That’s What Friends Are
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That’s What Friends Are

Philippians 2:19–30  (ID: 2013)

While on house arrest in Rome, Paul was cared for by two friends, Timothy and Epaphroditus. These brothers in Christ displayed the characteristics that Christians should strive to emulate: marked by sensitivity, they were reliably available to serve the Lord by serving others with humility. Even apparently trivial deeds can have tremendous impact for the Gospel, teaches Alistair Begg as he encourages us to reaffirm our availability to Christ and His people.

Series Containing This Sermon

Jars of Clay

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 22501

Encore 2013

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25904

A Study in Philippians, Volume 1

Shining Lights in a Darkened World Philippians 1:1–2:30 Series ID: 15001

Sermon Transcript: Print

Our gracious Father, we pray that the words that we sing may become increasingly the reality of what it means to live together as a small part of the body of Christ in this place; that you will save us, Lord, from selfishness and vain conceit, from a preoccupation with our own affairs. Lord, grant to us a renewed spirit of self-forgetfulness, and as we turn to the Bible together, may the Spirit be our teacher. Help us to learn because we were thinking. Help us to receive your truth because our hearts were hungry for it. Help us to be ready to run into the pathway of obedience because we heard your voice and we knew unmistakably that we must respond. To this end we look to you, in Christ’s name. Amen.

Please be seated and turn with me again, if you would, to Philippians, and to the second chapter. We’ve been studying Philippians in the evenings. We didn’t plan to; we did one study, and then we followed it with a second study. We’re in a sort of study in Philippians; we don't really know how or why. We finished 1 Timothy last Sunday morning, and since I didn’t know what to do, I decided that since we’d already started into Philippians—albeit, partway through—that we would move that to the morning.

I’m assuming a measure of understanding on the part of all the congregation, particularly those who have been in our evening services. A brief background, for any for whom this little letter is totally unknown: The context is Rome. It’s around AD 60, and the apostle Paul is on house arrest. He had been arrested in Jerusalem, he was moved to Caesarea Philippi, and from Caesarea, he was transferred to Rome, where he is now in house arrest. He is awaiting a trial; he doesn’t know what will happen as a result of the trial—whether he will live or die. He has a sneaking suspicion that he is going to live and be able to return to the Philippian church at least one more time.

While he is in Rome, these dear believers in Philippi have sent to him this individual, Epaphroditus. He had gone to Rome to let Paul know what was going on in Philippi, and also to take a gift from the Philippian church to Paul, for which he thanks them later on. He was receiving Epaphroditus at a very crucial point in his life—as you would understand—not knowing what the future held from him.

And it may be that the church in Philippi thought that if they sent Epaphroditus to Paul, that Paul would be good enough to send Timothy back to them. Because there were—as we see from the letter—a number of pastoral issues which were in need of apostolic treatment. And in the absence of Paul, Timothy was his foremost apostolic delegate. And so, it may well be that their anticipation was that, in parting with Epaphroditus, they may have been able to trade him for Timothy.

Now, Paul is concerned to keep Timothy with him. He wants Timothy; he doesn’t know what his life holds, whether it will be short or long. And while he recognizes that the needs in Philippi are significant needs, he deems that it is the wisest course of action to return Epaphroditus to them—for multiple reasons—and to keep Timothy with him. He will then, he determines, convey as much pastoral concern and encouragement as can be provided in the scope of a brief letter. And that brief letter is the letter that we know as Philippians. And he sends it off at the hand of this individual, Epaphroditus. And it is full of encouragement; it is full of joy; it is full of exhortation.

And one of the prevailing problems in the church was, apparently, an increasing sense of disunity, of cliquishness, of groups beginning to polarize from one another. Perhaps when they gathered for worship, they had begun always to sit in the same seat and always to sit with the same group. And it was nothing more than that, but it began to create the impression that this little group was a group, and they were a group within the larger group. And their significance was attached to this smaller dimension, rather than the benefits of being part of the whole. And so, at the beginning of his second chapter he has encouraged them on the basis of their union with Christ to make sure that they’re not doing things out of selfishness or conceit, but rather that they are displaying an attitude of humility.

Having mentioned humility, he then provides for them the supreme example of humility in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in verses 5–11, he describes the amazing humility of he who was the Lord of creation, the Lord of glory, making that great stoop—not only to our time-space capsule, not only to be incarnated as a man, but to die the very ignominious death of that of a Roman crucifixion. And then, he says, in light of that, in verse 12, “I want to encourage you readers to work out your own salvation with fear and with trembling.”

And if any were in any doubt as to what that involved, he then began to tell them. In verse 14 and following, he says, “I want you to be doing things without grumbling and complaining.” Don’t be like the child asked to unload the dishwasher who moans and groans and complains and makes such a jolly nuisance of themselves that the parent, eventually despairing, says, “Get out of the kitchen; it’s much easier for me to handle this by myself.” That is, of course, what happens in church families, when you have individuals who want to be involved but part of their involvement they regard as a gateway to complaining and to criticizing and to bitterness. So, you cannot get what you want—namely, their participation—without getting what you don’t want—namely, their aggravation. And the temptation on the part of leadership is to say, “Get out of here, and let me get on with this myself.” Churches dare not do that; rather, we must pay attention to the Bible and do by the Spirit’s enabling what we are called to do. “Do it without complaining and without arguing. You are becoming,” he says, “blameless and pure. You are shining like stars in the universe. You are holding out the word of life, and you are learning to rejoice and to be glad with me.”

Now, if you think about it, imagine that you were writing this letter. And you had gone through all of this: you had given this word of exhortation, you had used the illustration of the Lord Jesus, you had encouraged those who were reading the letter to think about their own salvation and their walk with Christ, you had [given] them some practical implications of what that would mean. Don’t you think that you would almost inevitably go now to somebody who incarnated the very things that you desired to see happening in the church? If there was anybody to whom you could turn and say, “Why don’t you just be like X? Why don’t you be like Y?” it would be perfect timing. And, hey, that’s exactly what Paul does. He says, “Now, let me mention to you two characters—two individuals—who as I think about these essential characteristics of Christian living are the very embodiment of them. Two individuals who by their lives and by their deeds will be both a benediction to those who look to them, and also a challenge to those who examine their lives against them.”

You will never have a better friend than a friend who points you to Christ.

These are the kind of friends that we would like to have. When we talk about friendship within the body of Christ, these are the characteristics that we would like to see, for these characteristics ultimately point us to the one who is the best friend of all—namely, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The best of friends to us will always be friends who imitate Christ. You will never have a better friend than a friend who points you to Christ.  By their life, by their commitment, by their service, by their example, there will never be a better friend. And you and I can never be a better friend than when we are being that kind to those who are around us.

Now, as I have reviewed these verses in the course of preparation, I decided that I would try and summarize the characteristics of these two individuals under three words. And the words are these: First of all, that we would note that these men are men of availability. Secondly, that they are men who are marked by sensitivity. And thirdly, that they are individuals whose lives ring with reliability. And I won’t take too long on each one.

Men and Women of Availability

First of all, then, men of availability. Every so often, Christmas throws up a toy that everybody wants. In the fifteen years in Cleveland, the greatest epidemic that I have known was in relationship to those ugly dolls with the pieces of ladies’ hose tied over their ugly faces. And I scurried in with my wife, and in the middle of the night around Randall Mall, hiding behind buildings waiting for trailers to arrive, and then fighting large women off as I … (Some of the men are going, “Yeah, that’s right! Fighting large women off, ’cause you couldn’t fight any men off!” Yeah, I know. That’s okay, that’s fine. I’m just being honest—and thank you for that encouraging thought.) But those ugly things were one of the deals. In an earlier generation, I don’t know if … I’m sure we got it from you, but we had the Action Man pandemic for a while in Britain. And these little action men figures were everywhere. I liked them. I can’t remember them too well, except that they would zoom around—Action Man, Action Man, Action Man was here!

Why do I mention it? Simply because these two individuals are action men. They are what you are supposed to be in the church—not a lump on a log, not a bottom in a pew, not a name on a list, not a number on a chart, but an action man or an action woman. And our action is directly related to our availability. And the key to the availability of these individuals is found on every occasion that you see the verb “to send.” You’ll find it in verse 19, verse 23, verse 25, verse 28. Who do you send? Available people. You don’t want to have to wait around to cajole somebody into action. You want action men! You want to be able to turn around and say, “Would you please go? Would you take this? Would you do that?” And these characters, Timothy and Epaphroditus, are men of availability.

Available to whom? Available, first of all, to the Lord—available to the Lord. Notice the phrase there, in the opening phrase in verse 19: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you.” What does he mean, “I hope in the Lord Jesus”? Was it possible for him to hope out of the Lord Jesus? Is this sort of padding, like in a bad English paper? Is this a cliché? Is this just some religious phraseology?

No, it is a description of what it means to be a Christian, because a Christian is someone who is in the Lord Jesus, someone who formerly was not in Christ. Oh, they may have been into religion and they may have been in church buildings, but they were not in Christ Jesus. And then the day dawned, as it dawns for Saul of Tarsus, when they realize that they had offended against Christ, that they were sinners, and that Jesus was a great Savior. And laying hold of his great and precious promises, they were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. It wasn’t that they simply plugged into information. It wasn’t that they responded to manipulation. But it was that God brought about a great transformation. That’s conversion—something that God does. And what he does is he places a man or a woman in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, “if [a man or a woman] is in Christ …” Paul says to the Corinthians, “the old is gone, the new has come!”[1] So, when Paul hopes, he hopes in the Lord Jesus. When he loves, he loves in the Lord Jesus. When he serves, he serves in the Lord Jesus. And when he boasts, he boasts in the Lord Jesus. Because his availability, as with the colleagues that he mentions, is in an availability that is first to the Lord himself. I ask you this morning: Do you belong to the Lord Jesus? Is your name written down, as it were, on his list? For there is a book into which he enters the names of those who are his own.

What does it mean to belong to the Lord? It means to be a Christian. It means to have been received by his grace into his family.

And interestingly, Paul, when he writes concerning marriage and the possibilities of remarriage, in 1 Corinthians 7, makes an interesting little statement that is germane to what I am saying, but in a totally different context. You needn’t turn to it, but I’m quoting from 1 Corinthians 7:39: “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.” Marriage is forever. “But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes”—then he adds the caveat—“but he must belong to the Lord.” Interesting little phrase. “He must belong to the Lord.” What does it mean to belong to the Lord? It means to be a Christian. It means to have been received by his grace into his family.  Is that you? If so, then you will understand that to have been placed into the Lord Jesus means that my availability is first to the Lord. That my concern is for the interests of Jesus, not for the interests of myself. That my concern is the work of the Lord Jesus, rather than other passages of work.

Availability to the Lord. Secondly, availability to the Lord’s servant. You see, ministry does not take place in a vacuum. How could Paul have exercised the ministry that he did from the Roman jail if no one had come to see him, if no one had brought him a message, if there had never been the encouragement of a gift, if there had never been the companionship of Epaphroditus and Timothy? In other words, God did not minister to Paul simply directly and peculiarly. There is no question, of course, that, had Paul lived in total isolation, the presence of the risen Christ by his Spirit would have been with him there. But God determined that Paul’s life would be enriched—and the lives of those who ministered to him—by the fact that it took place in companionship with one another. That’s why he says—in verse 30—of Epaphroditus that he “[risked] his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” In other words, he said, “If you could have given me the help, I know that you would, but God took Epaphroditus, available to Christ, and made him available to me.”

And available, thirdly, to the Lord’s people—to the Lord’s people. These individuals were available as servants of the church. What did they do? Well, they did all kinds of things, but essentially, here, they carried messages. Verse 19: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.” They were like dispatch riders in the Second World War—those guys that rode the motorbikes in the movies. I can’t remember if they’re in Bridge on the River Kwai, but it’s in movies like that. They have those old, brown motorbikes, with the leather seats separate from one another, with a big spring underneath the leather seat. And, basically, they stand around, waiting for somebody to go, “Joe!” “Yes, sir!” “Take it over there.” “Got it!”—on the bike, vroom. And the dust always comes up from behind the tires. They go over there, they take it, they sit down, they stand by their bikes, waiting. “Joe, over there.” “Got it!”—on the bike, gone, vroom! That’s what these guys were doing. You say, “That’s not much.” Yes, it is.

Do you understand, if they hadn’t done this, Paul couldn’t have written about them in this letter? Indeed, the letter would never have got back to Philippi, because Epaphroditus, if he never got on his motorbike, as it were, and got over there in the first place to Rome, would never have been able to go back with the letter that Paul wrote. Don’t overlook the tremendous impact of apparently inconsequential actions and deeds.

Loved ones, do not fall foul of the idea that the most significant pieces of our bodies are the bits that are visible. That’s what Paul says, doesn’t he? He says, “You know, the things we can see are the things we tend to pay more attention to.” Fiddling with our fingernails and our toenails and mucking around with our noses and our eyebrows and everything else, because these are the bits that stick out. “But,” he says, “don’t you realize that it is the unseen things in the body that are the most significant?”[2] These nonvolitional functions which are going on— cerebrally, keeping us together, fluid in the eyelids, renal function—all of that stuff. And the same is true in Parkside Church.

And when the records are opened and when the books are laid bare and when, around the throne of heaven, God looks upon the company and he apportions rewards, the dispatch riders—the bearers of news—like those to whom Solomon refers in Proverbs. He says, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.”[3] Cold water to a weary soul, good news from a distant land.

Do you know the impact that you can have in the week by determining to pick up your phone, maybe just three times, and making a random phone call to somebody to tell them X, Y, or Z? That is encouraging. I don’t mean one of those forty-five-minute telephone calls that works through every problem in humanity. I just mean, “I just called to say I love you. I just called to say how much I care.”[4] Right? That kind of call. Do you know that people’s lives are hanging by a thread waiting for those calls in Parkside Church? Do you know when I said, “Move around,” I’m not trying to be funny here; I want you to sit in the company of other people so you can find out who these people are. ’Cause you may have to call them this week, and they may want to call you. So that our fellowship would be like this fellow’s in Philippi—that we would be available to Christ, that we would be available to the servants of Christ, and that we would be available to the totality of God’s people.

It is impossible to serve God without serving one another.

It is impossible to serve God without serving one another.  It is as impossible to do that, to say, “I’m available to God and not available to the needs of the fellowship” as it is to say, “I love God”—à la 1 John 4—“and hate my brother.”[5] It is impossible to sit and say, “Here I am, wholly available to you.[6] It’ll be my great privilege to serve you, Lord, but why did we have to have this yellow slip in here about the children? I’d like to be available without being available. I’d like to be a servant without really serving.” See, it doesn’t work. Men of availability.

Some years ago, in a Christian magazine, I came across a hymn that I’ve known for a long time, since a boy. We used to sing it at valedictory services in Glasgow. You know what a valedictory service is? Scrambling for your dictionaries again—there you go; I understand. I didn’t know what it was, either; for years I didn’t know what it was. I went to forty of them before I even found out, so you shouldn’t feel bad. But it’s what you do on the night that a missionary goes away to China, or wherever it is. Or you get a bunch of African elephants’ feet and you litter them around the church and then you send them off. And we used to sing a hymn that had the verse

So send I you to suffer unrewarded,
To toil unpaid, unsought, unloved, unknown,
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing;
So send I you, to toil for me alone.[7]

In other words, here you are—Mr. Available, Mrs. Available—you want to be available to God, you want to be available to God’s servants, and you want to be available to God’s people. Well, let me tell you how it goes: “I want you to go and suffer for me unrewarded; you’re gonna work unpaid, unsought, unloved, unknown. No one will know you from a hole in the ground, you will bury yourself in total obscurity, and you will come back when I tell you.”

Now, the thing that struck me in the magazine article—and it’s in the last twenty-four months or so—was that this verse was quoted by a contemporary missiologist, saying what a dreadful hymn this was. And saying, “This is not what it means to follow Jesus Christ! Why would we ever suggest that if you follow Jesus Christ you will suffer unrewarded?”

Well, simply because you may suffer unrewarded! What reward did Jim Elliot have before his blood mingled with the Curaray River, down there in South America? I mean, immediate reward? None. Did he have an eternal reward? Yes, but that’s not what the hymn writer’s talking about. And who was this young chap that went down there? What was he being paid by the missionary organization? And who wanted him to speak at all their conferences? And who really loved him, apart from his folks and his wife Elisabeth? And who really knew him? Nobody. And why did he go? Because he wanted to be available to Christ and available to Christ’s servants and available to the church. It wasn’t so that he could be quoted fifty years later as an illustration of availability.

Can I ask you a question this morning? And I asked myself and continue to ask myself this same question. Have you ever—or how long has it been since—in the quietness of your own department of life, whether as you drive in your car, whatever represents isolation to you—your backyard under a tree, your car as you drive, whatever it might be—have you recently got alone with God and reaffirmed this essential commitment? To say to him, “Lord Jesus Christ, I want you to know that I am totally available to you. I don’t know what that means, and I don’t know what you’ll do with that. I don’t know if anything will immediately change, but I just want to tell you now, on this last day of May, that I am totally available to you. I want to be sold out for you. And I thank you for putting me within a leadership structure at Parkside Church, and I want to be the kind of guy, I want to be the kind of girl, that makes the leadership of Parkside Church joyful rather than burdened. I want to be available to them when they are looking for service. And Lord Jesus, furthermore, I want to be available to the people of Parkside Church, because this is my home church, and this is where you’ve put me.” Have you done that lately? Dear ones, do you understand the impact of two thousand people taking that seriously? Do you realize what it will mean?

Men and Women of Sensitivity

Now, I’ve spent so long on that that I will go to the other two with brevity—to which someone said, “We’ll believe that when we hear it.” Okay, I take the challenge. Availability, sensitivity—sensitivity. Sensitivity is vital because there are all kinds of people putting their hands up, but you can’t use them ’cause they’re insensitive souls. It’s like when the person came around the classroom when I was a boy. And when this person came, you knew there was a chance to get out of the room. Because—I can’t remember how it worked—but when this guy came, they were looking for volunteers, and you could leave. And I remember they would always do this, “Please, please, please, please, please!” It wasn’t that I wanted to serve; it was that I wanted to leave. I didn’t care what the job was; as long as it was outside of the four walls of the classroom, I was ready to go. So, the teacher knew that I was very available, but she also knew that I was totally insensitive to whatever it was I was supposed to do. And so, as available as I made myself, I never really made myself very useful, because she seldom gave me the chance to get out of the room, because she knew that I didn’t want to serve; she knew simply that I wanted to split.

In the same way, there are people who make themselves available, but they do not have a genuine interest in the well-being of other people. They may want kudos, they may want noticed, they may want a place, they may want to be regarded highly, and one of the great skills and wisdom in pastoral leadership is to know how to take people who make themselves constantly available and leave them on a side until they understand that availability must be matched by sensitivity. A sensitivity to the Word of God—they understand Christian doctrine. A sensitivity to the Spirit of God—that they will do as per his leading. A sensitivity to the people of God and the purposes of God amongst his people—so that they don’t go off at half cock on some scatter-brained idea. Sensitivity.

Timothy wasn’t slick; there’s nothing slick about his approach. His presence was crucial. The sensitivity comes out in verse 22, when he says, “You know, Timothy didn’t serve me in a formal way; he served me as a son serves with his dad.” You know the scene, don’t you, that plays itself out—especially when boys are tinier? If the father is doing something, then the boy—the wee guy—will get the small duster, or whatever it is. And the dad has the big duster. Pity it doesn’t continue all the way through the teenage years, but at least you have that recollection when they’re wee, of… remember? Get the video out, ’cause you’ll need it to remind yourself it happened. But those were the days, when you served side by side and you had the big version and the wee version. You know, the big watering can and the wee watering can—whatever it was. Well, that’s the way that Timothy is serving in the gospel with Paul. He is serving as a son with him. His usefulness is directly related to the fact that, unlike others, he is not totally self-obsessed. He’s not concerned just about his own interests. He’s concerned about the needs of Paul. He’s concerned about the needs of the gospel. He’s concerned about the needs of God’s people. He is genuinely interested.

Epaphroditus, in the same way—look at there in verse 26: “He … is distressed because you heard he was ill.” Why would he be distressed because they heard he was ill? Because he cared. Why would Paul be so concerned about it that he would be “[spared] … sorrow upon sorrow”? Because he was sensitive, because the relationships that he had with these men were important to them. Why did he want to keep Timothy with him and not let him go? Because, presumably, he was fearful of the future, and Timothy was an encouragement to him. Why was [Epaphroditus] longing to see them? Because he was a sensitive fellow.

Just the other night, in driving around, Sue and I had occasion to go up one of these many streets in the community that are producing new homes at a pace of knots. And as we drove up the street, I said, “You know, isn’t it amazing the detail that is in that building there and what a tremendous amount of stonework they have put on the corners of the building.”

“Oh,” she said, “that’s not stone.”

“Oh yes,” I said, “that’s stone.”

“Oh well,” she said, “why don’t we park the car, and we’ll go check?”

Christian service can be fake. From a distance, it looks like the real thing, but get up close enough to have it under your fingernails, and you’ll find out whether it’s genuine or not.

At that point, I should have said, “It’s not stone.” But being the cussed individual that I am, I rallied to the challenge and walked up to the corner of the building, only to have her tap it with her fingernails and reveal that what was apparently stone is in fact plastic. It is the best-looking fake stone I have ever seen in my life. It is ingenious in its lack of genuity. Christian service can be just as fake. From a distance, it looks like the real thing, but get up close enough to have it under your fingernails, and you’ll find out whether it’s genuine or not.  

Men and Women of Reliability

Men and women of availability, men and women of sensitivity, and finally, men and women of reliability—reliability. You see how these things build on one another? What good is a very available person—what good is this tremendously sensitive person—if you can’t count on them, if when they say something they won’t follow through? What use is it? It is not that Timothy and Epaphroditus were exceptional. It is not that Timothy wasn’t weak—’cause he was. It wasn’t that he was without personal difficulties—he was full of personal difficulties! But when Paul thought about Timothy, he knew that he could rely upon him. If we had met Paul and we said, “Tell me about Timothy,” he would have said, “You know what? You always know where you are with Timothy. Timothy’s word is his bond. Timothy’s actions are consistent with his words.” Indeed, he would have said, “In point of fact, I’ve got nobody else like him.” That’s the good news—and also the bad news—isn’t it? The good news is that Timothy is a stellar character; the bad news is that he stands out from the ruck of the rest.

And the reliability of Epaphroditus stands out as Paul builds these phrases there in verse 25: “[He’s] my brother.” In other words, our union is not on the basis of shared interest; it is in the fact that we have been made one in the Lord Jesus Christ. “[He’s] my … fellow worker.”

“Worker? You mean the Christian life’s work?”


“Oh, but I was reading a book just the other day, and they said, ‘If you have to work, something must be wrong. Because it’s supposed to all be of God. And if you’re having to work at it, you must be flawed in some way, because the key,’ said this book, ‘to Christian usefulness is that you do nothing. And God does everything.’ You’re like a hollow pipe through which he pours his grace and his goodness.”

To the degree that you have accepted that, you will live in spiritual indolence. You want to be useful for Christ? Roll up your sleeves! Does that sound spiritual? Yes.

Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” In other words, roll up your sleeves. “For it is God who is at work within you, both to say, ‘Roll up your sleeves!’ and to enable you to roll up your sleeves.”[8]

Nobody ever did anything well without a tremendous amount of effort. No actor on the stage delivered Shakespeare’s soliloquies in such a way that can bring laughter and tears without hours and hours and hours and hours of private agony, to intone every phrase in the way it should be done. Nobody can take that ball coming at them at such a phenomenal speed and smack it back out and over those boundaries without hours and hours and hours and hours of practice. But people come into the Christian life, and they think overnight they’re going to be spiritual oak trees, overnight they’re going to be really useful. “All you have to do is do nothing and God does everything!”—and that’s the jolly reason you are doing nothing, because you never rolled up your sleeves.

I want to issue a call to some of you to roll up your sleeves, would you? Roll up your spiritual sleeves—about the place of the Scriptures in your daily lives, about the acts of service and compassion, about availability and about sensitivity, so that, finally, when that day dawns that we are gathered to Christ, we will have been known to be like these two individuals—available, sensitive, and totally reliable.

F. B. Meyer preaching at Keswick many, many years ago, in the Lake District in England, said, with a great pause and a tremendous pathos, “I am content to be God’s errand boy.” That is exactly what Dwight L. Moody said, when someone said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a life wholly yielded to him.” And Moody, as a young guy, says, “I’m content to try and be that guy.”[9]

Ultimately, Timothy and Epaphroditus were, like the rest of us, mere men; they weren’t totally available, they weren’t totally sensitive, and they weren’t totally reliable. And so, what they actually do is they leave us looking for another, they leave us looking over their shoulders to say, “Is there one who is totally available, totally sensitive, and totally reliable—is there this kind of friend?” And the answer is yes—the Lord Jesus Christ.

I remember writing, in a moment of conviction, as a boy, in a New Testament flyleaf, as a result of something somebody had said. I wrote on the flyleaf of my New Testament a song that we had been singing:

To be used of God, to speak, to sing, to pray;
To be used of God to show someone the way;
Oh, how I long to feel the touch of his refining fire.
To be used of God is my desire.[10]

And as I was telling the young people, when I spoke to our youth in what was an amazing gathering of young people in midweek—not because I was there; it’s an amazing gathering every week—but I told them, I said, “You know, I used to be normal. I wasn’t always like this. You need to know that. You need to know that I was not the leader at the age of sixteen. I was the guy that got thrown out. I was the kid they phoned my father and said, ‘You’re going to have to beat his can, or he can’t come back here.’” That’s a colloquialism for “discipline your son with stringency.” So, you had this amazing paradox—a clown who is walking the middle line, one foot in and one foot out, scribbling in the flyleaf of his Bible his aspirations. Does God use someone like that? Write it in the flyleaf of your Bible—and live your life to find out.

Let us pray:

O God our Father, thank you for the lovely example of these men, the fragrance of whose lives linger. Timothy—too young, too timid, too weak, but your man. Epaphroditus—sick to the point of death, but your man. Hannah—your girl. Sarah—your girl. Lydia—your girl. We just want to be on your errands, Lord Jesus. And we thank you that when we let one another down—and when we are let down—because we’re not as available, sensitive, and reliable as we know we need to be, that it just sends us back again to the best friend in all the world, whose name we praise—Jesus. Amen.


[1] 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV 1984).

[2] 1 Corinthians 12:22–25 (paraphrased).

[3] Proverbs 25:25 (NIV 1984).

[4] Stevie Wonder, “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (1984). Paraphrased.

[5] 1 John 4:20 (paraphrased).                                  

[6] Chris Bowater, “Here I Am, Wholly Available” (1981). Paraphrased.

[7] Margaret Clarkson, “So Send I You (1954). Paraphrased.

[8] Philippians 2:13 (paraphrased).

[9] Paul Dwight Moody and Arthur Percy Fitt, The Shorter Life of D. L. Moody, vol. 1, His Life (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1900), 41. Paraphrased.

[10] Audrey Mieir, “To Be Used of God” (1964). Paraphrased.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.