In a world filled with discontentment, a world chasing the next high, searching for love, hoping for an exit from the daily drudge, there is a bad word which is to be avoided at all costs, ordinary. Who tells their kids that they want them to grow up to be ordinary? We want them to be normal, but also to be extraordinary. We want them to be accepted, but to aim high and stand apart. In the business world, profits are never high enough, workers never accomplish enough, ordinary is simply not good enough. Success is defined as being extraordinary. Contentment is the enemy.
But Jesus was an ordinary carpenter. The disciples were plain and ordinary, mostly uneducated. And the highest calling of the christian life is to find our satisfaction in God. Our confession rightly understands the Biblical teaching that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And while this is not the ordinary experience of the world, it is to be the ordinary experience of the believer. We are to be content in God. I Timothy 6:6, written by a successful church planter to a well known pastor, says, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Today we are going to learn what ordinary ministry looks like, the ordinary ministry to which we ourselves have been called. It is not glamorous, but this is godliness, and we would be better off if we could learn to be content with it.
Follow along with me as I read Philippians 2:19-30 from the English Standard Version:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (ESV)
This is the Holy Word of God. Let us pray…
From this text today I want to consider how we may seek the interest of Christ Jesus, and how we may seek the interest of others. We do these things because Christ Jesus sought our interests, sacrificing everything for us. We love because he first loved us!
- Seeking the interest of Christ
Paul writes that Timothy is genuinely concerned for the welfare of the Philippians, unlike unnamed others who serve for themselves. Paul writes that these others all seek their own interests and not the interests of Jesus Christ.
So we learn that Timothy’s service to God’s people is rooted in his service to the Lord. He is seeking the interest of Jesus Christ. And how better to serve our Lord than by serving and loving his bride, the church?
It is worth noting that there is nothing spectacular about Timothy’s acts of service. He is being sent as a messenger on behalf of Paul. He is a man with a track record of preaching the gospel faithfully alongside the apostle Paul, so that Paul refers to him as a son. Many would imagine that serving alongside an apostle would qualify one for far more important things than a mere visit to a church to see how they are doing! But there is no service too ordinary for the man or woman of God to do in the service of our great King! He is worthy of our efforts no matter how glamorous they may seem to the onlooking world!
This ordinary ministry would seem beneath those who consider themselves super apostles, it does nothing to boost the ego of the messenger. Timothy will be welcomed as a guest, but he will not be planting a megachurch or leading a movement or writing a book. He will simply be visiting the Philippians to tell them of Paul’s concern for them and to spend time with them.
Yet this seemingly ordinary act of christian love and service is actually not very common. What was uncommon about Timothy’s act of service was the heart from which he served. Timothy loved Jesus Christ. He was happy to go anywhere and do anything for Jesus. He loved others in the simplest ways simply because Jesus loved them. He understood that to love a brother or sister in the Lord, to seek their welfare above one’s own, is to love the Lord Jesus Christ and bring him honor.
To seek the interest of Jesus Christ, we must first be transformed by him. To love others, we must first receive the love of Christ for us. This is why I John 4:19 tells us that we love because he first loved us! It is also why Paul first reminds us of the love of Christ for us before showing us what it looks like to love Jesus Christ. First Paul spends time telling us that Jesus Christ willingly left heaven, became a man, and humbled himself to the point of dying a criminals death on a tortuous cross. Only after sharing with us the love of Christ for us and the rewards given to Christ for his sacrifice does he proceed to give us an example of what it means to love and serve our beloved Lord and Savior!
Timothy loved the Lord with his heart, and his genuine love showed in his ordinary and faithful acts of service.
One of my former mentors while I was in seminary was a ruling elder named Tim Adcock. I learned a lot from him. One of the things he used to say was that true fatherly love is displayed not with words, but when one is cleaning up a child’s puke in the wee hours of the morning. Such work done eagerly for the sake of the family is an ordinary act of service which shows a genuine and abiding love. Beloved, we are called to uncommon love for Jesus Christ, and we are called to express it in ordinary ways. For this is how we glorify God and not ourselves.
No wonder Jesus said that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven would be the greatest servant! He washed our feet, taking the role of the lowest servant precisely because he cared nothing about his own ego or reputation, but only about serving those whom he loved. Their feet were dirty, what further reason does one consumed with love for others need for washing feet? Love does not consider service beneath them, for love is only concerned about the needs of others.
- Seeking the interest of others
It is difficult to divide the service of God from the service of others, for those who love God express that love in the most visible ways when they serve others.
Epaphroditus was also sent by Paul who calls him a brother, fellow worker, and soldier for Christ. He sends him not on a glorious mission to fight a battle for fame and riches, but as a messenger. For Paul says that he had received Epaphroditus as a messenger from the Philippians and as a minister to his needs. Most likely he came to help Paul with ordinary, mundane things, yet Paul calls him a fellow worker and soldier for Christ.
It is my understanding that the majority of what a soldier does is mundane. Yes, there are battles, and soldiers take risks. We should honor them because they are willing to lay down their lives for us. But boot camp is not glamorous. Drills, schooling, discipline, sleeping in tents, these are not the glorious tasks to which most aspire. And most of our soldiers perform mundane duties. Cooks, technicians, managers, welders, and nearly every other job is included in the military. We say of our soldiers, seamen, airmen, and officers that they serve our country, and they do. They serve on a day to day basis in many ordinary ways, but their heart, their willingness to die for us and for freedom, are what sets them apart.
In the same way, Epaphroditus served Paul, perhaps as a secretary, perhaps running errands for him while he was in prison, perhaps binding up his wounds or bringing him food, or perhaps simply keeping him company. And we learn that during the course of this mundane and ordinary ministry, Epaphroditus became very sick. In fact, he nearly died.
But the text does not say that Epaphroditus was homesick, that he regretted risking his life to serve Paul in ordinary ways, rather, he heard that the Philippians were concerned about him and he longed to visit them to show them that he was OK! What an extraordinary way of thinking! For even in his sickness Epaphroditus thought more about the needs of others than his own!
Paul also demonstrated ordinary love and concern for Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians. He loved Timothy as a son, yet was willing to send him away on this long and dangerous journey to care for the Philippians. He was blessed by the ministry of Epaphroditus, yet he would happily send him to the Philippians that their hearts may be glad to see him fully recovered from his deadly sickness. In sending these two men, Paul sent his best help, his dearest friends, considering the needs of the Philippian church more important than his own. And in this seemingly mundane, ordinary act, Paul demonstrates his uncommon love for others.
Serving the Lord requires two things, first, a heart overwhelmed with the love of Jesus Christ, and second an ordinary opportunity to share that love with others. The most beautiful acts of service to our Lord are those which no one sees as glamorous, for they are the acts done purely for the sake of Jesus Christ and not for our own glory. So seek the ordinary ways of loving and caring for others. And ask God to fill your heart with a knowledge of his great love for you that it may not only minister to your soul, but also may flow through you, spilling over into the lives of others. For this is the ordinary and uncommon ministry to which every follower of Jesus Christ has been called.
Let us pray…