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In our study Sunday of Philippians 3:1-6, we learned about “joy stealers.” It’s a concept to which all of us can relate, since life is frequently full of circumstances that conspire to bring us down emotionally.

Of course there are relatively little things that happen, such as a messed-up order at a drive-thru that you don’t discover until you’re halfway home — and now you have to decide if you’re going back as you navigate terrible traffic.

But there are big things, too, such as the loss of your job, the loss of your health, a broken relationship, or the death of a loved one.

Pastor Scott shared that as we battle day to day with three main negative emotions — anger, sadness, and anxiety — they all have their positive counterparts on continuums. The opposite of anger is love, for example. The opposite of sadness is joy. And the opposite of anxiety is peace. And for us the key to managing those negative emotions is by putting the positive ones into practice.

When Paul composed this letter to the church he founded in Philippi, he was in house arrest in Rome. But Paul told his brothers and sisters in Christ that he was experiencing joy despite his imprisonment. Paul’s love for his church was stronger than any anger in him; his  peace in Christ overcame his anxiety as a prisoner who could die at any moment; and his joy in the Lord was more powerful than sadness over his circumstances.

Two things Pastor Scott noted especially stuck out: First that the act of rejoicing in the Lord is a COMMAND. “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” (v. 1) The act of rejoicing is not necessarily a response to good things happening around us. It certainly wasn’t for Paul! Instead it’s a testimony to the fact that we can look a negative circumstance right in the eye and rejoice in the Lord despite it. And it means that joy is not grounded in circumstances but in God himself. As Pastor Scott noted, God’s character and providence levels out our sense of well being. And the second thing he said that stuck out was that the act of rejoicing TAKES PRACTICE. In the same way we must practice the act of loving God and loving others and practice the act of seeking peace in our lives, we also must practice the act of rejoicing in all circumstances.

Another interesting point Pastor Scott shared was from the second sentence in verse 1: “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” The Greek word for “safe” is taken from the word for “asphalt,” which implies sturdiness and confidence. Very much like the image of guardrails you might see at a bowling alley that prevent the ball from rolling into the gutters. In other words, when you put rejoicing into practice, you hit the pins EVERY TIME you roll the ball — and there’s no way you’ll be left in life’s gutter.

In the remaining verses, Paul tells his fellow believers that they must put no confidence in the flesh, and he declares that belief in Christ — and not in things such as circumcision — is the key to salvation. Nothing else will last except Jesus, and we must put our trust in him instead.

Therefore let us move forward this week in joy despite our circumstances and confidence in our future based on who Christ is, and not on what we do.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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No matter how Christians participate in the act of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ, three elements are always present:

1. Compassion (Do you care?)

2. Faithfulness (Are you reliable?)

3. Availability (Are you ready?)

In fact, these three qualities have always been present in believers through the centuries in the process of advancing the gospel — and we were reminded in our study this past Sunday on Philippians 2:19-30 of these qualities being present in two particular individuals.

In the passage, Paul describes Timothy and Epaphroditus — two men who were about to impact the early church.

Most of us know of Timothy, an important disciple of Paul’s. Two books in the New Testament bear his name, in fact — letters Paul wrote to him near the end of Paul’s life and that include all-important principles that we believers must pay attention to.

But here in the letter to the church at Philippi, Paul introducers his brothers and sisters to his disciple and co-worker, telling them that Timothy — as he has been charged with reporting to Paul how the church is doing — possesses all the necessary qualities to advance the gospel.

First, Paul says in verse 20 that Timothy is “genuinely concerned for your welfare.” That’s compassion, right there — the first necessary quality we must possess. In fact, Pastor Scott shared that the Greek word for “concerned” is closely related to “anxious”! That might surprise you — particularly because in chapter 4 Paul tells us not to be anxious about anything. But the thing is that word for “anxious” is the same word Paul uses Philippians 2:20, therefore we must conclude that there’s a “good” and “bad” kind of anxious. When anxiety ends up controlling us, that crosses a line … but in Philippians 2:20 it reflects the kind of concern that drives us to do positive things — such as keeping in physical shape so we can stick around for our loved ones and being responsible with our finances and working hard in school and on the job so we can be in the best position to care of our loved ones.

The Greek word for “concerned” also is found in Galatians 6:10, which instructs us to do good to everyone, especially the household of faith. Indeed, part of expressing compassion as Christians means that we must care for people we don’t even know! Verse 21 of our Philippians passage warns us, however, that some folks out there wearing the Christian mantle really are looking after their own interests instead of Christ’s. The point? If you’re putting the needs of Jesus first, that automatically means you’re also looking out for needs of others.

In verse 22, Paul tells us that Timothy possesses “proven worth” — in other words, faithfulness! The related Greek word seen elsewhere in the New Testament reflects the idea of someone having gone through trials and, in the end, being gifted with something to share and teach and pass on. Romans 5:3-4 uses that same word and encourages us that trials and related suffering actually strengthens us and provides us proven character. Here’s the thing: We’re all growing. But we don’t need to wait until we’ve “arrived” at some lofty point to gain the credentials to help others. We don’t need to wait until we’ve got our “act together.” (Hint: None of us will EVER get our act together this side of heaven. Let that myth go!) Instead, in the midst of our growing in Christ — and with the knowledge we’ve gained from the trials we’ve already gone through — we can help others who are going through what we’ve already endured! Don’t be afraid to reach out in this way. It’s a major secret ingredient that energizes fellow believers toward their own missions.

And in verse 23, Paul says he has “hope … to send” Timothy, which Pastor Scott said reflects the third quality we all need in order to help advance the gospel: availability. Remember, we must always ask ourselves these three questions: Do I care? Am I reliable? Am I available?

Paul then switches gears and introduces us to his second disciple — Epaphroditus — and the qualities he has demonstrated to advance the gospel. And he’s every bit as faithful and enthusiastic about it as Timothy, in fact getting sick almost to the point of death in the process of doing so! But through the sacrifice of Epaphroditus, very good things came about.

Pastor Scott first broke down some very interesting points about the idea of reliability, which are voiced by Paul in verse 25 when he describes Epaphroditus:

First, Epaphroditus is a “brother” (i.e., a familial relationship with fellow believers). Second, he’s a “fellow worker” — and Pastor Scott broke down the Greek words here that give us the English equivalent of “synergy” … and the idea that collaborating with other believers can result in a sum that’s much greater and more valuable than the individual parts! Third, he’s a “soldier,” which connotes a believer who’s willing to help wage spiritual battles that often manifest themselves in physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Finally there’s the description of Epaphroditus as a “messenger” — which in the Greek equates”apostle” and helps us see that, in a sense, we’re all apostles and messengers in our journey toward Jesus.

In terms of the compassion of Epaphroditus, we see at the end of verse 25 that he cares for Paul’s needs and in verse 26 that he was “distressed” after learning the Philippians learned he was seriously ill. In short, Epaphroditus is a caring and concerned believer! 

In verse 28, Paul says he’s “eager to send” Epaphroditus to the church in Philippi, which connotes his availability — the second quality we’re learning that believers who advance the gospel possess. What’s more, the word “eager” here is translated as the word “anxious” that we previously discussed — clearly the good kind of anxious that denotes concern for others but that doesn’t control us emotionally.

Let us ask ourselves, are we in that place that Timothy and Epaphroditus were? Are we compassionate, reliable, and available?

Before you answer those questions, remember the crucial theological points Pastor Scott shared that place all of this in perspective: the advancement of Christ’s gospel ultimately does not depend on us! We must not view our efforts in such a ministry as a make-or-break enterprise, with the Lord pacing on the sidelines, gnawing at his fingernails in the hopes that we will come through for him. No! Our God is infinitely more powerful than that. In fact, he doesn’t need us AT ALL. As Pastor Scott reminded us, Jesus himself said the gates of hell cannot destroy the church. Instead, we know that the battle has already been won; we’re simply invited to take part in the unfolding play. We know the ending, but we don’t know how the scenes will play out. So it’s our privilege to be invited to step into the drama and live it out in real time.

That said… what an ADVENTURE the Lord has given us! Think about it. Lots of adrenaline-seeking individuals post incredible videos of themselves traveling to the ends of the earth to base jump, fly through the air in wing suits, climb the tallest mountains, and travel the deepest points in the ocean — but none of that compares to the adventures we can have once we avail ourselves to the mission of advancing the gospel. There’s nothing like it … and nothing more important or eternally meaningful.