Philippians 2:19-30: When the Gospel Gets a Hold of a Life
Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings, demonstrates how tenuous our commitment to a mission can be when the opportunity for selfish gain presents itself. Nine individuals are bound together with one mission: destroy the Ring of Power. But one by one the evil in the ring begins to expose the evil in their hearts. Lured by the power of the ring and the glory that could come from wielding it, members are tempted to usurp the Fellowship’s mission for their own, and thus to use their fellow partners for selfish gain.
The gospel of Jesus is no magic ring. It does expose the evil in our hearts—not by fueling darkness with darkness, but rather by flooding it with light. Still the same evil lies in our hearts, and tempts us to take something as beautiful as the gospel and as sacred as our mission to advance it, and to hijack it for personal gain. It tempts us to prioritize self instead of Jesus, and so to use people instead of love them. Nothing could be more tragic, or more antithetical to the gospel. In Philippians 2:19-30, Paul provides a different scenario by highlighting two of his fellow servants and showing us what happens to our affections and our relationships when the gospel truly gets a hold of a life.
To help us understand what it looks like to live as citizens worthy of the gospel (1:27), Paul provides two portraits of gospel partnership in 2:19-30: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Both men have been serving alongside Paul and ministering to him while in prison, and he now explains his intention to send them to the church in Philippi: Timothy, so that he can later to return to Paul with a report of how the church is doing (2:19-24), and Epaphroditus, so that he can be reunited with the church who sent him out after what had become a perilous journey (2:25-30).
But Paul is doing more than informing the church of his plans. He’s expressing his genuine concern for the Philippians’ wellbeing, and he’s highlighting two lives that have been captivated by the gospel, and who thus serve as examples of what he’s been calling the church to do elsewhere in the letter. Timothy’s genuine concern for the Philippians makes him a model of what Paul calls all of us to in 2:4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (cf. 2:20-22). And Epaphroditus’ willingness to risk his life for the gospel displays the same willingness to make much of Christ we saw in Paul—whether by life or by death (1:20-21; cf. 2:29).
The gospel reminds us that Jesus is our sufficient Savior, the greatest treasure this world affords. It reminds us that if we are satisfied in Christ, we are free to lay our lives down and genuinely love others. Apart from Christ, we can’t really love others, because we need them too much. We rely on them to fill us and meet our needs in ways only God can. And so each relationship becomes a subtle opportunity for selfish gain. And if we miss the centrality of the gospel in the life of the church, our very mission for Christ becomes an opportunity for selfish gain. The people we minister to become mere statistics that highlight our importance, our glory. Fellow congregants become a means to an end. Their contributions are dismissed to draw attention to our own. We’re even willing to dispense of our relationship with them all together if we judge it necessary for the good of “the cause” (not Christ’s, but ours).
But when the gospel gets a hold of a life, it moves us to prioritize Jesus instead of self, and so to love people instead of use them. Only the gospel of Jesus reveals to us the true depth of our sin and our just condemnation before God. Only the gospel of Jesus satisfies God’s anger against our sin, and our longing for true life and significance in him. And so only the gospel of Jesus frees us to willingly lay our lives down with genuine concern for others.
Has the gospel gotten a hold of your life? Join us this Sunday (Dec. 4) at Westgate Church to gaze freshly at the gospel of Jesus and consider our lives and relationships in its light.
Update: Sermon text and discussion questions are available here: Phil 2.19-30 Westgate 12.4.11