“Honoring Those Who Fear The Lord” Philippians 2:19-30 October 31, 2010
SI: We’re studying Paul’s letter to his favorite church—the Philippian church.
Bible teachers have often called Philippians, the Epistle of Joy.
Because even though Paul was writing from a Roman prison,
he talks about the joy of Christ, rejoicing in the Lord,
and gives us great insight how believers walk through the difficult times.
INTRO: I recently inherited 9 boxes of books from my dad.
One of the books was the life and letters of James Henley Thornwell.
He was a great 19th cent. Presbyterian theologian, taught at Columbia Seminary.
In 1857, Dr. Thornwell went on a two month preaching tour through parts of
Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee speaking on behalf of the seminary.
One of the letters he wrote on that trip was to his 12-year-old son.
It caught my attention because written from my home town. It says:
Tuscumbia, Alabama, May 4, 1857
“My Dear Boy:
If you will take a map, and look upon that part of the State of Alabama which lies upon the Tennessee river, and is near to the states of Mississippi and Tennessee, you will see where your father is. The river is a noble stream. Steamboats run up it for nearly five hundred miles. It abounds in fish. I have seen whole wagon loads caught in a short time. And you would enjoy yourself very much here with hook and line. The whole region is full of limestone, and abounds in bold springs. There is a spring here which runs almost like a river. Boats come to its very head, and it will often swim a horse. The water is clear as crystal, and gushes from a solid bed of rock. This spring supplies the whole town of Tuscumbia with water. I spent night before last with Dr. Robertson, and I was delighted to find that his oldest boy was a professor of religion. I thought what a comfort it would be to me to have my oldest boy, as indeed all my children, children of God. Begin now, my son, to fear and love and serve the God of your father. Do nothing which your Bible condemns. Pray from the heart; and earnestly seek that you may have a heart that loves to pray. The Lord bless you and make you a blessing to your fellow men. Your affectionate father.”
When you read that letter, one of the most interesting things is not so much
what it says, but what it tells you about Dr. Thornwell as a father.
He took time to write letter. Time to pay attention, though away and busy.
And did you notice the way he talked to his son?
He came down to his son’s level and engaged his son’s interests.
He knew the things that would interest a 12 year old boy—
maps and fishing and steamboats and swimming holes.
I didn’t read you the whole letter, he also describes how sticky the mud is in
Alabama, and compares it to the mud back in their home in South Carolina.
This great theologian comparing qualities of mud!
And, of course, he opened his heart and shared his hope in such a natural way,
that his dear boy would walk with the Lord.
You can learn a lot about being a good father from that letter.
And it’s the same way with this passage in Paul’s letter.
In these verses he writes about the stuff of ordinary life.
Plans for travel if he gets out of prison, details about comings and goings,
and trips and illness, comments about people—as I said, the ordinary stuff of life.
And one of the most interesting things about this passage,
is not so much what Paul says, but the window it opens for us into his spirit—
what it shows us about being a great Christian man.
And this is what I’m talking about—
Did you notice the way he compliments Timothy and Epaphroditus?
Timothy was Paul’s assistant. He was a young pastor.
Paul overflows with compliments about Timothy.
No one else like him who takes such interest in your welfare.
He puts the interests of Christ above his own. He’s proved himself.
I can hardly bear to spare him—but I want to send him to you.
Epaphroditus was a member of the Philippian church.
He had volunteered to travel to Rome to bring Paul a financial gift from church.
The only way to get money to people back then was to physically take it.
Epaphroditus traveled over 600 miles and he got deathly ill on the trip.
Somehow word got back to Philippi and they didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
He recovered, and Paul planned to send him back with the letter.
Paul overflowed with kindest compliments for this man.
Called him my brother, my fellow worker, and my fellow solider.
Described how sick he had been and what a sacrifice he had made.
When he gets back, welcome him in Lord with great joy, and honor men like him.
As I said, this gives us an insight into Paul’s greatness.
It shows us that he was always overflowing with compliments.
Always saying nice things and making generous statements about others.
Always taking opportunity to draw attention to the virtues and hard work and
sacrifices and contributions of others. Wanting other people to admire them.
This morning I want us to consider just one little phrase in this passage:
It’s when Paul says: “Honor men like him.” It’s seems like a throwaway phrase,
easily missed, yet it was clearly a way of life for Paul.
And we need to see how honoring one another, honoring fellow Christians—
especially fellow Christians in our church, is a pathway to Christian greatness.
Earlier we read Psalm 15. King David asks:
“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?”
Who is close to your heart, O Lord? Who lives in constant communion with you?
One of answers is: He who honors those who fear the Lord.
Do you honor those who fear the Lord?
Let’s look at this passage and consider three reasons you should.
Honoring those who fear the Lord is
good for your church, good for your children, and good for your soul.
MP#1 Honoring those who fear the Lord is good for your church
If there is one thing that modern psychology has agreed on,
it’s the profound importance of being loved and appreciated.
Hardly anything has a greater influence on a person’s emotional and spiritual
welfare than the way he is appreciated by others.
This is especially true for children.
Nothing devastates the life of a child
more than a lack of praise and appreciation from those close to him.
We don’t need psychologists to tell us that, we know it intuitively.
But psychological studies have verified many negative consequences
that occur from a lack of love and appreciation in an person’s life.
Anger, promiscuity, delinquency, drug use and depression—
can sometimes be traced to negative impressions of self received in childhood.
I have a seminary friend who grew up in a home like that.
He can’t remember a time when his parents expressed appreciation for
something he had done, or complimented him, or expressed love personally.
And if he had not met Jesus Christ, and learned of the love of God the Father—
he would have self-destructed long ago. And to this day, he bears those scars.
This makes sense not just psychologically, but theologically as well.
Because we’re made in God’s image.
And within the Trinity, within the Godhead,
there is an eternal circle and life of love and appreciation and compliment.
Think about that—throughout all eternity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have praised
one another. That’s what God is and what God does and we are like him.
We live to love and be loved and to express that love and receive it.
So the church of Jesus Christ ought to be a place
where affection and appreciation are regularly given and received.
The church ought to be a healthy and loving family
where her sons and daughters are complimented and praised.
Paul shows us through his example what this should look like in our church.
It’s real. It’s not like self-esteem movement where everybody gets same trophy—
both the winners and the losers so everybody feels good.
Paul certainly esteemed every member of the Philippian church for Christ’s sake.
He certainly loved them all in the Lord. But he singled out one man from church.
And he spoke of Epaphroditus’ spirit of service, and his commitment to the Lord,
and how hard his journey and illness had been. How he had done it for Christ.
This is true in all of Paul’s letters.
He singles out certain individuals and compliments them for real things.
And this ought to be the case with our compliments in the church.
We ought to honor one another for real acts of kindness and commitment,
for the spiritual encouragement and help people have given us.
So it’s real. But at the same time it’s generous.
It makes much of other believers. Because it recognizes that every believer
comes to the task with his own weaknesses and that everything done for the
love of Christ and the church is a spiritual victory.
We know from other details in New Testament that Timothy was naturally timid.
He was completely different from Paul in this regard—Paul was naturally bold.
Probably many times when Paul watched Timothy approach a task
in his round-about way, and thought, I wish he would attack this head on.
But Paul focused entirely on the positive. His usefulness. His spirit.
Because he saw the effort and the sacrifice for Christ.
Some Bible scholars have speculated that Epaphroditus was a man totally out of his
comfort zone in Rome—like a country boy in the big city.
Remember that country song that said:
“You can send me to hell or to New York City, they’re both the same to me”?
That was Epaphroditus. Terribly home sick after his many weeks on the road
and his life-threatening illness. But knowing at the same time he’s been sent
to serve Paul, and that he has to offer to stay in Rome. Paul recognizes that.
Instead of being frustrated with the man, praises him all the more.
Certainly one reason he tells the Philippians to welcome him with great joy,
is so that nobody criticizes Epaphroditus for coming home early.
I’m sure you see how Paul’s compliments where not only good for the Philippian
church, but imitating his spirit and his practice would be good for our church.
If we take Paul’s example and exhortation to heart and honor men and women
in our body by telling them how much we appreciate them, it will make stronger.
And if our gossip about each other is full of compliments.
If we are often telling each other how much we appreciate so and so.
Here’s the effect it will have. It will spur us all on to love and good deeds.
The practical application of this is clear, isn’t it.
There are members of your church who have blessed you with their kindness.
There are members you have admired for their faithfulness in some area.
Tell them so. And talk about them.
One wise pastor, preaching on this passage said:
“The New Testament church was nothing short of a mutual admiration society!”
Let’s follow Paul’s path of Christian greatness and honor those who fear the Lord.
It will be good for our church
And second, even closer to home
MP#2 Honoring those who fear the Lord is good for your children
If you talk about and praise other believers,
and point out their faithfulness and express your appreciation for them,
that spirit will rub off on your children. They will grow to love God’s people.
They will themselves learn to honor those who fear the Lord.
And the opposite effect is also true.
A negative or indifferent attitude towards those who fear the Lord
will stunt your children spiritually.
I want to tell you four quick stories—two sad and two happy—you’ll see point.
There was a woman in our Florida church who was a snowbird retiree.
Her husband had been a Presbyterian minister, but I never knew him because
he had passed away a few years before we got there. She had three grown sons.
None of them were walking with the Lord, none of them were in church.
None of them would even attend church with her when they came to visit.
She was grieved by that, and would often mention it.
I asked the senior pastor, Bruce Fiol why this was so.
Bruce was a very wise man, very spiritually sensitive.
He said, Have you ever noticed the way she talks about the churches where her
husband served as pastor? And I had.
She was always telling stories about how this church was a bad experience,
and how the people in that church let them down.
Bruce said, Her negative comments have poisoned her sons against the church.
And that, in turn has turned them away from Christ.
How important it is for us to speak well of the members of the body.
The second story is one very similar, told by Derek Thomas,
who is a pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson Mississippi.
He had performed an infant baptism for first born child of some young parents.
And after the service a visitor came up and said to the father:
“This morning you brought your child to be given to the Lord. I did that once too. But let me urge you from the bottom of my heart not to do to your boy what I did to mine. Year after year he heard me criticize the church, members of the church, and the minister. I turned my boy off from the church and today he’s far from God. I plead with you, don’t ever criticize like that or you’ll destroy your son too.”
Now the happy stories. Several years ago, after we had moved to Cullman,
I was talking to someone from my old home church, and the name
of a ruling elder came up, who is now deceased.
Person asked me: Did it bother you the way he treated your father?
I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about.
He proceeded to tell me how this man did not like my father, and would even make
a point of not looking at him when he was preaching. And surely I knew that.
But, I honestly didn’t. In fact, I was somewhat shocked by what he said.
Because my dad always had positive things to say about the elders
of the church, and the dignity of the office and the value of Session.
All I ever heard from him about the members of the church was compliment.
I know one of the reasons I’m in the ministry is because of this quality
of my father—and the deep love it gave me for the church.
Finally, this is very short story, but it made an impression on me.
I saw my old friend Charles Garland at General Assembly this summer.
He told me in passing how his son Zach, who is a senior in high school,
attends the men’s Sunday school class at their church, because it was being taught
by an older man who Charles admires and has spoken highly of.
I thought, isn’t that interesting, that a high school boy would make that choice.
Not because he feels out of place going to the youth group Sunday school,
or doesn’t like the youth director—it was nothing like that at all.
But it was because he had heard his dad talking about the wisdom of this older
man and the depth of his spiritual insight—and he had taken that to heart.
He valued and wanted what his parents valued.
Why? Because Charles and Julie honor those who fear the Lord.
Who do your children admire? Professional athletes and movie stars?
Their peers who exemplify the shallow values of youth pop culture?
Or, do your children honor those who fear the Lord? Remember King David:
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
You want that for your children, don’t you? You want them to be close to the Lord.
Then take to heart David’s answer:
He who despises a vile man, but honors those who fear the Lord.
Where do they learn that? They learn it from you.
Brings us to the third point:
MP#3 Honoring those who fear the Lord is good for your soul
When you compliment and praise other Christians, you are imitating God himself.
Why was the Apostle Paul a man full of compliments?
Why was this great man of God, who had seen the risen Christ,
and experienced visions of heaven, and founded churches across Roman Empire,
why was this man able to overflow with genuine praise for ordinary Christians
like Timothy and Epaphroditus?
Because Paul knew the grace of God and delighted in imitating it.
That’s what appreciation and compliments are for Christians—
imitations of the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Robert Rayburn, who all of you adult Sunday school teachers know from notes,
said that for many years he was bothered by something that happened in their
annual church Thanksgiving service. His church apparently has a Thanksgiving
service like ours, where they open the floor for people to give thanks.
He said that the things that bothered him is that many people would offer thanks,
not to God, but to other people in the church for what they had done, or what
they had said to them. Rayburn said he thought this was a defect in their faith.
That these people were failing to see that it was the Lord who stood behind
the kindnesses of others, and he was the one they should have been thanking.
But he said that he came to realize that the was completely wrong.
That the Bible is full of compliments that one believer pays to another—
just like this passage, with Paul thanking these two men.
But even deeper than that, Rayburn said the thought struck him that God himself
praises us for the good things we do, even though without him we can do nothing.
The Lord loves to praise and compliment his people.
He appreciates us even when we very imperfectly serve him.
And he says the kindest and most complimentary things about us.
Remember last week’s passage, and how it calls us blameless and without fault,
shining like stars in the universe. Those are the inspired word of God.
Think about that for a moment and let it sink in.
The Lord Jesus Christ looks at your imperfect attempts to live for him,
with all your inconsistencies and weaknesses and mixed motives—
and he calls you blameless and without fault and shining like stars.
He might just as well call attention to your failures and shortcomings.
But he doesn’t. And he holds out the wonderful prospect to all of us
that we will stand before him one day and hear these words:
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
God, in grace, appreciates the little things we do for him.
So it is no surprise that he also appreciates it when we take note of the good
things others do for us and for the kingdom.
There is a line that can be drawn from Jesus Christ to us—
from his generous compliments to our generous compliments,
from his wideness of spirit to our wideness of spirit,
from his grace and love to our way of life with our brothers and sisters.
The great Scottish minister Alexander Whyte said:
“The size and the substance and the spirit of a man’s soul is seen by the spontaneity and the
generosity and the exuberance and the warmth of his praises . . . And to praise, with your
whole heart, all those men and women and children who deserve praise at your hands, that is a
certain contribution toward your praise of God.”
Of course criticism is sometimes necessary. But it often harms more than it helps.
Generous and appreciative words are always helpful.
They are helpful to person we say them to and helpful to us when we say them.
They are good for our soul. Because we are imitating God in his generosity,
and we are praising him, even as we praise other people.
This is not something that comes naturally to many of us.
That’s why Paul gives the example and the command.
It’s a spiritual discipline like everything else in the Christian life.
We have to remind ourselves to speak in appreciation of others—
but when we do, we will hardly ever fail to see immediate evidence of good
in our church, our children, and in our own souls.
As we come to the Lord’s Table, let’s remember David’s words:
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
He who despises a vile man, but honors those who fear the Lord.
By God’s grace, we pray that will be true of us.