Philippians 2: 19 – 30 (NLT)
“ If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit. Then he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. 20 I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. 21 All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. 22 But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News. 23 I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. 24 And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon.
25 Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. 26 I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. 27 And he certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.
28 So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and then I will not be so worried about you.29 Welcome him in the Lord’s love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. 30 For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.”
In the middle of the book encouraging Christians to live well, we have these verses that are more personal in nature – Paul talking about his situation and his friends. Remember, Paul is under house arrest in Rome while he is writing this letter. He mentions in these verses that he is suffering, that he has enough sorrow, and that he is uncertain of what the future will bring. In fact, if we look at Paul’s life history, he spent a lot of time going through horrendous experiences all because he was determined to get the Message out to the world of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. Take a look at this summary of Paul’s hardships listed in 2 Corinthians 11 as Paul argues his case against people who are out to destroy this new church movement, and who are saying that Paul really can’t be trusted, that Paul is just out for his own importance and fame.
2 Corinthians 11:23-28 (NLT)
“ Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him (refers to Christ) far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. 28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.”
In our culture in Canada today, we really don’t have any idea of what suffering for what we believe is like. We do face restrictions in the workplace because we need to be tolerant of others’ beliefs, or we know people who think we’re a little crazy and too religious. But we don’t face death or imprisonment or persecution in some form because of our faith – or at least, that is not legal in our country. But when I read the newspaper or watch the TV news, I know that Christians face very awful situations in other countries around our world. For example, right now, I wouldn’t want to be a Christian in a country like Afghanistan with the Taliban in control. I sometimes wonder if I would be brave enough to stand up for what I believe if I would likely die for doing that. I think I would, but then I’ve never had to face such a terrifying experience.
But today, I want to look at the support Paul had while he was under such pressure. Paul does acknowledge God’s power and direction in all that happens, but he is also so thankful for Timothy and Epaphroditus. Here are some of the things Paul says about them: “Timothy genuinely cares about your welfare”; “Timothy has proved himself”; “like a son with a father”; “give Epaphroditus the honour that people like him deserve”; “he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.” Those words show how much Paul appreciates the support those two men gave him.
While we do trust God, and while we know that God is in control, it’s still hard for us to do that completely. We can’t see God or touch God or hear God the way we can with our friends here on earth. I think God understands that, and sends supportive friends our way to give us that human, caring touch we need. I know over the years I have had Christian friends who have been there for me when I needed support in some way. They helped me in practical ways, and they also reminded me that God cared too. I can never thank them enough for what they have meant to me.
Today, I’m going to ask you to think of someone in your life who has been a support for you. It may even have been someone who has done something in the past week or two to make life with the pandemic more bearable. Write down that name(s) so it doesn’t leave your mind as soon as you stop reading this devotion. Say a prayer thanking God for sending them your way, and asking God to give them a special blessing today. Then think of a way you can express your thankfulness to them.
Our song for today is All the People Said Amen by Matt Maher