We Can Be Friends, Too!

(This week, we are celebrating in Sunday Worship with a Children’s Service: a service oriented toward children and young people. We pray for them as they begin a new school year, whether online, in-person, or something in between. This sermon from Philippians 2:19-30 is geared toward all ages, especially for our younger friends.)

“We Can Be Friends, Too!” – August 23, 2020

Phil 2-20 work of the Gospel

Philippians 2:19-30 (2:28-30)

Paul wrote a letter to the Philippian church, when he was in prison. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, supporting him while he is in prison.

What if your friend was in real big trouble? Would you be there to help your friend who was in a desperate situation? Or, would you want to hide and stay away? Would your fear keep you from helping? I bet you would be like Timothy and Epaphroditus and would be there to help your friend!

So many church members just stay out of the way. Can you – can I be a friend of Jesus if we hide and stay out of the way?

As Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he was in prison. You and I might think that Paul wasn’t able to do anything in prison, but just hide and keep out of the way. He couldn’t go where he pleased. He was locked up!

Here Paul talks further about being a good friend. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, willingly supporting him while he is in prison.

Would you – or I – be there to help our friend who was in a desperate situation, even in prison? Or, would you want to run to hide and stay out of the way? Could our anxiety and fear make us super scared? Or, would we continue to be there for our friend?

The friends in Philippi knew Paul’s friend Timothy from when Timothy was one of Paul’s companions. Paul had the highest praise for his young friend, saying that Timothy was genuine, faithful and could certainly be depended on, no matter what. Especially when he was telling other people about God’s Good News.

Isn’t this the best kind of friend to have with you, if you are in a difficult spot?

I know that going back to school is usually not such a challenging time. However, we haven’t had Coronavirus around before. Having Coronavirus is almost like being in jail! It is keeping us locked away from our friends. It is very stressful for all of us. But, none or us are alone. God is always with us, is always fighting for us, and has great plans for each of us.

Are you willing to be genuine, faithful and dependable for your friends? How about for your fellow classmates or co-workers? Paul reminds us, we can all be like Timothy, willing to be friends for others, no matter what.

Paul’s other friend, Epaphroditus, was a church leader in Philippi. He hand-carried an important financial gift to Paul.

Epaphroditus also was very, very ill while traveling, and after he reached Rome where Paul was in prison. However, he overcame those difficult times. Paul praises his friend Epaphroditus for working just as hard as Paul did himself! Plus, while Paul was stuck in prison, his Philippian friend took excellent care of Paul. I suspect he was Paul’s hands and feet, and really helped the ministry while Paul was in jail.

For all of those reasons, Paul really praises Epaphroditus. But, at the same time, Paul needed to send him back to Philippi with this very letter. (The one we are reading.)

Do we understand how much it cost Epaphroditus to go visit Paul? Weeks, perhaps even months on the road. He was deathly ill while traveling, and after he reached his destination, too. Of course Paul was grateful and thankful for both his good friends!

Do you know anyone who has had the Coronavirus? You cannot go and see them. They are alone. Yet you can be a good friend and send them messages, right? And, if you were sick, you know that God is your good friend. No matter how things are going, how unhappy you are or how troubled your life seems, God will be right next to you. We have God’s promise on that! God is true to those who believe.

Are we supposed to be friends to others in a similar way? I think Paul would say, “Yes!”

Our hearts can be filled with gentle words, kind deeds, forgiving hearts and peacemaking. Jesus is depending on all of us! Did you ever think Jesus was depending on you? You might be the only way God could show love to some of the kids, families, co-workers, and neighbors you meet every day – in class, or in the office, or at the grocery store, or at the park. [1]

Just as much as Paul was thankful for Timothy and Epaphroditus being his good friends, you and I can be thankful that God is our good friend. No matter how things are going, how happy we are – or not, or how bumpy or steep the way is ahead, God will be right next to us. We have God’s promise on that!

Paul encourages each of us to come alongside of all our friends, and be there, just in case. That is truly something we all can be thankful for. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/07/back-to-school-2013.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

As Far As Possible—Peace

“As Far As Possible—Peace”

 

March 2, 2016 – Romans 12:18

Living at peace with others can be difficult sometimes.

Peace in families. Peace between friends and in relationships. Peace between groups of people, whether in terms of sports teams, religions, music preference, the racial context, food choices, even thinking about the pets some people choose to have!

People have disagreements about all of these areas—and then some!

What does the Bible say about disagreements? Conflict?

Let’s take a closer look at the Apostle Paul’s book of Romans, 12:16-21. This is two paragraphs in a larger section. There is a lot here, in terms of pointers for conflict resolution!

These are a series of good pieces of advice from Paul. A laundry list of valuable ways of acting. Plus, these are pieces of advice that Paul gives to the whole congregation. We can tell from the verbs—all plural, for the group of believers. A group pep talk!

How does Paul recommend the Roman congregation to act? “By living in such a way that fosters peace.” Commentator Elizabeth Shively says, “Verses 17 and 21 act like bookends, ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil … Do not be overcome by evil’” As she tells us, these ideas are connected. We are truly overcome by evil when we allow spite to infect us. [1]

Aren’t evil, spite and resentment like a disease? Like a particularly nasty, insidious virus, that sneaks into our bloodstream. Gets under our skin, and burrows down deep inside. Evil, spite and resentment are particularly difficult to get out of our hearts and lives.

Yes, we can think about different people in a congregation. Our church, or any church. Yes, there are serious matters that come up. Divisive issues, and sometimes matters that are particularly difficult to resolve. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this kind of serious conflict! He gives us some words of advice that may be useful in just such a contentious situation. More than that, he gives words of advice that are useful in many situations—squabbles between friends or family, and arguments between church folk and those outside the church.

This can be a complication! Paul comes right out and tells the believers in Rome that they are not to repay evil for evil. Instead, show love. Paul does not say so here, in this paragraph, but he does several times in other places, in this letter.

It is the Christian’s job to show love! Paul tells us expressly how we are to show love, too.

How are we to show love? Verse 17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” And further, verse 20 quotes from Proverbs 21, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’”
Let me give an illustration. Corrie Ten Boom in the book, Reflections of God’s Glory (page 69), wrote, “In Africa a man came to a meeting with bandaged hands. I asked him how he had been injured. He said, “My neighbor’s straw roof was on fire; I helped him to put it out and that’s how my hands were burned.

“Later I heard the whole story. The neighbor hated him and had set his roof on fire while his wife and children were asleep in the hut. They were in great danger. Fortunately, he was able to put out the fire in his house on time. But sparks flew over to the roof of the man who had set the house on fire and his house started to burn. There was no hate in the heart of this Christian; there was love for his enemy and he did everything he could to put out the fire in his neighbor’s house. That is how his own hands were burned.”

This African man showed love to his enemy. He did everything he could to put out that fire in his neighbor’s house. He lived out God’s love towards his enemy, just as Paul urges us to do, here.

God shows us abundant love! God shows us plentiful mercy! And, we do not deserve it. That’s why Paul urges us to do the same for those who do evil to us, and for those who are our enemies.

Since the believers in Rome were shown God’s love and mercy, Paul recommends tending to enemies in the same way they—we—would tend to the material needs of families, and friends. As our commentator Elizabeth Shively says, Paul’s audience “are to do more than refrain from repaying evil; they are to initiate doing good to opponents. This is much harder. But in doing so, Christians overcome evil with good, showing that they “cling to what is good,” expressing the definition of true love.” [2]

How difficult is that? Really difficult! How hard to express true love. How hard to live at peace with everyone. Yet, that is what we are called to do as followers of Christ.

Yes, the idea of living at peace with everyone is a wonderful thing. Living it out is a challenging thing. Sometimes, even an almost impossible thing. Remember, it’s the Christ-like way to live.

What would Jesus do? How would Jesus act?

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

We are called to act in practical and physical ways. Show love. Express mercy.

That, I think, is how Jesus would act.

[1] Commentary, Romans 12:9-21, Elizabeth Shively, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!