The Grace Based Church - Commends | Pastor Mike Fortune | November 20, 2010


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by Pastor Mike Fortune
November 20, 2010

End of the Spear Preview [00:00 to 02:08] 

  1. Those who care to stay [Phillipians 2:19-24; 1 Timothy 4:12]
  2. Those willing to go [Philippians 2:25-27; Philippians 4:18]
  3. Those who risk their lives [Philippians 2:28-30; Acts 21:13-14]

End of the Spear is a fantastic adventure that takes us deep into the jungles of Ecuador. It tells the unbelievable but true story of missionary Steve Saint and his willingness to go and care for a violent Stone Age tribe bent on killing their enemies including the very man who murdered his father Nate Saint in 1956 for attempting to share the reconciling and life transforming Gospel of Jesus. We’re showing the rest of that story tonight @ 7pm during Film Fest and I’d encourage you and anyone older than 13 to join us for it and the discussion that will follow.

This is one of our November ordinary outreach events. And its content reminded me of the characters in today’s passage from Philippians 2. Because like Nate and Steve Saint, Timothy and another guy named Epaphroditus risk their lives to go and care for others; in this case, Paul, who as we’ll see has also risked his life and in fact was about to lose his while imprisoned in Rome. But before he does, in our passage today, Paul commends these two young men. And asks the grace based church we’ve been studying this fall in Philippi to commend them as well. We can learn some lessons from this church about how we can become a grace based church that commends others as well. So turn with me to Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:19-30 says, “19If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit. Then he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. 20I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. 21All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. 22But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News. 23I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. 24And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon. 25Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. 26I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. 27And he certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and then I will not be so worried about you. 29Welcome him with Christian love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. 30For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn't do from far away.”

In Philippians 4:21, Paul calls the people around him in Rome “brothers.” Acts 28:30 says the Jewish leaders there visited him while he was under house arrest and Acts 28:24 says some of them even believed everything he told them about Jesus and the Kingdom of God from the law of Moses and the books of the prophets. But some of them did not believe. And perhaps that’s why Paul includes in this section of his letter these curious words found in verses 20-21, “I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. 21All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ.”

Apparently, even in Paul’s day, you could be a Jewish leader, maybe even a professed believer in the Messiah and Kingdom of God, and still not genuinely care about the welfare of others. Isn’t that a mind boggler? Shouldn’t that be an oxymoron? An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines normally-contradictory terms. Like adult children. Almost candid. Or awfully nice. Apparently exaggerating a little with the “all” of verse 21, Paul nonetheless conveys that his overwhelming perception of these Jewish leaders in Rome he’s surrounded by is less than flattering. They care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ.

Timothy, on the other hand, is an exception to the rule. Timothy was one of the best known of Paul’s traveling companions and fellow-laborers. He was evidently one of Paul’s own converts, since the apostle describes him in 1 Corinthians 4:17 as his beloved and faithful son and in 1 Timothy 1:2 he calls him “Timothy my true child in faith.” Timothy was a resident, and apparently a native, either of Lystra or Derbe, cities which were visited and evangelized by Paul on his 1st missionary journey described in Acts 14:6. Of all Paul's friends, with the exception, perhaps, of Luke [cf. 2 Timothy 4:11], Paul’s beloved friend, Timothy was regarded by him with the tenderest affection; he was like a dearly loved son, faithful and true.

According to Acts 16:1 and 3, Timothy’s biological mother was a Jewish believer but his father was a heathen Greek [hellen in Greek, not hellenistes which is the word used for a Greek-speaking Jew]. This fact I find interesting not only because it explains why Paul was willing to agree to Timothy’s circumcision as an adult but unwilling to do so for Titus whom Acts 15:2 says was born Gentile, but also because it hints at the fact that Timothy like many of the children growing up today had to make decisions about following God that one of his parents didn’t approve of. And making a decision like that takes courage.

Maybe that’s why Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” So what if your dad doesn’t believe in God? You aren’t the first one whose parent doesn’t believe. That doesn’t mean you should reject God too.

2 Timothy 1:6 describes how Paul ordained Timothy after his humble and willing adult circumcision [not sure I’d be so willing!] and then Acts 17 describes how Timothy worked alongside Paul during his 2nd missionary journey in Berea, Athens, and Thessalonica. At least 18 months would go by and Timothy was still working with Paul in places like Ephesus, Corinth, Jerusalem, and Rome. Which leads us to point number one: The grace based church commends those who care to stay or stay to care.

Paul said, “I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. 21All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ.” Timothy stuck with Paul. Endured hardships and imprisonment of his own. Hebrews 13:23 says, “I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released from jail. If he comes here soon, I will bring him with me to see you.” And though he was young, he was an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. We need more young people like that. And we need more older people like that. People who genuinely care about the welfare of others. And are willing by God’s grace to obey the teachings of Jesus. We got some great Little Minnow Award nominations recently who genuinely care for the welfare of others. And I’ll be sharing them with you when I conclude.

So the grace based church commends those willing to stay and genuinely care for others even if they’re young. But the grace based church also commends those willing to go. Philippians 2:25-27 adds, “25Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. 26I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. 27And he certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.”

Epaphroditus was a common Greek and Latin name meaning “lovely.” Since his parents apparently named him after the Greek goddess Aphrodite, it seems that this courageous messenger also had some tough choices to make about whether to follow the pagan religion of his parents or the teachings of Jesus. Some have identified the man here mentioned with another callled Epaphras in Colossians 1:7 and 4:12. And while the names are similar and might be a nickname, we cannot be sure. The fact that Paul calls him “my brother, companion, and soldier” implies that Epaphroditus was committed to serving Jesus not Aphrodite, that he was willing to go with Paul on his missionary journeys, and that he was willing to risk placing his life in danger fo the sake of the Gospel—not that he was necessarily a literal gun toting soldier. Though the kids at TJA love it when we sing, We are soldiers in the army / We have to fight / Although we have to die / We have to hold up the blood stained banner / We have to hold it up until we die.

Phillipians 4:18 says that Epaphroditus had originally been sent from the church in Philippi to go give Paul a gift of money. “At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.” But on his journey to Paul, which apparently placed him in harm’s way, or perhaps after his arrival, Epaphroditus got really sick and homesick. He was longing to go home, but he couldn’t because he was also really sick. And after he heard that his home church family was worried about him, he got even worse! Apparently, even to the point of death! But Paul says God had mercy on him and also on Paul since he still needed all the support and friends he could get.

And courageous missionaries like Nate Saint and Steve Saint are still needed today. Not just to the jungles of Ecuador but also to the concrete jungles of America. Where record breaking numbers of young people are being raised in broken homes that don’t teach their children about Jesus or the Kingdom of God or the need for people to genuinely care to make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey the commandments of Jesus. It costs something to follow Jesus. It could cost intimacy with your parents. Especially if your parents serve the gods of this world instead of the God of heaven. It could cost you friends. Especially if your friends pull you further from God than closer to Him. It could cost proximity to your home. Epaphroditus left Philippi to go give Paul the gifts he needed. And he did so at considerable risk.

He wasn’t a missionary to America. He was a Philippian missionary to Rome.  He clearly understood the risks and paid the price. Almost dying in the process. But he was still willing to go. And this is point number two. The grace based church commends those who go.

But where have all the missionaries gone? Are we still telling our children the missionary stories? On Friday nights, Jackie and I are reading our kids the books we loved that our parents read to us. Who remembers Nyla and the White CrocodileSinger on the SandThe Tiger of Bitter Valley? You can still purchase these classics from the ABC. And I highly recommend them. Reading stories to your kids about missionaries will inspire them one day to go and be missionaries wherever they end up living. Whether that’s in America or overseas. Let’s commend our kids for serving the God of heaven instead of the gods of this world.

And lastly, the grace based church commends those who risk their lives. Paul says this of Epaphroditus in Phillippians 2:30, “For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn't do from far away.”

Some of you may not know this, and I hope he’s not too embarrassed by me sharing this, but right here in our own church we have a missionary to America that risks his life on a routine basis. His name is Lewis Simpson. He plays bass in our praise team, but recently he was honored by The Federal Pretrial and Probation Officers Association as their Probation Officer of the Year in Supervision by the Great Lakes Regional District. I was honored to be invited to his reception inside a packed court room in downtown Toledo on November 10 where all kinds of civic leaders heaped deserved praise on Lewis.

Lewis, of course, gave all the credit to God and his family who were all present and even this church where he now feels so at home. The award he received that day is named the Thomas E. Gahl Award in honor of the first U.S. Probation Officer killed in the line of duty by a parolee. Tom was killed on September 22, 1986, by Michael Wayne Jackson, who had a life-long history of mental illness and random acts of violence.  Being pursued after a lengthy crime spree, which included two other murders and several kidnappings, Jackson ended his own life after taking Tom’s. Thomas E. Gahl was only 38 years old at his tragic death. But the courage and integrity in which he conducted himself has inspired countless others including Lewis to continue to risk his life to help others—often the ones no one else wants to help—get new jobs and find meaning and when the opportunity presents itself, hear more about the life reconciling and life transforming grace of Jesus. Just the other day, while some of us were raking leaves, Lewis snuck out toward the end to give a ride to one of his parolees trying to get his life back together. That is not required of Lewis. He did that on his day off. Part of which he spent here raking leaves!

People in the grace based church care to stay, but are willing to go, even if it means risking their lives or simply their precious time off work. But they do it anyway! Giving cheerfully and freely. Paul was writing this letter to that little church in Philippi. Who already loved and appreciated Timothy and Epaphroditus for their sacrificial love and service. And Paul could appreciate point number three because he too had been willing to risk his life for the reconciling and life transforming Gospel of Jesus. We know this is true because of what is recorded in Acts 21:13-14.

The context there is that Paul is on his way to Jerusalem from Ephesus. But on the way they stop in the island of Cyprus. And the local believers there prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem since they were going to try to kill him. And sure enough, Acts 21:27-36 describes how once he got there and started teaching in the temple a mob got so violent with him that soldiers had to arrest him and lift him to their shoulders to protect him from being killed. But before all that, on the way there, he told some of the believers along the way in acts 21:13-14, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.’ 14When it was clear that we couldn't persuade him, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord's will be done.’”

The grace based church commends those who risk their lives for the sake of the Gospel so the Lord’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. Lewis still does that in his job. And Paul did that in his. Perhaps, you can’t relate to this because you don’t risk your life on a daily basis to do your job. But whether we’re sacrificing our lives or only our time, it still costs something to love like Jesus. Please ask yourself this week if you’re still willing to pay that price. And take some time to thank a few people in your life who have sacrificed something to love you like crazy.

So now, at the conclusion of our service today,  based on your nominations the last few weeks, we have five Toledo First members we would like to commend today during our annual Little Minnow Awards in conjunction with our Thanksgiving themed services this week and next.

In years past, we have honored Sabbath School teachers who spent countless hours preparing every week for the stories and lesson our children hear during their formative years. We have also commended pillars of our church who have sacrificed much time and effort to not only build this sanctuary but provide a place for emerging generations to take ownership of this church. We have thanked unheralded deacons and people behind the scenes that visit the sick and shut ins and clean up around these four acres of land we call our home. But today, the first few of the Little Minnow Award recipients are all individuals who with their integrity and extremely organized money counting skills makes sure all the tithes and offerings we collect gets sent to the right places. Marilynn Marsh is our current treasurer. She spends countless hours balancing budgets. Auditing our books. Explaining and re-explaining financial concepts to me and everyone else at business meetings and has been doing so for years. I’d like her to come forward at this time and stand by me.

Additionally,  doing all the same things, Gail Flack and Dr. David Kawakami have also been our church’s full time volunteer treasurers in the past. I say full time because they know very well that it’s like a full time job, but they volunteer to do it. Using their God given spiritual gifts and training for God’s purposes. Where would we be without competent financial minds willing to do the spreadsheets and number crunching many of us simply are unable to do well? We would be lost without you! So today, we commend you Marilynn, Gail, and David for your work as treasurers of the Toledo First Church. Way to go!

Our last two Little Minnow Award nominations for 2010 are being given to Dr. Jerry Marsa and Harold Rumsey Sr. So if both of you could also join us up front here I would appreciate that. Many of you know that Jerry has been chair of the finance committee here at Toledo First for years. But what impresses some even more than his ability to financially plan is the time he takes behind the scenes to rake leaves and change light bulbs. Look how high those things are up there! Who do you think is courageous enough to crawl up the scaffolding and ladders high enough to do that besides Burgess Bills? That’s right. Jerry Marsa. So for all the little things you do around behind the scenes like planning budgets and changing lights bulbs, we commend you, way to go!

Harold Rumsey has been struggling with his health lately. But somehow, he too wanders over here to church to make sure the church garage got wired correctly and isn’t going to burn down next time we flip the light on in the dark. Not only that, but he is still using his electrical engineering skills to help Jerry and Burgess install new fluorescent light bulbs in all the dark hallways that outdated sensors keep turning off too soon. Have you noticed how much brighter it is in the hallways? Harold is also a avid Bible reader and thinker and always asks good questions in Sabbath school participating as often as he can. For all these little reasons, Harold Rumsey Sr., you have been nominated to receive a 2010 Little Minnow Award. Your church family wants to thank and especially to day commend you! Way to go!