Every child of God has heard the term 'theology' and if you have trafficked in theology itself you know that there are different branches of it. Some of you understand what systematic theology or historical theology or biblical theology is. Integrative theology is another branch. I have a book in my library entitled Basic Theology but I wonder if you wonder what basin theology is. Probably not. You've probably never heard the term basin theology. That's because it's a term that was coined by a pastor in Pittsburgh, Bruce Thielmann, after a conversation with somebody in his church, a layman, who said, 'As I see it, Pastor, we all dip into one of two basins. Either the basin of Pontius Pilate or the basin of Jesus Christ.' You know the stories. Pontius Pilate put his hands in a basin and washed his hands of the situation with Jesus---he didn't want to get involved. But then there was Jesus who bent His knee and He took His disciples' feet and washed their feet in a basin of water---like a servant.
The question is which basin do we dip from? Some bend their knee to serve other people. They wash their feet, so to speak. Those are choice servants among us. Others really don't want to get involved; they wash their hands of involvement with other people. It's too tricky, too sticky, and too vulnerable. This poem sums it up best:
I'll go where You want me to go dear Lord
Real service is what I desire
I'll sing You a solo anytime dear Lord
Just don't ask me to sing in the choir
I'll do what You want me to do dear Lord
I like to see things come to pass
But don't ask me to teach boys and girls o Lord
I'd rather just stay in my class
I'll do what You want me to do dear Lord
I yearn for Your kingdom to thrive
I'll give You my nickels and dimes dear Lord
But please don't ask me to tithe
I'll go where You want me to go dear Lord
I'll say what You want me to say
But I'm busy just now with myself dear Lord
I'll help You on some other day.
That is washing in Pontius Pilate's basin. That's not wanting to get involved---washing your hands of the situation. In these verses beginning in verse 25, we're going to read about a guy who washed in the basin of Jesus Christ. His name was Epaphroditus. I doubt that many of you have ever heard a message on Epaphroditus. And yet in the letter to the Philippians, Paul gives him more space than any other single individual, even Timothy, because he was a choice servant. He was a layman. What I mean by that---I'm a layman---he wasn't an apostle. He wasn't even a young pastor like Timothy; he was a person in Philippi who decided to get involved and carry money to support Paul the Apostle from the Philippian church.
His name, Epaphroditus, means 'charming,' 'handsome.' It sounds like a great husband, doesn't it gals? Epaphroditus. Let me say before we jump in that it's people like Epaphroditus that keep a church running well. In fact, the secret weapon of this fellowship is that there are so many Epaphrodituses running around doing so much. When we first started the church, I would set up the P.A. system every Sunday morning. It was my P.A. I brought it from California---set up the mics, set up the P.A., plugged in the guitar, led the worship, put the guitar down, got behind the pulpit, preached the message, got the guitar back out, closed in a song, did the counseling during the week, did all the books. And I think after awhile people kind of got sick of it and decided, 'I'm going to volunteer.' They wanted it to be better and they made it so much better.
The church is like an iceberg. Not that it's supposed to be cold, but that like an iceberg only a small percentage is seen on the surface. Ninety percent of the iceberg is beneath the surface of the water. And so many who serve in the church are rarely seen. In fact, I would say that probably for about every ten people on staff there are one hundred people who are not on paid staff who are shouldering the load like Epaphroditus---willing servants. Well Epaphroditus was meaningful to Paul the Apostle. Let's read why.
Verse 25: "Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me."
The paragraph is basically the characteristics and the caring for choice servants of God among us. Here is the profile of a servant---it's a sketch of what one looks like. Some of you are at a point in your Christian life where you're deciding to get serious about involvement. You're tired of church as a spectator sport---you want more. You have been and you have done that and you frankly want to get busy helping around other peoples' stuff, helping grow other people up in the ministry. Let me offer to you Epaphroditus as a great starting point. He is a choice servant. And I'll tell you why he's so necessary. In fact, I'll tell you why I think the church---the true, authentic serving church---will never go out of style and is more important now than probably any other time in human history. Because we have a culture where we are becoming less and less personal. In fact, we are depersonalizing our culture.
We are segregated. We are lonely. We are isolating ourselves and a lot of it is technology. We can hide behind our technological castles with a mouse and a screen and a keyboard and have no human contact. You can get on the internet and buy almost anything, without ever speaking to a human being. In fact, I saw on T.V. the other night, a guy bought a jet, several million dollars, by a click of a mouse. Had it delivered to him. You can call businesses and every church and not get a voice, but get a recording. Press 1 or Press 3 or Press 45. All of the options without human contact. Therefore, to have a real person serving and touching and reaching out is a luxury.
Somebody once said that one machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. May be true, but you can't find a machine on earth that can do the work of one extraordinary man or woman---a servant like Epaphroditus. Paul describes him in verses 25-28, gives his characteristics and I'm going to look at it one phrase at a time because Paul combines a lot of metaphors to give us a description. He is first of all a Christian believer. He calls him "my brother." Not because he was related physically, but it's a spiritual relation: 'my brother Epaphroditus.' I wonder how many of you know that when Paul wrote these words, the idea of brotherhood was a foreign concept to the Greeks and the Romans. What I mean by that is their culture was so segregated, divided by race, divided by class. You were slave or you were free. There was a sharp division. You were Roman or you were Greek. And the Greeks made a sharp distinction and the Romans as well. You were male or female and there was a big difference in the culture between them.
In that segregated culture came the Gospel. And Christianity permeated that culture and started calling everyone---male, female, slave, free, Roman, Greek---brothers, sisters in Christ. Erasing the boundaries; commonness. Here is a Jewish rabbi calling a Gentile, 'brother.' Foreign concept. But have you noticed that your spiritual family is often closer than your physical family? There's camaraderie and a depth of fellowship that you arrive at in the body of Christ that we don't even enjoy many times in our own physical family. Think of it: the people sitting next to you right now, you may want to look at one or two of them, it's good to do that from time to time, that's your brother and sister. That's that the spiritual relationship.
Do you remember the time they came up to Jesus and they said, 'Jesus, Your mother's outside and Your brothers are waiting for You.' And Jesus gave a very uncanny remark. He said, 'Who is My mother?' If you worship Mary, you have trouble with that statement. Who is My mother? Who are My brothers? And He looked around at the circle of friends and said, 'This is My mother and My brothers and My sister. Whoever does the will of God the same is My mother and My brother and My sister.' That wonderful relationship of spiritual camaraderie. By the way, that can happen instantaneously. You can be a non-brother or sister to someone and be a brother or sister to that person the very next moment. Example: Easter sunrise service. We started very early, not just at seven o'clock but about five-thirty, six o'clock with sound checks, etcetera. Well, that's ok unless you live in the neighborhood and you hear that big sound system cranked up and somebody heard it and was angry. He got out of bed and decided to find out who's down there doing this stuff and tell them a thing or two. He comes down to the service groggy and angry, sits in the stands, and wouldn't you know it? After the message, at the altar call, walks forward to receive Christ. From antagonist to brother---on the same day.
People came forward to receive Christ. One was a woman who had spoken the previous day in a furniture store to the guy who worked there, helping her out. She didn't like the service and she cussed him up one side, down the other in the store. Wouldn't you know it? The guy who, in the prayer room, counseled her was the same guy who worked in the furniture store that she talked to the day before. And so when she saw him, 'God bless you.' But it was a wonderful reconciliation---brother and sister from that moment on. That's the first description of Epaphroditus.
The second one is that he is a hard worker. Paul calls him my "fellow worker." The Greek word speaks of people who expend their energy together; they have a team concept. They're not lone rangers, they have a heart for the same work and they shoulder the same load. These are people who are not spectators, but participants. They're not like the guy, I think who was in the Peanuts cartoon who said, "I love work. I could sit and watch it for hours." These are people who want to do the work, not just watch others do it. I hate to say this, but I believe it's true that many churchgoers could be described as ecclesiastical hitchhikers. You know, and I did this as a kid, I used to hitchhike all over the place. Basically, the hitchhiker with his thumb out is saying this: 'You own the car, you pay for the repairs, you put in the gas, you are responsible and I will ride along for free. You get in an accident, you're on your own and I'll probably sue. You do all the work and I'll get a free ride.' A lot of people come to church with that mentality. You do the work; I'm along for the ride. If you do something that doesn't suit me, I'll complain and then I'll stick my thumb out for a better ride.
Not Epaphroditus. He was a fellow worker. 'I'm going to shoulder the load with Paul the Apostle.' I found this little piece. It's called "Our Church Membership." It says: Our church membership is 1400. The non-resident membership is 75. The balance left to do the work is then 1325. The elderly folks who have done their share in the past? 25. Balance left to do the work: 1300. Sick and shut-in folks? 25. Balance left to do the work: 1275. Membership who do not pledge: 350. Christmas and Easter members: 300. Balance left to do the work: 625. Members who are too tired and overworked: 300. Balance left to do the work: 325. Alibiers: 200. Balance left to do the work: 125. Members who are too busy somewhere else: 123. Balance left to do the work: 2. It's just you and me, brother, and brother you better get busy because it's way too much for me.
That's why Epaphroditus was a breath of fresh air because he was a fellow worker and boy, was he a fellow worker. He traveled 800 miles to do it: from Philippi to Rome. Notice the next phrase. He is a spiritual fighter according to Paul. He calls him a "fellow soldier." That's sort of interesting, isn't it? Because Paul was chained to two Roman soldiers. But they were not fellow soldiers, in this sense, the spiritual sense but Epaphroditus was. To describe another believer as a 'fellow soldier' implies a battle. And I think we should remark on that. The Christian life is anything but a bed of roses. You are walking into a battle zone. How did Jesus' ministry begin? A forty day battle as Satan tempted Him. How did His ministry end? A battle in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He was wrestling over the decision to go to the cross and sweat great drops of blood. And what about Paul, the guy who writes this letter? Was his life a bed of roses? Let's see, he was oppressed everywhere he went, they kicked him out of synagogues, they beat him up, they stoned him a couple times, he's writing from a Roman prison, in fact as we remarked at the beginning of the book, he would probably go into a town and first check out the jail, just to see where he's going to spend the night. It was a battlefield.
The obvious point here is that if you are an effective Christian, you will be a hassled one. You're a target. Where this is great fruit there is great opposition. Never forget that. In fact, it's a good indication that you're on the right track. Remember when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he said, 'Pray for me because a great and an effective door has been opened to me and there are many adversaries.' Did you get that? Great and effective door with many adversaries. It's part of the same package. Fellow soldier. That's why when you fight these battles; it helps to have people who say, 'I'll stand with you. Count on me. I'm here to fight with you.' Not fight against you, not fight you, fight the world, the system, the enemy's camp, I'm fighting with you.
You know what the strength of the Roman armies were? The garrisons of Rome? They would march into battle, it was an impressive sight, and all of their shields locked together, one solid wall of shields going out to battle. They weren't fighting just on their own. They'd march together and as they'd march, they'd bang their spears on their shields like a drumbeat in unison, making all that noise, singing war songs in unison as they went. Fellow soldiers. We can come here and sing the war songs, the question is: have you gotten in the battle yet? Are you fighting with God's people against the right stuff?
Next phrase, part of the description, he is a willing messenger. Paul calls him "your messenger." Let me give you the background as I see it. Eight hundred miles from Rome was the town of Philippi. The church met there probably one day, one evening, and the leadership says, 'OK. You've all heard Paul the Apostle is in Rome, eight hundred miles away, in prison. I think we should help him. We should take up an offering---send him a care package. And then we need somebody to deliver that package to him, deliver the support, and then stand with Paul.' Epaphroditus raised up his hand, 'I'll go. Here I am, send me.' He goes eight hundred miles, it would take six weeks in ancient times to go from Philippi to Rome; he's risking his life; he's carrying a lot of money and he goes there to serve Paul the Apostle. That's why Paul calls him a messenger. The Greek word apostolos. Apostle. He's an apostle. In the broad sense that a church sends him out to carry goods, money, and a message to a foreign land.
The best modern word, as an equivalent, would be a missionary. Epaphroditus was a missionary. And I think it's good for us if we're at a point in our lives where we're starting to think about getting involved and serving the church and serving other people and serving God---getting serious about it---to perhaps consider going to another land. You say, 'Listen, I'm not called to that.' Maybe not. But maybe you are---you just haven't asked. Maybe God is commissioning you to go outside of Philippi and go overseas somewhere, outside your borders. How many fishermen do we have? You like to fish. Doesn't mean you're good at it; you like to do it. I'm not a good one. If you were to ask a seasoned fisherman, give him one of two options: a) you can fish in a lake that is heavily fished day after day by people who run over each other, step over each other, using the same bait or b) you can go to a place that is difficult to get to, the terrain is treacherous, there are some risks even being in that place, but the fish are biting. Which do you think they would choose? The latter. And that is mission work. The fish, I'm here to tell you, the fishing's good out there---fish are biting. And it's time for us who serve to consider, 'Maybe God wants me to serve, bring His message, somewhere else.' The Great Commission---getting involved.
We may not all be able to go, but we can send at least. Pray and support like the Philippian church did. But sometime when you're leaving this facility, instead of just bolting out the door to get to the car first before all the selfish people do, if you go out toward the rear, if you go out toward the south and go through the courtyard and notice above on the arches something is engraved in stone. We did it for a purpose. There's only one name that is engraved in stone. It's not mine---it's Jesus. And something that He said: "Go into all the world." Go into all the world. We did that so we would be often reminded that that's what we're about. To go into all the world, bearing the message. Because churches that don't evangelize will fossilize. That's a guarantee. Look at your church history, at those great movements that started to be evangelizing, mission movements and they died because they stopped that. So let's consider in service, perhaps, getting out.
Next on the list, Epaphroditus was a caregiver. He was a caregiver. A missionary and a caregiver. Paul says he is "your messenger and the one who ministered to my need." Turn over to chapter four. I'll show you how he did that. Chapter 4 verse 18 is the only other verse in the whole Bible that mentions Epaphroditus. Paul says, "Indeed I have all." Imagine saying this in prison, "I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things [notice that's plural, not singular] sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God." Epaphroditus travels eight hundred miles, six weeks, carrying money and probably a care package, maybe some things they threw in to comfort Paul. Chocolate from the area, newspapers, a CD of their latest worship band---I don't know what they brought, but just something that was of them. A care package: 'We love you, Paul.'
But here again is the personal touch. They didn't send a form letter; they sent a person named Epaphroditus who didn't just go, 'Package for the Apostle Paul!' and then bolt out the door. But he stayed there and he ministered to his need. He was a personal servant to him. "Ministered to my need." Beautiful. As I say it, you'd probably think of another word: liturgas. You go, 'I've never heard of that.' Yes you have---liturgy. Especially if you have a higher church background. Liturgy, that's what it means. It speaks of sacred service that a priest would render, like in the temple in Jerusalem. He would perform a liturgy---sacred. He'd offer the animal; it'd be an offering to God. What Paul is saying by using the term liturgas, he's saying, 'I see this guy's ministry of carrying money and this care package all the way from Philippi---it's as sacred a ministry as anything I would ever do.'
Boy that's good news. We're not all evangelists or singers on stage or public speakers, but we all have an area God has called us to and do you know that if you do it faithfully, God sees it as sacred? It's a real ministry! You say, 'Yeah, but all I do is pick up some papers around the church.' That's a sacred trust. 'All I do is help set up for this ministry.' That's a sacred service---it's a liturgas. Beautiful. I love Alan Redpath said he knew a gal in his church, he was a guy from England, he knew a gal in his church that had a sign over her kitchen sink that read: "Divine Service is Rendered Here Three Times A Day." She saw cooking the meals for her family as sacred service---she has the idea that Paul has here. It's sacred; it's important.
Finally, in the description is verse 26-28. Epaphroditus is a sensitive encourager. Notice: "Since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow." That's how valuable he was to Paul. "Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful." Epaphroditus leaves Philippi, walks to Rome, it takes six weeks. When he gets to Rome, maybe even on the way, he gets sick. He is sick for at least three months. At least three months. How do I know this? Because if it takes six weeks to travel from Philippi to Rome, and somebody had to let the church in Philippi know that he was sick for them to care, that takes another six weeks to get the message back, it's been at least three months that this guy has been in the throes of a severe sickness. The word here for sickness is the same word used of Lazarus, who was sick and died. This guy is moving in and out of this struggle with death for at least three months.
This is what I want to bring out. What really bothers Epaphroditus isn't that he's sick, but that the church at Philippi found out he was sick and they're worried about him. So now he's worried about their emotional response. 'I feel so bad, I'm so worried that they're worried that I'm about to die.' Hello?! Most people don't do that when they're that sick. They think only about getting better themselves---he's thinking about how others are thinking. That's the word 'longing' in our text. "He was longing for you all," shows that Paul was from Texas: "you all." No, it shows us that it's a deep, emotional longing---it's an intensity of longing. He cared that much about their emotional response. Man, this guy's a choice servant.
The only thing that I found that relates to this is an article out of a Focus on the Family magazine. Thirty-six year old mother of three young children found out she had fatal cancer. She would die---no question. We all will, but she knew she would die very, very shortly. Her doctor, one doctor, suggested that she go to Acapulco. 'Just enjoy yourself, this is your last time, you're going to die soon, you have very limited amount of time, just have a blast.' So she went to another doctor for a second opinion. Good going. The second doctor promised her two to four years of survival with excruciating pain and major, severe consequences because of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 'You can live, you can survive, but it's going to be a very slow, painful death.' She has three children to think about. She wrestles with the choice, and this is the letter she writes to her three kids: "I have chosen to try to survive for you. This has some horrible costs, including pain, loss of my good humor, and moods I won't be able to control but I must try this if only on the outside chance that I might live one minute longer and that minute be able to be the one you might need me when no one else will do. For this I intend to struggle tooth and nail so help me God."
That's the kind of mentality Epaphroditus had toward the church that send him to Philippi. 'I love them so much; don't want them to be worried about me.' I want to say something that's vital; we can't pass over this, it's so obvious. Needs to be said. Some even in the church of Jesus Christ around our country teach that it is the Christian's legal birthright to always walk in perfect health. All you do is name it and claim it and bind every demon you can think of and you'll be healthy. And if you're not walking in perfect health, it's a misconstruction of a text in the New Testament. 3 John 2. "I pray you prosper and be in health in all things as your soul prospers." They take that to mean that if you are sick, you are living a Satan-defeated life, you don't have enough faith to be healed, or God is punishing you. Like Job's three friends said to Job, remember that? That's why Job said to them, rightfully so, "Miserable comforters are you all." And I've found that the batch that says this is a bunch of miserable comforters. It's a very damaging ideology and it happens to be unbiblical. Christians do suffer; Christians do get sick and I show you Epaphroditus as proof.
Three months at least he was sick. Let me tell you how damaging it is. There was a couple in our church. They came from a fellowship that, while they were in it that fellowship, their baby was sick in the hospital and the elders and the church people said, 'Your baby doesn't have to be in the hospital sick. Don't you know you can claim perfect health and pray in faith? The fact that your baby is sick proves you have sin in your life. You don't have enough faith. If you had enough faith, your baby would be fine.' So they prayed; tried to confess every sin, made up a few just to cover all the bases. Prayed in faith, had people pray. Unfortunately, tragically, the baby died. They came to our fellowship totally broken saying, 'The church that we were in abandoned us. They shunned us when the baby died.' At the very point when you need arms around you to say, 'We love you. We're sorry.' Because they didn't have enough faith and they were in unbelief and the baby died, they wanted nothing to do with them. That's how damaging that kind of thinking can become.
Epaphroditus was he prayed for by Paul when he was sick? You got to know he was. Of course he was! Paul prayed for everybody. And sometimes people were raised up, but obviously here he wasn't healed. He did recover over time and Paul says it was by God's mercy. But there was no instantaneous healing that we read of. Just to show that even godly people can suffer. As Peter said, "In the will of God." That's the characteristics of this choice servant and we'll finish up just a couple sentences with how to care for one. We close with this.
Verse 29 tells us: "Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me." In other words, when you have people like this in your midst, you show appreciation to them. They come along once in a lifetime. Treat them well. How often do we forget to thank people? The Epaphrodituses? How often do we see an usher who tells us to do something or asks us to do something we don't like and instead of saying, 'Thank you for volunteering your time to service,' we say, 'Who are you?' Or somebody in the parking lot who's directing the traffic. When was the last time you stopped to just bless them in the name of the Lord. Or somebody is working with our kids, volunteering their time, keeping those rules so your child will be safe. Listen, a pat on the back, even though it's only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, is miles ahead in results. A little encouragement is needed. And Paul says we ought to do two things: have a glad reception; receive him in the Lord he says, with all gladness, and a bold appreciation. "Hold such men in esteem because for the work of Christ he came close to death."
Receive him as the Lord would receive him, is the idea. And hold them in esteem. Respect them; admire them. I have a suggestion as we close this morning, a challenge to every one of us: find an Epaphroditus this week. In the fellowship here. Warning: you're going to have to look for them because they're below the surface; they're not visible. They're serving, they're there. But find an Epaphroditus and send an encouraging word. A hug, a card, a handwritten card. By them lunch. Send them to Israel on a tour---it depends on the wherewithal that you have. What a tragedy it would be to go through life and not be a blessing to someone. To go through life and just be that hitchhiker, not really blessing anybody else. You know it's possible to have a saved soul and a lost life? It happens all the time. People come, people watch, they receive Christ, tears are shed, they grow spiritually up to a point but not enough to have a life that really is spent in service.
I read an article; I'm going to close with this. It's an article about things that belong to famous people and they were auctioned off for exorbitant amounts of money just because they belonged to somebody rich, famous, powerful. For instance: Napoleon Bonaparte's toothbrush. It sold for $21,000. Would you buy a toothbrush that somebody had in his mouth, crusty old toothbrush---21 grand, what a deal. Hitler's car sold for $150,000. There was Winston Churchill's desk, a handwritten sheet of music by Beethoven himself, a pipe smoked by C.S. Lewis, and there was Sotheby's Auction that auctioned off Jackie Kennedy Onassis' fake pearls. Remember that? You probably saw it on the television. You know what they sold those fake pearls for? $211,000. John F. Kennedy's golf clubs sold for $772,000. These items were not valuable in themselves; they were valuable because somebody like that owned them.
Suppose you found the basin that Jesus washed His disciples' feet in. The basin that He bent over that night and washed. What would that be worth? Here's the twist to that. No doubt, we would set a high monetary value on it, and then we would enshrine it behind glass and never use it. Never use it. Epaphroditus shows us a guy who used the basin of Christ in his own life. A choice servant among us. Great, great role model. Something else that article showed me: those things were valuable because they belonged to someone like Napoleon. Like JFK; like Jackie O. What is the value of the servant, the child of God, the son or daughter who belongs to God? We're valuable; we're priceless. He sent His Son to die for us. How are we to treat one another? As servants.