4 Life Lessons from Epaphroditus

Today I’m sharing a Bible study at Noonday at the Baptist Student Union of Mississippi State University (#HailState). Since I went to already went to the trouble of collecting my thoughts for them, I thought I’d share them with you as well.

epap

My assignment was to do a character study of Epaphroditus from the New Testament. Never heard of Epaphroditus? Don’t worry, no one has! He gets fifteen seconds of fame in the book of Philippians. And yet from those few short verses, we can learn some timeless truths. Let me set it up this way: how many of you have an older sibling? How many of you grew up in your older sibling’s shadow? How many of you are secretly convinced that your parents had a favorite child growing up, and it wasn’t you?  That’s a little tougher because your parents will deny it, but you know . . . you know.

The reason I bring all this up is because I sense a little of this relationship when I read the passage in Philippians 2, the only time in Scripture where Epaphroditus is mentioned.

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.

Paul wants to send Timothy to the church in Philippi as his ambassador/surrogate to check on them, and Timothy will return and give Paul an update on the church.

20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

“I have no one else like him.” Paul knows a lot of people. He’s about to mention Epaphroditus, but about Timothy he says, “I have no one else like him.” Paul loves Timothy. He says, “everyone looks out for their own interests.” The context is that Paul is talking about other ministers. He’s saying out of all of his surrogates, Timothy is the most faithful, because he’s completely sold out to 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.

As a son with his father. That’s where Paul makes the father/son reference. Paul loves this guy! So, to sum up: Timothy is awesome, he’s sold out to Jesus, he’s like Paul’s son. Now, we’re about to get to Epaphroditus. I’m going to read it straight through, and I want you to actively listen and see if you can tell any difference about how Paul writes about Timothy and how he writes about Epaphroditus.

25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-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 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. Philippians 2:19-30

I mean, he compliments Epaphroditus. He’s a brother (not like a son to him), co-worker, fellow soldier. Compliments, but not the warmth. His task was to take an offering from the church in Philippi in modern day Turkey to where Paul was imprisoned in Rome to help him with his expenses. So the picture is of Epaphroditus being sent to help and minister to Paul, and it was just short of an epic fail. Yes, he got the money to Paul that he needed, but Epaphroditus got deathly ill while in Rome. He almost died. So Epaphroditus was sent to take care of Paul because Paul was imprisoned under house arrest, and in the end Epaphroditus became a burden to Paul because he almost died and Paul had to bring him back to health. Now obviously it wasn’t Epaphroditus’ fault. Health conditions were bad back then. But it’s not like Epaphroditus would ever look back at that trip to Rome, to minister to the great Paul and say to himself “nailed it.” He almost died. And you almost get the sense that Paul is relieved to be sending Epaphroditus back to Phillipi, that Epaphroditus was a burden to Paul. He says, “Timothy, he needs to stay with me. Epaphroditus, you can go back.” Who seems to be more important to Paul?

Now, Paul is very gracious about the whole thing by saying at the end, “Welcome him in the Lord and honor men like him,” but if you had to pick the favorite son out of these two, we’d all say it was Timothy. That’s why there are millions of people named Timothy walking around this earth (currently ranked #125 in US births. Highest ranking was #11 in 1967) and hardly anyone named Epaphroditus. If we had choose between the two, I think all of us would rather say, “I’d want to be Timothy.” So, just to keep things interesting (and because there are already a million sermons on Timothy), I want to give you 4 lessons from the life of Epaphroditus.

 

1. Serving doesn’t exclude you from suffering.

Here Epaphroditus is doing something great, something meaningful, something in service of God. And he almost dies. God is sovereign. He could have kept Epaphroditus from becoming ill, but in his sovereign wisdom and choice, he chose not to. There is this prevailing myth out there that if we just love Jesus enough, he’ll take all of our problems away and it will be nothing but rainbows and unicorns. So when life gets tough, we figure we’re doing something wrong or God doesn’t love us that much. Serving doesn’t exclude you from suffering.

2. Failure is a normal part of life, including serving God.

Epaphroditus’ mission was by many accounts a failure. That doesn’t mean that Epaphroditus was a failure. You will fail. If you allow failure or the fear of failure to cripple you, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and you’ll actually become a failure. I pastor a healthy, vibrant church. Now I can whitewash my past and leave out the part where several years ago I was fired from my church. I just wasn’t working out for them. Failure is a part of life. Failure doesn’t make you a failure. Failing to learn from your failures makes you a failure. Failure will be one of the most incredible teaching tools you’ll ever have in life. No one wants to fail. No one plans to fail. But when you fail, learn from it.

3. Value in the Kingdom will always spring from community.

Why did Epaphroditus make Scripture? Because he was so vital to the community in Philippi. They were genuinely concerned about him. He had spent years faithfully serving, leading, helping, teaching. The church at Philippi was his family. Don’t drop from community when you’re in college. Get involved in a local body of believers. Plug in. Teach middle schoolers. Sit next to senior adults. Value has always sprung from community. It you want to make a difference, you have to be plugged into community.

4. The majority (or all) of your life will be out of the limelight.

Are you okay with that? We all want to be Timothy. In reality, we’re more like Epaphroditus. It’s tough for us. You’re the ‘selfie’ generation. Our fascination with ourselves. You want to change the world, but you want the world to watch you do it. What if you serve God with all your heart, but don’t get any earthly recognition for it? Are you okay with that? You may never be famous. You may never be up in front of people as a pastor. If you are, maybe you’ll always serve in smaller churches. Maybe your life will be something out of the limelight, like a nurse, an engineer, an accountant. Not exactly the flashy roles like missionary or pastor. But you still have a role to play. Are you okay if your role is out of the limelight?

If we ever want God to do anything through us, there has to be a death to self. It’s not easy, it’s painful, but it’s the price tag for being used to do something meaningful in your life.

Who Wouldn’t Want to Be Married to This Spouse?

Romantic movies continually portray society’s picture of the ideal spouse (namely cute and witty). But I’ve got a better picture of the ideal spouse that I think we would all rather be married to. Who wouldn’t want to be married to a spouse:

ideal spouse

  • Who overflowed with visible, tangible love for you all the time?
  • Who was so full of joy that it was contagious to everyone around them?
  • Who was at peace with who God created them to be; never needy or clingy?
  • Who was patient with you, always quick to give you the benefit of the doubt and forgive you when you made a mistake?
  • Who was always kind, never mean or spiteful to you?
  • Who was a genuinely good person, whom you knew would always do the right thing?
  • Who was faithful to you, in such a way that you never had to doubt it? What if your spouse’s faithfulness became a bedrock that undergirded your entire relationship?
  • Who was gentle towards you, forgiving of your faults, full of mercy, never assigning blame, always there to help you and comfort you in your moments of weakness?
  • Who was full of self-control, discipline, worked hard, didn’t give into temptation, made you and the family better people?

Here’s my question: who wouldn’t want to be married to that person!?! This ideal spouse was described 2000 years ago when the apostle Paul wrote to the early church about the characteristics of someone who is full of the Spirit of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

As much as you wish this for your spouse, realize that your spouse is sitting opposite of you, wishing the exactly the same thing about you! As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, the way to be the best spouse you can be is to get as close to Jesus as you can, to the point where His characteristics, His values, His power begin to bleed over into your life, making you the ideal spouse.

3 Things I Tell All Young Parents

Last night at our Parent/Child Dedication Service I had the opportunity to share three words of wisdom to young parents as they start out this incredible journey of parenthood. I thought I’d share those same three thoughts with you:

 

parents

1. The best gift you can give your children is a healthy marriage. More than a good education, more than strong athletic opportunities, more than exposure to the arts, the best gift you can give your children is a healthy and vibrant marriage. Study after study has shown that kids raised in healthy homes have a much better chance to be successful at almost everything in life. Put God first, then your spouse, then your kids. Those priorities are the best gift you could ever give your children.

2. The best way to ensure your children have a vibrant relationship with Jesus when they move out of the house is to have one of your own. As a youth pastor for ten years, I was constantly asked how to ensure that kids still followed Jesus when they went off to college. More than having them in church, more than simply teaching them Bible knowledge, the key is to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus yourself. You can’t fake it. An authentic relationship with Jesus is more caught then taught.

3. The most potent weapon you have in your arsenal is time. Time makes everything that matters matter more. Parents have years and years to give small doses of the most important things to their children over time. Love over time gives a child a sense of worth. Words over time gives a child a sense of direction. Stories over time gives a child a sense of perspective. Fun over time gives a child a sense of deep connection. Community over time gives a child a sense of belonging.

If you have young children in the house, you have time, years and years that parents of older children wish they could get back. Make the most of it!

How Wives Can Show RESPECT To Their Husbands

Yesterday I shared how husbands can show love to their wives. Today is the second part from the book Love and Respect, on how wives can show respect to their husbands.

love and respect

Conquest – Appreciate his desire to work and achieve. Your husband will feel you appreciate his desire to work and achieve when . . .

  • You tell him verbally or in writing that you value his work efforts.
  • You express your faith in him related to his chosen field.
  • You listen to his work stories as closely as you expect him to listen to your accounts of what happens in the family.
  • You see yourself as his helpmate and counterpart and talk with him about this whenever possible.
  • You allow him to dream as you did when you were courting.
  • You don’t dishonor or subtly criticize his work “in the field” to get him to show more love “in the family.”

 

Hierarchy – Appreciate his desire to protect and provide. Your husband will feel you appreciate his desire to protect and provide when . . .

  • You verbalize your admiration of him for protecting you and being willing to die for you.
  • You praise his commitment to provide for and protect you and the family (he needs to know you don’t take this for granted).
  • You empathize when he reveals his male mind-set about position, status, rank, or being one-up or one-down, particularly at work.
  • You never mock the idea of “looking up to him” as your protector to prevent him from “looking down on you.”
  • You never, in word or body language, put down his job or how much he makes.
  • You are always ready to figuratively “light the candles,” as E.V. Hill’s wife did when they couldn’t afford to pay the light bill.
  • You quietly and respectfully voice concerns about finances and try to offer solutions on where you might be able to cut spending.

 

Authority – Appreciate his desire to serve and to lead. He will feel you appreciate his authority and leadership when . . .

  • You tell him you are thankful for his strength and enjoy being able to lean on him at times.
  • You support his self-image as a leader.
  • You never say, “You’re responsible but we’re still equal, so don’t make a decision I don’t agree with.”
  • You praise his good decisions.
  • You are gracious if he makes a bad decision.
  • You disagree with him only in private and honor his authority in front of the kids.
  • You give your reasons for disagreeing quietly and reasonably, but you never attack his right to lead.
  • You do not play “head games” with him to make him back down and be a “loving peacemaker.”

 

Insight – Appreciate his desire to analyze and counsel. Your husband will feel you appreciate his insight and counsel when . . .

  • You tell him upfront you just need his ear; don’t complain to him later that he always tries to “fix” you.
  • You thank him for his advice without acting insulted or like he doesn’t care about your feelings.
  • You recognize his problem-solving approach as his male brand of empathy.
  • You realize your vulnerabilities, especially among males, and value his protection.
  • You counsel him respectfully when you differ with his idea (you can be right but present your views in a wrong way).
  • You sometimes let him “fix things” and applaud his solutions.
  • You let him know that you believe God has made us male and female for a purpose and that we need each other.
  • You admit that you make mistakes and thank him for his perception and godly counsel.

 

Relationship – Appreciate his desire for shoulder-to-shoulder friendship. Your husband will feel you value his shoulder-to-shoulder friendship when . . .

  • You tell him you like him and you show it (he knows you love him, but he often wonders if you really like him).
  • You respond to his invitation to engage in recreational activities together or you come along to watch him (you don’t have to go every time, but just now and then will energize him more than you realize).
  • You enable him to open up and talk to you as you do things shoulder to shoulder.
  • You encourage him to spend time alone, which energizes him to reconnect with you later.
  • You don’t denounce his shoulder-to-shoulder activities with his male friends to get him to spend face-to-face time with you. Respect his friendships, and he will be more likely to want you to join him shoulder to shoulder at other times.

 

Sexuality – Appreciate his desire for sexual intimacy. He will feel you appreciate his desire for sexual intimacy when . . .

  • You respond to him sexually more often and initiate sex periodically.
  • You understand he needs sexual release just as you need emotional release.
  • You let him acknowledge his sexual temptations without fearing he’ll be unfaithful and without shaming him.
  • You don’t try and make him open up to you verbally by depriving him of sex.

How Husbands Can Show LOVE To Their Wives

Ephesians 5:33 says, “However, each one of you [husband] also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

love and respect

In his book Love and Respect, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs shares practical ways that husbands can show love to their wives. Buy his book for more ideas, but here are the highlights:

Closeness. She wants you to be close. Your wife feels close to you when . . .

  • You hold her hand.
  • You hug her.
  • You are affectionate without sexual intentions.
  • You are with her alone so you can focus on each other and laugh together.
  • You go for a walk or jog . . . or anything that results in togetherness.
  • You seek her out . . . set up a date night . . . eat by candlelight.
  • You go out of your way to do something for her, like run an errand.
  • You make it a priority to spend time with her.
  • You are aware of her as a person with a mind and opinions . . . let her know you enjoy discussing things with her and getting her insights.
  • You suggest the unexpected . . . get takeout and each on the beach . . . take a walk to see the full moon . . . park on the bluff and watch the sunset.
  • You pillow talk after making love . . . lie close with your arm around her and share feelings and intimate ideas . . . and never turn on SportsCenter or Nightline.

 

Openness – She wants you to open up to her. Your wife feels you are open to her when . . .

  • You share your feelings, telling about your day and difficulties.
  • You say, “Let’s talk,” ask her what she’s feeling, and ask for her opinions.
  • Your face shows you want to talk – relaxed body language, good eye contact.
  • You take her for a walk to talk and reminisce about how you met or perhaps you talk about the kids and problems she may be having with them.
  • You pray with her.
  • You give her your full attention . . . no grunting responses while trying to watch tv, read the newspaper, or write e-mails.
  • You discuss financial concerns, possible job changes, or ideas for your future.

 

Understanding – Don’t try to “fix” her; just listen. She’ll feel you’re trying to understand her when . . .

  • You listen and can repeat back what she said.
  • You don’t try to “fix her problems” unless she specifically asks for a solution.
  • You try to identify her feelings.
  • You never dismiss her feelings, no matter how illogical they may seem to you.
  • You say, “I appreciate you sharing that with me.”
  • You don’t interrupt her when she’s trying to tell you how she feels.
  • You apologize and admit when you were wrong.
  • You cut her some slack during her monthly cycle.
  • You see something that needs to be done and you do it without a lot of hassle.
  • You express appreciation for all she does: “Honey, I could never do your job.”
  • You pray with her and for her.

 

Peacemaking – She wants you to say, “I’m sorry.” She’ll feel at peace with you when . . .

  • You let her vent her frustrations and hurts and don’t get angry and close her off.
  • You admit you are wrong and apologize by saying, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
  • You understand her natural desires to negotiate, compromise, and defer, and you meet her halfway.
  • You try to keep your relationship “up-to-date,” resolving the unresolved and never saying, “Forget it.”
  • You forgive her for any wrongs she confesses.
  • You never nurse bitterness and always reassure her of your love.
  • You pray with her after a hurtful time.

 

Loyalty – She needs to know you’re committed. She is assured of your loyalty when . . .

  • You speak highly of her in front of others.
  • You are involved in things important to her.
  • You help her make decisions, such as ones regarding the children.
  • You don’t correct her in front of the children.
  • You don’t look lustfully at other women.
  • You make her and your marriage a priority.
  • You are never critical of her or your children in front of others.
  • You include her in social gatherings when others may leave their spouses home.
  • You tell the kids, “Don’t speak to your mother that way!”
  • You call and let her know your plans.
  • You keep commitments.
  • You speak positively of her and the children at all times.

 

Esteem – She wants you to honor and cherish her. Your wife will feel esteemed when . . .

  • You say, “I’m so proud the way you handled that.”
  • You speak highly of her in front of others.
  • You open the door for her.
  • You try something new with her.
  • You give her encouragement or praise with kindness and enthusiasm.
  • You notice something different about her hair or clothes.
  • You are physically affectionate with her in public.
  • You teach the children to show her and others respect.
  • You value her opinion in the gray areas as not wrong but just different – and valid.
  • You choose family outings over “guy things.”
  • You make her feel first in importance.
  • You are proud of her and all she does.

 

Tomorrow I’ll share practical ways that wives can show respect to their husbands.