Text: Philippians 2:10-30
So far in our Philippians series we have talked about relationships in the church in a general sense. We have looked at how we are called to relate to other members of the body. Today we will sharpen our focus a little and look at the topic of leadership. What exactly is a “leader” in the church? What is he made of, and how should he relate to the rest of the body? And finally, how should the body relate to him? In this section Paul is primarily talking about pastors, but lest you think I am being self-serving here, I want to point out that the principles which inform how we are to relate to our pastors also inform how we are to relate to our elders, whether the office of elder or elders in life, and these principles also teach us how to relate to anyone who has a sort of leadership role in the faith. Everyone in this room has leaders in their lives, and, in a different sense, everyone in this room will be leaders to others in the faith. So this message is for everyone.
A Good Man is Hard to Find
19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. 23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. 24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.
Paul had no one like-minded. This is actually a reference to the “mind of Christ” discussed earlier in vs. 5. None of his fellow ministers were doing what Paul had called the Philippians to do. It is important to note that the “early church” was just as messy and hypocritical as the modern church. Paul found himself seemingly alone, and he had to preach a message that he knew contradicted many of his associates. And, as we mentioned last week, it isn’t so much that Paul is complaining about disagreements over ideas. No, his real point is motivation. The church workers in Paul’s day tended to be self-centered and unwilling to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. As he had said in chapter 1, “some indeed preach Christ from envy and strife… from selfish ambition” (Philippians 1:15-16). Once again we are reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same. A good man for the ministry was hard to find in Paul’s day.
Yet there was one good man. Timothy was a minister after Paul’s own heart. He and Paul had a familial relationship, and this should be the goal of churches today. Knowing that we are populated by sinners, we nevertheless aspire towards familial love. We ought to be fathers and sons, brothers and sisters. And we do this, not by simply being nice, not by having the same hobbies, but by promoting the mind of Christ. We must esteem others better than ourselves.
A good leader does not seek “his own,” but rather “the things which are of Christ. Good leaders will “sincerely care” for the state of the church. And their character is proven over time. This is why Paul lists the requirements for eldership that he does in 1 Timothy:
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Tim. 3:2-7)
These are lofty requirements, but notice their point of shared emphasis. It isn’t so much brainpower and certainly not worldly success, but rather the ability to relate well with people. They have to have the mind of Christ to do this, and they must set an example of such a lifestyle.
A good man is hard to find, but he is not impossible to find. Timothy was such a one, and we are promised more of these from God over time. Church leaders are gifts from God as it says in Ephesians 4:
Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” …And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph. 4:8, 11-16)
Do you see? The leaders in the church are gifts from God to help raise up the church from childhood to maturity. This means that the church doesn’t make them so much as receive them from God and recognize them for what they are. God knows that you need this men and that without them you will be unable to realize your full potential.
It is Better to Give than to Receive
25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful.
As it turns out, Paul had at least one more good pastor in his group, but this one was on loan. Epaphroditus was the pastor of the church in Philippi. He was their “messenger.” The phrase that is translated “who ministered to my need” can also be translated “your minister to my need.” He was a gift to Paul from the church at Philippi to assist him for a time. We see that he was sick for a while too, almost unto death, but now that he is well he is sent back home to get back to work. Paul says that it will be difficult to part with Epaphroditus, but he knows that it is best to send him back to the church. Paul will become “less sorrowful” when the church of Philippi rejoices.
Notice how Paul describes Ephaphroditus. “Brother,” “fellow worker,” and “fellow soldier.” These qualities are important in a pastor. He needs to be a brother to people. This involves kindness and love. But he also needs to be a worker. He has to put his nose to the ground and stay at the job. And he needs to be a soldier. He has to go to battle. This will involve a helmet and muck-boots. It will be difficult, and he will need all his fellow soldiers for support. Ephaphroditus was such a “fellow soldier” to Paul.
And yet Paul still sends him away to others.
This means that we ought not want to store up all the spiritual talent in one place. We shouldn’t try to surround ourselves with a whole company of pastors and leaders. Instead, we should train men up and send them out. We should be willing to take a loss, so to speak, in order to see a gain elsewhere. This is why we should aspire towards church planting and missions. The gifts God gives to us are meant to be put to use for others. The mind of Christ applies globally as well as locally.
Stand by Your Man
29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.
Now Paul explains how the people should treat the minister. He should firstly be received. This might sound too simplistic, but I have seen many churches struggle with exactly that point. They refuse to recognize the gift that God has sent them. But no, you must receive him and not deny what God has done.
Secondly, he should be received in the Lord with all gladness. This means that you understand that he is from God and for you. He is for your good, to help you and to assist you in your growth in Christ. And precisely because he is a gift from the Lord, you should rejoice.
And then he ought to be held in esteem. Paul says elsewhere, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17). You can see there a distinction between ruling elders and teaching elders there, and notice that both are to be counted worthy of double honor. Paul goes on to say that accusations are not to be received against elders without two or three witnesses, and this too shows the kind of esteem that should be accorded to church leaders.
This esteem comes from the gifting itself in a big way. The skill-set deserves honor in and of itself. But there is more to the story. The honor and esteem which Paul says Epaphroditus is worthy of also comes from his track record of sacrifice. He “came close to death, not regarding his life.” He imitated Christ in his service to the church of Philippi.
Indeed, if any one mark of leadership is singled out above the others in the New Testament, it is suffering. This is how Paul defends his own ministry. Compare this with his words in 2 Corinthians:
Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast. For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. To our shame I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also.
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city,in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. (2 Cor. 11:18-21, 22-33).
In effect, Paul is saying this, “You want to see my credentials? Ok. Here you go. I have had nothing but trouble for years. Beatings, hunger, sneak escapes—those are my credentials!”
Suffering is the true mark of church leadership. And let’s not be naïve about that. The suffering a church leader experiences is not the result of him smiling too much, kissing babies, and never raising his voice. No, the suffering accompanies the conflict which all good church leaders must experience. They come into conflict because they speak the truth, they rebuke sin, and they push people towards increased holiness. And they only care to do any of that because they trust God and love you.
Indeed, George Herbert writes, “The Country Parson knows well, that both for the general ignominy which is cast upon the profession, and much more for those rules, which out of his choicest judgment he hath resolved to observe, and which are described in this Book, he must be despised; because this hath been the portion of God his Master, and of God’s Saints his Brethren, and this is foretold, that it shall be so still, until things be no more” (chapt. 28). So know that your best pastors are the ones who suffer for you. Respect them for that, and stand by them until the end.
We’ve heard about church leaders today. We have heard that they are gifts from God to the church. We have also observed that these gifts should be cultivated and given to others. And finally we have been told how to treat pastors and elders. This is an important component to any healthy church.
But of course, in all this, the pastor or the elders are not really qualitatively different than all Christians. They—we— are all called to bear the scorn of the world, to be despised for the sake of Christ. The pastor is merely doing this in one peculiar way, as a representative and leader of a group that is composed of people who are all also doing the same thing in their lives in relation to the world. So stand by your man for the same reason that he stands by you. You are both soldiers together in this war, and you are both following after Christ in this way.
And so brothers and sisters, fellow workers and soldiers, let us stand fast together. Let us commit ourselves to fight together against the shared enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And let us know that we can only hope to do this with God’s grace and by having the mind of Christ in us. Let us pray.