A few years ago, during a time that I was drifting in life, a friend asked me a question:
What do you want to do with your one and only life?
It’s easy to develop the illusion that we have unlimited time, and that a wasted day, even a wasted year, is no big deal, because more time is coming. My friend’s question reminded me again that God has only given me a short time. How we choose to invest our one and only life is a decision that really does matter.
We all have, or have had, dreams of how to invest our lives. Every child has aspirations. For them, the problem is how to choose among their many dreams. As we grow, it’s easy to lose sight of those dreams and begin to coast. But we were meant to make a difference, made to leave a legacy. Many of us have stopped dreaming. But God still has a purpose for our lives, with a difference.
Here’s the difference: with God, less is more. God does have a purpose for your life, but God’s view of the investment we can make with our lives is less – and yet more – than we could imagine. God wants less of us – he calls us to die to ourselves, to let Christ increase while we decrease. Ironically, as we become less concerned with ourselves, he gives us more – more influence, more life. When we lose our lives, we find them. Today we’re going to look at a passage that reminds us of how God wants to use our lives.
Less is More
If you have a Bible with you, open it to Philippians 2. We’ve been looking at some of the richest, most theological sections of the entire Bible. In this chapter, Paul’s been talking about Jesus, and he’s told us that we ought to pattern our lives after his example. Verses 4 and 5 say, “Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing. Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had.”
We read these verses, and we agree with them. Yet at another level, we say, “That’s impossible. The standard’s too high.” We expect Paul to teach it. We expect pastors to preach it. We expect even to try to live up to this standard, but we also believe that it’s an unrealistic standard. It’s impossible to live up to this standard in real life.
That’s where today’s passage comes in. In verses 19 to the end of the chapter, Paul switches gears. He’s just given us one of the richest, deepest, most theological passages in the Bible, and now he gives us something completely different. He gives us a travelogue. The rest of the chapter is about the travel plans of two people the Philippians knew – Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul usually included a section like this in his letters, but it was usually included at the end of his letters as he wrapped up.
The question to ask is this: Why did Paul include this section on the travel plans of Timothy and Epaphroditus? Why put it here, side-by-side with some of the deepest teaching of the Bible?
The answer: because Paul wanted to give living, breathing examples of ordinary people who were living out what Paul had just taught. For those who believed that Paul’s teaching was impossible to live out in real life, Paul provides two examples of people who lived out what he was talking about. They’re two applications of Paul’s teaching – theology lived out.
Let’s look at the two people that Paul mentioned, and then try to figure out how this applies to us.
Philippians 2:19-24 says:
If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon. Then when he comes back, he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has helped me in preaching the Good News. I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon.
Here’s what we know about Timothy.
Timothy helped found the church at Philippi. The Philippians would have remembered Timothy, because he played a very important role in their spiritual lives. He was someone who had sacrificed to influence them.
Timothy had also served with Paul for ten years. Ten years – that’s amazing. If you’ve ever worked side-by-side with someone through highs and lows, walked through difficulty after difficulty, then you know that’s impressive. Timothy had proved himself, as Paul says. He had a good track record over an extended period of time.
It seems as if the Philippians had expected Timothy to come sooner. In this passage, Paul explains to the Philippians that Timothy will come soon, but just not yet. It looks like the Philippians would have been disappointed that he wasn’t able to come sooner.
We also know something about Timothy’s character from other parts of the Bible. Timothy was known for a lot of things, but one of them wasn’t his courage. Timothy was timid. He went through a lot, and served well, but for him, the criticism that came was probably tougher than even prison. He wasn’t known for being the most courageous person.
In these verses, Paul commends Timothy for three qualities. First, he cared for people. ‘I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). It wasn’t an act with Timothy. He genuinely cared. He was somebody who really did live out what Paul had just taught earlier in the chapter: “Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.”
Second, he lived sacrificially. “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21). Timothy wasn’t self-absorbed. He didn’t live for his own comfort and good. He lived sacrificially, to follow Jesus, even when it cost something.
Third, Paul commends Timothy for having proven himself. “But you know how Timothy has proved himself” (Philippians 2:22). Timothy had a good track record over an extended period of time.
Timothy is an example of an single, average person who made a difference through his attitude to others and his willingness to sacrifice. Timothy is an example of someone who lived out Paul’s teaching to live like Jesus Christ.
Paul does something smart. He’s talked about Timothy, but now he brings it closer to home. He brings up the example of one of the Philippians, a man named Epaphroditus:
Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, a faithful worker, and a courageous soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. Now I am sending him home again, for he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. And he surely was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have such unbearable sorrow.
So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and that will lighten all my cares. Welcome him with Christian love£ and with great joy, and be sure to honor people like him. For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while trying to do for me the things you couldn’t do because you were far away. (Philippians 2:25-30)
Epaphroditus was a member of the Philippian church. Here’s what we know about him. He had traveled over 700 miles to be with Paul, to bring a monetary gift and to help Paul out. Think about that. 700 miles is a long way to travel today, by car; imagine back then. He traveled all that way to represent the Philippian church and too help Paul in prison.
We also know that Epaphroditus became seriously ill on the trip. Paul says that he was at the point of death.
There also seems to have been the potential for some misunderstanding when Epaphroditus showed up with this letter. The Philippians were e xpecting Timothy, but they weren’t expecting Epaphroditus. They may have regretted sending him, especially considering that his sickness caused him to be a stress to Paul as much as a help. Paul made it clear that the Philippians were to welcome him back warmly, because he had served Christ well, and had represented them with excellence.
Here you have two average people. One of them was timid, the other one was sick. They were just ordinary people, yet they made a difference. In fact, Paul listed 26 people by name in Romans 16 – people who surrounded him in Rome, and who helped him. Yet out of these people, at least 26 of them, only two came through like Timothy and Epaphroditus. They all loved God; they all loved Paul. Yet only two came through. Paul says, “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21). Maybe their schedules got in the way. They may have been too busy. Maybe they had other concerns. Perhaps they were too ambitious. They ended up letting Paul down. They were more interested in their own affairs than in what matters to Jesus Christ.
The difference with Timothy and Epaphroditus wasn’t ability. It was their willingness to be servants.
Convictions of an Everyday Servant
Let me ask you a question. Who is it that has made an impact on your life? What two or three individuals, apart from your family, have really touched you and made you who you are? I’ll give you a minute to think of two.
Here’s my guess. They were ordinary people. They weren’t extraordinary, any more than we’re all extraordinary. Chances are they didn’t stand head and shoulders above others. They were average, ordinary people.
They also cared about you. It wasn’t an act. They were committed to you, and ready to sacrifice for you. They weren’t looking out for themselves. They really had no agenda for themselves.
They also believed in something bigger than themselves. They lived for a higher purpose. There was something about them, although they were just ordinary people, a commitment to something bigger than themselves.
Here’s the lesson for us: never underestimate the influence of a single, ordinary person who commits to dying to themselves, becoming a servant of Jesus Christ, and loving others. It’s not the extraordinary people who make a difference. It’s those of us who are ordinary, who commit to becoming everyday servants.
Everyday servants have some convictions they live by. In fact, they’re ready to die for these convictions. Jim Kouzes put it this way: “You can’t have the ‘courage of your convictions’ if you have no convictions.”
I’m going to give you three convictions of everyday servants. I’m not going to tell you how to make them your own, except for one thing. If you want to become an everyday servant, to become less about yourself and more about others, to make a difference by serving Christ, then commit for the next 30 days to think about these, and to pray that they’ll become your convictions. Hang them on your mirror or on the fridge. Make them your own.
Everyday servants have convictions. Here they are:
My life isn’t about me. It’s about what Jesus is doing. They don’t live for themselves. When you think about, living for yourself is a pathetic way to live. It’s shallow. Everyday servants agree with what Paul said in Acts 20:24: “But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about God’s wonderful kindness and love.”
This doesn’t require a preacher. In my life, it was somebody named Don Taylor. He was average. He wasn’t impressive. Every year we showed up to be promoted to the next grade in Sunday School, and he was promoted along with us. I sometimes wonder what got him up every Sunday morning to go to a dingy church basement and sit in a cement-block room with peeling paint, looking at the same three or four kids year after year. The answer is that he was part of something bigger. He was there shaping the spiritual futures of kids. He was part of what Jesus was doing in our lives.
The greatest contribution I will make with my life is how I prove myself in consistently serving others, even (especially) during hardship. It’s not about me. It’s about others, and how I can serve them. Even Jesus didn’t come to serve, but to serve others. We get to give up our concern over our own interests and priorities in order to be concerned about serving Christ and others. “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21).
God uses ordinary people when they make a radical, risky commitment to live for a higher purpose. An example is D.L. Moody, the Billy Graham of his day. He wasn’t average. He was below average. He was a shoemaker. His education was poor. The first time he applied for church membership, he failed. Not many people fail when they apply to join a church, but he didn’t know enough. There was nothing extraordinary about him.
One day he heard a preacher, Henry Varley, say these words: “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man [an ordinary person] who is wholly consecrated to him.” Moody thought, “What if I were that man?” He lived the rest of his life, and touched thousands of people for eternity, because he was an ordinary person who made a radical, risky commitment to live for a higher purpose.
I wish you could see what God could do with and for and through and in you – not because you’re extraordinary, any more than all of us are extraordinary. I wish you could see the impact that God wants to have with your life, because you, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, become ordinary people who follow the example of Jesus Christ, and take upon yourself the form of a servant, and begin to serve others – right where you are, with what you’re doing right now.
That God would open our eyes to what he could accomplish through us
That he would make us servants of others, and make a difference through us as we die to ourselves and begin to live for others