December 2, 2020

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (12)

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Study Twelve: Examples of the Jesus-shaped Life

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I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow-soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honour such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

Timothy and Epaphroditus. These two names were precious to the Christians in Philippi. The first was Paul’s partner in pastoral service to the church. The second was the Philippian church’s representative who went to serve Paul in prison. Both exemplified the “Although [x], not [y] but [z]” pattern of Jesus-shaped living that Paul commended through his exhortations and the Christ-hymn in 2:1-11.

  • Timothy — genuinely concerned for the welfare of others, seeking not his own interests but those of Jesus Christ and his people, serving as a loyal “son” to Paul in the work of the gospel.
  • Epaphroditus — Paul’s “brother, co-worker, fellow-soldier,” the church’s “messenger and minister” to Paul, precious to both the apostle and the church, who worried about his well being; a man to be welcomed, rejoiced in, and honored; a man who was willing to lay down his life to serve others.

Once again we see, this time in real flesh and blood people, what it means to live a Jesus-shaped life. It’s about love. It’s about willingness to put aside selfishness. It’s about wanting to bring benefit and blessing to the lives of others. It’s about being willing to sacrifice to do so. It’s about service. It’s about loving relationships, mutual respect and care. It is about fulfilling the appeal Paul made in 2:1-4 —

be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

As Gordon Fee says in his commentary: “Both the length and the language of these two “commendations” …suggest that these men also serve as exemplary paradigms for the two central concerns that emerged in 1:27—2:4. Timothy models serving the gospel by caring for the needs of others; Epaphroditus models the suffering that accompanies serving the gospel.”

My grandmother Annabelle was a person who lived like this. She was a giver, and I have been and continue to be a grateful recipient of her many gifts.

Annabelle was raised my great-grandmother Grace, whose husband died in his thirties after a farming accident. Grace raised five children and lived until age 103. Her daughter Annabelle didn’t fall far from the tree. She also lost her husband at a young age, and like her mother before her, she made the choice to embrace the challenge of overcoming her loss. She lived in Chicago and had never driven an automobile, for example. But after my grandpa died she got her license so that she could be self-sufficient, involved in her church, and able to visit her friends. She blossomed into an active, generous woman who followed her Lord and served her neighbors. This is the Annabelle I remember most: one who served others. She had a group of elderly women she saw regularly, assisting them with their needs, transporting them around the city, being their friend and helper.

Annabelle cared deeply about her family too, but we had all moved away from Chicago, so we communicated primarily through phone calls and letters. I know for a fact she prayed for us on a regular basis too. I saw her once during college when she had her pastor invite us for a concert, and our gospel team sang in her church. After I graduated, she traveled east to attend my wedding and presented my bride and me with a generous check so that we could have a nice honeymoon. We moved to Vermont and once hosted her and my other grandmother during fall foliage season, and I think she was pleased that I had entered the ministry. I still have the books about Jesus she gave me when I was baptized as an infant, books she hoped I’d read as I grew up. The seeds of her loving generosity in my life were planted early.

I returned to Chicago to attend seminary several years later, and this gave us a chance to see each other more often. Her generous financial support toward my schooling was a great blessing, and she also helped us furnish our modest home. We used to take Annabelle around the lake to Michigan to see her mother on her birthday each year as she approached, reached, and surpassed age 100.

A few years after seminary our family moved to Indiana, and Annabelle relocated to Maryland, to a continuing care community near my parents. She meant this as a gift. She didn’t want to be a burden to her children or grandchildren, so she set herself up in a place where she could live and be cared for, and no one would ever have to worry about getting a call one day to fly to Chicago and take care of things. So Annabelle left her home and made a new one late in life where she could have her own life and activities but be close to some of her family as well.

Through the years, my grandma Annabelle continued to bless me with gifts. When my church began taking mission trips to India, she was one of our biggest contributors. In fact, it was while I was on one of those trips, half a world away, that Annabelle died. This was a shock because my grandmother was such a strong woman—and after all, her mother had lived to be 103! Nevertheless, the heart of this kind woman who spent her life giving to others simply stopped beating one day, and we were all the poorer for it.

There in the nursing home, she had gone to the dining hall at her continuing care facility to eat lunch, sitting down at her usual table with friends. It had become their habit to ask Annabelle to say grace before the meal, and so they bowed their heads together and waited for her to pray. My grandmother was blessing the meal and her friends when her heart stopped beating and she died.

She died the way she lived — saying grace and giving grace to others. A better example of the Jesus-shaped life, I’ll never have.

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Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel


  1. Ronald Avra says

    The experience of living in the presence of an individual who embodies the Jesus-shaped life is one of the better educations for the Christian. If you are willing to observe the example before you, it can give you significant preparation to have the life of Christ formed in yourself.

    • Ronald Avra says

      Acknowledging the humanness of your example may also help relieve any aspirations to self-righteousness.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      But those individuals seem to be few and far between, even in Christian milieus.

  2. God bless your Grandma. It must have been a bit of a surprise to be talking to the Lord and then to be face to face. An unrelated point that was occurring to me as I read was this: One of the trademarks of spiritual writing is its sometimes unexpected mundanity. Who to meet where and when, etc. That tends to attest to the veracity of the scriptures as fraudulent writers would likely leave that stuff out and keep the writing to the miraculous and the amazing.

  3. Passing away while saying grace…Wow! That has to be near the top in terms of “best way to go.”