Morning my people!
Here’s a question: Who is the best missionary you know or know of? The best – most successful fulltime Christian Worker– and the Correia’s and the Holmes aren’t here, you don’t have to say them… our leader this morning [Jason] was a Mish Kid - he grew up all over the continent being carted around by his parent – he would obviously say – mom and dad. But you don’t need to answer me. We all know it’s Maurice….
Let me ask you another question – seeing as you were all happy to think in your mind of the best – then who is the worst missionary you know of? Who was the least successful missionary you ever heard of? How would you even begin to measure something like that?
We think of missionaries - we think of the greats – the apostle Paul of course, but even the contemporary greats – William Carey, David Livingstone, J Hudson Taylor – Jim Elliot – go check 'em out and see what they did in Gods service. Incredible stories.
My favourites are the stories where the people work in the mission field for years and years and they don’t see any fruit for their labour, you know, they finish their service thinking they haven’t made a difference – but then years later it emerges that actually that one person they led to the Lord went on and served and shared and so it grew and grew and a nation was changed – you know – they make movies about that sort of inspiring stuff. Through gates of splendour and all that…
Ordinary people just like you or I being called by God to do great things.
If you’ve been with us as we’ve enjoyed a series together on various women in the bible, you will have heard a few themes coming out through the weeks.
God uses whoever he wants to, not always the person you would expect. God works in the lives of ordinary people to achieve great things – even in societies that actively oppress them. Moses Mother - whatserhname … Jochebed – even Mary herself, an unwed girl young lady pregnant and travelling…to deliver the very Jesus we worship this morning. We learnt there are no insignificant role-players in the Kingdom of God – even small bit players can and have gone on to great things. And this has resonated with quite a few people – it is encouraging to us and rightly so. What great work has God got in store for us hey…
And so we’ve decided to continue in a sense – what we’ll be doing, God-willing, over the next few weeks is to look at some more ‘side characters’ and unpack the effect that they have on the story unfolding in scripture. To be honest, I don’t even know who the other guys have chosen to speak on – that’s how hot and fresh off the mark we are here – this is real time in tune with the Spirit stuff here – very exciting isn’t it.
So, in preparation I spent some time going through some smaller characters in scripture and I’ve chosen the story of a guy who really jumped out at me – I’ve truly enjoyed thinking about this passage – and this story just seemed to appeal to me –
If you have bibles get to Philippians 2 please
What happens when things don’t go to as planned? You know when sometimes things just don’t seem to go according to the script you had in mind? When you try to do something that you think was good and worthwhile and noble and it just kind of blows up in your face and you think yikes, what on earth was the point of that? That never happens to you? OK, just me then…
This is the story of Epaphroditus – Epaphroditus – never heard of him – ok great, listen up – his name is mentioned in scripture exactly twice – so we’re not gonna be here too long. Who is he – let’s find out – from Philippians Chapter 2 from vs 25
Just to set the scene – this is a letter from the apostle Paul to the Church in Philippi (Modern day Greece) – a church he helped plant – he knows these people personally. Paul is sitting in prison which is maybe ironic because back when the apostle Paul was called Saul – you know what used to spend his time doing? Persecuting Christians and locking them up.. anyway, he is now under arrest – most likely in Rome - really the center of the universe at that time… he is awaiting trail and he writes…. He’s just in the verses before this mentioned a guy by the name of Timothy in the earlier verses – let’s just say he’s a more successful missionary – clearly Paul's favourite... but then we get to our man for the morning Epaphroditus
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
The second time he gets a mention is later in the same book of Philippians – Paul thanks the church for the gift that Epaphroditus delivered.
OK, so, what do we know about this chap?
It seems he volunteered to deliver Paul a gift? What was it – probably cash. So he is sent with a gift, and then it says in verse 25 of the passage that we just read that he was sent to take care of Paul's needs – he was sent in some sort of caring capacity – he was to support and minister to Paul – he was to help Paul – but what happens:
Thanks but no thanks – return to sender – Paul writes, um…. Guys, I think it’s necessary for me to send back Epaphroditus….. and why is he being sent back – well….. he hasn’t been well – he’s been sick – sick with what, don’t really know – bearing in mind medical practices in the ancient world are not what they are today…. But sick to the point of near death – that’s what it says… Paul has heard that the Philippians had heard that he was unwell - and yes, he writes it is true – he was near death, but thankfully the Lord has healed him – which was a good thing – otherwise it would have been sorrow upon sorrow – in other words not only was Paul having a tough time of it as it was with him being imprisoned and all, but to have the death of the young man on his conscience would have just added to that - misery on more misery – sorrow upon sorrows….. but this kid has gotsta go yo…
This young man, things are not going well with Epaphroditus – ok, granted he did what he was initially tasked with – I suppose it could have been worse, he could have run off with the money, and but as a helper – as a supporter – he is being sent packing – being sent home early it seems - unexpectedly – and that’s surely part of the reason Paul has to bring him up in his letter.
He got sick – things went wrong – was it his fault? Who knows? - but he could no longer do the supporting job he was planning on doing – not only that - the VERY person he was meant to support and care for, has now had to care for him – it’s the exact opposite of what he was supposed to do. Not only that – the folks back home had heard about it – NOT ONLY THAT he had then heard that the people back home had heard and everybody was freaking out – he was concerned, they were concerned, Paul was anxious…ai yay ya yyay things have gone properly pear shaped here…
But now – he’s healed - perhaps miraculously according to some commentators – I would imagine in those days if you got sick to the point of death – chances are that you would die - but no, he’s better it seems – so can’t he stay and now do the work? Nope – off you Go Epaphroditus – back home to Greece with you.
The long walk – sail, probably, of shame back home – you can just imagine his mates back home – hey here comes Epaph, hey mate (as they mockingly look at their sundials), you’re home a bit early aren’t you? Hey, here comes Epic fail phroditus – one job hey buddy, nice one son, it was so bad we even heard all about it hahahaha! Guess your God really didn’t want you to help, did he – Hey Epaph, is it really true your hero Paul sent you home? how embarrassing…
Let’s be honest – Epaphroditus’ great trip was not the success he had surely planned it to be. To be a help – not quite – sorrow upon sorrow – causing anxiety it says. But God had a different plan for him…
What did Paul make of it…Was Paul furious? “Dear Church at Philippi please send a replacement – and a better stronger candidate this time”…Not really…Listen to how Paul introduces Epaphroditus – and remember He is writing to the very church that sent him out – they know him – they’ve been talking about him – he could have just said yeah, I’m sending Epaphroditus back to you – just the mention of his name and they would have known exactly who he was – but listen to the endorsement Paul gives:
My brother….. my co worker, my fellow soldier…. The triple seal of approval – complimentary terms – part of his family - ok calling someone your spiritual brother might not sound that special by itself but– a co worker in the gospel - they were laboring together – equal standing – A fellow soldier – this is apparently the kind of term that used to be reserved for those who had fought honourably in battle alongside each other! Members of the church would have been ex military men who recognised the weight of this sort of commendation.. Wow – these are strong words for a guy who… delivered a package, got sick and then got sent home…
It’s kind of hard to understand isn’t it?
Well it is when we are so used to measuring success in wordly terms of results and outputs.. you know….numbers….
How many people did you convert Epaphroditus? How many years did you serve Epaphroditus? Tell us the success stories…. What? You spent your short time there being nursed by the people you went to serve? No man!
But listen to the mindset of Paul -
So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
Paul seems to anticipate that this guy might be given a hard time on his return home – so he pushes back against that – hard – even after he has already laid out the triple approval thing…
Guys, he says – this guy – this brother should be greeted with joy – this co worker should be honoured – this fellow soldier risked his life for the cause! He almost died in his service for the Lord – that is sacrifice – that is commitment – that is not to be shamed or looked down on – that is to be praised and revered.
Somehow, even in this apparent failure of a trip – there is joy – there is honour. Paul is seemingly encouraged by the commitment and dedication that he has seen in Epaphroditus – by what the young man was willing to give up – his home comforts, his health, for the cause of the Gospel. That’s why he is given such a high commendation. That’s way Paul went to such lengths to make the point.
Was he a failure? Maybe in his own eyes, maybe in the eyes of the people who sent him…possibly, but definitely not in Paul's eyes, and I believe not in the eyes of the Lord either. What matters most is the heart, of course, the intent, the internal desire.
We, then, of course need to recalibrate our definitions of success and failure don’t we?
I like the idea of honour here. Honour this brother – he gave up way more than you did – don’t treat him differently because the work didn’t turn out like you thought it would – there should be joy here. There is value here – this is a good thing.
Let’s get honest and let’s get personal here – many of us know workers/missionaries/ people who have been sent out in faith who have ended their seasons in service for a variety of reasons – they’ve come home with their support having been cut off – with their personal safety having been threatened. With their health in tatters, their personal lives under severe pressure… You can’t help but wonder which camp we would fall into as senders and supporters – are we like Paul, honouring these people for their sacrifice and service – or are we falling short – You see, I knew that going to Cameroon was a baaad idea – ooh I knew old so and so didn’t have enough financial support and was going to come home broke… told you so…
But there’s an even bigger message coming out of this text, than just talking about Paul and Epaphroditus…
And so the question we ask is this: What happens when we mess up? What happens when the wheels fall off in our lives, in our work, in our relationships… What happens when the seasons come to an end. What happens when it doesn’t go to plan? I remember doing Friday night youth and we would plan, and prepare, come up with themes and games, buy things, prepare spiritual discussions and put together this whole programme – with a group of ten or so leaders, and we would get to Friday night, and some evenings? Not a single person would pitch up. Not one.
A waste of time? No. It doesn’t have to be this amazing life changing thing – for it to be worthy of Joy, and of Honour, and of value to God – to be an encouragement like Epaphroditus was to Paul.
There are no insignificant people in the Kingdom of God – but importantly as well, there are no insignificant acts - in the Kingdom of God – He sees all and He honours all – he sees beyond the outward ‘visible’ result, and he sees the intent of the heart – he sees the sacrifice.
God can use any person in his work and for his Glory – God can use any ACT – any work – even when we are seemingly messing it up - even when it’s not going according to our plan – He can bless it, and approve it.
So who is the worst missionary in the world – who is the worst Christian worker ? Not the person who tries something and fails. Not the person who gets sent home early in apparent disgrace – it’s the person who does NOTHING – who is the one missing out. He is the real failure.
Struggling – struggling is OK – struggling means you are trying, doesn’t it? Are you struggling to make it work? Is it not going as well as you planned? Well this is the story of Epaphroditus – it doesn’t always go according to plan… this is the story of a guy who didn’t do what he was sent to do….and then got sent home – but he was still a man approved by Paul – called a worthy co worker and fellow soldier…. And used as an example. A God honouring example.
Brothers, Sisters, let’s not be put off and discouraged by our failures and changing plans – but let’s press on for the ultimate approval from our God on High as we seek to bring him joy.
Father we place into your hands the thing we cannot do – Lord we’ve looked into your word this morning and seen an example of a man who by our earthly standards seemed to have failed – but receives praise and honour for his sacrifice. Lord we know our ways are not your ways – we know you see into our hearts – way behind our outward actions and efforts – you know the heart behind it – Give us clean hearts o God. Give us the attitude of Paul, which really is the mind of Christ not to judge quickly – to honour others in their service for you – to truly serve as co workers and fellow soldiers in your kingdom.
Lord we long to bring you joy. Thank you for this gathering of your people – thank you that we are all called into your service, and there are no small players, and no small insignificant acts. Thank you for your divine plan, and the way you include us all in it.
In Jesus name and for his sake Amen.