect the image of Our creator. Friendship is fundamental to who we are.
So here’s a warning and a comfort.
Warning. This is Dalston
In a transient place where people are busily pursuing their thing - their art ,their business, their career, family. Friendships … can get trampled on, can get neglected.
Romantic intimacy. Sex, Marriage gets elevated. Friendship which is eternally gets forrgotten And friendships can become something you use to get on… contacts and networks. intimacy can be lost.
Here’s the warning. You could gain everything. You could build your own garden of eden. But even if you had paradise it won’t be enough without friends. It is not good to be alone.
You cannot escape your design.
Never sacrifice relationships for status, achievement, wealth. That’s the warning.
Now the Comfort.
If you are someone who feels lonely, needy, weak, dependent, you feel you need friends. If you’re like that… It’s because you’re like God. It’s not a sign of weakness, not a sign of your imperfection but of your perfection. If you’re self sufficient you don’t need others - you’re not like God.
This is your design.
The importance of friendship
2. The heart of friendship
3 things we see here that make friendship
look at what Paul says about Tim and Paph and their gift of friendship
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
Tim takes genuine interest in others, he doesn’t look out for his own interests.. and that leads to commitment, loyalty and active service. Committed love
Paph is similar in this selfless attitude..
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.
Don’t you love that? He was ill… he almost died. And what distressed him most was not that he was dying but that others were worried and distressed about him!!
Covenant friendship. Constant, loyal, Committed to the other
Sometimes our hearts stop us from entering into these kinds of friendships. This kind of closeness. We’ve been hurt and our hearts are closed. We struggle to receive love and to trust and if that’s the case. Expect God to pursue to heal your heart and your relationships with him, with others. Because he is determined to restore his image in your true humanity to you.
And sometimes our modern culture stands in the way of these kinds of relationships.
Throughout history in all cultures. You’ve had consumer relationships - the marketplace, business, give and take. And you’ve had covenantal relationships or commitment - marriage, the family, the church, the local community.
But every commentator you read agrees that something has happened in western culture in the last 50 years and that is that the model of the marketplace, consumer relationships has spread out… and has become the basis for conducting all relationships.
marriage relationships, religious relationships, civic relationships, friendship relationships..
They’re all done now on a market basis. All done on a cost benefit analysis. If I’m getting my needs met I’m happy to stay in the relationship. If I’m not.. I want to get out of the relationship (actually or psychologically).
This is our culture. Don’t you feel it?
The idolization of the self. the exaltation of My rights, My happiness means relationships are Consumer items. And so we know more people than ever before. linked in with networks and contacts, hundreds of facebook buddies, and the invitation of internet relations with virtual strangers. all feeding our ego.
The problem is of course … that consumer relationships are not really relationships at all. Not friends.
And while we are all being transformed into the image of our culture we are emptier than ever. We long for friends, for constancy. It’s what we’re designed for. We need friends. real friends.
Covenant friendship stands in stark contrast to the values of our present culture.
Yet we desperately need it.
How can we become covenant friends?
Let’s just look at the other 2 things at the heart of friendship and we’ll get to that - the power for friendship..
We’ve seen that at the heart of friendship is covenant love
but also common passion
you know the literal original meaning of the word - sympathy.. is not care or temderness as we use it - but common passion - sim - patico.. similar pathos - common passion. CS Lewis - 4 loves says the essence of friendship is the exclamation ‘you too?!’ It might be a shared love of industrial techno, a shared concern for a cause. Common passion is the essence, the heartbeat of a friendship. ‘We picture lovers face to face” says Lewis, “But Friends.. side by side: Their eyes look ahead.”
And of course there is no greater sympathy, common passion than a love for God and a longing for his honour.
See this with Paul and Timothy and Paph and the Philippian Christians..
22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
25 …Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.
Find ways to serve Jesus alongside one another and friendship will deepen..
This is where Paph gets the spotlight
brother…. co-worker and fellow soldier..
27 … he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
You know Paph’s long name suggests that his parents devoted him to the service of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and also the patron of gambling. Plutarch tells us that the highest cast of the dice is called ‘Epaphroditus’. His name may mean ‘one blessed with gambling luck.’
Well Paph certainly had brought the reckless courage of a gambler to the only person who is worth staking your life on - Jesus christ. The expression used in v30 could be literally translated ‘He gambled his life’. He almost died for the work of Christ.. Courageous endeavour
Friendship involves this
How can you and I be a friend like this?
Covenant love.. Common Passion.. Courageous endeavour
Friendship is so important - what we were made for. But it’s difficult …costly.. because it’s worth so much.
how do you become that kind of a friend?
What’s the power for friendship?
Here’s the thing.
You can only become that kind of friend if you are befriended with that kind of friendship by the greatest friend of all.
If you are loved with a constancy and commitment and costliness by one who comes alongside..
As you encounter that love, experience that friendship .. it fills you up with everything you need to not have to go out consuming from others .. you’re full, you’re freed up to love and serve others..
where do you receive that kind of friendship? where did Timothy and Paph get it?
Well you don’t have to look very far..
Timothy looked to the interests of others before his own, Paph did the same - covenant love..
But we’ve already heard that expression earlier in the passage..
Timothy and Paph stood alongside Paul in the work of the gospel - common passion
But we read ealrlier about a friend who came to stand alongside all humanity who took our burdens as his own
Timothy and Paph almost died for the sake of others
But we read earlier of a friend who did die for us
Jesus Christ is many things: Glorious Creator, Awesome Lord but he is also your friend.
A friend who sticks closer than a brother. The best friend you could ever have.
Jesus says to his disciples i no longer call you servants. because servants don’t know their master’s business. You are my friends says Jesus.. And greater love has no man than this than he lay down his life for his friends.
This week - silent retreat - meditating on the Bible, spending time with Jesus and it’s his friendship that struck me afresh. i was helped by some medieval art depicting Jesus as the friend alongside us. I don’t know what you think about depictions of God in art - of course there are dangers - but these images helped me. (look at them afterwards). 2 of them are stone carvings from Chartres cathedral depicting God creating Adam, the third is an icon of a French Abbot with Jesus standing next to him. In each image, Jesus has his hands on the shoulder of his friend and they look outwards together. Except in the icon the Abbot is looking out but with the eye closest to Jesus he’s just having a half glance - he cannot not. He looks to his friend..
And that’s what we need to do. Jesus is always alongside us. By his Spirit. His hand on your shoulder. You look out together. He’s not going anywhere. He loves you so much. He delights in you. Rest in his presence, hear his words. Pray and listen to his voice. And filled with his love - go and make friends..