Three Examples of Humble & Sacrificial Service
Parents, have you ever tried the following exhortation with your kids, “Don’t do as I do, do as I
say?” If you have, how well did that work for you? Probably not very well! A key principle we
learn quickly as parents is how important it is that we teach by our example. It is of course
important that we verbally instruct our children in the ways of God, however, it is equally
important that we practice what we preach. As the proverbial saying goes, “Our actions speak
louder than our words.”
The apostle Paul understood the importance of setting a good example. Paul has just completed
a series of five exhortations. These exhortations are directed at the problem of division within
the church. Paul exhorts us to:
Conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel
Be like minded
Share the mind of Christ
Resolve any conflict and division that we’re facing
Do everything without complaining or arguing
Instead of just telling the Philippians what they need to do, Paul also provides examples for them
to consider and follow.
Robert Gromacki writes, “Theory must be put into practice and ideas must be dressed in flesh.
Learners want to be shown as well as to be told.”
So as to show the Philippians the principles he is exhorting of them, he cites as examples three
men who manifested the mind of Christ—himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. All three
demonstrate humble, sacrificial service. All three live in a humble manner in which they exhibit
proper concern for others.
Paul’s example (2:17-18)
Paul sacrificially gives of himself to serve others (2:17a)
Paul uses the metaphor of a drink offering to describe his sacrificial service on behalf of Christ.
In the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, the priests would daily make two different animal
sacrifices, one in the morning and one in the evening, and spread them on the altar to be
consumed by fire. Along with these animal sacrifices, a drink offering would be made.
We learn of this drink offering in passages like Exodus 29:38-41:
“This is what you are to offer on the altar regularly each day: two lambs a year old. Offer one
in the morning and the other at twilight. With the first lamb offer a tenth of an ephah of fine
flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives, and a quarter of a hin of wine as a
drink offering. Sacrifice the other lamb at twilight with the same grain offering and its drink
offering as in the morning—a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the LORD by fire.”
Paul compares himself to this drink offering. He considers it his privilege and joy to be poured
out, to have his life used up and spent in service to Christ and His church.
Notice how Paul describes himself as being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and
service that was springing forth from the Philippians’ faith. He isn’t alone in rendering
sacrificial service as an act of worship towards God. The Philippians’ faith in Christ is active in
producing sacrificial service as well. His sacrificial service accompanies or joins in with the
sacrificial service the Philippians are rendering as their offering to God.
Pentecost well summarizes Paul’s thought here, “He (Paul) sees the works that spring from the
Philippians’ faith as a sacrifice to God; the apostle is joining with them in a sacrifice of praise.
He considers his prison experiences to be the drink offering which in the Old Testament was
poured on the sacrifice as an additional thank offering to God. Paul rejoices that he can lay
down his life in order that God might be glorified through the sacrifice of service of the
Philippians to which he adds his own sacrifice of praise.”
Paul’s attitude in the midst of sacrificial service is one of JOY (2:17b-18)
Paul uses a sacrifice metaphor to describe both his and the Philippians’ service for good reason.
Both he and the Philippians are paying a high price for their faith in Christ and their works of
service for Him. How does Paul respond when sacrifice is involved? He is glad and rejoices.
Paul here models what complaint free conduct looks like in the middle of having to suffer for
Jesus’ name—the conduct he had earlier exhorted of the Philippians—“Do everything without
complaining or arguing.” He encourages the Philippians to share his response by being glad and
rejoicing with him. Paul understood that joy is not found in selfish pride in which each person
looks out only for himself. Rather, joy is found in selfless, sacrificial service that seeks out the
good of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Timothy’s example (2:19-24)
Timothy can be trusted to give an objective evaluation of how the Philippians are
doing (2:19, 23-24)
Paul shares his hopes that he will be able to send Timothy to the Philippians in order to have him
gather information that can later be reported back to the apostle as to how the church is doing.
He is waiting to send Timothy until he has a better idea as to what will happen with regards to to
the verdict of his trial (v. 23). He is confident in the Lord that he himself will be able to come
soon, but anticipates sending Timothy first before his arrival (v. 24). That Timothy is entrusted
to bring word to Paul about the Philippians speaks of his character and concern. He can be
counted on to tell Paul how the church is really doing. Timothy cares about the Philippians too
much to be unfairly critical. He cares about them too much to gloss over problems with flattery.
He can be counted on to give an accurate report.
While Paul’s focus in these verses is on Timothy’s example, we also here learn more about his
own example. Paul is willing to give up the companionship and ministry he receives from
Timothy’s personal presence, so that he can be sent to minister to the needs of the Philippians.
Notice also what report Paul expects to receive concerning the Philippians—“that I also may be
cheered when I receive news about you.” Paul has goodwill towards the church. He is confident
God will work in their midst and continue to use them with him in a partnership for the continual
spread of the gospel (see Philippians 1:6). He expects a good report. He is not cynical, critical,
or pessimistic. Paul displays an exemplary attitude towards the church.
As it relates to Paul’s example, notice also what it is that will provide him encouragement—He
doesn’t mention how he will be encouraged when he is finally released from prison, but rather
how he will be encouraged from the news he would receive about the good welfare of the church
Timothy is like-minded with Paul in sharing genuine care for the Philippians
Timothy shares Paul’s mind and attitude. He genuinely cares for the welfare of the Philippians the same
way Paul does. While Paul focuses on the positive example of Timothy’s concern for the Philippians,
there is a sad commentary here about everyone else who is around Paul at the time—there was no one
else like Timothy who cared in the same way. When the great need for someone to minister to the
Philippians arose, no one in Rome seemed to care, that is no one else except Timothy. Everyone else was
looking out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. We don’t know exactly who it is that Paul is
referring to by “everyone else,” but we do know that in contrast to this majority, Timothy stood out as an
exception. Timothy sought Christ’s interests ahead of his own. He looked out for the interests of others
instead of just looking out for himself.
How do we respond when there are people who need taught, when there are people with hurting hearts
who need encouragement, when there are people who are struggling with conflict in relationships who
need a peacemaker, when there are needs for people to serve whatever that service involves? Are we
like Timothy, who genuinely cared for the welfare of others? OR Are we like all the others who were
around Paul, who were selfish, who were too preoccupied with their own business to care for others, who
were too busy with their own affairs to be troubled with the needs of others?
At JBC, there are needs in our children’s ministry on Sunday morning during church and Sunday School;
there are needs in our AWANA ministry; there are needs for Greeters; there are needs for people to be
involved in our care ministries—ministries like our helping hands ministry and meals ministry; there are
needs for more folks on our worship team; there are needs for our MOPS ministry; there are needs on our
hospitality and social committee; there are needs for people to minister to and reach out to our
missionaries. Will we be like Timothy and demonstrate our genuine concern for others and the interests
of Christ by jumping at the opportunity to serve? Or Will we be like everyone else and say, “I’m too
busy. I have too much going on right now. I don’t really care?”
Thus far, we have only addressed the needs surrounding the organized ministries of our church.
How do we respond with the day to day opportunities that arise when we run into people? How
do we respond when someone has recently lost a loved one; when someone discovers they or a
loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness; when someone is struggling to care for the
needs of aging parents; when parents are hurting because their kids are making poor choices;
when a person is facing a financial crisis or is out of work; when someone’s marriage is on the
rocks; when someone is hurting because of how they have been hurt by the sin of another against
them; when someone has an addiction or moral failure that he or she just can’t get on top of, etc.
Will we be like Timothy and share genuine interests in the welfare of others, or will we be like
everyone else? Will we focus most on Christ’s interests or our own?
Timothy is a proven, cooperative servant in the work of the gospel (2:22)
When opportunities arose for service, Timothy proved himself a servant again and again. One of
the ways Timothy did this was how he ministered with Paul in the work of the gospel. He was
cooperative, serving with the apostle as a son would with his father. He didn’t act in a
competitive way. He didn’t seek to take over what Paul was doing. He didn’t jealously grab for
more opportunities or recognition. He simply served with Paul in doing the work of the gospel.
Many people can serve well alone, but one of the real tests of whether a person is a Christ-like
servant is how they act when serving with others in the work of the gospel.
Epaphroditus’ example (2:25-30)
Epaphroditus is Paul’s brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier (2:25a)
Epaphroditus is Paul’s brother in Christ. Together, the two share a common love for Christ and
His love for them. Together, they also share a love for one another as brothers in the Lord.
Just like Timothy, Epaphroditus labors alongside Paul in the common effort of reaching others
with the gospel of Christ. The fact Paul calls Epaphroditus a fellow worker is significant. Paul
is the one who has the up front preaching role. Epaphroditus has the behind the scenes, serving
role. Paul doesn’t say, “he works for me.” Paul uses the description of co-worker to
communicate that Epaphroditus works with him. Paul here shows that both the behind the
scenes servant and the upfront spokesman are equally important as it relates to the ministry of the
Pentecost writes, “To preach the Gospel is the work of Christ certainly! To introduce Jesus
Christ to a people who had never heard the Gospel is the work of Christ most assuredly! Is to
cook a meal and take it to a shut-in the work of Christ? That is what Epaphroditus did, and Paul
does not distinguish between his work and the work of Epaphroditus. They were both doing the
work of Christ…To serve in some unnoticed, unrecognized capacity in the church is as much the
work of Christ as the pulpit ministry. They are two parts of the work, but one is as essential as
Just as both preachers like Paul and servants like Epaphroditus are important to Christ’s work, it
is also vital that both share the mind of Christ, that both live as humble, sacrificial servants, that
both serve as lights in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation. Living this way, in a
manner worthy of the gospel, is no less important for the servant than it is for the preacher.
Epaphroditus is a soldier in a battle where he is encountering the danger of the enemy’s threats.
With Paul, Epaphroditus takes his stand to war against sin and the devil and to defend and
propagate the gospel. In identifying with Paul as a prisoner in Rome by helping him and
working to provide for his needs, Epaphroditus puts himself in the position where he could be
easily accused as a co-conspirator.
Again, while Epaphroditus’ example is the key focus of these verses, Paul again models
exemplary living. Epaphroditus has been greatly used of God to meet Paul’s needs, but Paul is
willing to forego the continuance of his ministry so as to allow Epaphroditus to return to minister
to the needs of the Philippians. It is apparent that Epaphroditus was sent back accompanying the
letter Paul wrote to the Philippians.
Epaphroditus is a trustworthy servant (2:25b)
Epaphroditus is a man of proven character who could be trusted to be sent as the representative
of the Philippians to minister to Paul’s needs in prison. Not only was he chosen and sent by the
Philippians to care for Paul’s needs, but he was also entrusted with the funds that the Philippians
gathered to help Paul while in prison. Epaphroditus made sure that the funds given were used for
Paul’s welfare and he sacrificially gave of himself to make sure Paul’s needs were met.
Epaphroditus, when ill, showed more concern for the Philippians than for his own
Epaphroditus is described as longing for the Philippians and being distressed for them. That
which caused Epaphroditus distress wasn’t his serious illness or the fact he nearly died, but that
the Philippians were so upset from having learned of his illness. He was more concerned over
the Philippians’ concern for him than he was about his own welfare.
The great sorrow Paul anticipates he would have experienced had Epaphroditus
died speaks to the contribution he made by his service to the apostle (2:27)
Epaphroditus didn’t die because God had mercy on him and healed him of his sickness. When
Epaphroditus was healed, it wasn’t only him who considered himself the beneficiary of God’s
mercy, but also Paul. Paul would have considered it a great loss personally to have had
Epaphroditus die and felt God’s mercy upon his own life when he was spared. Epaphroditus is
an example in that he is the kind of guy who has made such an impact by his service that his
death would have left a big hole.
Paul eagerly sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi, anticipating how it would be a
source of encouragement for the Philippians and a relief to him (2:28)
Again, the principles of sacrificial service and consideration of others ahead of oneself are
demonstrated here. Paul sends Epaphroditus back to the Philippians, thinking not of his loss, but
of the gladness of the Philippians to be able to see Epaphroditus again and know that he is okay.
Paul sends Epaphroditus back anticipating his experience of less anxiety. What caused Paul
anxiety? Was it his concern for his own situation? Not at all. His concern was for Epaphroditus
and how he is so distressed about the Philippians concern for him. His concern is also for the
Philippians who knew about Epaphroditus’ sickness and are deeply concerned about his well
being. Everyone in this picture is more concerned about how others are doing than they are
about themselves which is exactly the point Paul is making.
Epaphroditus is to be welcomed with joy and honored because of his willingness to
risk His life in service to God’s people (2:29-30)
Remember the principle we considered earlier as it relates to Christ’s example of humility and
sacrificial service. Jesus, who humbled Himself and was obedient to death, even death on the
cross was later exalted. As Jesus taught while on this earth- “For everyone who exalts himself
will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In keeping with this principle,
Paul believes it is appropriate that Epaphroditus, and men like him who are willing to
sacrificially serve others no matter the cost, be honored with public appreciation.
Epaphroditus almost died for the work of Christ. He so gave of himself to serve Paul and help
him that he allowed his own life to be put at risk. Apparently, while the Philippians were faithful
in giving a generous gift which Paul addresses later in the letter, there was a shortfall—this
money wasn’t all that was needed to care for Paul’s needs. Epaphroditus risked his life to make
up the shortfall. In this way, he serves as an example of the principles that Paul has been putting
forth for the Philippians to help them deal with the problem of division in their ranks.
Implications of this passage for us today:
Let’s evaluate the focus of our care—Is it primarily upon ourselves or is it on others and
serving the interests of Christ?
Let’s evaluate the extent of our care—Do we care enough for others to the point that we
are willing to allow our lives to be spent in the process of showing it?
Like Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus, let’s allow our lives to be spent in service as
opposed to being like everyone else who squanders life on selfish pursuits
Remember, if we are to live in keeping with the three examples we have considered today,
we need to trust God to give us the desire and ability to do so