The apostle Paul has presented to these Christians in Philippi that living a life in a manner worthy of the gospel is a humble, self-sacrificing life. We read that Christians are to in humility count others more significant than themselves (2:3). Christians are to look out for the interests of others and not merely their own (2:4). Then the apostle wrote that we are to have the same mind that is seen in Jesus who lived a humble, self-sacrificing life. The reason Paul recounted the life of Jesus is so that we would be reminded that he sacrificed himself completely and God glorified him for his sacrifice. But Paul is not done showing us examples of humble, self-sacrificing lives. Christ is our preeminent example and we are to have the same mind and attitude as him. Paul writes so that these Christians will see that this is exactly what Christians do. Living a humble, self-sacrificing life is not a theory. Those who are blameless, children of God without blemish, shining as lights in the world, and hold fast to the word of life are those who practice joyful sacrifice.
Paul, The Drink Offering (2:17-18)
Paul begins with his own example for them by describing himself as a drink offering on their sacrifice. This is the concept of a drink offering: after the priest would place the animal on the altar for sacrifice, the priest would take wine and pour it out on the burning sacrifice or in front of the altar. This is the imagery Paul is using of himself. Paul describes the lives of these Christians as the primary sacrifice and himself as the drink offering over top their sacrifice. So he is offering himself on their behalf, on top of their sacrificial service.
But the point is not merely that Paul is the drink offering as he awaits the outcome of his trial while sitting in prison. Listen to what Paul says. Even if he is poured out as a drink offering, “I am glad and rejoice with you all.” Paul is describing his own joyful sacrifice. Not only this, he calls upon these Christians to also sacrifice joyfully. “Likewise you should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul is glad to sacrifice himself on their behalf. Now Paul does not spend much time on his own sacrifice at this moment. He will return to his own sacrifice for Christ in chapter 3. Instead, Paul wants to describe two others Christians that are important to the Philippian Christians that are joyfully sacrificing themselves.
Timothy, Proven Worth (2:19-24)
Since Paul is in his prison, he desires to send Timothy to them. Listen to the character of Timothy. “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (2:20). Others seek out their own interests and not the interests of Christ. But Timothy, a son in the faith to Paul, is different, like Christians are called to be. He is genuinely concerned about your welfare. Presently, Timothy is serving Paul in prison in the gospel (2:22). Therefore, Paul and these Philippians know Timothy’s proven worth. Why is Timothy valuable? What made Timothy worth in Christ to others proven? Timothy put the interests of others ahead of his own.
It is easy to serve others when we have our own interests in view. We will serve because we have an eye for what we are going to get out of it. I will do something for you and in the back of my mind I am expecting you to do something back for me. Here is a simple example: if you give a gift of a certain dollar amount to another person, perhaps a co-worker or acquaintance, what do you expect back? You probably expect back the same amount on your birthday. It is easy to serve the other person in that moment because you expect to receive the same back. But what do you think when you do not get the same amount back? What if that person forgets your birthday? What do you do next year? You are not going to get that person a gift, right? This is the problem that we are trying to find in our hearts. It is easy to serve others interests when you have your own interests in view. But that is not real service. This is not true sacrifice. We are only giving or serving or sacrificing because we expect something in return of equal value. Paul tells these Christians that Timothy has proven worth to him and to them because he is genuine about his concern for their interests and welfare. Timothy illustrates in his life the commands of Philippians 2:3-5. Timothy is counting others more significant than himself. He is considering their interests over his own. He has the mind of Christ which is the mind of humble, self-sacrifice.
Please notice verse 21. If you are seeking your own interests, then you cannot be seeking Christ’s interests. If you are seeking Christ’s interests then you are not seeking your own interests. We cannot seek our own interests and think that we are serving and seeking the interests of Christ. This is a disappointing and frightening trend in the evangelical world where churches try to make their services and activities things that match the people’s interests. We have to change our interests away from our desires into Christ’s desires. The things that I want to do are not the things that Christ wants me to do. Timothy’s proven worth is seen in the rejection of his own interests and the seeking the interests of others, which is therefore seeking Christ’s interests.
Epaphroditus, Risking Life (2:25-30)
Until Timothy is sent to them and until Paul can come to them, Paul has sent Epaphroditus to them. Listen to how Paul views Epaphroditus. He is “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.” It appears that he was part of the church in Philippi because Paul also calls him “your messenger and minister to my need.” They sent Epaphroditus to Paul as a messenger and minister while he was imprisoned. But Epaphroditus fell gravely ill. Verse 27 tells us that Epaphroditus was near death.
Now what do we do when we fall ill? What is our natural reaction? We want people to serve us and pay attention to us. We want people to dote over us and check in on us. We want people to care for us. We may even do some things to try to manipulate others to pay attention to us. Listen to what the thinking of Epaphroditus is. He is gravely ill, near the point of death. Yet, Epaphroditus is distressed because these Christians heard that he was ill. Even though he was near death, Epaphroditus is more concerned about these Christians than his own physical well being. He does not want them fretting over his condition. He does not want them fawning over him. Listen to the scripture: “He has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard he was ill” (2:26). He is considering these Christians more significant than himself and is going to return to them to encourage them. He does not sit back in his distress and illness expecting people to run to him. He is upset that people are distressed over him. This is what humble, self-sacrifice looks like. You do not want people paying attention to you. You want to pay attention to them!
Not only this, Epaphroditus is a man who is ready to give his life for the Lord. Verse 30 says that he nearly died for the work of Christ. He risked his life for the gospel and to serve Paul. He put Paul’s interests ahead of his own. Epaphroditus won’t tell them that. He is distressed that they know this. But Paul tells them what is going on. Epaphroditus risked his life to complete his service to Paul on behalf of the Philippians (2:30). Verse 29 tells us that these are Christians who are to be received with joy and honor for their faith and sacrifice for Christ.
God’s servants live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ when they risk it all for Christ. We demonstrate proven worth by showing genuine concern for others, not just when it serves our desires. God’s servants seek the interests of Christ above their own interests. We even risk ourselves in the service of others. We help them because this is how we are serving Christ. We must not reject the opportunities to help and serve one another. The fundamental identity of a servant of God is seeking the interests of others. Friends, this is the very message of Christ and what it means to be his disciple.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:34–37 ESV)
Then Jesus went on to say this:
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45 ESV)
As followers of Jesus we cannot adopt any other mindset than the one Jesus showed us.