One of the Rare Ones (Philippians 2:19- 23)

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I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy your way. He will visit soon so that he may report to me how you are doing. To hear all that is going on with you will truly encourage my heart. There is no one like Timothy. What sets him apart from others is his deep concern for you and your spiritual journey. This is rare, my friends, for most people only care about themselves, not about what is dear to the heart of Jesus the Anointed. You know Timothy is genuine in the Lord’s ways. He has been a faithful partner to me as we express the good news of the gospel, as much as my own flesh and blood would have been. I expect to send him soon, and I will as soon as I see how things turn out here. (Philippians 2:19-23) This remarkable claim about the character of Timothy is bookended between a comment about his concern for the spiritual journey of others and his preaching of the gospel. We are going to talk more next week about the latter, so this week I want to focus on the former.

Remember Paul is writing to Philippi, a Roman colony populated by people who had been raised in a worldview that believed that empathy between humans and the gods was not possible.

  • In the Iliad, Homer writes that “we live in unhappiness, but the gods themselves have no sorrows.”
  • Aristotle said that the gods cannot be an example for human conduct because the gods are far removed from human life.

When it comes to Jesus, we see a remarkably different claim. The writer of Hebrews noted:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. ” (Hebrews 4:14 -15).

God empathizes with human experience not just by knowing about it but by entering into it. This is an new concept of what was God was like for the converts in Philippi. Leading up to the comment that Timothy’s ‘deep concern’ reveals the heart of Jesus, we have the first half of Philippians 2 by way of explanation: In Jesus, God took upon himself humanity as an act of obedience to God and service to us through His death on the cross.

Joan Osborne sang, “What if God was one of us?” In Christian theology, He was. God’s love for us was concrete and complete in Jesus. Through Jesus, God demonstrates that He is not an aloof, unfeeling God. He understands the problems of being human because in Jesus He lived with us as one of us. How many times have we said to someone else during difficult times, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me. If you only knew…” He knows what it’s like. Either Jesus or someone close to Jesus struggled with physical frailty or poverty, faced death and loneliness, had to figure out how to get along with unlikable people, etc.

Through Christ, we are shown that God understands us. Through Christ, we are also shown that God has provided a way for human experience to be redeemed.

  • Our sickness is not the end of the story; one day, God will wipe all tears from our eyes.
  • Death is the end of this life, but not of life in the greater sense of the word – a New Heaven and New Earth await.
  • We may be lonely, but we are not alone.
  • We may not like everybody – and they may not like us – but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can learn to love.
  • Our sins are killing us spiritually, breaking the world and alienating us from God and others – but this, too, can be redeemed because of Jesus.

Though Jesus ended his time on earth, his presence remains in two important ways: the Holy Spirit and the Church.

First, Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “But the truth is that My departure will be a gift that will serve you well, because if I don’t leave, the great Helper (Advocate; Counselor) will not come to your aid. When I leave, I will send Him to you. When He arrives, He will uncover the sins of the world, expose unbelief as sin, and allow all to see their sins in the light of righteousness for the first time.” (John 16:7-9)[1]

Second, God’s presence is embodied in the church, the ‘body of Christ,’ the physical representation of God’s Kingdom on earth. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gave an extended analogy of the church as the body of Christ that ends with the following: “You are the body of Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

We can’t save the world like Jesus did – we aren’t little Jesusus waiting to blossom – but we have His Word in front of us, His Spirit within us, and His Church around us, and we have been tasked with representing Jesus through our faithful presence in the world.

This brings us back to our text. "There is no one like Timothy. What sets him apart from others is his deep concern for you and your spiritual journey. This is rare, my friends, for most people only care about themselves, not about what is dear to the heart of Jesus the Anointed.  You know Timothy is genuine in the Lord’s ways."

Paul does not say that Timothy was bolder than anyone else, or knew the Old Testament better than anyone else, or had the best prayer life of anyone Paul knew (though he may have had all these things). There was no one like Timothy because Timothy’s concern for their spiritual journey reflected the heart of Jesus, and it set him apart.

“This is rare, my friends.”

I would like to offer some tips for how to become one of the rare ones as we reflect the heart of Jesus by demonstrating our concern for the spiritual journey of others. Two points of clarity first:

  • Paul does not say precisely how Timothy did this, so I am going to fill in some blanks based on what we see modeled different places in Scripture and what we have learned is effective simply by studying relationships (this kind of study is a form of ‘general revelation’ in that God reveals truth to all people about things like this through His creation. He let’s us figure some stuff out).
  • This is going to be a discussion about how we can care about others in a broader sense than “deep concern for your spiritual journey”, I want to talk about how we can care for others generally, with the hope that as we practice these principles, it will be purposeful preparation for us to minister effectively in deeply spiritual situations as well.

Pray. If we want to show true and deep concern for others, we will need God’s help. The Bible tells us that God gives wisdom generously (James 1:5). We will need more wisdom than we have; we will need more depth of emotion than we have on our own; we will most likely be over our heads at some point if not often. We cannot be proud and effective when it comes to caring for others – “most people care only about themselves, “ and they are neither rare nor set apart like Timothy. We must be humble, and prayer reminds us that we must have God in the midst of this enterprise so that He can be strong when we are weak. If you don’t know what to say to someone, ask God to inspire your conversation. If you walk away from a meeting feeling like you blew it, pray that God’s strength is magnified in your weakness. If you just don’t care about someone like you should, ask God to work in you “to will and to do to fulfill His good purposes.”

Observe and Listen. Jesus “saw” the crowds (Matthew 9:36); when he met with people like Nicodemus (John 3), he heard his questions – but he also heard what was in Nicodemus’s heart. This is not shallow engagement. This is a purposeful quest to understand the person in front of you. This is being aware of body language, tone, and facial expression as well as what is being said or done. This is getting to know someone’s past and present so there is a context for understanding. So we are praying and putting sweat equity into a relationship.I remember once after a youth group session one of the other leaders came up to me and said, “It’s okay. You don’t need to worry about how you look.” Her tip? I kept grabbing my shirt and ‘fluffing’ it because I was self-conscious that the shirt made my gut look big. That has always stood out to me, because I knew she was genuinely seeing me. She cared. You don’t need to parse every little thing or stare at people creepily. Just be aware of dynamics. Just because you should or could dig doesn’t mean you must dig in the moment. Be present; be alert; if something nags at you, at least file it away as something you may want to revisit later. People feel cared for when they realize someone else is taking the time to see beyond the surface.

Ask Appropriate Questions. If it’s not your place to pry, don’t. But if you have a relationship that allows this, pursue others with questions. Seek to know rather than be known. People feel cared for when you show that you want to get to know or understand them. It can be a simple as, “Are you sure?” when someone says they are fine and you don’t buy it. It could be, “How can I pray for you?” when someone says they are tired. It could be, “Did you say everything you really wanted to say in that conversation?”It could be asking questions a week later about something you talked about before just to let people know you haven’t forgotten. This should be done in conjunction with prayer/observation/listening, because you will need wisdom both supernatural and practical. If you pry when it’s not your place, that’s going to backfire. If you try to become someone’s confidant when they don’t want you as that – that’s not going to work. Appropriate questions are asked in a timely manner, with a caring spirit, in a manner that matches the depth or quality of the relationship.

Empathize. Romans 12:15-16 states: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Ecclesiastes talks about their being a time to laugh, cry, live, die, etc. In other words, seek to understand where someone is and respond in a way that is appropriate to the situation emotionally. Is someone celebrating? Celebrate. Is someone mourning? Mourn. Is someone wanting to talk deeply about life? Don’t just skim the surface. Are they needing a day where they just laugh about silly things? Do that with them.Pray some more wisdom, because we need wisdom in this too. People can celebrate bad things -they might be excited about the pleasures of sin. People might want to always talk on the surface and we recognize that we will have to choose some times to push them deeper. There are times when the best thing we can do is counter where someone is at – for example, if someone is trapped in depression we don’t want to respond in a way that double up on what’s happening. Part of relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives is to pray for wisdom in those situations so that we respond appropriately. We pray, we listen and observe, we engage, we empathize – but we do it all remembering that the goal is their good and God’s glory.

Be patient. Numerous times, the Old Testament reminds us that God is “slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” (Just google the phrase J ) Romans 2:4 talks about the “riches of His kindness, forebearance and patience” which is intended to lead us to repentance. If we want to show deep concern for people, particularly in their spiritual journey, it will most likely be an investment. Expect to spend time, and be willing to give people time.You are not the Holy Spirit. You can’t do God’s work inside of another person. God’s timing is almost certainly different from yours. Be patient. It’s one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, one of the signs that God is at work in your life. Be faithfully present in people’s lives. You may walk with someone for weeks or years before you see your investment in their life bear fruit. Stay with it. How long has Jesus been patient with you?

Serve. “God demonstrated his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We see in Jesus that genuine love is demonstrated love. If Jesus is our model, our love for God and others will be a demonstrated love. The Bible is clear that our faith is an active faith.

“Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and you gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger and you took Me in: naked, and you clothed Me: I was sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came unto Me.” ( 25:34-37)[2] 

Words are crucial, but they are not always enough. It’s one thing to say, “I care about you.” It’s another thing to give money or things, spend time, lend cars, talk on the phone, pay a bill, etc. My mom has decided that in her retirement she is going to drive people who don’t have cars to their appointments. It’s a large need in her area, and their church is doing it as part of a purposeful outreach. She sits with people in church who are sitting by themselves; she invites other people over for meals. Sheila reminded me of friend who has watched our kids over the years not because she always wanted to, or because it was easy – it wasn’t – but because it was how she demonstrated her love for us. Love is costly. Jesus’ love required him to be ‘broken and spilled out’ physically for us. Modeling the love of Jesus will require us to be ‘broken and spilled out’ in some sense as we serve others.

Timothy was one of the rare ones in whom everyone saw concern that revealed the heart of God. No wonder Paul “hopes to send Timothy your way.” Who wouldn’t want someone like Timothy joining them for a while? I suspect that this ‘practice of rarity’ in even the most ordinary of moments primes us for engagement in the spiritual journey of others toward and with Jesus.

May I encourage you with a vision of church life together? What happens if in our interaction with others we demonstrated these things in a way the increasingly revealed a transformation taking place in us as we become increasingly like Christ?

  • Praying
  • Observing and Listening
  • Asking Appropriate Questions
  • Empathizing
  • Showing Patience
  • Serving

We would be a church full of “rare ones,” and not just when it came to friendships and ‘felt needs’. We would be constantly reminded of God’s love for us as we experienced the love of God’s people.

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[1] If you love Me, obey the commandments I have given you. I will ask the Father to send you another Helper, the Spirit of truth, who will remain constantly with you. The world does not recognize the Spirit of truth, because it does not know the Spirit and is unable to receive Him. But you do know the Spirit because He lives with you, and He will dwell in you." (John 14:15-17)

[2] Christians are to be “given to hospitality” and willing to “distribute to the necessity of the saints” (romans 12:13) and show “hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Peter 4:9)