Chapter 21

Philippians 2:25‑30  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 6
The 26th verse, "For he [Epaphroditus] longed after you all," gives us in a way the atmosphere in which we find ourselves in the epistle to the Philippians. They had heard Epaphroditus had been sick, and that caused the anxious desire and longing from the human side more than if they had never heard he had been sick. It is the affections drawn out—the affections in operation—the affections of the divine nature. Some folks like to have you think they are sick when they are not! Divine affections are careful not to burden other people unnecessarily.
You see how God used these circumstances: "For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him." Why did not the apostle rejoice? 0, but there was another side of things. Did God have mercy on him in keeping him out of heaven? For that is what it would have been had he died. But there is another side "God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow." One might have said, What is the matter with you, Paul? In the previous part of the epistle you said, "To depart, and be with Christ, which is far better," and now you are talking about sorrow upon sorrow. It is important to keep ballast in that way.
There is a tremendous lack of entering into the actual circumstances of the saints. They think it is spiritual to say, "All things work together for good." It is very easy to say that when it is someone else.
God intends that these circumstances should produce certain results, certain exercises. God allowed this devoted servant, devoted man, Epaphroditus, brother and companion in labor and fellow-soldier, to be so exhausted with that journey that he was nigh unto death. Why did God allow it? It was a journey undertaken in love to the Lord's servant, his fellow- servant. God allowed it at almost the cost of his life. We express that human side a little; some are so spiritual that there is no human side to it. It is that side that pains one. This may have been allowed to happen so that the Philippians might exercise affection—might develop that grace. It had divinely intended results both with the apostle, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians.
Some say that no tears should be shed at a funeral. The Lord Jesus shed tears. It is out of balance. When we go into the presence of death, there are both sides to it. The 3rd of Ezra should be found in all such occasions. Notice verses 11 and 12. How often that little word "but" makes a big change. Now we get what is meant, the 13th verse: "So that the people could not discern the noise." What noise? Weeping and singing commingling: "The noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people." There are both sides of it. There is an amazing lack of mingling divine and human sympathy with the people of God; they go together. When we were born again we did not cease to be human and suppose that there was no old nature within. We should be human; human nature has its proper affections and its proper relationships.
Sometimes people say they are dead to nature. Have you a wife and children? Then you are not dead to nature. It is all wrong, a muddling up of things. Scripture does not speak about being dead to nature. That is what we mean by keeping ballast. It is an immense thing to keep the even balance of things. Some of us come short a good ways. It sort of stirs one when you know this attitude is the height of spirituality in their judgment. It is no such thing. "The Lord had mercy on him and not on him only but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow."
Just a word about that scripture, "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen." It is while we look not at the things which are seen which are temporal, but at the things which are not seen which are eternal. There are the things the mind is occupied with and set one (2 Cor. 4:1616For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)). It is the outward man, frail man, the body giving way. There is nothing sinful about it, just the poor body wearing out, the outward man perishing. The inward man is the new nature. Faith feels and spirituality feels the old tabernacle breaking up. "We know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God" and rejoice that it has one beyond that death will never overtake, that will never break up.
The 25th verse gives us the relationships. First "brother," then "companion"; that is the next best thing. Companionship is what the human heart values and cannot get along without. "It is not good for man that he should be alone," and the heart that does not value human companionship in its proper place has something wrong with it. "My companion in labor," servant, fellow-soldier in conflict . . . "and he that ministered to my wants." We get the Lord giving His aged, imprisoned servant cups of cold water now to cheer him. Look at 2 Timothy 1:1515This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15) as a contrast. There is not much cold water in that, is there? There is sorrow, not refreshment. Then look at the contrast in the 16th verse: "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain. But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me." That is very beautiful. I take it from that that he had some difficulty in finding him. Then in the 18th verse we get the apostle's appreciation of that. AU this is about the same time. "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well." Hebrews 6:1010For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. (Hebrews 6:10) gives a nice word in regard to love shown toward His Name. There he uses a remarkable expression: "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love" and desires the keeping of it up. There he uses a bold expression: it would be unrighteous for God to forget.
Now that we are in that passage in Timothy, how do we understand the expression in verse 18 "that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day"? Here in our chapter we find "God had mercy on him." Onesiphorus may have gone up there on a business trip and remembered that this servant was there. It took a good deal of diligence to find him, but he did not give up until he did find him. It is kind of a hidden service, but how much it meant to the apostle when all in Asia were turned away from him. "And in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus thou knowest very well." Ephesus was in Asia. How do we understand "that he will find mercy of the Lord in that day"? We suppose everything will come out, the good and the bad. It is not a question of guilt or anything of that kind, but of the conduct of those who have been brought into relationship.
We might well be ashamed of the bad that will be manifested if it were not that it told out the grace of the Lord, how His grace has been above all our failure. Years ago a sister asked, "Will all the bad come out?" It is in the presence of our badness we know His goodness. In a certain way we shall find our joy in the badness. We could not bear it all in the present state, but when the flesh is gone, it will be different. Another said, "Will our brethren know?" We do not know whether they will or not, but we know they will not care, for there will be no flesh in them and none in you. We really could not say whether others are going to see it all or not. Each will give an account of himself. It is an individual thing; each one has his own record. There is nothing hidden that shall not be manifested.
Luke 12 was just called to our attention. "He began to say unto His disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees,[the Sadducees had bad doctrine] which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore, whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed from the housetops." We get three leavens in Scripture: The leaven of Herod (worldliness), the leaven of the Pharisees (hypocrisy) and the leaven of the Sadducees (bad doctrine).
How thankful in the present day we ought to be for the Word of God which reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart and the consciousness that there is nothing that is not manifest before Him. He knows it all. "Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God." 1 Cor. 4:55Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (1 Corinthians 4:5); this passage is in connection with stewardship.
It is good to see the value the Lord places on a cup of cold water. In a special way the day of Christ will manifest that. It is important how we find the Lord taking pleasure in the little things and not in big ones. He does not say much about the gifts of millionaires and libraries. Such have their reward in this world, and it is this world and its benefits such givers have before them, nothing about Christ. They do not recognize that God is not occupied with improving the world.
It is good to see Joseph of Arimathea. "Not many noble"—it does not say, not any. His very position kept him from confessing Christ. He was a disciple, but for fear of the Jews he did not confess Him. At the end two godly men, great ones, (we suppose both were members of the Sanhedrin) had charge of the Lord's burial. Just that brought them forward. We get nothing of Joseph until the Lord delivered up His Spirit. Of course, we knew of Nicodemus before. Do you not think the truth as to the death of Christ will test whether a man is a disciple or not? That is one of the tests, also the truth as to the atoning character of the death of Christ. It is not the martyr side, suffering for righteousness, but for atonement from the hand of God. All own He died a martyr's death, but when it comes to dying an atoning death, very likely those very ones will oppose and ridicule.
In pictures they usually show two or three women standing around the cross and at the burial. Joseph had to go and beg for the body. He had to get a written permit from Pilate, as it were. Pilate marvelled if He were already dead, and would not give the body until he knew from the centurion He was dead. There is dignity in those two men, masters in Israel, in charge of the body of Christ. Last week someone called attention to the fact that they came forward after the others had deserted Him. It was of God. Those other poor disciples had no new tomb! That makes it all the more striking. Here is one and he has a tomb already prepared.
There are times when the confession of Christ and the atoning work of Christ test the heart and tell who is who. You get poor simple souls owning Christ as their Saviour who do not know anything intelligently about His death, but when you bring it before them, they own it thankfully. Denial and ignorance are two different things. Many souls have been brought into peace by just resting on what God says, without knowing the value of atonement or anything of that kind, and that is very important in connection with the gospel. Just present that before souls as the truth of God, to be rested upon because His Word is truth. It is a very happy experience to know the ground upon which God can save the poor sinner. The intellect may know all about the ground and never have rested on it. There is a good ring in the hymn:
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross, I cling."
That is a good foundation.
"Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me." They could not go to the post office and put the communication into the mail and send it to Rome; they had to have a messenger to carry it. It is a pretty easy thing now to send communications clear across the ocean and a comparatively easy thing to go yourself with the means of transportation we have. I take it from Philippians 4:1818But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. (Philippians 4:18) it might have been quite a little package he had to take. In what way did Epaphroditus supply the Philippians' lack of service? When you communicate with such and such a person, who is going to take it? Communicating is one thing; getting it to the person is another. Sometimes it is a long way even in cities.
It sounds like a little reproach to the Philippians. In the former part of the chapter he says, "But I rejoiced
in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity." He felt not having heard from them. It was not the gift, but he wanted the affection that the gift expressed. He takes the edge off by saying, "Ye lacked opportunity." "Ye were careful" but needed someone to take it.