No Magic Umbrellas
If 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. 20 I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. 21 All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. 22 But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News. 23 I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. 24 And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon.
25 Meanwhile, 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. 26 I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. 27 And 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.
28 So 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. 29 Welcome him in the Lord’s love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. 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. – Philippians 2:19-30
“I know God works all things for good, but I could sure use some good right now.” Do you ever feel that way? There’s no gain without pain, but I would sure enjoy some gain right now; enough pain! Is that your refrain? I’m thankful that God won’t give us more than we can bear. I just wish he didn’t have such a high opinion of me. Maybe you’re singing that song.
Paul indicates that Epaphroditus has experienced significant trouble. He had been ill, and near death. Paul himself was uncertain about his future. He was in prison. He had suffered greatly for the sake of the Gospel. He was concerned for both Timothy and Epaphroditus. He was experiencing trouble on every side. It reminds me of two things.
First Paul’s litany of trouble in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28:
…far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
This litany, and his situation now in prison as he writes to the church in Philippi remind me of Jesus’ words to Ananias regarding Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul was living out the promise of suffering, as an extraordinary servant, but in faith seeing God’s faithfulness amidst it all.
We may think that we deserve special treatment as servants of Christ, or sincere believers, or dedicated followers. Some would be tempted to brag, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” (Matthew 7:22).
It won’t work. We have no magic umbrella to exempt us from bad things. We do have the promise of God’s goodness and love that will see us through to the end of time, and which we can hold to for the sake of the Gospel during those times of challenge. And when we see the goodness of God in our days we can give thanks for a foretaste of the perfect expression of goodness in the life of the world to come.