This sermon is part of the sermon series "Harmony and Humility in the Church". See series.
[Editorial comment: Sunukjian delivers this sermon as a first-person narrative. References to props or stage directions will appear in italics.]
Enter as Octavian, a Praetorian Guard, coming into the squad room after a six-hour duty of having been chained to Paul. One end of the chain is still attached to his right wrist. Octavian addresses Marcus, another guard, by facing left and looking down at Marcus, who is seated. He addresses Paul by facing right and looking down at Paul, seated at a writing desk. Paul addresses Octavian by facing left, looking up.
Hey, Marcus, how 'ya doing? Hey, your sword is sharp enough; you ought to be oiling your shield instead.
No, I don't have any more oil. I think Sergius does, though. I don't think he'll mind if you borrow some.
Hey, help me get this off first, will ya'? (Indicates the chain) Thanks.
Octavian has been chained to Paul for six hours every other day for the past three weeks.
I've been with that Paul guy again—chained to him six hours every other day for the past three weeks. I don't know how to figure him out. He doesn't act like a man who's going to stand trial for his life within the next couple of months. He gets lots of visitors to that house he's renting, but when they talk about the trial, I get the impression it doesn't really matter to Paul how it turns out. He keeps talking about a win-win situation: he wins if he's set free, and he wins if he's executed. On the one hand he goes back to what he was doing; on the other he goes up to be with this King he's always talking about.
I said to him once, "You don't look too worried for a man who could die in the next few months."
He said, "Octavian, you have no idea how excited I am about what's happening right now. You know why I'm in these chains, don't you?"
"Yeah, you're charged with claiming allegiance to some King other than Caesar. If that's true, Paul, your chances at trial are pretty slim."
"Well," he said, "in a way it's true, and in a way it isn't. Right now he's a heavenly King. And one day he'll rule the world. But he's more than a King, Octavian; he's a Savior." And then he started telling me how this King died on a cross with me in mind.
I said to him, "What do you mean 'with me in mind?' I don't even know him."
And he says, "Maybe not, Octavian. But he knows you. He knows all the wrong you've done. He knows how it eats you up inside, and how you fear the day you're going to have to pay for all of it. Octavian, he died to pay that penalty for you. If you believe on him, he'll save you from the consequences of your sin."
He told me to talk to you, Marcus.
You're kidding. You've bought into it! He said there's a whole bunch of us guards who've believed. So you're one of them! Well, it must have done you some good. From what I hear from some of the other guys, you used to be a real hell-raiser. And rumor is, in combat you didn't distinguish too carefully between civilians and soldiers. Tough luck for whoever got in the way of your sword. But, yeah, you're different now.
Anyway, Paul said he was excited about what was going on, not just because of the effect it was having on some of us guards, but also because there are a lot of other people here in Rome who feel as he does, and they've started to speak up more. Evidently the message of this King is getting out.
Paul has told Octavian about the letter he is writing to the Philippians.
Did he tell you about the letter he's writing? Oh, I guess he must have just started it yesterday. When I went on duty today, he was in the middle of it. I asked him, "Who are you writing to?"
"To some friends in the city of Philippi," he said. "They sent money so I could keep renting this house, and I wanted to thank them. I also hear they're having a tough time—some people in their city are making life difficult for them—and I just wanted to tell them to hang in there."
Anyway, he spent most of the day writing, so we didn't talk much. There were a couple of other guys in the room the whole time. I've seen them there with him a lot. Do you know who I mean? One of them is in his mid-to-late twenties. His name is Timothy. The other one is older. Epifrodo? Epaphroditus! Man, I got that one wrong. Anyway, these two guys were there with him. They've been there every time I've gone for the past couple of weeks.
You know, you'd think you could learn a lot about some guys if you're watching them six hours a day, three or four times a week for several weeks. But I can't figure those guys out either. Take the younger one, Timothy. He and Paul seem to know each other really well. From what I gather the two of them have done a lot of traveling together over the past several years. At first I thought he was Paul's son, the way he seemed to help with whatever Paul needed and serve as his contact or go-between with people outside the house. I asked Paul, "Is he your son?"
He said, "No, not physically, but for all practical purposes, I consider him my son. I can see why you might think he is; the way he acts toward me is like a son to his father."
"Octavian," he said, "I don't know another young man like him. He cares as much as I do about this King I've been telling you about. All he wants to do is make him known to others. I first met him several years ago on my third trip to his hometown, Lystra. I'd been in Lystra a couple times earlier, and by the time I came for my third visit, there was a pretty good-sized church there. He was one of the young men in the church. His mother and grandmother were believers and active in the church, but his dad didn't have too much to do with it. Anyway, Timothy was in his early 20's then, and everyone in the church spoke well of him. They told me he had been waiting for me to come, because he wanted to join me in my travels to other towns to spread the message.
"At first I was hesitant. I didn't know him. It seemed unusual for a young man to want to do that. A lot of young men are just kind of into the toga scene, if you know what I mean. They just want to have fun. A few of them are starting to think about their career. But mostly they're fairly self-centered and focused on themselves. But Timothy seemed different. He seemed to care more about the needs and interests of others. So I took him with me."
"These people I'm writing to in Philippi, they know Timothy. He was with me the first time I came to their city. And once I see how my trial's going, I'm going to send him back to them with the news. Look what I wrote here. I'm telling them to expect him."
He showed it to me. (Octavian reads Paul's letter)
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
"As soon as I see how things go, I'm going to send Timothy to Philippi. If the verdict goes against me, he'll tell them that, and he'll keep them strong. If I'm acquitted, he'll take them the good news and let them know I'll be on my way to see them as soon as possible. One way or another, he's the person to send to Philippi. He cares about them as much as I do. He's proved himself to them. They'll listen to him, and he'll convey what I want to them."
Paul asked Octavian if he knows anyone who genuinely cares more about others than himself.
"Octavian, do you know how rare it is to find a man who genuinely cares more about others than himself; someone who is more committed to their needs and interests than he is to his own? Do you know how rare it is to find a man like that?"
I didn't answer him, Marcus, because I don't get it. I'm in this army for what I can get out of it. I'm looking for fast promotions, and I'll do whatever it takes to get them: a little flattery to the commander, some holiday gifts to his wife, volunteering for double shifts. I want up the ladder, and you have to make that happen for yourself!
I don't understand this Timothy. Assuming this "king" and "gospel" business of theirs is going to grow and maybe amount to something, Timothy ought to stay here in Rome and not let Paul send him to some backwater Philippi. Rome is where it's at. If Timothy has any ambition, if he wants to be a leader in the movement, this is the place to be. What does Paul call their groups when they get together—churches? Well, Rome is where the big churches are going to be. From what I gather, Timothy could be one of the up-and-comers here in Rome. Getting sent to a little group 800 miles away from the action is not how to make it happen. Talk about a bad career move!
I told Paul that. I said, "Paul, you're sending him into limbo. You ought to help him climb the ladder. Instead, you're pointing him down. That doesn't make sense!"
And he said to me, "Octavian, our King came down the ladder to serve us. Up in heaven he was equal with God, but he made himself nothing for our sakes, because he cared more about us than himself. And now our only ambition is to serve him and others. These people in Philippi need to do that. Some of them need to learn to care more about others than they do about themselves. When Timothy comes to them, they'll see another example of what that looks like. When he arrives, they'll have to realize he's more interested in their welfare than his own ambition and advancement. Ambition, Octavian? Our only ambition is to serve our King."
Paul told Octavian about the trouble Epaphroditus went through to bring Paul money.
He could see I wasn't getting it. So he pointed to the other fellow in the room—Epifro— Epaphroditus. Man, I'll never get it. He said, "Octavian, do you see the other fellow sitting over there?"
"Yeah," I said.
And he said, "He's the one who brought me the money from Philippi. When I finish this letter, I'm going to give it to him to take back home. His friends back in Philippi are worried about him; they hear he's been ill. He hasn't seen what I've written yet—look, I just finished this paragraph." (Octavian reads Paul's manuscript)
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.
(Paul continues) "Did you know that, Octavian—that Epaphroditus almost died bringing the money to me? It takes about six weeks to cover the 800 miles to Rome—sailing from Macedonia, around Greece, and then to Rome—with lots of ports along the way. About a week into the trip, he started running a high fever. He should have immediately turned back, but he didn't. He knew I needed the money. It's a large sum—enough to pay the rent on this house for two years—so he was determined to get it to me. After another week on ship, the fever was causing severe headaches, and he was vomiting—dry heaves. He should have gotten off that ship and onto land, where he could get some medical attention. But he kept coming. He knew my lease payment was coming up, and that, if the money weren't here in time, I'd be thrown in a dungeon where I could die before my trial. After still another week on the ship, he was coughing up blood. He couldn't keep anything down, and he'd lost 30 pounds. Octavian, he almost died. He risked his life for the work of his King. Would you risk your life for your king?"
I didn't answer him, Marcus. Would I risk my life for Caesar? I'm a soldier. I'm part of his personal bodyguard. Would I take a spear for Caesar? If it came down to it, I don't know. That's what I'm paid to do. But if I weren't paid to do it, would I consider Caesar worth my life?
Marcus, I'm at the other end of all of this. Instead of dying for my king, I think if I was Epaphroditus, and I was on a ship with that much money—two year's worth of rent—I think I'd jump ship the first chance I had and retire to the Riviera. I'd live it up away from my king, Marcus. I'd never give my life for him if I didn't have to.
I don't get these guys, Marcus. Timothy has no ambition except to serve their King. Epaphroditus is ready to die for their King. And Paul can think of nothing happier than to be with their King. I don't get it, Marcus
We don't have men like that.
What? Yeah, you're right; we don't have a king like that.
(PowerPoint screen goes blank.)
(Sunukjian addresses the congregation as himself)
They may not have had a king like that, but we do. We have a King who loved us and died for us. And now we have one ambition—to serve our King. We have one life—to be spent for our King. We have one expectation—to be with our King forever. And until that day, we remember how much he did for us.
Donald R. Sunukjian is professor of homiletics and chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership Department at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.