Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Be A Letter of Joy to Others: A Sermon - Philippians 2:19-30

Buenos dias y bienvenido a Trinidad. Voy a ensenar totalmente en espanol este manana. Ojala que puedes entenderme. Hay dos posibilidades para error cuando predico en espanol. Uno, es possible que no hablas espanol, no entiendes nada, y puedo decir lo que quiero. Pero tambien, es muy possible, es cierto que en realidad yo no puedo hablar espanol corectamente y nadie pero Dios y yo sabe que estoy haciendo. Entonces probablamente es mejor hablar en ingles.

Did everyone get that? Let me translate for you. I said “Good day and welcome to Trinity. I'm going to teach entirely in Spanish this morning. I hope you can understand me. There are two possibilities for error when I preach in Spanish. One, it is possible that you don't speak Spanish, you don't understand anything, and I can say what I want. But also, it is very possible, it is true that in reality I can't speak Spanish properly and no one but God and I know what I am doing. So, it’s probably better to speak in English.”

That’s what I said, or I tried to say in Spanish, I hope those of you who are actually proficient in that language will forgive me for my amateur Spanish and I look forward to hearing the difference between what I think I said and what I actually said. Translation is an amazing process. It takes that which is incomprehensible and puts it into a form which we can understand. We usually think about it with regards to words, translating from one language to another but the word translation can also be used in a variety of contexts to talk about a change from one form into another. I’m going to go high school teacher on you here for a moment. In Geometry, you can shift and move an object from one place or one orientation to another and we call that mathematical translation. I think I just saw everyone’s eyes immediately glaze over when the graph showed up there. 

Let’s look at another example of translation, changing from one form into another. These groupings of three letters each code for a specific molecule. This is a DNA sequence and these letters, which we can read right here as letters, can be biologically transformed, and the word used for this step in the process is translation, through translation these letters become life. ATG-TCA-AAT– what at first might appear to be incomprehensible though the process of translation becomes the molecules of life, ultimately when whole DNA sequences are translated they are expressed as life, as functioning living beings.

Amazingly, God actually translated himself for us. God, the creator of the universe who has these attributes that are impossible for us to understand, a Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable,  translated himself into a different form as he took on human flesh in the most understandable and ultimate revelation and expression of who God really is. As the book of Hebrews says , in the past God spoke through many different ways, His words recorded in Scripture, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” and not just using Jesus mouthpiece, but Jesus is God’s word, the letters of God if you will, translated into life. John 1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The literal Word of God, by which he spoke creation into being, which was recorded in the law and in the Old Testament became flesh. Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light for my path.” This Word has been translated into life, into the person of Jesus, into a form just like you and I. This is why Jesus stands uniquely in history, fully God and fully human, as the one way of us connecting, returning to the one God.

Today, as we continue our study on the book of Philippians, we find another example of words, in this case Paul’s letter, being translated into life as Paul’s apprentices literally embody, enflesh the words of  Paul’s letter. Paul and the Philippians aren’t just sending words back and forth to each other, but actual individuals who exemplify the written word. Timothy and Epaphroditus personify Paul’s letter of Joy to the Philippians. 
Please open your bibles to our passage for today, Philippians 2:19-30. As we read this text, especially if you’ve been with us for this summer series, look for themes that Paul has already been impressing on us in his letter. If you are just joining us in the series I encourage you to read the letter the Philippians, its only about 3-4 pages long, and of course our past sermons are available online in audio and written format. Philippians 2:19-30:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. 25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow 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 Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.

Timothy and Epaphroditus, by their personal characteristics, their actions, by the way in which they live their lives personify the words that Paul has already written in this letter. First Paul has written about being one in Spirit. In 1:27 Paul wrote to the Philippians “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel…I will know that you stand firm in one spirit [psyche]”, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” He writes again in 2:2 “[M]ake my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit [sym-psyche] and purpose.” Paul has written these words, not just to be intellectually grasped, for us to us to create a systematic list of things that Christians ought to do, but so that they would be translated into reality. In our passage for today, Paul puts forward Timothy as the embodiment of his letter, Timothy is one in Spirit with Paul. In verse 20 he says “I have no one else like him” and this phrase in the original language indicates not only Timothy’s dearness to Paul but also is an expression that means to be of the same spirit, or same soul as Paul.  One translation (NAS) expresses verse 20 like this “For I have no one else of kindred spirit [iso-psyche] who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” The reason Timothy is so unique, like no one else, is because he actually personifies, translates into life this oneness that Paul’s been writing about.

Timothy also personifies Paul’s words by putting the interests of others above himself. In 2:4 Paul wrote “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In Pastor’s Michael’s sermon “Humble Steps to Greatness”  two Sundays ago we learned about how self-submission leads to God exaltation. When we humble ourselves, when we put others first, when we lower ourselves we actually paradoxically are raised up to heights of personal contentment and joy that we could never achieve on our own. Here, in our passage Paul writes “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (2:20-21). Timothy is of kindred spirit, there’s no one else like him, because he actually lives out what Paul has written. He takes genuine interest in the welfare of others and in Jesus and this in contrast to everyone else who live for themselves. This concept of looking to the interests of others, having an outward focus rather than a self-focus is incredibly countercultural for us. Maybe you’ve heard this acronym before that has become kind of a rallying cry for when you want to do something ridiculous. YOLO: You only live once. It’s incredibly popular among younger generations, in fact so popular that it’s become way overused. At first it meant something like Carpe Diem, seize the day, but it became you only live once so do whatever you want. Here are a couple tweets so you get the idea of what it means and how we live in a time just like Paul where “everyone looks out for [their] own interests.” Timothy stands out in his generation as one who personifies Paul’s words. He chooses the acronym we’ve seen in this series before JOY: Jesus Others Yourself rather than YOLO: You only live once.

Timothy and Epaphroditus both personify Paul’s letter because of their proven character in the face of suffering and opposition. In 1:27-30 Paul wrote “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…I will know that you stand firm…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”  Three Sundays ago I spoke about the joy that Paul exhibits in the face of certain death and the suffering he went through. We read from Romans 5:3-4 “[W]e rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  In 2:22 Paul writes of Timothy “You know Timothy’s proven worth” which is the same word for character in the Romans passage and refers to the character of one who has remained faithful despite hardship. Epaphroditus also, in 2:30 “[Epaphroditus] nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.”  Timothy and Epaphroditus put their lives completely out there, they’ve been through suffering, they’ve been through opposition, and their character has been proven and refined as a result of everything. It’s a reminder to us, once again, of how even though God can use even our suffering and those opposed to us to create people of proven character. I can’t tell you as a pastor watching life group leaders and others in service and in ministry how amazing it is when I have the privilege to work alongside someone who has translated this into life, who shows perseverance, who has character, who has proven worth in the face of obstacles to their commitments and their service. It’s no wonder that Paul says “I have no one else like him”.

Probably the most important way in these men personify Paul’s letter is as slaves of Jesus and in partnership in the Gospel. The very first verse, Paul open “Paul and Timothy, servants [slaves] of Christ Jesus.”  In 1:4-5 Paul wrote “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel.”  Later in 2:7 he points us to Jesus himself who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant [a slave].” In our passage 2:22 “[Timothy] has served [slaved] with me in the work of the gospel.” In 2:25 he gives Epaphroditus all the honorable titles as “fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger” which is the same word for translated apostle. These guys personify Paul’s letter putting Jesus completely first in their lives and they make bringing the good news, the gospel, about Jesus to everyone their life’s work. Where many of us define ourselves by our profession, these two define themselves as slaves of Jesus and partners in the gospel. If you look at the bottom of your notes page, I’ve left you some space for a fun exercise. Write your name there, and the number of years in which you have been a slave, a servant of Jesus Christ. For some of you it may be 0, for others it may be many more. This is for yourself, I don’t want to see people comparing lists and resumes out in the lobby later. Since you became a follower of Jesus, what are some ministry roles you’ve filled? What are some real, tangible ways, roles in which you’ve been a servant of Jesus Christ that you could write on a resume, or in which you have partnered together with others for the gospel? The term we use here at Trinity for being a member, is covenant partner, because we believe that we together as a body are partners in the gospel. Write on your resume how you’ve translated these words of Paul, being a servant, being a partner in the gospel, into real life.

As I read about Timothy and Epaphroditus, how they personified everything we’ve been reading in the letter to the Philippians – one in spirit, the interests of others, proven character, slaves of Jesus, partnership in the gospel – translating Paul’s words into life, I’m encouraged and challenged to become a letter of joy to others.

Paul sends not only these written correspondences to the early church, but he sends tangible real life translations. Timothy, as we pointed out earlier, is of the same spirit, the same soul as Paul, he is, in verse 22, like a son in the image of his spiritual father, Paul whose own life is in imitation and of the same spirit and soul as his rabbi Jesus. The primary mode of discipleship and passing the practical living out of the gospel was not accomplished through what we would today consider traditional classroom style teaching. Today if you want to master a subject or a profession, you go to school and you get a degree in whatever subject it is that you desire. You can get a masters in finance,  a masters in criminal justice, a masters in environmental science, for pastors a masters in divinity (that’s what our masters degree is called), whatever subject you want to master is the title that you receive. This wasn’t always the case and isn’t always the case in every culture. Paul didn’t have a masters of divinity. Paul had a master of Jesus Christ. The way the rabbis, the teachers of the Jewish faith, worked was that you were known not by topic or subject, but by who your rabbi was. So you had a degree in John  or a degree in Michael because knowledge, particularly with a life of faith, was to be lived out, translated into life. Paul writes to the church at Corinth expressing this same concept in 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.”  Paul’s way of life in Christ Jesus is organically passed through discipleship, through being one spirit, one soul into Timothy, who then proceeds to invest in others, the Corinthians and the Philippians as he personifies this aspect of Paul’s words.

We’re at the halfway point in this letter, in this series. Paul usually saves his travel plans for the end of the letters but it seems he wanted to bring these two out as models of what he’s been writing about. For us, the question becomes clear. As we continue this series, do we listen and read these words, take our notes and then let the information go the way of geometry and biology, somewhere  in the inner recesses of our minds. Do we have a masters in theology or do we have a master in Jesus? Do we go forward from teaching moments into actual relationships with real people who we can imitate like Paul and who can invest in others like Timothy?  Let me urge you, wherever you may be, to take a step, to translate your faith into life, whether it’s one on one with someone, in a discipleship group of 2 or 3, or in a life group or a missional community, be of one spirit, one soul and translate these words into life.

Finally, as we conclude time together today, think about this. Paul sends not only written letters but these people who have translated the gospel into their lives, who are the living body of Christ, the Church. You are the Church. You are the body of Christ sent into the world. For many who will never step foot on a church campus or open their bible or who find the Christian faith incomprehensible in the forms they’ve encountered, you are a letter of Joy translated into life and you are being sent to your communities, your Philippians.  My prayer is that as we partner together for the gospel, as slaves of Jesus Christ, we would translate this into life.