Philippians 2:19-30 is one of those forgotten passages. Tucked between the lofty first eleven verses of the chapter where Paul outlines great Christology and practical Christian living and Philippians 3 where we see how to press on in faith, these verses mentioning ordinary plans and ordinary people (Timothy and Epaphroditus) often get overlooked. But we serve a God who is interested in the ordinary and the mundane and ‘the dull routines, the empty boredom, and the unattractive responsibilities that make up much of most people’s lives’ (Eugene Peterson, ‘Under the Unpredictable Plant’), so we do well to ponder the lessons we can learn from these verses.
People matter. So often, our attention is focussed on celebrities and the famous, but these verses remind us of the ordinary helpers who are such a vital part of the Christian life. Timothy and Epaphroditus are described in warm terms (son, brother, co-worker, fellow soldier) and although we don’t know exactly how they helped Paul, we see the value of faithful service here. Paul would talk about many people with different gifts making up the body of Christ (Rom 12:5-6, 1 Cor 12:4-6) and we too need to appreciate and value each person, for we are all necessary in the body of Christ. People matter ultimately because we are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and the Christian should value all human life, since the value placed upon it is the value of God’s Son. (John 3:16) This is why Christians campaign against abortion, euthanasia, eugenics and murder and why many Christians are at the forefront of campaigning about disability issues, for people matter, no matter who they are.
Nothing is too small or unimportant to be significant to God. We often forget that the unseen, ordinary acts of people are seen by and known to God. God cares about us so much that He is interested in our toothache and our tears. Nothing is too small to matter to Him; a cup of cold water given in faith will bring its own reward. (Matt 10:42) Our service and lives may feel unimportant and insignificant to us, but God can see beyond the tedium of the now and can bring forth eternal rewards from our ordinary acts of kindness.
Never give up! It’s so easy to become discouraged, to let weariness take over and to lose heart. No matter who we are in the local church, we matter and our service matters. It’s crucial that we get this message, because if we don’t, we are tempted, in the ordinariness of everyday life, with its dull routines, empty boredom and unattractive responsibilities – not to mention its challenges, trials and tribulations – to give up. Paul warns against this in Gal 6:9, and Heb 12:1-3 gives us the way to keep running the race marked out for us – by focussing on Jesus. We have to keep the long view as He did so as not to give up. Nicky Gumbel says, ‘life is a set of challenges, problems and hassles. We sometimes imagine that if we could just deal with the immediate challenge that we are facing, all our problems would be over. But life is not like that. If we resolve one problem, others are just around the corner. The temptation is to see these challenges as preventing us from carrying out the ministry God has given us. In actual fact, dealing with the problems is the ministry.’ (BIOY, 6th July 2020) By persevering and developing in faithfulness, we become, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, servants of God who make a difference in a big way!