Being genuine and vulnerable in the Christian Faith

The Monday evening community group of Ballard Church is currently reading through N. T. Wright’s For Everyone Bible Study Guide – Phillipians. This evening, we discussed Phillipians 2:19-30:

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

In our group’s ongoing discussion, the focus is on genuineness, authenticity and being in relation with God as well as with one another and the community at large. The main take away here (from this writer’s perception) is the contrast and complimentary between Paul’s description of Timothy’s character and Epaphroditus character.

Regarding Timothy, Paul refers to him as a person that no other is like. Timothy’s concern for the welfare of the Christian community in Phillipi is genuine. This is contrasted with how the Apostle views others as seeking their own interests and not the interest of Jesus Christ. In this, Timothy’s character is that he is constantly after the heart and will of God to be of service to the Gospel and those whom are in relationship with one another as brother’s and sister’s in Christ. The apostle basis this perception on how Timothy has proven his Christian character over time (as compared to the characteristics of Paul’s and Timothy’s contemporary’s). In other words, we we may possibly infer in this passage is that Paul relies on Timothy to do what others are not able to do because of their lack of genuineness toward others.

Within Timothy, we find the example of Christian authenticity and genuineness. Our own concern is not wrapped up on our own selfish pursuits, or seeking after our own interests. Our concern and desire ought to be selfless in compassion, empathy and genuine concern for the welfare of those who are and are not part of our Church community and community we reside it. How often have we witnessed certain discord and contention within various Christian communities over differing ideologies, competing perspectives in how things ought to run and the way particular ministries ought to work. Authenticity within ourselves and our communities moves us beyond serving our own self interests and moves us to become of service to others in meeting their needs with true concern for their own welfare. Meeting their particular needs as we are moved upon to do so and are able to do so.

Essentially, we find the true identity of the Christian believer magnified in the person of Paul’s disciple as we focus on becoming more and more mature in our faith and deeper and deeper into our intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We have to become honest with ourselves and see whether or not we are serving our own interests and welfare first or if we are seeking out and serving and having a deep and moving concern for the welfare of those around us – regardless of their identity in Christ or not.

Now, concerning Epaphroditus, we read something different in contrast to Timothy, yet richly complimentary. The Apostle does not describe Epaphroditus as being of concern for the well being of those Christians in Phillipi. This does not lead us to believe Epapphroditus was not concerned for their welfare. On the contrary, it came about that Paul references the Christian communities concern for the welfare of Epaphroditus because of his illness that brought him near to death. Yet, the mercy of God showed in healing Epaphroditus from his ailment. Here, (again, this writer’s perception and understanding), Epaphroditus shows us the vulnerability us Christians have in this mortal existence. We are susceptible to diseases of all kinds, illnesses, and even tragedy and death. There is no magic potion that will give us a quick remedy from these ailments we experience in our mortal lives.

There are some who want to believe that a Christian is marked by the idea that they must be healthy in order to be determined redeemed and of God. Otherwise, if there is any sickness within them and there is no healing, then there is a lack of faith or some secret sin the individual is harboring. Paul shatters this false ideology and sophistry of modern prosperity preachers when he said that even the best Christians who serve God are susceptible of becoming ill – even unto death.

What then do we learn in this passage about Timothy and Epaphroditus? I believe the Apostle Paul, while writing to the community of Christian believers in Phillip, shared the characteristics of these two disciples in a manner that allows us to see how Christians ought to live. Knowing that we have a genuine interest in the welfare of others while we are susceptible to illness in our lifetimes, including tragic events that impact and change our lives for the better.

In essence, Paul teaches us here how we are to be genuine and how we are vulnerable within the Christian faith and life.