Main Point: If we truly love God, we will be dedicated to the work of Christ and the fellowship of the saints.
1. Loving God
2. The Work of Christ
3. The Fellowship of the Saints
Expressing Our Hearts, Philippians 2:25-30
It was early April and the near frozen water of the Connecticut River was rapidly speeding downstream. This should have been a good indication that what we were about to do was extremely foolhardy but we pressed on anyway. Seth and I got in his little aluminum boat with the 5-horsepower motor and we slowly fought the current upriver out of Northfield in hopes of finding some early spring bass. We had waited all winter to get out on the water and nothing was going to stop us! I can still picture when we came up to the old railroad bridge that spans the river, only the giant pylons are left. With me in the front of the boat, Seth at the back steering us, we came up to those concrete pillars and hit the swirling waters rushing around them and the front of the boat instantly went down with a jolt, almost under the water. I just stared at what was happening in disbelief and terror and held on as tight as I could to the sides, envisioning us getting sucked down any moment. Somehow, we turned sideways just enough and moved out of the whirlpool before it flooded the boat or tipped us over. Think about what would have happened if we got dumped into the river. Again, its early April, surrounded by whirlpools with a rushing current. We would not have lasted long in that icy water! But we pressed on and fished for a little bit that day even when the anchor would not hold us in place and even when we didn’t catch anything and we were frozen. At least we lived to tell the tale, right?
You may be asking, quite rightly, why would we do such a foolish thing? The only thing I can say is because we loved fishing. During the winter months we would talk about fishing, and upgrade and clean our gear, watch fishing on TV, go to Basspro shops, anything bass related (except for ice fishing-I draw the line there). But that wasn’t enough to satisfy our love for and joy in fishing. We needed to get out on the water and we had a chance so we were going to take it no matter what.
That’s what you do when you truly love and enjoy someone or something, right? It needs to be expressed, taken part in, experienced or else you are left feeling hollow. You can’t truly love something without it being expressed in some tangible way.
The same is especially true for our Christian life and relationship with God. If we love the Lord and want to experience the fullness of life that he has for us then we need to take part in it, express it in a real and tangible way, get in there and get our hands dirty specifically among Gods people. Specifically, from our passage,
If we truly love God, we will be dedicated to the work of Christ and the fellowship of the saints.
Let’s break that down into its three sections so you can see what I mean.
- Loving God
Where am I getting this idea of loving God from this text? I admit it’s not there explicitly in these particular verses, but I think it’s an implicit overarching theme of this letter and the life of Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus and it’s one of the reasons Paul holds them up as examples for the Philippians and us to follow.
We saw last week that Timothy was a faithful, Christlike servant. Like Paul, he dedicated his entire life to spread the Gospel and minister to believers. Now we learn about Epaphroditus who risked his life for the work of Christ. He was sent by the church at Philippi to bring Paul their gift and minister to his needs while he was imprisoned. These men did stuff in the name of Christ, they did a lot of stuff and put their lives in danger for the sake of Christ and others.
Why? We look at the accounts of their lives and have to ask what drove these men and countless others throughout history to do such difficult and incredible things? I think this question really touches on the very heart of the Christian life; it’s a question of motivation. I do something if I am motivated to do it, even if it is completely insane like fishing in a flooded, icy river.
Well, where does motivation come from? It comes from what we and the Bible call the heart. This is the place of our emotions, our affections in what we love, value and treasure. My heart drives me to action, it acts as the engine to get my mind and body moving in order to give expression to what I love and enjoy. Does that make sense? So, again, going back to my fishing story: because I love and enjoy fishing, my heart motivated me to action. If I had loved something else more that day, like staying home and not almost dying, I would have done that instead. But my love of fishing, drove me to action. I had to express my love for fishing through action so that I could receive the full enjoyment of it. I could no longer sit in my basement looking at lures, or hearing about other people catching fish. I needed to take part in it. A love that is unexpressed is no love at all. There is no joy there, no fulfillment.
All of our actions are expressions of our heart. Whether we realize it or not, everything we do is motivated by our heart, what we love, value, treasure, and find joy in. For example, even when I did not particularly like my job at the nursing home, I still went every day. Why? Because I value providing for my family. I was motivated to work so we could pay our bills because I love my family and love to care for them. I couldn’t say, “I love you guys and love providing for you” and then quit my job and cause us to be homeless, right? One of the ways my love for them needs to be expressed is through working and providing and even though I didn’t have joy in my job, I had joy in caring for my family.
Going back to our passage and Epaphroditus. He risked his life for the work of Christ because he valued Christ and others above himself. He found joy in serving the Lord and the church. He would not have done what he did if that were not the case. He was not willing to sit idly by while others did the work, content to hear about what was happening around him. No, his love drove him to action.
Now, obviously we cannot see his heart, and I am assuming this was his motivation because Paul would not have said what he did here if he were, say, prideful. Is that a safe assumption? If his motivation to risk his life for the work of Christ was so that people would praise him, I think Paul’s words would be very different. Instead he is called a brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier who should be honored and received with all joy. He is an example we can look to of someone who’s heart treasured, loved and enjoyed Christ, and therefore he was motivated to act and found joy in his service.
That heart is the foundation of the whole Christian life and we can use our hearts and actions as a sort of spiritual gauge to help us see where our affections lie. Think about it like this: what did Jesus say were the two greatest commandments? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And you’re your neighbor as yourself. Why? Because if our hearts are in the right place, if we love, value and treasure God above all else, we will be moved and motivated to action; we will follow him and his Word and find our joy in him overflowing into love for others.
And the reverse of this is also true. When we aren’t motivated to action, when we aren’t moved to obedience, when we are content to just have a small part of the Christian life and let others do the work, not really getting plugged into the church body,we are revealing that our hearts do not truly love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. A lack of action is a warning sign of a lack of love.
Therefore, if we truly love the Lord, we will express it in two distinct ways that I see in this text.
- The Work of Christ
The first is in the work of Christ, verse 30. Again, Epaphroditus is the example being held up here. His love for the Lord motivated him to extreme action, to risk his life for the work of Christ. He left the comforts of his own home, travelled to Rome through difficult and dangerous circumstances. He contracted some kind of illness through his ordeal and almost died. All for the sake of Christ. That is what drove him.
I hope you are asking, “is this what I’m supposed to do if I love the Lord? Is this what everyone is called to do?” Great question. If we love the Lord, we should be dedicated to the work of Christ, yes. In the case of Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus, the work of Christ was filled with suffering, pain, persecution and near-death experiences. Is this, then, the case for everyone? No, I don’t think so, not everyone.
What then is the work of Christ for me, you, all of us? This is really critical so please hear me on this. The work of Christ is everything. The work of Christ is everything you and I do in life if and when we do it to glorify God. Whatever we do, if done from a heart that loves the Lord and seeks to honor him, that is the work of Christ. Remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Whatever you do, as long as it motivated by a love for God, for glorifying God, it is the work of Christ.
For Paul, this was full-time missionary work. For Ephaphroditus this was being the messenger from Philippi and minister to Paul’s needs. For Philippi, this was sending a gift to Paul through Epaphroditus. So, what is it for you? Whether you dedicate your life to full-time Gospel ministry, or as a truck-driver, do it to the glory of God. Whether you are a stay at home mom, or a school teacher, do it as a work to Christ. From a construction worker to a hair stylist, you can do all things from a heart that loves the Lord and seeks to bring honor and glory to him. Watching the Super Bowl tonight? Do it while glorifying God in your heart, speech and actions.
There are obviously very specific ways God has revealed in his Word that we can and can’t do this, like in how we speak to others for example. I can’t be in obvious sin and say I am glorifying God. But the point is, if we center our hearts on Christ, and grow in our love for him first, then we will see that everything comes under the work of Christ. All that we do will be motivated by our love for God and he will be in all of our life, not just at church or sometimes throughout the week when we are reading our Bibles or praying. No, God will have the preeminent place in our hearts in our home, at work, in the car, at the store, in our hobbies, in our families, in our words, in our actions, it will all be the work of Christ.
I don’t know about you, but I feel that while this is a really big idea that seems a little intimidating, it is also really freeing. This means that the fullness of the Christian life, finding joy in our relationship with God, is not reserved only for those like Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus who risked their lives for the work of Christ. While we may be called to do that, and praise God if we are, we can still have the fullness of joy in Christ in Leverett, Greenfield, Montague, wherever, when we love the Lord with all of our hearts and are motivated to live for him in all things.
God wants us to know him and have joy in him everywhere and in everything! He has not limited himself to just a select few but has given himself fully to all of his people!
So, if we truly love the Lord, we will express it through dedication to the work of Christ, which is our lives being motivated by and for his honor and glory.
- The Fellowship of the Saints
And secondly, if we truly love the Lord, we will express it through our dedication to the fellowship of the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Did you notice all of the relational and emotional language throughout this passage? There are three relationships being discussed: Paul and Epaphroditus, the Philippians and Paul, Epaphroditus and the Philippians. And they all meld together into what was happening and all of these emotions are swirling around which is what led Paul to sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi.
Notice in verse 26, this is what triggers the events of this passage. Epaphroditus is sent to Paul by the church at Philippi and becomes deathly ill. The Philippians hear about it but have not yet heard that he is better. So, once he is well enough, he is desperate to go home and assure them that he is ok. He is distressed over their worry about him. He longs for his home church. And when they see him again, verses 28-29, they will rejoice and receive him with all joy.
This, I think, gets to the heart of what fellowship truly is. It is so much more than physical presence; it is a heart presence. It is a deep love and affection which motivates togetherness. True fellowship comes from hearts that long to be together and desire to outdo one another in service. Hearts that are distressed and hurting when one of our own are distressed and hurting. That rejoice when others rejoice. It comes from a heart that truly loves God and overflows into a love for his people.
Our church is a very warm, loving and fellowship-oriented church and that is to be commended. So, the challenge for us is to take what we already have and go deeper. Not being satisfied, not being content with Sunday morning warm greetings, but life together, hearts that are knit together in love which motivate us to be with and serve one another. And similar to the last point, this can be anything and everything! We don’t need to move into a communal home to have true fellowship, don’t worry. My in laws already all tried that and it didnt work.
Sending an encouraging card or email, that’s fellowship. Calling someone who is sick, that’s fellowship. Asking someone how their medical appointment went last week, that’s fellowship. Crying with someone who is hurting, that’s fellowship. Serving in the children’s ministry, that’s fellowship. Signing up to bring Paul Burek to his appointments, that’s fellowship. The list is endless!
It takes work, yes. But this is so much more than checklist Christianity. This is not about, ok if I do the following then I am dedicated to his work and the saints. No, this is about our hearts; this is about our very walk with the Lord and our love for him. These things, the work of Christ and fellowship, are the natural expressions of that love. We will be motivated to do them by our love. Epaphroditus did not need his arm twisted to go to Paul at the request of his church. No, he was willing to give his very life tp minister to Pauls and the churches needs because it was the natural outpouring of his love for Christ and his spiritual family. It was an act of joy for him!
We too will find true joy, not drudgery, when we give full expression to our love for God, even when it is difficult, even when it hurts. If it is motivated by love, nothing will stand in our way.
But remember the warning sign I mentioned before. A lack of action, a lack of connection with our church family is a red flag, its a spiritual gauge that says pur hearts have grown cold. If we are content to let others do the work, when we arent willing to sacrifice anything, keeping everyone at arms length, we need to watch out. Perhaps our love for the Lord needs to be awaken again. Like the church at Ephesus in the book of Reveation that lost its first love. A love for Other things crowded out their love for God. We would all do well to ask God to reveal our hearts to us today so that we can love him with all of our hearts and joyfully express it. If we miss out on that we will be left empty and hollow, not living the fullness of life God has for us.
Epaphroditus is an example of this fullness, but there is a greater example, the one through whom all of this is even possible. God’s love for us was not content to be left at the level of just words or thought. He did not simply call down from Heaven, “I love you!” No, his love for us motivated the Triune God into action. The Father sent the Son, the Son joyfully went, taking on flesh, stepping down, into his creation to serve and save his fallen creatures. His love caused him to act to come into fellowship with us so he could bring us into fellowship with him by giving us of himself completely through his life, death and resurrection.
Now, through faith in his act, we are brought into his newness of life, into restored relationship with God, with our sins forgiven and his righteousness put in our place. He did this to create a people for himself, his bride, his church. Gods love moved him to act to save us and bring us together in him. The church is the evidence of the expression of his love for us.
So now our local church, our little part of the universal church, is meant to be the center of our new hearts in Christ that were won for us by his death and resurrection. Our brothers and sisters in Christ here at NLB are so much more than a coincidental gathering together of like-minded people. No, we are a blood bought family, eternally bound together in love: Gods love for us, our love for him and for one another.
Therefore, what we do here, how we feel about, think about, serve and act towards one another is the tangible evidence, expression and fruit of our love for God overflowing into our love for others.
When we come to Christ, we are given a new life, one that is to define our entire existence, with a heart made to love God above all else. A heart that is meant to motivate us to glorify him in all things and to true fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Lord has called each and every one of us to this and he will give us the strength and ability to fulfill this calling if we would only to him in humble submission to that end. Let’s ask that God would renew our heart's love for him and we would joyfully and boldly express it in all of life starting this very day.