January 25, 2015
“Grow Strong in Relationships”
We continue on with our study of Philippians, and today’s scripture is a personal one. We feel like we could be reading over Paul’s shoulder as he writes this letter about two of his friends, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul holds them both in high regard as fellow workers for the Lord. They are close friends.
Who are your closest friends? What qualities in them mean the most to you? I especially miss some of my friends in Pennsylvania, because we enjoyed doing quilting and sewing projects together. I don’t get a lot of time to spend with friends because I keep so busy these days, but I appreciate friends that I can laugh with and do things with.
Friends bring out the best in us, but they can also lead us astray. We tend to be like the people we hang around with. If your friend is a complainer, you may start doing that too. But if your friend gets involved with serving in a community organization, you may find great reward doing that too. We worry when our kids begin associating with troublemakers, because our child could be drawn into doing something questionable by association. Perhaps you have seen on the news about the young couple from Kentucky – an eighteen year old boy and his thirteen year old girlfriend who went on a crime spree stealing cars and fleeing several states before getting caught. She liked to pretend she was nineteen, and he wasn’t a good influence either, by the sound of it.
Our scripture passage today is about Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy was as close as a son to Paul, and Epaphroditus was like a brother. These two friends cared for Paul as he was in prison. They encouraged him and helped him continue his work in ministry. Paul planned to send Timothy to Philippi when Paul learned the outcome of his imprisonment, and expected to be released soon. Paul is sending Epaphroditus on ahead with this letter, because Epaphroditus was critically sick but now recovered. Paul knew the Philippians were worried about Epaphroditus, and Paul wanted to reassure them that their friend was now fine.
These are trustworthy friends. Paul knew Timothy would bring good news upon his return from Philippi to give Paul great cheer. Paul also knew that Timothy had the same kind of pastoral heart as Paul. Timothy would show genuine concern for their affairs and would help them stand firm in the face of opposition. Timothy embodied someone who in Paul’s mind would do nothing out of self-interest, but rather in humility would put the concerns of others first.
Epaphroditus took a great risk in coming to help Paul, a risk he almost paid with his life. It was a daunting 800 mile journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Philippi to Rome. He faced all the dangers of travel without the kind of medical support we take for granted today. We don’t know what disease he contracted other than that it almost caused his death. Epaphroditus was concerned because he caused the believers in Philippi to be worried about him. Why would someone risk traveling that far, except that he chose to do it to serve Christ and his kingdom?
Paul uses three terms to describe Epaphroditus: he called him brother, a fellow worker, and a fellow soldier. To Paul, he was as like someone in Paul’s own family. He was part of the same team, equals in the same profession, and striving for the same cause, to proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior. These were close ties binding the two together as one.
These friends are such an example for us as we seek to grow closer in faith and service within this church. I praise God for those who have recently joined this church as members, and those who regularly join in this fellowship of faith. You took a risk coming here to worship, perhaps only knowing one person or maybe no one at all. You hoped to find someone who would share your faith and interests. Like Paul, you are enriched by friends.
God created us to be friends. At the time of creation, Adam was lonely until God created Eve to be a fit companion for Adam. God created us in the image of God, so that we would want to know God our maker. Christ first called twelve friends as disciples, then asked them to begin Christ’s church. The Holy Spirit joins us together as one body and gives us the desire and passion to bring others into this fellowship of faith in order to worship God and serve our neighbor.
Being part of a church is different from attending a concert or show, because of our relationships with all those who join us on a Sunday morning. John Drea is a professor of marketing at Western Illinois University. He writes that a base of satisfied customers is vital for any healthy organization, whether we are speaking of a business, a community group, or a church. He writes that customer satisfaction is the difference between what one expects to receive from a product, and how one perceives that the product actually performed. Assessing customer satisfaction is similar to a physician taking a patient’s temperature to measure one’s physical health.
In a church, if we expect to find nurturing friendships but perceive that church members are somewhat cold or distant, our satisfaction with the church will decrease. When we feel good about the people around us and feel nurtured by relationships within our church, we are supported and encouraged by a larger family of people who care for us. I shared some e-mail conversation with Dr. Drea, and he writes, “Churches deliver a product that fulfills a need that we all have. No matter what someone’s beliefs, we all have a desire for a “community” of faith – it’s what makes attending a worship service different than just watching one on TV. A greater the degree of fellowship, combined with the presence of Christ, creates something that meets most Christian’s needs. It’s also harder to “walk away” if there’s a sense of personal connection with other members of a church.”
I believe God commissions the church for a special purpose – to nurture those Christ calls friends to become mature followers of Christ. In the book of Acts, the common life of the early believers is described as follows: “They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, and break bread and to pray. A sense of awe was everywhere. All whose faith had drawn them together held everything in common. With one mind they kept up their daily attendance at the temple, and, breaking bread in private houses, shared their meals with unaffected joy as they praised God.”
Growth to maturity in the faith is not merely an individual’s walk with God – God made us to be joined together in God’s family, to worship God, to grow to become more like Christ, to serve according to our gifts, and to have a mission and purpose in life. This is who we are, or should be, as a church. We are a body whose purpose is to encourage one another and build each other up. We should be devoted to one another in love, honoring one another above ourselves. God calls us serve one another in love, carrying one another’s burdens in the name of Christ.
Relationships form the cornerstone of our church – in our relationship with God and our relationships with others. Jesus once said that it is our love for one another that will prove to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. It takes some sensitivity to be a supportive friend while at the same time seeking to encourage another to grow in Christian faith. If we see a friend straying from faith, we should care enough to share about any problems as well as the joys.
There are a number of passages in the Bible that can help us grow in our friendships. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5 to “encourage one another and build each other up.” In Romans it says to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” In Galatians, “Serve one another in love,” and “carry each other’s burdens, for in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
I pray that you will bring home with you today the desire to be the kind of friend Paul found in Timothy and Epaphroditus – one who will work alongside another in the service of Christ, one who will put others before self, who will care for another in times of trial, and be one who encourages. If there is someone new today you don’t know, make sure to introduce yourself and invite that person to sit downstairs with you in our coffee hour. Take the initiative for the sake of another who may be more hesitant to take the first step of friendship.
Let us grow strong in relationships, in the name of Jesus Christ.