February 7, 2021

A Compassionate Heart

Passage: Philippians 2:19-30

Presbyterian World Service & Development Sunday

The life story of Helen Keller is quite often told.  She was blind and deaf and in spite of that she inspired many lives through her writings.  But there was someone in her life who made her believe in herself.  She was Anne Sullivan, a teacher.  When Anne passed on, Helen spoke and said, “She gave me a reason to live.  She taught me what hope was.”  Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, "Two are better than one... If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"  I think we all can share about those incidents in our lives when circumstances knocked us down and then it was someone filled with compassion, who was there for us.  That act of unselfishness is something we will never forget.  Today is PWS&D Sunday on the calendar of our denomination and God convicts us through His Spirit, “What act of sincere compassion have you demonstrated lately?  When you look around, what do you see?  Do you really care about others in distress and need?”  Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ had given so much of himself to others – he endured hardship for all the churches, he ministered to.  He had the “stigmata”, the scars for Jesus, to show for all of his sacrifices.  But there came a time when he needed the saints to show that they cared about him too.  And here in his letter to the Philippians, he shares principles Timothy and Epaphroditus and he himself demonstrated about A Compassionate Heart.

First the apostle wants us to know that 1 We Have To Be True Companions.  When almost all of the believers deserted Paul when he was tried and sent to prison, Timothy was the one who stood by him, even if it meant imprisonment for him as well.  In verse 20 Paul says something about Timothy, which many of us can only wish would be said about us, “I have no one else like him.”  Some translations put it that Paul and Timothy had like-minded spirits.  From the Greek it has the meaning that they were “one-souled.”  That expression came from Mathematics where figures have to add up to be correct.  It can’t be just close enough to be correct.  That’s how Timothy and Paul thought alike.  But you see, my friends, it was something Timothy developed as a young man.  He was the “spiritual son” of Paul and opened himself to learn from Paul.  Can we say it’s like the students of a great artist like van Gogh, who followed every movement of the master to try and become like him?  You see, if we want to be real companions to others we have to develop real interest in them.  We have to put ourselves right in their world or situation.  People want to know that we are one with them.  Can we only comprehend that when we minister to someone, wherever God takes us, we have to first of all place our hearts before them?  There was a pastor who was the first one to acknowledge that preaching wasn't his greatest gift, but he gave so much of himself to his parishioners – he became a true companion.  When he retired and a farewell was given for him, a lady spoke.  She said, “I never came to listen to you for what you had to say.  I came because you were genuine.  I could believe every word you spoke.”  One might say, “Not very flattering.”  But it's more important to be the “real thing.” 

A second principle that Paul teaches us here is that 2 True Companions Are Moved By The Pain Of Others.  This was apparently not true of the Roman Christians who lived around Paul.  They were self-centered, too involved in their own lives and interests to have genuine concern for the needs of Paul or the Christians in Philippi.  In verse 21 he said that each of these believers “looked out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”  But by the grace of God - in Timothy and Epaphroditus, Paul had two genuine companions, who were compassionate. In verse 20 Paul told the Philippians that Timothy was “....genuinely concerned about their welfare.”  In verse 26 he said that Epaphroditus was “deeply distressed about them....not wanting them to worry about his welfare.”  You know, if our generation isn’t careful our hectic lifestyles will make us lose our ability to feel compassion for the difficulties of others.  We will become preoccupied with our own pleasures.  Tony Campolo taught at Eastern College in Philadelphia and each January he used to take students to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to some of the poorest neighbourhoods.  He took them there because he wanted them to see what Jesus sees and feel what Jesus feels.  He wanted their hearts to be broken by the things that break Jesus' heart.  O my friends, we don’t have to go far – we can just go to the Woman’s shelter, we can just walk down the street of downtown Chilliwack and see the needs of people.  Then we can share in their pain and do something about it.  Presently our hearts can go out to millions of people around the world affected by Covid-19.  Though we can't go into places to help them, we can go on our knees before God and pray for them to be physically and spiritually healed.  Do we truly feel the pain of those around us?

Lastly 3 True Companions Are Unselfish.  Verse 25 speaks very deep,“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.”  Epaphroditus was a member of the church in Philippi.  And the church there was a strong supporter of the apostle Paul.  So when they learned that Paul was in prison, they sent Epaphroditus to be with him, to be a source of encouragement and assistance to him.  But Epaphroditus wasn’t able to help Paul very long because he became seriously ill.  In fact, he almost died.  Well, the news of Epaphroditus’ illness got back to Philippi and the people there were concerned about him.  And Epaphroditus became distressed about their anxiety for him.  It would have been so easy for Paul to say, "Well, Timothy is leaving and now you want to go, too. What am I supposed to do here in prison all by myself?  Who is going to help me?"  But instead, Paul wrote to the church in Philippi and said, "I’m sending Epaphroditus back to you and I want you to welcome him and encourage him because he almost died for the cause of Christ."  In our service for the Lord my friends, it's not about us as individuals.  We can't ask each time when we go out in the name of the Lord, “What can I get out of this?”  No, we have to ask, “What do I have to leave behind?  How can God's kingdom benefit from what I'm willing to give of myself?”

Oh my friends, there's need in the lives of those around us.  We have to show understanding and we have to bring healing.  Do you see yourself in those roles?  We are called by Jesus, “Show that you have A Compassionate Heart.  Open it to others.”

Amen.

Rev. Willem H. van de Wall