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Food for the Soul and Guidance for Your Life

“Having said this, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write this to you is not something from which I shrink, on the other hand, for you it is firm ground.”

(Philippians 3:1)

This verse is a little bit idiomatic, but should not be too hard to sort through. It begins with the phrase to\ loipo/n (to loipon), which literally means: “the rest.” In other words, Paul is changing gears here with this statement. We are not just at the middle of the book, per say, but it is as if he is saying, “okay, I am done talking about the sickness that Epaphroditus has suffered…it was mentioned because it needed to be mentioned, but now I am getting back to the real reason that I am writing to you, and that is to offer counsel to your souls.” That, at least is the notion that is being conveyed.

So, having said all of this about his sorrows, Paul turns to words of counsel and begins with the statement, “Rejoice in the Lord!” But, Paul, what about all of the sickness and suffering of you in prison and Epaphroditus on the sickbed? Paul is saying to us that while those things are earthly realities, our God is not earth-bound and there is glory waiting for those who are faithful to the end. So, why our long faces? Rejoice!

In light of this…something that Paul will soon repeat…what I am going to say may very well frustrate some of my Reformed brethren…but they will get over it. Sometimes Christians hear and even affirm this language that we are to rejoice in the Lord, but we hardly communicate that when we gather to worship. We often find ourselves gathering with long faces and somber attitudes, like one would expect at a funeral, not like one would expect at a celebration of the Resurrection (which is every Sunday, by the way!). Even people’s attitudes before they arrive have not been helpful to their demeanor…how many times have we heard, “Do I really have to go to church today?” As if it is a chore!

Folks, don’t misunderstand me…I am not talking about dancing in the aisles or charismatic kinds of things. I am simply saying that when we gather to worship, everything from our thoughts to our actions ought to communicate what a wonderful salvation that we enjoy in Jesus Christ our Lord. Our obedience to God ought to reflect the joy it is to serve the Lord we serve. And when visitors join our midst and see everything done in good order, they should not see that order as a bored routine, but as a glorious way to guide and train our affections toward an attitude of worship…genuine worship in Spirit and in Truth. We should look forward to Sunday worship for indeed, it is meant to be a taste of heaven…or at least practice for heaven. Yet, in how many churches was Mark Twain correct in saying, “They talk about heaven where they will worship God eternally but they dread doing so for an hour a week here on earth” (Letters From The Earth)? So, brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice! But I get ahead of myself.

Finally, Paul begins a transition back to practical points of spiritual counsel. Again, the phraseology is a bit awkward in English, but what it seems to be that Paul is saying is that counsel is something from which he does not shrink. Sometimes it can feel awkward to say, “You need to do this or that,” but Paul recognizes not only that offering such counsel is his calling (so he does so) but that it is also good for the people of Philippi to receive this counsel.

How often professing Christians are faced with such counsel in scripture and act as if it were optional for them. “I can do this or that,” they think, but then they ignore the other things. Yet, Paul is making it clear that this counsel is a solid foundation on which to base their lives. And if it is good for the church in Philippi, it is good for our churches today. Take heed, beloved, to the words of the Apostle (as well as to the words of all the Scripture!) for they are food for your soul and guidance for your life.


“Therefore, receive him in the Lord with all joy and to such as these show honor, for he came close to death because of the work of Christ, exposing his life to danger in order to fulfill what was lacking in your ministry to me.”

(Philippians 2:29-30)

The question that presents itself to our curiosity is what does Paul mean when he speaks of, “what was lacking”? Is he seeking to rebuke the people for something that they missed? Is he suggesting that somehow Epaphroditus has done something that the people of Philippi have been unable or unwilling to do? No, I don’t think that would be consistent with everything else that we find Paul speaking about when it comes to his affections for the people of the church in Philippi. Instead, I think that of which Paul speaks is a ministry of presence. Truly, Paul yearns for fellowship with the people in the church in Philippi, but it would be nearly impossible for the entire church to pick up and leave to go visit Paul…but not impossible for one man to do…and that one man is Epaphroditus.

There is a power to the notion of a ministry of presence, being able to spend time face to face with another person and not just communicating by letters from a distance. A childhood friend of mine is currently spending time in prison. We write, but those occasions where I can travel to see him are particularly valuable. As a pastor, too, I have found that often my presence alongside a family who is grieving the loss of someone means a great deal. It has nothing to do with me nor does it have to do with anything that I might say or actively do. Yet, to know that someone is just there, with you, during a difficult time, means a great deal. And for Paul who is in prison as he writes this letter, Epaphroditus provided this kind of ministry.

And thus honor should be shown. The Greek word that Paul uses here is e¡ntimoß (entimos), and it is a word that refers to something that is precious or valuable in one’s sight — distinguished and set apart. And Paul is not attributing this word only to Epaphroditus. Note that he says, “and such as these…” So to all, who give of themselves sacrificially, who suffer (even to the point of death) to minister to God’s people, to those who practice the ministry of presence to fulfill that which the broader church is unable to fully do…treat them as the precious gift to the church (and community) that they are. Treat them with honor. Yet, how often the servants of God are taken for granted and not seen as a honored gift from God.

Loved ones, strive to be like Epaphroditus in your service to others. They may not be in prison nor may they be at great distances from yourself. You may also not need to risk your life for them. Yet, strive to bless others with your ministry, even if all you do is just be present with them during their time of trial. And those who serve in your midst, who give of themselves to care for others, seek to recognize them as a good gift from God and worthy of your honor.