This is post #13 of a 26-session blog series entitled Two Joyful Pastors – One Great Work of Christ: A Journey with Paul, Timothy, and the Philippian Church. It was Eugene Peterson who said that Philippians is Paul’s happiest letter. Join us as we explore this joyful work of Christ as it manifest itself amongst Paul and Timothy, and the early church of Christ-followers in Philippi. Just maybe, we might learn a few secrets to finding true joy in the midst of our lives as well. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
Today’s Lectio Divina: But for right now, I’m dispatching Epaphroditus, my good friend and companion in my work. You sent him to help me out; now I’m sending him to help you out. He has been wanting in the worst way to get back with you. Especially since recovering from the illness you heard about, he’s been wanting to get back and reassure you that he is just fine. He nearly died, as you know, but God had mercy on him. And not only on him—he had mercy on me, too. His death would have been one huge grief piled on top of all the others. So you can see why I’m so delighted to send him on to you. When you see him again, hale and hearty, how you’ll rejoice and how relieved I’ll be. Give him a grand welcome, a joyful embrace! People like him deserve the best you can give. Remember the ministry to me that you started but weren’t able to complete? Well, in the process of finishing up that work, he put his life on the line and nearly died doing it. Philippians 2: 25-30 (MsgB)
Sadly, some folks read the New Testament, delving into the history of its writings, and conclude that Paul was the true super-star of the first century church. I remember one pastor once told me, “Marty, it seems we spend more time talking about Paul and his letters than we do Jesus and His Gospel message!”
In truth, Paul did write a good portion of what we, today, call the New Testament. Most scholars accredit to him thirteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books.
Here’s the complete list:
Galatians (AD 47)
1 and 2 Thessalonians (AD 49—51)
1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans (AD 52—56)
Ephesians, Philemon, Colossians, and Philippians (AD 60—62, during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment)
1 Timothy and Titus (AD 62)
2 Timothy (AD 63—64, during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment)
Yet, despite these impressive statistics, it’s very important to point out two things when we talk about Paul and his level of influence in the early church.
We must remember that Paul never perceived himself as being the author of nearly half of the New Testament! As a matter of fact, I believe if Paul had known that his writings were going to be used as core teachings within world-wide Christianity for two thousand years, I’m guessing he would have suffered, like most of us would, a huge attack of writer’s block!
I mean, just think of it.
What if God appeared to you or me in a dream, asking us to write some very important documents…and, oh…by the way, these documents must contain all the key truths that will help keep the Church of Jesus Christ on track for the next two thousand years! No pressure, Marty, but we need these writings done ASAP. And remember…no mistakes, because this stuff will be called the Holy Word of God!
You see, if Paul had known that this was the reason he was confined in jail, so much of his confusing imprisonment might have made more sense. But, here’s the reality of what actually happened.
Paul, who was called, along with many others, traveled into the Gentile world, spreading the Message of Jesus. As he and his friends went, sharing Christ along the way, the Holy Spirit drew countless numbers of Jews and Gentiles, women and men, rich and poor to the Good News message of Jesus. As a result, small communities of faith (New Testament Greek uses the word, ekklesia) came together for the explicit purpose of providing on-going support for each other in a very hostile world.
As is common when new ideas clash with old, there was strong pushback from the establishment, with both the Roman government and religious traditionalists threatening to put a stop to all Paul and his friends were doing. We know that there were at least two times, when Paul was thrown into a Roman jail for extended times, keeping him, and his friends, from accomplishing the work they felt compelled by God to do.
It’s from this place of unexplained and inconvenient confinement, that Paul, many times, I’m sure, out of resignation, decided that writing letters was his only option to stay in contact with his dear comrades across the region he had once traveled.
Which brings us now to point #2…
As we find from reading Paul’s letters, he often calls out his many friends who are part-n-parcel of the ministry team Jesus has called together.
You see, I believe it’s a huge mistake to think of Paul as some high and mighty leader who was the top dog of an expansive ministry team.
In truth, as we see in today’s Lectio Divina, Paul saw the men and women he mentions in his letters as co-workers, comrades who, together under the leadership of Jesus, were doing their best, under sometimes very death-defying conditions, to serve Jesus and His church in whatever way they can.
Epaphroditus, the co-worker mentioned here in today’s text, is a good example of those women and men who gave their lives for the greater purposes of God.
No, “look-at-me” attitude. No “do-it-cause-I-say-so” mentality. But simply a comradery of brothers and sisters, of which Paul was just one. A ministry team working together as best they could to accomplish the assignment Jesus had given them; bringing the Good News to the nations.
Not a bad set of marching orders for all of us today in a world where celebrity and stardom seem to be beckoning to us at every turn along the way.
Today’s Prayer: Jesus, thank You that You never portrayed Yourself as a super-star, and from what we read throughout the New Testament, neither did Paul, Peter, John, or the countless others who choose to give their lives for the greater purposes of God. Thank You, Holy Spirit, that You are no respecter of persons and that You work through any and all of us, as we simply open ourselves up to being used. For Your Name’s sake and for Your Glory. Amen.
Today’s Questions to Ponder: So, what might change in my approach to ministry, if I re-evaluated the New Testament writings, seeing only humble servants of the Living Christ versus super-saints who gain the attention of others? What might it look like for me to humbly join with others, like Epaphroditus, working for the greater glory of God instead of trying to make a big name for myself?
So, how are you experiencing Jesus as we ponder together on this journey into the Book of Philippians?
Two Joyful Pastors – One Great Work of Christ: A Journey with Paul, Timothy, and the Philippian Church. We hope you’ll enjoy this series of 26 blogs. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
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