The Wonder of God’s Mercy
The wonder of God’s mercy is cause for worshiping Him, working for His glory, and witnessing about His great name. In the midst of hardship, it is sometimes difficult to see God’s mercy. However, if we will look for it, we will, by God’s grace, see it. We see an example of this in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which he wrote from prison. After telling the Philippians that Jesus is the supreme example of a humble servant (2:1-11), and then exhorting them to live godly lives (2:12-18), he gives two examples of godly men—Timothy and Epaphroditus, both of whom display the wonder of God’s mercy (2:19-30).
Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith and fellow laborer in gospel ministry (Phil. 2:22). He hoped to send Timothy to Philippi in order to learn of their response to his letter and to see how they were progressing in the faith. In addition, Paul wanted to inform them of what the outcome of his imprisonment would be, news of which he hoped to learn soon. There were strategic reasons for choosing Timothy to go to Philippi. Since Paul planned to visit the Philippians shortly after sending Timothy, he wanted someone who would represent him well.
Timothy was the best person to display Paul’s genuine concern for the Philippians. He was sincere in proclaiming Christ and he loved Paul. He had been with Paul when the church in Philippi was planted and he had a good relationship with the believers there. So Paul trusted Timothy to represent him well and care for the Philippians as he would.
It is a gift to have a partner, or partners, in gospel ministry that we can trust to represent us well and care for others as we would. There will be times when church leaders, or fellow workers in ministry, need us to help them care for members in the congregation, or others in the community. Would they trust you to represent them well and care for these hurting individuals or families as they would?
The second godly man that Paul brings to our attention is Epaphroditus. Paul calls him “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need” (Phil. 2:25). Epaphroditus had made the 800-mile journey from Philippi to Rome in order to deliver gifts from the Philippian church that provided for Paul’s needs in prison (4:18). Either during the journey, or once he reached Rome, he became very ill, so ill that he almost died. Word of his serious illness had somehow reached the Philippians and he was distressed that there was no one to update them on his recovery. Paul made it clear that he should have died, “but God had mercy on him” (v. 27; italics mine). Don’t skip over the wonder of God’s mercy. God had mercy on both Epaphroditus and Paul. Paul’s imprisonment had already caused him great sorrow. Epaphroditus’s death would have been another crushing loss. But God spared him such grief by preserving Epaphroditus’s life.
Paul was happy to send this fellow worker to the Philippians because Epaphroditus longed for them to know he was well, and the Philippians were eager to see Epaphroditus. To see with our own eyes that someone we love has recovered from illness, and to be reunited with them in blessed fellowship, is a gift of God’s mercy. So Paul commended Epaphroditus to the church in Philippi. He was a man worthy of honor. They should “receive him in the Lord with all joy” (v. 29). This gospel worker had “nearly died for the work of Christ” in order to ensure Paul received the Philippians’ gifts that would supply his needs in prison (v. 30).
Like Timothy and Epaphroditus, we are to be godly servants of Christ that display the wonder of God’s mercy. Let us be prepared to make great sacrifices for the sake of the gospel; to give up comfort and convenience for ministry; to be eager to minister to the elderly; to be willing to give up a form of entertainment to support a needy child; or to open our homes to others when they need a place to talk and pray. The Lord calls us to suffer for the work of Christ. This will look different for each one of us, but the motivation behind it should be the same, that we may “shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16), so that others may proclaim the wonder of God’s mercy.
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.