The apostle is here referring to the effective outcome of their salvation, their faith having been worked out in them by giving evidence of it in their lives. Because of this, he would count it a joy to be a sacrifice, as one who is poured out as a drink offering, on account of his sufferings experienced because of them. The Philippians were the offerers, their faith in action displaying the sacrifice; the apostle was the drink offering. In this aspect, he is speaking of his approaching death as a martyr, 2 Tim. 4. 6.
In David’s day, men broke through the Philistine ranks to bring him water from the well of Bethlehem and, because they had virtually sacrificed their lives as a demonstration of their allegiance to him, he poured out the water onto the ground as a sacrifice unto the Lord, 2 Sam. 23. 15, 16.
It is this which the apostle has in mind as he speaks to the saints at Rome, particularly as he reflects upon his service to the Lord, ‘That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost’, Rom. 15. 16.
The example of those who so willingly and sacrificially give of themselves to the Lord in service and faithfulness provokes the question as to our behaviour. A beautiful commendation that puts us all to shame, is that which Paul gives concerning a couple, Aquila and Priscilla, of whom he says, have ‘for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles’, Rom. 16. 3, 4. This truly was love for the Lord and for His people. May we feel our exercise and, in true love for the Lord, give ourselves wholeheartedly to Him.
The idea here is the welfare of the saints in Philippi. It is their spiritual welfare that is of paramount importance to the apostle as he writes to them. He wants to know what spiritual progress they have made since he last wrote to them, further proof of his endeavour for the saints in their furtherance in spiritual things. Additionally, there is expressed the confidence that the apostle has in Timothy, his son in the faith, in that he too had a deep interest in the saints there in Philippi.
This is why the chapter is so full of the examples presented before them of the Lord, Paul himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus. He is underlining the following aspects of character:
Drawing from these examples, the apostle was looking to the saints to confirm their calling and election. This is the very same outcome that Peter in his Epistle was seeking, 2 Pet. 1. 3-8.
What progress have I made? What progress have you made? These words are a challenge to us. May we apply ourselves to these aspects of development and growth. Do we show any real care for our fellow brethren and sisters in the assembly where we are? How different things might be if the virtues underlined by these examples were expressed by us!
In other words, he enjoyed working with others.
Note further that we can see he was working for the good of others:
What a commendation! How lovely each assembly would be if all the saints strove to be like Epaphroditus: worshipping, walking and working together in absolute harmony with each other. This involves being unselfish, having no self-important pride or selfish ambition to look good in the eyes of men. Would it not be the greatest commendation to hear the Lord say in that coming day when we stand before the Judgement Seat, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant … enter thou into the joy of thy lord’, Matt. 25. 23?
The apostle was not castigating the saints in this case for any lack of effort on their behalf. Far from it! He was always grateful for the ways in which this assembly had endeavoured to help him. They had known of the apostle’s situation and had, as an assembly, purposed that one of their own should travel to Rome with their gift to encourage and help the servant in prison.
Epaphroditus did, as their representative, what they were unable to do because of their distance from Rome, 4. 18. This is the same idea as in the case of Stephanas and Fortunatus in 1 Corinthians chapter 16 verse 17, and with Onesimus in Philemon verse 13.
It is understandable when we do not have the means or opportunity to minister to the needs of others at times. However, it is extremely sad when we know that there is a desperate and urgent need to help a brother or sister, and we do nothing, which is tantamount to refusing to help. The big question which John underlines in this respect is very searching, ‘But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him’, 1 John 3. 17-19.
Also, in ministering to other saints, even though they may be physically unreachable, we should prayerfully consider the difficulties encountered by others who endeavour, and are entrusted, to bring our gift to them. Such sacrifices, whether it be in transmitting our gift, or in travelling rough and dangerous terrain to encourage and help these dear servants of God, should always be appreciated, and these believers borne up in prayer. ‘For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister’, Heb. 6. 10.
The appreciation of this aspect is further clarified in chapter 4 verse 17 as that which is to their reward at the Judgement Seat of Christ.
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