I have mentioned in other lessons and classes that the New Testament outlines five major areas of activities or ministry in the Christian church found in Acts chapter 2.
1. Evangelism – The proclaiming of the gospel to the unbelievers. This is done in a variety of ways by different people in the church but the objective is always the same — that those who have not yet done so confess their belief in Christ, repent of their sins, and are baptized in Jesus' name for forgiveness in order to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
2. Education – Teaching the church the words of Jesus. Again, in a variety of ways we try to teach people to understand and put into practice God's word — the Bible.
3. Worship – Organizing and conducting public worship services. This also involves training people to lead and to develop spirituality and piety.
4. Fellowship – creating the opportunity and environment where Christians can come together socially for mutual encouragement and friendship. This is the ministry carried out by those organizing events and projects that involve various individuals in the congregation.
5. Service – Service ministry is divided into three main areas:
- Maintenance which includes the care for the building and grounds.
- Administration which involves the financial, office and employee operations of the church.
- Benevolence which includes the help that the church provides in food assistance, counseling, visitation to people in or out of this congregation.
Now, all five of these ministries are mentioned briefly in Acts 2, but there are examples of these ministries being carried out throughout the entire New Testament.
I entitled this sermon "Heaven's Employee" because the character that we're going to study was a very good example of one who excelled in the ministry of SERVICE. His name was Epaphroditus. The New Testament has a "performance review" of the kind of service he rendered to the church. Let's look at it and keep an eye on our own performance to see if our service watches his, because he is a great role model.
Background on Epaphroditus
There is not much written about Epaphroditus but what little there is tells us a lot about the kind of man that he was. His name (Epaphroditus) means handsome or lovely.
There are only two direct references to him and both are in the book of Philippians. These references do not say he was a prophet or could do miracles nor that he was a great soul winner, preacher or teacher. It does immortalize him by mentioning him in the New Testament because he was an effective servant.
We read about him in Philippians 2:25-30. The scene for this passage is as follows:
Paul is imprisoned in Rome. The Philippian congregation selects Epaphroditus to bring him a gift of money for his needs. Epaphroditus falls ill while in Rome and the brethren in Philippi worry about him. Paul sends Epaphroditus back to them and he brings them the epistle.
25But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
This information is brief but in it we see the qualifications necessary to be Heaven's Employee, as well as a great example of Christian service performed by this brother.
Qualifications for Heavenly Employment
1. Epaphroditus was active in the church.
Paul refers to Epaphroditus as a brother, a fellow worker and a fellow soldier. These terms suggest a certain activity.
A. As a brother, he shared an emotional relationship with Paul and the brethren. His was not a "Sunday Friendship" but an emotional commitment that could move Paul to call him "my brother" and the rest of the church to be grieved by his illness.
B. Paul also referred to him as a fellow worker and this describes their common labor. Epaphroditus was a man who was busy doing these things in order to establish, nourish and build up the church. In Epaphroditus' care, we see that part of his service was delivering a gift to Paul in prison and return with a letter. Are we reading between the lines to really see what this kind of service meant?
- 700 miles from Philippi to Rome
- What about his job, family, expenses?
- How many would inconvenience and sacrifice themselves in this way…for the church?
He really worked for the church (what he did required real effort).
C. Aside from a brother and fellow worker, he calls him a fellow soldier. This echoes their common stand as Christians in a hostile world. The term conjures up the imagery of struggles with all the enemies of the faith — temptation, discouragement and fatigue. The fact that Paul refers to him as a fellow soldier tells us about Epaphroditus' spiritual life as one who was strong, faithful, steadfast and mature — like Paul himself they were "fellow soldiers." He was like Paul!
Interesting to note that Epaphroditus was praised for his attentive service to the church not just his attendance to church services. (Coming to church doesn't replace serving the church.)
…He was qualified to be an employee of heaven… → Our service to the church is not attending church services.
2. Epaphroditus was Submissive to the Church
While this passage talks about what he did, most of the verses describe his role and consequently reveal his attitude. He had two functions that we know of:
A. Messenger (Called Apostles, same as Barnabas in Acts 14) He was a duly appointed legatee.
The 12 Apostles of Jesus were the twelve because they were chosen by Jesus with a special message and witness. Different church's selected their own legatees, or Apostles or messengers (today we call them missionaries). Barnabas was messenger for Antioch, Epaphroditus was messenger for Philippi and sent by the church with a gift for Paul.
B. Minister - He wasn't asked to preach or counsel, just deliver the gift. He was basically a "delivery boy" for the church, however, the depth of his sacrifice and his great commitment in carrying out his assignment raised this humble activity to the point of being a holy and acceptable sacrifice. This reveals his humble and submissive attitude:
- The church said, "We want you to go to Rome?" He replied, "When do I leave?"
- Paul said, "I need your help." He replied, "What can I do to help you?"
God raised this inglorious and mundane task to an eternal level because the man who did it humbled himself and submitted to his leaders in carrying out their directions without hesitation or complaint. I.E. Serving in the nursery, delivery, food to poor, cleaning building, etc., — no glory, lots of inconvenience work…it becomes a glorious thing if done with the right spirit.
…So Epaphroditus was active in the church; submissive to the church…
3. Epaphroditus had Concern for the Church
Note that in vs. 26, it says that he was ill but his concern was not for himself but that the church would be worried about him. Communication was slow, he was delayed in his return, he was sure they would be anxious without news and he agonized over their needless concern.
We see a man who really cared for the church. His pain would not cease until ____ on his behalf ceased.
Paul says in Galatians 6:10,
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
Epaphroditus loved the church, it was a high priority in his life, emotionally as well as physically and financially.
The church has a great task in evangelizing and reaching out to the community in love, but if it is to succeed in doing this, it will need people in the church that love the church and are willing to make it the priority in their lives. Epaphroditus put the body of Christ above the love of the world and the love of his own body.
Before we knew of his personal weaknesses and failures, John F. Kennedy managed to inspire a great desire to sacrifice for this country. He said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." January 20, 1961 — Inaugural Address
I believe we've begun to see the church as something that God created to serve us rather than the vehicle that God created to enable us to serve Him, the world, and each other.
I believe we need to recapture the spirit of service exemplified by Epaphroditus.
In Choctaw, this would mean, among other things:
1. That each person in the congregation sincerely examine how they can be more active as Christians. This is not a call to sign up for more activities, but rather a call to live out your Christian faith in everything you do. When people are "Christians" 24 hours a day, you rarely have problems getting them to become involved in "church" activities. Christians who are Christians 24 hours a day are always involved in serving and helping others and what is printed in the bulletin or announced at church becomes only the tip of the iceberg of activities and services going on in the church. Ultimately, there is so much going on that you can't know it all or report it all, that's what we're aiming for here.
2. Serving like Epaphroditus also means that we support and follow the leadership of the church. This has been relatively easy so far because we haven't done anything very difficult or dynamic. We've not really been challenged yet:
- We've been taking care of ourselves and those we know and love.
- We've been giving so it doesn't hurt us too much.
- We've spent most of our energy just going from our homes to the church building.
But one day we'll have some changes to make which will require more than just changing which room and topic we choose for Bible class every quarter and when those days come, we'll need to remember Epaphroditus and his willingness to do what his leaders asked without grumbling, criticizing, complaining or quitting.
3. For Choctaw, heavenly service means that not just the elders care, not just the deacons care, not just the preachers care, but everybody cares about this congregation and what happens to it.
- You can tell if people really care about their church:
- You can tell by how well the grounds look.
- You can tell by the condition and the look of the building they meet in.
- You can tell by how people treat each other and those who minister to them.
- You can tell by how people treat strangers who come here reaching for God and His love. (Do we leave them talking to themselves? Make new Christians feel wanted, cared for?)
Each one of the things I mentioned requires the caring of each person here in order for the picture of a caring church to come through. Just a few people who care cannot create the image of a caring church. In order for our property, our ministries, our worship, our fellowship to look like they are cared for — everybody has to care, not just one or two.
If God were reviewing your job performance, would you keep your heavenly employment? Or could God use you as the model Philippians — active, submissive, caring? If you need to make a change, need to come to Christ in repentance and baptism, come now.