A New Testament model of a loving church

A short passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians reveals a model for what love looks like in the New Testament church. Paul only devoted a few lines (six verses) to telling the story, but he writes the report in a way that explains so much about the love in the Philippian church. A close study also reveals Paul’s concern for his friends in Philippi. 
 
You need a little background to better understand. The church at Philippi was the strongest and healthiest church in the New Testament known for its devotion to Paul and his mission. In Acts 16, we read how the church was founded upon glorious salvation stories and miracles of God’s deliverance from prison. Everyone from Lydia, a seller of purple goods, to the Philippian jailer and his whole family had witnessed the mighty hand of God on His church. The congregation met at the home of Lydia, the first Philippian convert.
 
The Philippian church was Paul’s favorite place to visit, and Paul was their beloved leader. He stayed in almost constant touch with them. They, in turn, supported Paul in all of his endeavors with their prayers and with financial gifts. The church at Philippi, more than anyone else, loved Paul and kept him encouraged on all his journeys. 
 
The story told in Philippians 2:25-30, had been in the making a few years before Paul’s writing this letter. The Philippians received word that Paul’s ship sank on the way to Rome. One can only imagine their despair upon hearing this news. Soon, though, the church received better news that Paul survived the shipwreck and was alive on the Island of Malta. Imagine their relief upon the reception of another letter from Paul, where He reported that he had arrived safely in Rome. Paul informed his friends that, though detained under house arrest awaiting his day in court, he was allowed to come and go and to receive visitors.
 
Upon learning of relative freedom, the Philippian church made a decision to send Paul a love offering to help support him during his detainment. They sent the gift by a brother named Epaphroditus, whom they intended to stay with Paul and help meet whatever other need he might incur. 
 
The plan to encourage and support their brother Paul began to fall apart shortly after Epaphroditus’ arrival when he fell gravely ill. He became so sick, in fact, that he nearly died. For a time, one would have had a difficult time telling who was taking care of whom as Paul became immensely concerned for Epaphroditus. Further complicating matters, when the Philippians heard about Epaphroditus’ illness, they were moved to despair. Epaphroditus, upon learning of his church’s concern for him, became worried for his friends. The whole ordeal added to Paul’s anxiety over his legal predicament. 
 
Let’s pause now, and attempt to sort out this drama. The Philippians were concerned about Paul, so they sent him Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus fell ill. His illness worried the Philippians, which worried Epaphroditus, which worried Paul. Finally, Paul decided that even though Epaphroditus’ coming was a source of encouragement, the added anxiety of having him in Rome with him was too much, so Paul determined to send Epaphroditus home.
 
Paul sent the letter to the Philippians back with Epaphroditus. In the letter, Paul instructed the church to receive Epaphroditus with joy and to honor him. Paul explained that Epaphroditus put everything on the line for the gospel, even his own life, and for that, he was worthy of honor.
 
If you ever wonder what brotherly love looks like, then look to this story of Paul, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians. This story is a model of what it means to share one another’s burdens. Here in Philippians 2:25-30, we see Christ-like sacrificial love fleshed out in living color. The sweet care shown by everyone involved shines a light on how we should care for one another.
 
I challenge you to care selflessly for someone today. Put everything on the line to demonstrate love to a brother or sister in Christ. Do you know someone under a heavy burden? Pray about how God might use you to help shoulder that burden. This is the kind of love that honors God and the kind of love that God honors. Jesus said that the world would know us by our love, so let’s love with abandon. Let’s love not just in word but also in deed.