This sermon is part of the sermon series "Free to Sacrifice". See series.
I was gathered around a huge bonfire many years ago in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was part of a larger Christian camp and I had students that I had been pastoring and reaching out to from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and we were now doing a special week together up in the UP of Michigan. To my right was a former gang banger, a Puerto Rican from Humboldt Park in Chicago, who had just made a decision to become a follower of Jesus. Over here was a young African American sister. She had just that day, for the first time in her life, seen a live deer and was so afraid by that from her city experience that she was hoping to go home that day and I had talked her out of it. It was new for her. And a Latino over here who would be leading us in beautiful worship in a few minutes. After that time of beautiful worship—I didn’t know it then—we would enter into a massive conflict, all of us. A major bonfire argument that was fueled by significant cross-cultural differences, immaturities on all of our parts, and the challenge of working in an environment with people that were very new to the faith, people that were still choosing Jesus. I would again and again in those five years of serving at the University of Illinois at Chicago scratch my head, and I would say to myself, “How did I get here? How did I find myself here?” My background would not naturally lead toward this situation and opportunity at a state school. I went to a private college, I grew up in Indiana, and here I am in one of the major cities of the world, with profoundly multi-ethnic opportunities.
Do you ever scratch your head and say to yourself, “How did I get here?” Dishes are stacked up in the sink, 9:30 at night: “How did I get here in this family with all these people that eat so much and then make so many dirty dishes?” Heart beating before you go in for your annual review with your boss; you’re not sure how it’s going to go: “How did I get here in this job?” You’re a student, perhaps looking and calculating that even if you never slept until Christmas break you could not get all the work done that’s ahead of you: “How did I get here? What am I doing here with all this pressure?” Do you ever scratch your head and wonder, “How did I get here?”
Where has Jesus sent you to sacrifice?
When I asked that question in those days, after that bonfire, I could confidently say, in answer to that question, Jesus sent me here. That’s how I got here. I was clear on that. I wasn’t clear about a lot of things, but I was clear on that. Jesus sent me here. He sent me to sacrifice my energy, my hours, the best that I had. He sent me here to sacrifice. It is so important in the sacrificial Jesus-life that every follower of Jesus is called to live that you are clear how you got there. That you are clear that Jesus has sent you, Jesus has called you, Jesus has asked you to come into a certain place, a job, a family situation, a neighborhood, a roommate dynamic, a classroom. You’ve been called there by Jesus. This was not of your own doing. You’re not actually running your own life.
We have two profiles in sending/sacrifice and these beautiful little vignettes are centered around a person named Timothy and a person named Epaphroditus. I titled the sermon originally “Two Sons of Sacrifice.” I changed that title to “Sent to Sacrifice.” Because if we’re teaching about the call to sacrificial life, I want you to understand that the sacrificial life most often starts with a sending. That the way that the sacrificial life works out and the way that it is catalyzed is connected to Jesus sending you. I hope this will be clear, I hope this will be concrete as you’re called to live the sacrificial life in Jesus. I hope in this Bible time that you’ll become freer to sacrifice. I hope if you’re not a believer yet you’ll say, “Okay, wow, this is about sacrificing your life. That’s what followers of Jesus do?”
The first key question: Where has Jesus sent you to sacrifice? Where is Jesus sending you, preparing you to sacrifice? Second key question: Are you willing to get gritty? And gritty could be a kind of synonym for sacrifice. I say it so much in these sermons that I needed another word, make this a little more vivid. Are you willing to get gritty? You can get gritty Timothy; you can get gritty Epaphroditus. They were gritty in two different ways. I don’t want you to think that sending always has to do with being sent to a different location, although it might. But I do want you to understand that to live the way of Jesus is to live the way of him who was sent, our Lord himself, and to live as one who is sent—you in your life. Where has Jesus sent you?
Look with me at Philippians 2:19, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy.” When we study the Bible, it’s like throwing a rock in a pond and you start where the rock hits, which is the text we have right here, Philippians 2. So that’s our rock. But then ripples go out. You want to understand what are the larger contextual ripples that are going out to understand what’s happening within this passage.
One of the first ripples we get is that this is actually travel plans. This is Paul writing a letter. He’s writing a letter to a church that, by the way, he started because he was sent there. He didn’t send himself to Philippi. He didn’t say, “You know what? I’m going to go to Philippi.” I mean, you could say that and be in accordance with God’s will, but in this case, it was radical. He was going somewhere else and he had a vision; he had a waking dream where a man from Macedonia where Philippi is located came and said, “Come here and help us.” Paul got into all kinds of challenges in Philippi and a lot of joys. He can look back and say, “Well, I know that I’m supposed to be here because Jesus sent me through that crazy man in that Macedonian vision moment.” So this letter actually comes out of one who has been sent. That’s the genesis of this letter.
But here we deal with travel plans. But Paul says even with travel plans, “I hope in the Lord to send Timothy.” For Paul, even travel plans can have a gospel center. I hope you’ve read enough of Paul for him to bother you. I hope you’ve read enough of Paul and take him serious enough for him to irk you. You should be bothered by Paul at times. I mean, is he just so spiritual? I can’t just work out where Timothy is going in the Lord. Is he just one of those overly spiritualized persons? Yes, if spiritualized means packed with the Holy Spirit, which is the meaning of the word in the Old Testament. Spiritual is full of the Spirit, a spirit person. He is a full-of-the-Spirit person who is always thinking about the gospel. What’s the gospel? The gospel is the unbelievable news that Jesus has been sent to earth by the Father to die, resurrected to save us from our sins so we can be used and be sent to others. That’s the gospel. Jesus died and resurrected, sent to earth by the Father to save us from our sins. And Paul is bringing up the gospel in travel plans. “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send …” Travel plans.
The next ripple out, send. The word is used four times—look for repeated words when you’re doing your Bible study because it helps us to get an idea of what’s important to the writer. We know that send is a really important word for those who follow Jesus in his way. As a matter of fact, one of the very first words that came out of Jesus’ his mouth after he was resurrected was send. He looks at his followers in John 20:21, and he says, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” So send, that word there, send, in John 20:21 is the exact same word here. “I hope in the Lord to send Timothy.” “I find it necessary to send you Epaphroditus.” Where has God sent you?
Being sent is a gift
The first thing you must be clear on is that being sent is a gift. Gift and grace are synonymous in the New Testament. It’s a grace. To be sent is a gift. Here’s why. You can’t—or you shouldn’t—give yourself a gift. Gifts come from others. They’re initiated from someone else who has a love, a care, a concern for you. That’s the nature of the grace; that’s the nature of the gift. You don’t send yourselves. Jesus sends you, for he himself was sent by the Father. When you are sent, you are sent with Jesus and from Jesus who himself is a sent one. Indeed, at the very heart of the character of who God is, is that he is a sending God who sends his Son to this earth. His Son then sends those who follow him to this earth for the purpose of sacrificing their lives as Jesus himself sacrificed his life. The cross is so many things, but one thing it is, be certain, it is a majestic picture of the God who sends to rescue. It’s a majestic picture of the God who sends his own Son to rescue. So sending is really important in understanding what it means to live a gospel life, a kingdom life. You are those who have been sent by him who was sent by the Father.
It’s a gift. It’s a grace. For instance, if you are married or if you have a close friend, you usually don’t deepen that relationship by giving a gift to yourself. This has happened to my wife Katherine and me more and more, where it’s like, “Well, you know, it’s our anniversary. I’d kind of like this, you’d kind of like that, just get it for yourself and just call it a gift.” Now Katherine is going to say that didn’t happen this anniversary. I’m not sure we even gave each other a gift this anniversary. But as a married couples or even as good friends if you start only giving yourself gifts you have to step back and go, “How did I get here?” Right? No, no, no. Being sent is a gift from Jesus. It’s a grace.
This is why this is important. If you have a heart to sacrifice, here’s where your temptation will be: to think that in your sacrificial life—as a teacher or a mom or a dad, a celibate single, whatever it might be—that you’re winning with God. You’re winning with God. You’ll sacrifice as long as you can keep a sense of “I’m winning with God. I’m actually impressing God.” We don’t sacrifice to win with God; we sacrifice to be on the way with God, for he is a sending God. We don’t sacrifice to win with God. If you get there, you can easily slip in what’s called works righteousness. You’re trying to earn your place with God. He knows you way too well for that. He knows that some of those sacrifices that you made were driven by a selfishness to be recognized as a highly sacrificial person. He knows that. He knows how complex the human heart is and how dark it can be. You will never win your way with God through a profoundly sacrificial life. Oh, it’s so much better. You will enter into the way with God. “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” You’ve been sent in a sacrifice to live with Jesus, to be with Jesus. That’s the gift of living a sacrificial life: It’s Jesus. It starts with Jesus; it ends with Jesus.
Are you willing to get gritty?
To live, Christ; to die, sacrifice—gain. That’s what Paul’s thinking about. That’s how we live lives of free sacrifice. Where has Jesus sent you to live a sacrificial life? Are you clear on that? You may need to discern your sending. You may need help from other followers of Jesus to discern your sending. Maybe you’re not clear you’ve been sent. Maybe you’re not sure that where you are right now is the place where you’ve been sent. Maybe there’s a sending coming and you need discernment about where you’re being sent from the Lord Jesus. Be assured, this is the heart of God, the heart of the character of God. He will bring you—through the church, through the Bible, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit—clarity about being sent. The Christian life is not just circumstantial. You don’t just live a circumstantial life where you move from one circumstance to another. You don’t live a status quo life. That doesn’t say you don’t live a life of peace or a life of being settled in the Lord, but you live a life of being sent. Oh yes, the Lord saves us, but he also sends us.
Here’s a challenge when we live a life of being sent to sacrifice: It’s that we could lose our love. We can lose our love for those to whom we’ve been called. You know what Paul says earlier in the passage that we read: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent.” What’s happening? What happens is that we grumble and we dispute. We lose our love for those that we are called to. Or if losing your love is too intense, we lose our like. I’m not saying you don’t love your kids anymore, but you may not like them very much right now. But you’re called to them. You may not like your students if you’re a teacher, very much, right now. You may not like your teacher very much if you’re a student right now. You may have lost your like, you may have lost your love, you may have forgotten that the reason that you’re here is because Jesus has sent you, and he’s calling you to an ever-renewing call to yet again love those you’re sent to, serve those you’re sent to. Don’t—Paul is saying implicitly, not explicitly—don’t lose your love. Complaining, very likely a sign that you’re losing your love. You’ve lost your sending context. You think you’re just living circumstantially and your circumstances are really hard. Well, they may be really hard but the sending understanding will help you zoom out to go, “Now, this is a Jesus thing. This was a Jesus call. I’m in this marriage called by Jesus.”
Augustine of Hippo, African bishop, says this about a life of sacrifice: “The greater one’s love is, the easier the work.” The greater one’s love is, the greater your capacity to live in Jesus who sent you to begin with, the easier the work. I know that many of you live really difficult sacrificial lives. If you’re not living one now, you’re going to at some point. It’s going to come. And you will hit points where you will think, “I cannot do this anymore. I can’t work at this job anymore, though Jesus has called me; I can’t stay in this country anymore though Jesus called me; I can’t handle this family situation even though Jesus has called me—I know he’s called me.” Your choice in those points is to increase your love through the gift of Jesus. Are you willing to get gritty? Sending is, by the very nature biblically understanding it, incarnational.
Incarnation is necessarily gritty. Our Lord Jesus fully human—skin, organs, hair, brain. In ancient Near East first-century life, very gritty. He got tired. He was hungry. It was gritty living. That is the heart of being sent. You’re not sent into a theoretically amazing love situation where you see yourself as this unbelievably impressive icon of sacrifice. You’re sent into grit, which is often very daily, even hourly. Are you willing to get gritty? There’s a Timothy gritty.
I’m fascinated by Timothy. He’s going to probably be sent to Rome where Paul is in prison. He was sent from Rome to Philippi. But in this time in Rome where Paul is in prison, here’s what happening. We don’t know all the details, but we know what happened for ancient Near Eastern prisoners. There were no meals provided for you. You would starve were there not those who would care for you. There was no medical care. Prison was an absolute and utter devastation unless someone was sent to care for you, as Timothy had been. What is Timothy primarily doing? He’s probably not primarily preaching the gospel on the street corners of Rome at this point or planting a church. He is primarily doing what? Cooking meals and washing dishes. Do you ever wonder, why so many meals in life? If you don’t wonder that, you don’t cook for people. The way we’ve handled the Ruch house is we just all hate lunch. If you hate lunch at least you only two meals to worry about. Breakfast, lovely, begins the day. Dinner, kind of a romance at dinner, it’s wonderful. But lunch, we hate lunch. There’s so many meals. So many dishes.
That’s what Timothy is doing. There’s a domestic grittiness to Timothy’s call. Paul calls him “my son.” There’s this familial relationship where, like a son, he is caring for his spiritual father. He is picking up the vomit after his spiritual father is sick because of the conditions in the prison. We can only assume. There’s a gritty sending that so many of us are called to, and we think that’s just life, that’s just circumstances. That’s just the difficulty. No, that could be the gospel if you’re sent to it. That’s the gospel work of a mother, father, brother, sister, or someone caring for an aging parent.
Kath and I had a neighborhood mystery solved this week. We’d be up early on our front porch, and every morning about 6:15 we’d see one of our neighbors pull into his driveway. We’d say, “Where has he been? Does he have a night shift?—we don’t know. This week I was walking to my car and that neighbor was across the street. I heard that his mom had passed and I said, “Hey, I heard your mom passed. I’m so sorry.” He never walks across the street. He walked across the street. He stood right in front of me. He said, “Yeah, the last couple years of my mom’s life she hated to sleep by herself in her house so I’d go over there every night, sleep in the house with her, come here early in the morning, shower, and then go to work.” It’s gritty. It’s Timothy sacrifice. He was called into that. Serving his mom. Be noble, be empowered if you’re called to Timothy grit, sacrifice. Remember you’re sent.
There’s a different feel to Epaphroditus. Timothy is clear just as one service after another. Epaphroditus is not called “son,” interestingly enough, although perhaps Paul would have viewed him as such, but he calls him “brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier.” Then he says, “And your”—Philippi’s—“messenger and minister to my need.” We know that he was ill, near to death, verse 27. Paul says, “So receive Epaphroditus in the Lord with all joy and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, seeking, risking his life to complete what was lacking your service to me.” This kind of sending sacrificial grit is one in which there is higher risk, higher physical risk very likely. To even travel in the ancient Near East was a high-risk proposition. You didn’t get in a plane, land in Rome, and make your way to the prison through an Uber. There was high risk from bandits, high risk from disease. Perhaps he caught the disease among the many diseases that would have proliferated through an ancient Near Eastern prison. This Epaphroditus grit has to do with risking his life on behalf of the church who sent him. They couldn’t all go—Philippi couldn’t all go to be with Paul—so they raised someone up from within them and they sent him on their behalf. He represented Philippi to Paul, and how much that deeply meant to Paul, for he loved Philippi so deeply. Note, by the way the supernatural. God has mercy, verse 27, on Epaphroditus in his illness. We don’t get more detail. Some commentators wonder, was there a laying on of hands, was there a word of healing, a ministry of healing? We don’t know exactly how Epaphroditus was healed, but we know that Paul viewed it as supernatural. That when we are sent and sent into high-risk situations as well as Timothy grit situations, the presence of the supernatural, the presence of the power of Jesus who himself has been sent and is there with us in our sending. But indeed in Epaphroditus, we have somebody who had gone cross-culturally from his own city to another city. He’s gone with high risk.
Let’s be clear that the work of global mission is still the work of the church. That for so long, global mission is perhaps wrongly idolized in some ways within local churches, but let me be assuring to you that we no longer have that danger or fear. We have perhaps forgotten the urgency of global mission. And if there are people who are called on our behalf when we can’t go to places we will never go because they’re gritty Epaphroditus callings. They’re called to go cross-culturally, they’re called to go into great risk and physical risk.
I remember asking a long-term global missionary who was doing a sabbatical here—he was getting prepared to go back to the country he had been called to a mission. I said to him, “How are you feeling about it?” He said, “I wake up every night at 4 terrified.” Honor such men, honor such women. We’re very committed to the work of global missions, short-term, long-term, partnerships. But to those who go on our behalf like Epaphroditus did, we have to be able to say both things in one sermon. We have to speak of the Timothy grit that most of us are called to, but not at the exclusion of the Epaphroditus grit.
How did you get here? What are you doing? Your answer can be clear and resolute and confident. I’m here because Jesus has sent me to sacrifice my life. I’m sacrificing like a Timothy. I’m sacrificing like an Epaphroditus. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “so send I you.”
Stewart Ruch III is the rector of the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois and the bishop of the Midwest Diocese for the Anglican Church in North America.