“Preparing To Receive Others in the Lord”
How people are accepted reveals the receivers heart.
Encourage Others through Service
Sacrifice All for Christ
Provide for the Work of God
Encourage Others through Service
Philippians 2:25-26, NKJV
Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.
Apostle Paul has informed the believers in Philippi that he was sending Timothy to them as his personal representative in the verses preceding what we will study today. Timothy was like-minded with Paul as he served alongside the apostle with great integrity. Timothy was going to evaluate how God was moving among the Philippian believers and report back to Apostle Paul. Yet, Paul thought it necessary to send Epaphroditus as well.
Paul identifies Epaphroditus in connection with himself using three specific terms: brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier. Paul calls Epaphroditus his brother expressing that he was of the same beliefs, the same focus, goals, and priorities in ministry and life. Paul establishes this connection with him so the Philippian believers do not see him in the same light as Timothy. Timothy was more of an official visitor rather than one who came from Philippi as a native born resident who represented the Philippians in Paul’s ministry. The apostle’s identifying Epaphroditus was showing appreciation for all the Philippian believers and expressing his love and concern for them.
Paul uses the term fellow worker to express to the Philippian believers of the great help and work Epaphroditus brought to the ministry and mission of spreading the Gospel message. In this sense, Paul is proclaiming that all the believers at Philippi were being represented by their representative and shared in the success of what Christ was doing through Paul and those with him.
There is a great deal of emphasis that Apostle Paul is placing on Epaphroditus in his letter to the Philippians to express how he had been received by Paul in the love of Christ. Paul never claimed to be able to do all the ministry he did simply by his own strength and Christ living in him. There needs to be an understanding of how Paul shared ministry responsibilities with others and delegated authority in humble obedience to the model Christ established in bringing the twelve alongside Him during His earthly ministry. Paul was training those who worked alongside him so that they could continue to minister when his work upon this earth was completed. This is the model that Christ had set for His disciples and all who would come after them.
Paul also identifies Epaphroditus as a fellow soldier to express the kind of sacrifice Epaphroditus was prepared to make in ministering with Paul. This is especially important since Epaphroditus contracted some type of illness while he was with Paul that nearly caused his death. A soldier on the battle field is all too conscious that returning home to family and friends in not a guarantee, but against the odds so to speak. There was persecution that the early Christians faced as many still do in much of the world. Witnessing to the truth about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s One and only Son, will bring death depending upon what part of the world you are sharing the Gospel.
Epaphroditus was the Philippian messenger to Paul in his time of need in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. When the Philippians heard of his illness they were certainly worried about Epaphroditus’ health. The people would receive Timothy and Epaphroditus with love and rejoicing because they were all fellow brothers and sisters, fellow workers in spreading the Gospel, and fellow soldiers on the spiritual battle front wherever Christ was preached.
The Philippian believers would receive encouragement from Paul through Timothy and Epaphroditus in the same way he received encouragement from them when Epaphroditus came to him. Paul and the believers received one another with joy regardless of whether the visit was formal or personal in nature. The excitement and joy that is present when like-minded people come together is much different than the tension that exists between those who hold opposing beliefs. There is a special joy that ought to be evident between believers regardless if they just met or have known one another for decades. This is due to the common joy in the Lord they share.
Children of God also give testimony immediately to everyone they come into contact with by the welcome they give to strangers. This is because they recognize this person is created by God for a relationship with Him through faith in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives. Each stranger is either someone who is a fellow brother or sister in the Lord or someone who is in need of knowing Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. There is an excitement that is evident in both possibilities which sets God’s children apart from the cautious and guarded response to strangers that people of this world receive others with over time until they get acquainted with the new person.
It could be said that Jesus never met anyone He did not know since He is God and created everyone. Yet, He modeled how to respond to new people that come into a person’s life by treating them with respect, whether they meant Him harm, just wanted something from Him, or sought to understand what He was all about. Jesus would initiate conversation with those who were suffering as in the case of the widow who was going out to bury her son recorded in Luke 7:11-16. Christ also received those who were demon possessed seeking to escape His presence which is recorded in Mark 5:1-20. Jesus received those who came to him looking to trap Him in his words so they could get Him in trouble with the authorities or with the general population recorded in Matthew 22:15-22.
God’s people must always be encouraging others regardless if they are familiar to them or not. There is no reason to be overly cautious about others and worried about how they might possibly take advantage of them when Christ is believed to be sovereign over all things. Apostle Paul and the early Christians never knew if the people they lived next to or met on the street were going to turn them into the authorities and end up being arrested and executed for their faith in Christ. Yet, they saw their life as in the hands of the Lord. As Paul later would explain to the Romans, if God is for us who can be against us?
This is a fallen world in which people will certainly take advantage of others if given the opportunity. It is a given that the majority of the people that are encountered will be lying about something and seeking selfish ends when doing anything nice for another person. Many will be skeptical at first with the joy, confidence, and peace the child of God has until they see over a long period of time that they are genuine in their behavior, words, and attitudes. The person who submits their life to Christ must welcome the one who has hurt them in the past as if the incident had never occurred. This is something which is impossible to do without the strength of the Holy Spirit having free reign over that person’s emotions. This needs to be shared with the person who had hurt them so they know the struggle but also be aware of their submission to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves recorded in Matthew 22:39.
Therefore, it is crucial for the people of God to show Christ’s authority over them by being aware that people will take advantage of them, but refusing to allow that reality to change how they will treat the person they meet. Family, friends, and strangers must be viewed as having been created by God, Christ having died for the forgiveness of their sins, and the Holy Spirit speaking to them through God’s child to see the reflection of Christ’s attitude present in their life through the presence of the Spirit’s fruit.
The attitude of a person devoted to Christ in this way will love and receive others as they have been received by the Lord themselves. This means there is no sacrifice in the life of Christ’s disciple that is too great to make in the hope that the one they are with will either grow deeper in their faith in Christ or come to know Christ as their Savior and Lord.
Sacrifice All for Christ
Philippians 2:27-28, NKJV
For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful.
Epaphroditus would have died without the mercy of God on his life. Paul claims that Epaphroditus’ healing was mercy upon him as well since Epaphroditus’ death would have been a sorrow which would have been too great for Apostle Paul to bear. This man gave all he had to the work of the Lord alongside the apostle. What the sickness was is unknown, but it was clearly life-threatening to Epaphroditus.
Paul’s joy in sending him back to all those who knew and loved Epaphroditus in Philippi was a comfort to Paul as much as it was for the believers. Many times there is a regret that people have when returning from doing something that caused them great difficulty or injury. In that case they would never participate in that action again if they had the ability to avoid it. Epaphroditus had no such regret about going and serving alongside the apostle even though he nearly died in that service.
This is experienced by many in the military that have gone to serve their country and became handicapped due to the service they rendered to their country. These men and women believed in what they were called to do and accept their current physical state as worth all they have to suffer. It is hard for many to understand how a person who has missing limbs could proclaim they would do it all over again if given the opportunity knowing this is what would happen to them. They believed in what they were doing for their country was important for them as well as those who they loved back home. This is the attitude which should be prevalent in the church, but is sadly missing from the majority of those who identify themselves as Christians.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is far greater than any ideology a country could ever hope to attain to since it is a message of reconciliation between God and His creation. There is no greater thing a person could give their lives in doing that would ever be more important as sacrificing life and limb so that people will know the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done on behalf of all mankind.
Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means to sacrifice all of self to God the Father. There was nothing that Christ held back from His Father. His schedule and goals were based on the leading of the Holy Spirit’s direction. Jesus was God Incarnate, but He was also completely human just like everyone who is alive today. This means Jesus had to rely on the Spirit for knowing what it was He was to do, speaking everything that He was to say, and going everywhere He was supposed to go. The same struggles people have with following the Lord today is what Jesus would have experienced as well, but He chose in every situation to allow the Holy Spirit to have complete authority over all that He thought, did, and said.
Jesus was able to do this because He would not allow anything to diminish the authority of God the Father in His life even when it meant dying in the most painful manner known to mankind. The purpose of His death was for the sins of others which makes the manner of His death even more difficult to fathom for people. It was unfair that Jesus died for those who would reject Him as well as those who would love Him. Living like Christ or imitating Him means that there will be many unfair things that come into the life of God’s people which cause them to suffer for the sake of others. Yet, this is how followers of Jesus are to imitate Him in their lives. We can see glimpses of this recorded in Acts.
The first person to actually give their life because of their faith in Christ was Stephen. His boldness to stand and give a testimony before the religious leaders proclaiming Jesus as the risen Lord found himself crying out for God to forgive those who were stoning Him to death (Acts 7:51-60). Others were being arrested, jailed, and executed because they would not denounce Christ as the Son of God (Acts 9:1-2). The brutality and torture of the first century under the Roman Caesars is well documented. The Christians were cut to pieces by gladiators and mauled by wild animals alongside many criminals who were sentenced to death for the enjoyment of the Roman citizenry. The Voice of the Martyrs is an organization who distributes help to persecuted Christians all over the world and publish their accounts of death that is faced every day even now in the twenty-first century.
This is the kind of sacrifice God is asking all who come to Him to make in their lives. God is calling His people all over the world to give Him their lives to reveal His glory through their trust in Him for tomorrow. There are Christians that know today is what they are living for since tomorrow is not guaranteed. People in America live in the expectation that tomorrow is something that is going to be there for them. The sudden death of loved ones, the injuries that were never thought could happen to them, and the anger and frustration over not being able to fulfill plans that were made hit people harder in developed countries than third world nations where life is day by day at best.
Christians must understand that each day is given as a gift to be lived to the fullest. There will be many who will argue that the future must be planned for and set aside so when it arrives there are provisions that can provide for them. The majority of the world live without such luxuries and comforts. There does have to be a balance in using resources wisely, but that wisdom cannot prevent someone from helping another because they are saving up for a rainy day. What if God’s people lived with a mentality that tomorrow was not going to be there for them? How would they speak to others? What changes in their attitude and actions would take place? These are the kinds of things Epaphroditus did not concern himself with when serving alongside Apostle Paul.
The balance between living fully in the day and looking forward to serving the Lord in the future is found in trusting Him to take care of the needs that will be there tomorrow, but holding nothing back today when the need is made known. This happens as Christ said it would when we seek God’s kingdom first and His righteousness and all that is needed for our lives will be granted to God’s children (Matthew 6:25-34). This is practiced by receiving the one who is in need and not turning away from the stranger who is passed by who could use a friend (Matthew 5:38-42). Receiving others in this manner will help them to see Christ in the one sharing and the child of God to see Christ’s power working in and through them. There is nothing that God asks of His people that they can ever reply, “It is too much that You are asking of me!”
Provide for the Work of God
Philippians 2:29-30, NKJV
Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.
The believers at Philippi provided for the work of God by sending their fellow countryman to serve alongside Apostle Paul on their behalf, and to supply the ministry with the financial and physical support that was needed. Everyone from Philippi were not in a position to physically go and minister alongside Apostle Paul. Some were called to send finances, others were called to send materials like food, clothing, and things needed in the sharing of the Gospel with others. Some were called to pray for the work being done since they had nothing to give or finances to share. Epaphroditus was the one who was called to go and lay his life on the line for the Gospel.
It is important that God’s people understand who they are in Christ, how they have been spiritually gifted, and what things God has prepared for them to do in their life. These things are discovered through a variety of ways: study and application of Scripture, prayer and fasting, and being involved in the ministry of the body of Christ.
The Bible is the greatest source of understanding doctrine, being able to recognize sin, knowing how to give correction to others, and learning how to live according to the righteousness of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Study and application of God’s Word is mandatory for all who are seeking to please God and live for Him. Our sinful hearts will never willingly change, they must be transformed by the renewing of our minds through the power and influence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:1-2). The work of God is accomplished in a person’s life whenever they grow in knowledge and faith in Christ through their continual interaction with the Bible as their highest authority in life. The Bible is always considered to overrule all other things regardless of how convincing they may sound.
Viewing the Bible as the ultimate authority is the result of knowing its faithfulness over the centuries through prayer and fasting of those believers who have given all of themselves over to the Lord. Apostle Paul proclaimed to the believers in Thessalonica that they were to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Continual prayer is to understand that all a person’s thoughts and actions are known to God whether they are verbalized for anyone else to hear or see. Therefore, an ongoing conversation with God throughout the day is like having someone you love dearly working with you. There would be small talk, sharing of things that are interesting, and seeking guidance in times of need. God is interested in all of the things in a person’s life so sharing everything with Him is acceptable.
Prayer is also listening for God’s voice rather than always doing the talking. No one appreciates a person who talks all the time and never takes the opportunity to listen to what others have to say. Talking and listening to others is the best way to really get to know someone. The same is true with God. The more a person shares with Him and listens to Him speaking through His Word and speaking to their hearts the more they will know God personally. God then will become less of a concept to be discovered and more of a Father figure to be admired and imitated.
Everyone who claims Christ as Lord of their life must realize they are a vital part of the body of Christ. Apostle Paul fully explains this in his letter to the believers in Corinth. The image of a human body is employed to help the Corinthians see how each of them were different but very much important to the work of God through the Church (1 Corinthians 12:1-13:13). Many in the church see themselves as expendable in the ministry and therefore do not actively participate in worship, evangelism, Bible study, or getting involved in the support of the ministries of the local congregation. The body of Christ functions best when everyone who is in Christ works together for the glory of God using the resources and gifting that God has given them.
The body of Christ in America today is suffering from a self-centered complex which has turned the focus off of Christ and toward a discipleship mentality that allows people to pick and choose what they want to obey about the Lord. The mindset of the apostles and first century believers understood there was nothing that was more important than proclaiming the Gospel even to the point of losing their lives in order to accomplish it. The total sacrifice of life, limb, and possessions has been looked at as too radical, and believing that God never expected His followers to do such a thing. Jesus instructed those who followed Him that they needed to love Him above all else and take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 14:25-33).
Receiving others in the Lord is to accept people where they are at as Christ has done for those who love Him now with the expectation that through faith in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit they will grow in faith with each passing day. This is accomplished as God’s people conduct themselves in a manner that nothing is greater in their lives than to see someone come to faith in Christ and see fellow believers grow in strength and knowledge of God to become people who the Spirit can use to make more disciples of Christ. Therefore, encourage others to know the Lord and grow in Him through acts of service throughout the day. View self and all possessions as worth sacrificing in order to share the Gospel message with all people. Make time and resources available to support the work of God that others are doing and have an attitude that allows other Christians to give support for the way God personally uses them in His work.
May the Church receive people so they are able to see how much Christ loves them where they are at, but also give hope to envision the peace and joy He gives to those who surrender to His authority completely.