“God’s Mercy is Worth Noting”

Philippians 2:19-30



So far in his letter to the Philippians, Paul has informed them about “his affairs” namely his imprisonment and appealed to them regarding “their affairs” where he emplores them to live lives worthy of the gospel. In today’s Scripture Paul writes regarding the visits to Philippi he has planned. 


There are three trips presented. Timothy will make a trip, Paul will make a trip and Epaphroditus will make a trip. At the writing of Paul’s letter all of the trips would be in the future. Upon the reading of the letter they would be partly complete. 


Paul’s letters are not usually made up of such mundane information as people making trips, but when you think about it, this is the stuff of which “real” letters are made. It shows Paul’s human and personable side and lets us know that he was not always theological and businesslike. 


Today’s Scripture can be divided into two clear parts. The first part is Paul’s desire to send Timothy, as soon as the outcome of his imprisonment has been decided. Paul is convinced he will have a positive outcome and plans to make the trip to Philippi in person, but he doesn’t see that happening until Timothy returns from his trip.


In the meantime, out of kindness to the Philippians, and Epaphroditus, now that he has recovered, Paul is sending him back to Philippi with this letter. This may all seem normal, but there are a few questions that arise, such as, Why send Timothy? Since, Epaphroditus is going with a letter and Paul expects to return soon. And why does Paul need to commend Epaphroditus so much? They already know him, he is one of their church members. 

And why doesn’t Paul put the order of Timothy’s and Epaphroditus’ trips chronologically? 


Chronologically, Paul should have written about Epaphroditus coming with this letter and Timothy coming with the news of how Paul’s trial had been resolved. But we are talking about Paul here and for him one thing took precedence over everything else, and that was the sake of the gospel. Timing was not as important as the progress of the gospel in Philippi. Paul wants the church in Philippi to know that above anything else, they may hear about his predicament in Rome, he is advancing the gospel. He wants this knowledge to encourage them to be doing the same. His ultimate joy will be to hear that they are walking “worthy of the gospel,” in the face of opposition. 


Timothy’s reason for coming will be twofold. He will be able to relay the outcome of what was happening in Rome with Paul, and more importantly, Paul will be able to hear from Timothy how those in Philippi have remedied their bickering situation from this letter he is writing, which ultimately, will bring Paul joy to hear. Paul wants those in Philippi to realize how imperative it is to take this letter seriously so he is letting them know he plans to send Timothy to confirm they were surviving their suffering and holding firm to the gospel in unity of the Spirit. By mentioning Timothy’s visit  first, Paul demonstrates how much the triangular relationship between Paul, the church in Philippi and Christ continues to be emphasized.  


Notice Paul’s commendation of Timothy. 


Timothy was not like most people, he did not look out for himself but showed concern for the interests of Jesus Christ, by looking out for the affairs of others, especially those in Philippi. Paul looked upon Timothy like a son. He had served beside Paul and had demonstrated his devotion to the ministry and to the Lord. 


How many of us are like Timothy? Would people say we are someone who puts the interests of others as a matter of importance? The world hasn’t changed much since Paul was alive. The majority of the people were looking out for number one, themselves. Their primary perspective was to take care of their own affairs and make sure they were more than “well taken care of.” Timothy was one who walked in the way of Christ, with humility, taking the low road, by way of the cross. That lower road demonstrated that one’s neighbor is “number one,” rather than oneself. 

Paul continues his letter with the word, “But,” 

Timothy will come, 

but for now, 

Paul was sending this letter with Epaphroditus. 

He follows this statement with five ways to describe him. First, Paul call’s him “his brother,” the fundamental term of relationship within the believing community. Then he calls him a co-worker, meaning he labored for the gospel just like Paul did.  Thirdly he uses a military metaphor, “my fellow soldier.” This was not one of Paul’s common images, but he may have been influenced upon being under the Praetorian Guard. We get the sense that Paul sees Epaphroditus as a wounded comrade in arms who was being sent back home to recuperate. Paul wraps up Epaphroditus’ description as “your minister” and one who ministered to his needs. 


Remember, imprisonment at the time of Paul, was not like today. Prisoners were not taken care of by the state. All necessities, including daily food, had to be supplied by family or friends. Epaphroditus had been traveling to Rome with money from the church. He had become deathly ill on the journey, but rather than stopping or returning to Philippi, he risked his life, to near death, to continue the journey and bring the gift to Paul in Rome. Paul’s explanation of Epaphroditus’ experience was that God had mercy on him, and on Paul. 


Let’s not pass by this phrase too casually. Contextually, Paul and Epaphroditus did not have the medical science we benefit from today. Those at death’s door, rarely recovered. It wasn’t that in God’s good mercy that Epaphroditus got better, but Paul saw God’s hand directly in the saving of Epaphroditus’ life,

 for not only his sake but for Paul’s sake and greater still, for the sake of the gospel. Paul expresses his gratitude for the mercy God had given, that his dear brother had not died and that sorrow upon his already sorrowful predicament did not occur. 


This section of Paul’s letter gives us a glimpse into Paul as a human being. Someone who cares, feels, and is connected personally to other believers. This passage should be a reminder that the Bible is not just a book of do’s and don’ts, but that it is written in the context of real people in a very real world. We get a glimpse of Paul, a believer in a world surrounded by friends, and those friends brought him joy, and the untimely death of one friend would have brought him immeasurable grief. Yet for the deep relief he experienced, noted by God’s mercy. 


Where do we miss experiencing God’s mercy? How often do we take human knowledge for granted and not see the hand of God in the blessings we receive. There is a wideness in God’s mercy. That wideness sometimes makes it easy for us to miss seeing it for what it really is. 

Where are the Epaphroditus’ in today’s world? Those willing to “risk their lives” for the gospel? Today’s culture has the same purpose as it did in the first century, risks were taken, but those risks were related primarily to “business ventures,” not risks for the gospel. Risks for the gospel meant giving time, energy, thought, maybe even money to help someone hear, know and experience the love of God. Those sacrifices may look different today, but the reasons are quite similar. We put ourselves out there for our jobs, go the extra mile, earn the extra buck, or achieve a worldly accolade. But do we do extra or put ourselves out there for the sake of the gospel? Maybe that is why we miss the wideness of God’s mercy. 

We can’t miss God’s mercy today, as we take time to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. God became human in order to demonstrate the wideness of His mercy. He experienced humiliation, misunderstandings and torture in order to bring the gospel to a human race that would always have the option to choose life or choose death. With that choice, God often feels sorrow. (Luke 15:7)


“There’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.