Who Can We Look Up To?
Read – Philippians 2:19-30
Key Verse – Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem (Philippians 2:29 NKJV).
Key Thought – Timothy and Epaphroditus are role models all Christians should admire and emulate.
Who do we look up to? Who do our young sons strive to emulate? How about our daughters? Our grandkids? Who are the role models in our culture today?
Lebron James? Donald Trump? Khloe Kardashian? Taylor Swift?
I found an article that listed the top 12 female role models for young women today. It included names like Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, and Michele Obama. Other such articles listed role models for young men like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Barak Obama. Interestingly, almost every article I found that provided some pundit’s opinion on role models for young people listed either celebrities or sports figures. And that is, of course, where most people in our culture seek examples.
I didn’t see King David on any of those lists. I didn’t see Moses on any of those lists. I didn’t see the apostle Paul on any of those lists. How is it that men of such towering intellect, who battled with such bravery, and wrought such astonishing victories, were not listed?
I didn’t see Mary, the mother of Jesus on any of those lists. I didn’t see Mary Magdalene on any of those lists. How is it that such glorious and godly and beautiful examples of femininity and beauty were left off?
I did see Jesus’ name appear on one list, but He didn’t occupy the top spot. Actually, He came in third, behind Jackie Evancho and Taylor Swift!
Of course, one must consider the source. I obtained these names from searching Google, and when we look to a worldly source, we shouldn’t be surprised to receive worldly answers. But if I were to poll the young people in Christian homes today, would they be markedly different? Who do OUR young sons strive to emulate? How about OUR daughters? OUR grandkids? Who are the role models that CHRISTIANS look up to today?
There are always those who tell us the youth of today are somehow different than youth of the past… that kids today need to be reached in a different way than in the past. Interestingly, though, that is not what the Bible says. Solomon wrote That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NKJV).
Socrates lived from 470 BC to 399 BC. He said of the youth of his day, “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect for older people. Children nowadays are tyrants. They no longer rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” (James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians: An Expositional Commentary” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 156.)
We don’t need new role models today… we need to remind ourselves that the role models God has provided us in Scripture are for all ages and all times. And Christians who, down through history, have lived lives like those Biblical characters are another source to imitate. Those are the role models we need, and the role models our kids and grandkids need.
In this section we see Paul describing two men, both of whom he cared for deeply and trusted completely.
Timothy was arguably Paul’s closest associate. Paul had apparently led him to Christ. Paul implied this in his letter to the Corinthians – For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:17 NKJV). If so, his conversion may have occurred during Paul’s first missionary journey, for when Paul came back to Derbe and Lystra on his second missionary journey, Timothy was described as a disciple whom Paul then enlisted to join him.
Epaphroditus was the man that had come from Philippi to Paul in prison, bearing their gifts and concern to him (4:18).
In his words about these two men, Paul included an interesting and helpful instruction. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem (Philippians 2:29 NKJV). Hold such men in esteem. In other words, “honor such men” (ESV). “Hold men like them in high regard” (NASB). “Give (them) the honor that people like (them) deserve.” (NLT)
If we want examples of the kind of people we should emulate… if we are looking for role models to imitate and look up to, then we need look no further than these two examples. There is much to learn from each. Young people, these are the types of role models you ought to seek to learn from and emulate. Young ladies, these are men, but the qualities Paul described in them are genderless – they apply to both men and women. So women as well as men… girls as well as boys, can learn much from these two.
Paul gave some high praise to this guy. He mentioned several characteristics that Timothy possessed.
A likeminded man (vs. 20).
One source described Timothy as “Paul’s second self.” Now we’ve seen throughout chapter 2 that this idea of being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (Philippians 2:2) was something Paul sought for the church at Philippi. Apparently they struggled a bit with a lack of unity in the church. There were apparently some problems with selfishness (Philippians 2:3-4).
Against that backdrop, Timothy stood out as one person who was “like minded” with Paul. Actually, Paul went so far as to say he was the only one who was so “like minded.”
And Paul said that he was very specifically “like minded” in one very important way. He was:
A genuinely caring man (vs. 20).
It was rare then and rare still today to find a Christian who genuinely cares for the others like Timothy did. Timothy loved people. He sincerely cared about them and their walk with Christ.
In our busy world and our often too-busy lives, it’s easy to get so caught up in our own selves and our own routines, that we lose sight of what’s happening with others around us. One of the reasons we have prayer meetings is so that we are reminded of the needs of others, especially others in our own number. Our care for our brothers and sisters is kindled when we are reminded of their needs and hurts and trials. And yet it’s awfully hard to find Christians who are willing to attend prayer meeting, even for one hour once per week. Paul could only find one person, Timothy, who cared enough about the Philippians to go and check on their welfare!
I’m always convicted by Jesus’ answer to the lawyer who asked Him which commandment was greatest. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:35-39 NKJV).
The Gaither Vocal Band turned that into a simple song called “Loving God and Loving Each Other.” It’s such a simple truth, and yet so hard to put into practice. Love God and love each other.
Timothy was an example of this. He genuinely cared.
A selfless man (vs. 21).
Timothy was an example of what Paul had just described as a key characteristic of believers. cf. (2:3-4)
Paul had other men with whom he associated. The New Testament describes many, both men and women, who served and helped Paul. The last chapter of Romans is dedicated almost entirely to listing the names of 26 such individuals. But along with the positive, Paul also experienced the negative. He had people do him wrong. He had associates turn against him. He had already described some such in Philippians 1:15-16. He experienced men who started out strong and then disappointed him – men like John Mark who quit on the him in the middle of the work, or Demas, who had been a loyal and faithful servant of Christ (Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you (Colossians 4:14 NKJV)), only to fall back into the world and quit (for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed… (2 Timothy 4:10 NKJV).
“Timothy stood out as a rare gem in a world of self-seekers.” (Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 657.)
Most served Christ when it was convenient… when the cost was low… when to do so provided some current benefit. Few served when it got hard. Few served when it cost. Few served when others thought them crazy to do so.
Timothy was one of the few. And notice that here again, we see Timothy as an example of living out that greatest of commandments. He not only loved others, as seen in the previous verse, but loved and served Christ Jesus above even his own needs and wants.
Timothy’s example of selflessness is worthy of imitating.
A man of proven character (vs. 22).
Timothy had served with Paul since his second missionary journey. Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted to have him go on with him… (Acts 16:1-3 NKJV).
So Timothy was proven – both to Paul and to those in his home church at Philippi.
Sometimes when people get saved, they are so on fire for God that they want to jump right in with both feet and serve in some big way. But the best thing for a new believer to do is to slow down and get grounded in the faith before jumping into the fire.
New Christians need to develop the habit of attending church regularly, and sit listening to a good Bible teacher. They need to get a copy of the Bible, write their name in it, and make it their’s. They need to learn to read it regularly. They need to develop the habit of reading it, and when they don’t understand what it says, they need to have a growing list of brothers and sisters to whom they can go with questions, and who will help them grow. They need to learn to pray, pray regularly, and pray often. They need to experience God’s answers to their prayers.
In short, new Christians need to be proven before they jump into some great area of service. I’m reminded of a young man who attended Bible college with me. During a period of great revival in the church he and I attended at that time, several men, myself included, had surrendered to the call of ministry and had picked up stakes and headed off to Bible college. He had been very recently saved, and was caught up in the excitement of that revival. I remember him preaching in chapel. He was so excited. He went to the chapel when it was closed and stood in the pulpit there and practiced every line of his sermon over and over and over. But he flamed out soon thereafter, and I’ve never heard of him since. He was thrust into serving God in a big way before he was ready.
Paul said Timothy was proven. If, indeed, he had been saved on Paul’s first missionary journey, as seems likely, then he had had sufficient time before Paul enlisted him on his second missionary journey to be discipled and grow in his faith. Interestingly, in the future, Paul would tell this same Timothy that when he was selecting other men to serve as elders in the church, he should select men who were not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil (1 Timothy 3:6).
We need to be careful that our role models are men and women of proven character. Don’t pay much attention to the shooting stars – look to the plodders… the steady ones… the ones who’ve done the same thing the same way for a long time… the ones who’ve stayed strong when attacked… the ones who’ve endured trials and are still standing… the ones who have proven with their lives what they have spoken with their lips.
They are the proven ones, like Timothy.
His name means “charming.” All we know of this man is see in these 6 verses andPhilippians 4:18. But Paul said some wonderful things about him. I wouldn’t mind having Paul’s description of him on my headstone someday! Look at the way Paul described him. He was:
A brother (vs. 25).
Few words are as precious in the Bible to a believer. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Now in one sense, that is true of every believer. Whether you like me or not, if you’re saved, you’re my brother. Whether we spend any time together or not, we are brothers and sisters. But there are brothers, and then there are BROTHERS. There are sisters in Christ, and then there are SISTERS. Some just live that relationship more.
Some of us have multiple siblings in our families. We might be close with some and not so close with others. So, in the church. There are some with whom we might really enjoy a close bond, and others whom we hardly know.
I think Paul’s description here, my brother, implies that there was a close relationship… that he truly felt that bond with Epaphroditus, and Epaphroditus felt it with him.
Do you have brothers or sisters in Christ with whom you have such a close relationship? The way to have such is to seek them out. And the place you seek them out is in the local church where they hang out! If you’re lonely and wish you had such relationships with brothers and sisters, try mingling with them. Not just on Sunday morning during worship, but in the small groups. Sunday School classes are small groups, more intimate, more conducive to getting to know one another and developing relationships. Attend the activities. Drink coffee together over kitchen tables. Work on church projects together. Play golf together. Eat together.
Ephaphroditus was his BROTHER, and that word must surely have had very special meaning to Paul. Paul had been saved in a very dramatic way. He had been an enemy of Christianity, and had actively worked to destroy the faith. He was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus when he met the Lord Jesus on the road and was miraculously saved. During that encounter, he was blinded in the presence of the risen Lord, and was subsequently led by the hand into Damascus. A man named Ananias came to him later, and healed him of that blindness, but during that encounter something happened that I always think must have been amazing to Paul (who was then known as Saul of Tarsus). Every Christian in Damascus must have known who Saul was, and that he had come to Damascus with the express purpose of harming them and imprisoning them. Saul had every reason to believe that Christians would fear him and probably hate him. But when Ananias came to him in his blinded state, the first words he spoke out of the darkness into Saul’s ears were, “Brother Saul”… (Acts 9:17).
Paul said Epaphroditus was a BROTHER. If we are seeking role models, we ought to start there. Christians, look to Christians, not to the world, for your role models.
A fellow worker (vs. 25).
The concept of work is never one that is well received in Christianity. Anybody who has struggled to find faithful nursery workers or junior church workers knows this. Any pastor who longs for parents to join in the work of youth ministry, or for soul winners to join in the efforts to evangelize the community for Christ knows this. It’s hard to find Christians who will WORK.
But of course, work is a key component of our lives. We were created to work. Adam was given meaningful work long before the fall. And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it (Genesis 2:15 KJV).
The happiest Christians I know are the hardest working ones. The Christians who stand when life gets hard, are the workers. The believers who stay the course and stick it out until the end, are the ones who, looking back, are seen to have faithfully served and worked the whole way.
The hymn writer wrote:
Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling,
Work ’mid springing flowers;
Work when the day grows brighter,
Work in the glowing sun;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is done. (Anna Louisa Walker Coghill)
Epaphroditus was such a man. He worked… alongside Paul… He was a fellow worker.
A fellow soldier (vs. 25).
The soldier metaphor is vital. We are in a fight, Christian. Actually, we are in a battle… a spiritual war rages around us and in us, and we need to recognize it. There will be times in your life Christian, when you will be reminded of this fact, and when those times come, you’ll appreciate the soldier metaphor mentioned in Scripture.
Paul had already used such language in this letter – Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, … having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me (Philippians 1:27, 30 NKJV).
He wrote to Timothy words that are particularly strong and helpful in this regard – You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3 NKJV).That verse will forever be linked in my mind with a pastor friend who called me some days after my first wife died, and simply read the verse to me on the phone. Endure hardship as a good soldier.
And when Paul came to the end of his journey, and was putting pen to paper for the last time (at least that we have record of), he wrote (again to his dear Timothy), I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7 NKJV).
We are in a fight, brothers and sisters! For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV). And we need to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight that fight together! We need to be fellow soldiers one to another.
The Roman armies employed methods of warfare that made them the terror of their enemies. Side by side and in a solid block of soldiers they would advance, shields held over their heads and around the sides of the group… shields touching so tightly that nothing could penetrate. They would advance side by side in this manner and be nearly invincible.
We need to be such as believers. And Epaphroditus was such with Paul – a fellow soldier, fighting right alongside him.
A man who serves Christ above all else (vs. 30).
Paul had implied the same thing of Timothy in vs. 21. Both Timothy and Epaphroditus were first and foremost servants of their Lord and Savior. They were both men who lived for Christ… lived to do the work of Christ.
One commentator suggested, “In a very real sense, all of us live either in Philippians 1:21(for me to live is Christ) or Philippians 2:21 (all seek their own, not the things which are of Jesus Christ)!” (Warren W. Wiersbe, “The Bible Exposition Commentary”, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 81.)
How convicting. These men… these role models… served Christ above all else.
So here are two role models we all ought to learn from.
Timothy, Paul said, was a likeminded man, a genuinely caring man, a selfless man, and a proven man.
Epaphroditus, Paul said, was a brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, and a man who served Christ above all else.
I think there are two obvious ways we need to apply these truths:
- We need to seek role models like Timothy and Epaphroditus.
2. We need to BE role models like Timothy and Epaphroditus.
Let me speak for a minute to those who are older in the faith. Young Christians are watching you. They need examples. They need role models. They need to see a Christianity that works and glows with the promise of Christ. They need you to live it in front of them.
Will you be that role model?
Men – there are young men in our midst who need you to a Timothy and an Epaphroditus. They need you to genuinely care for the people of God, to be selfless in living for Christ, to be a proven believer who stands no matter what. They need you to be their brother. They need to see you working for Christ. They need to see you fighting – holding your shield and sword high for Jesus. They need to see that you serve Christ above everything else.
Women – the young ladies amongst us need the same – they need Godly ladies to show them the way… to love them and care for them, to selflessly live like Christian women in front of them, to stay true to Jesus no matter what stresses and trials and troubles comes – to prove to them that it’s real. They need to see you serving, fighting, serving Christ – more than anything.
Will you be that role model?
Let me add a word to those who are young in the faith. You need to be very selective in where you look for examples. Don’t look to the world. Don’t look to social media. Don’t look to culture. Look to the Bible. And look to those God has placed around you who are trying to live the Bible.
Ladies, don’t look to Beyonce, but look rather to women like Joni Eareckson Tada or Elizabeth Eliot. Read about women like them who no matter what came along, stayed the course and lived for Jesus. Emulate THEM.
Men, don’t look to politicians or sports figures. Look to men of God. The Bible has so many to pattern your life after. You’ll not go wrong looking to David or Nehemiah or Joshua or Paul or any of these men we’ve mentioned today. And history is full of men who lived for Jesus no matter what – men like Martin Luther, Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, Jim Elliot, David Livingston, and the list goes on and on.
If you are mature in your faith, the challenge for you from this passage is, “Will I be such a role model?”
If you are yet young in the faith, the challenge is, “Will I seek such as role models?”
For I think the lesson for all of us is clear – these are the role models we should seek, and the role models we should be – hold such men in esteem (Philippians 2:29 NKJV).