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Download Philipians 2:19-29
I’m not sure how much background you have on the book of Philippians, so let me just quickly refresh our memories. Most likely, Paul was writing from Rome, where he was under arrest, awaiting an audience with the Roman Emperor, who would decide whether he would live or die. The Philippians were a church that Paul had helped to start, and they had helped him more than once by sending money, and possibly supplies of various kinds. Reading between the lines, the situation was probably something like this: The Philippians sent Paul some gifts as he awaited judgment in Rome. They sent those gifts with their chosen messenger, Epaphroditus. While in Rome, Epaphroditus had taken sick, and almost died. After he recovered, Paul wrote this letter, and sent it back to the Philippians with him. Today, we are in the text that mentions what had happened with Epaphroditus.
It appears that Paul was wondering about whether he would live or die. At times, he must have felt abandoned and alone.
Paul begins this text with “Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you.” It’s a small phrase, but it contains a big thought. At one level, Paul’s desire is very ordinary and mundane – he wants to send Timothy to Philippians to encourage them, and also to bring back a report to him. But even in this ordinary, mundane matter Paul doesn’t simply say, “I hope.” He says, “I hope…in the Lord Jesus.” Now, we should all hope in the Lord Jesus, in the sense that Jesus is the true source of our hope of heaven, and forgiveness, and so on. But this is a little different than that. What Paul is saying is that even his ordinary, mundane hopes are run through our hope in Jesus. Every hope in life that Paul has that is a part of his hope in Jesus. Every desire of his life is tied up in his hope in Jesus.
Now, you may have heard the term, “Lord willing…” as in, “Lord willing, we’ll travel to California next month.” I don’t think this is the same thing. I know that comes from the book of James, and James’ point is that we are not in charge, the Lord is. But we can sometimes misuse what James was saying, and make it into a kind of little tag onto our own desires. We might say, “Lord willing, I’m going to buy myself a brand new sports car.” We know what we want, and we just hope that God will let us do it.
But Paul is taking a different approach here. Everything he hopes for comes in and through Jesus. Yes, he has a desire to send Timothy to Ephesus. But his hope is not simply that God will bless that, or allow it. What he wants is for his own desire to be aligned within his hope for life in Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit often uses marriage to illustrate our relationship with Jesus. Just as women need to recognize that the terms “sons of God” and “brothers in Christ” are not about gender, but rather about specific attributes of being Christian, so men need to remember that “bride of Christ” is an illustration of our relationship with Jesus, not an assignment of gender. In this case, marriage can help us. Let me start with a clear one: Can you include, within your marriage, the hope that you will have an affair? Of course not. You cannot say, “I hope, in my marriage, to have an affair,” unless you really don’t hope in your marriage at all. So we cannot hope within Jesus for something that is sinful. Now, Paul is talking about ordinary things, not something sinful. He hopes within Jesus for certain travel arrangements. So let’s illustrate that. If I hope, within my marriage, to travel, that means not that I just want my wife, Kari, to approve of my travel plans. I want her to travel with me. I want to do this together.
If I hope within my marriage for something, that means I desire it to take place with both Kari and I involved. I want my hope to take place as part of our relationship together. That is what Paul is saying about Jesus. He wants his desires to be aligned with his overall hope in Jesus. He wants every ordinary thing to be part of his relationship with Jesus.
Now, I think all this is tremendously clarifying. I might say, “I hope, within in my marriage, to buy season tickets to the Tennessee Titans.” But this isn’t really a hope for my marriage. It is my own personal hope, because I know Kari doesn’t care about football. What is really going on is that I have my own desire, and I want Kari to be OK with it. But it is not a dream or hope I have for the two of us, or for our relationship.
What Paul is showing us is that every dream or hope we have – no matter how ordinary or mundane – should be a dream or our hope for our relationship with Jesus.
Think of it like this: “I hope in Jesus to buy a brand new sports car.” Now, there may be nothing wrong with buying a brand new sports car – or there may be. But is that hope part of your hope in Jesus? I think for many of us, it is not. If we think of Jesus at all in that transaction, we just want him to allow it, or sometimes maybe to provide the money for it. Often such things are our own hope, our own desire, and it may not have much to do with Jesus. But here’s the thing: for Christians everything has to do with Jesus. All of our hopes should be contained within our hope for Jesus. When I think this way, it brings, tremendous clarity. For me, a brand new sports car has nothing to do with my hope for the life of Jesus to be manifested more fully in me.
This opening phrase sets the tone for this whole passage. Truthfully, when I first read these verses to prepare this message, I was irritated. There is no great doctrine here. There is no great call to mission work, or amazing message of comfort – at least, not on the surface.
But I trust that the Lord has these verses in scripture for a reason. At least one (possibly two) letters to the Corinthians were lost – the Holy Spirit didn’t want them in the Bible. But he preserves this little passage talking about Paul’s plans, and a couple of his friends, one of whom got sick.
So, I think one purpose of this sort of thing is to remind us of this: for Christians, nothing in life should be outside of our hope in Jesus. Travel plans are important to God. Sick friends matter to him. Messages between friends, ordinary life – all of these things matter to our Lord. All of these things belong within our hope in Jesus.
Paul affirms this in his comment about Timothy:
For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father. (Philippians 2:20-22)
Timothy is like Paul, walking in Paul’s path like a son and father. He doesn’t seek his own interests. Like Paul, all of his hopes are in the interests of Jesus. He doesn’t have his own hopes apart from Jesus.
At first, this sounds hard: we should really have no interests or hopes of our own, apart from relationship with Jesus? Well, in a word… yes. Let’s check this with the rest of the Bible:
37The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. 39Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it. (Matt 10:37-39, HCSB)
24Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. 26What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? (Matt 16:24-26, HCSB)
I could quote Jesus about ten more times, saying similar things, but I think you get the idea. This is part of Paul’s theme later on in this very letter to the Philippians:
7But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ 9and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ — the righteousness from God based on faith. 10My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. (Phil 3:7-11, HCSB)
So, yes. All of our hopes and interests should be wrapped up in Jesus. We should have none apart from Him. Even our mundane concerns, like those that Paul has here: travel plans, sick friends, feeling abandoned – all this needs to be rolled into our hope in Jesus. Again, Paul gives us Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples of those who live this way. I mentioned what he said about Timothy, above. In addition, he calls Epaphroditus “my friend, co-worker, and fellow-soldier.” Elsewhere, Paul writes:
4No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the recruiter. (2Tim 2:4, HCSB)
Now, perhaps this sounds difficult to you. I mean, really? You can’t have some little thing you enjoy apart from Jesus? Jesus says it doesn’t have to be difficult at all. It can be restful, and easy and peaceful, no matter what is going on in our external lives:
28“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30, HCSB)
I think, however, many people don’t experience the Christian life as easy, or their burdens as light, and I think one of the main reasons is that we want to have our own “interests” in addition to those of Jesus. An “interest” in this context might be your own sense of being in control; your own goals; your ambitions; your own desires for relationships; your expectations; your desires; your hopes apart from Jesus.
When we try to have both our own hopes apart from Jesus, and also Jesus, it becomes very burdensome and difficult. Picture a giant backpack, full of your own interests, weighing 50 pounds. Now, Jesus comes along with a small pack weighing 10 pounds and says, “Take my backpack instead.” But what you do is just throw the pack of Jesus on top of your existing pack. All this does is make your burden heavier. You have to drop your own pack, and trust that Jesus can provide all you need through a 10 pound pack.
I grew up overseas, and I’ve noticed that Americans, particularly, think that they can have it all. In the case of the Christian life, they often believe they can have Jesus, and those other things.
It reminds me of a scene from the miniseries, Band of Brothers. The show is about soldiers during the Second World War. In the scene, one soldier is absolutely paralyzed with fear. He can’t even fire his weapon. On D-Day he hid in a ditch, and did nothing to help his unit. He discusses this with an officer, who says something like this:
“You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you are already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function.”
Jesus said, “take my yoke upon you.” Not “my yoke, in addition to your own.” He means for us to drop our own burdens, and have none except that which is “in him.” If we try to have our own interests apart from him, and then his interests as well, it is incredibly difficult. But if we take only His yoke, he promises that the burden is easy, and we will find rest for our souls.
It’s hard to hope in Jesus, and also hope in things apart from him. But if we, like Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus, resolve to have all of our hopes in Jesus, then suddenly, everything is in perspective.
Let’s return to the illustration of marriage. Married life would be incredibly difficult if you had all sorts of dreams and hopes that did not include your spouse, or your spouse’s hopes and dreams. You would find that you drift apart, and your relationship would suffer from lack of joy and intimacy. In fact, I think many people do have difficult marriages for this very reason. Like with marriage, Jesus wants us to be “all in” with Him.
Now, let’s be honest. Even once we know this is how it should be, it’s hard to put into practice. We fail at this all the time. As I have been saying, I do think that once we put all our eggs into the one basket of hope in Jesus, things are easier. But how do we do that?
We were not granted salvation because of our own works or efforts. In the same way, we don’t live the Christian life by effort, but by grace. I think that all Jesus really needs is our willingness. We can pray something like this: “Lord, I am willing for all my hopes and dreams to be in you. I want to live not for my own interests, but for yours. But I don’t have the strength to give up my own ambitions. I want it, but I need you to do it.”
I believe that is a prayer that our Savior loves to answer. If we let Him, he will align all of our hopes in Him. If we let Him, he will do it, and we don’t need our own strength for it. And when we let Him do it, we find that there is no part of our lives that is separate from Him. Our mundane, every day concerns about errands to run, and people we miss, and feeling lonely – all of that comes under the umbrella of our life in Jesus. And when it does, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. The pressure if off. Before, we might think we are alone in our ordinary life struggles, but this text shows us that the Lord cares about such things; he knows about them, and when we let him, these become His concerns, not ours.
Are you willing to do that right now?