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Living Beyond Yourself

By Pastor Bronson Duke

Table of Contents

Today, we’re continuing the series on the book of Philippians. 


Last week we talked about being citizens of heaven and the idea that we’ve been building on is the gifts from God are available, but they’re not necessarily automatic. 


Here’s the reality. Tiger Woods is a great golfer, right? But he has to have a life architecture that supports his gift. The truth is that God’s given us gifts. Gifts of joy, gifts of salvation, but we have to build a life architecture that helps us become who God made us to be and that supports the gift. 


And so, let’s get to know each other a little bit. We’re going to talk about family. And so I’ve got a photo, not of my children, but that is my perfectly 1980s siblings. that’s me. I’m the, I’m the little guy on the right, my older sister, Laura, and our middle sister, Leah.


Who in here has got siblings? Okay, where are the only children at? It’s okay. Raise your hands. You’re going to have a place to participate. Who’s the oldest child? Only children that works for you too. Who’s the oldest? The oldest takes the burden of responsibility. Listen, they were changing diapers as soon as they got out of them.


All right. That’s how it works. We’re the middle children. You took all the blame. All right. You’re the troublemakers. The youngest children are God’s people. The perfect ones. The ones who learn from their siblings mistakes, right? The oldest has the burden, the middle takes the blame, and the youngest reaps the benefits.


I was blessed to have siblings who loved me. Did we have altercations and arguments? Absolutely we did. But I grew up in a family that wrestled, and we would say, Hey, I’d go to the mat for that person. Listen, I’d go to the mat for my sisters. Why? Because we’re family. Alright? there’s a reason why the entire sitcom universe from I Love Lucy to Yellowstone was built around the family, right?


There’s something within all of us that longs to be in a healthy, functional family, unlike Yellowstone, right? Family where we can be nurtured and we can walk in our gifts. The amazing truth of being a Christian is that we’re a part of a family. When we repent of sin, we accept the love of Jesus. We enter into a family, what we call a covenant community.


What is a covenant community? It’s a community with a promise attached. There’s a book called The Power of Promising by a guy named Louis Sweets and he says this about promising. I think it perfectly encapsulates covenant relationship. It says, 


“When you make a promise, you tie yourself to other persons by unseen fibers of loyalty. You agree to stick with people you are stuck with. When everything else tells them they can count on nothing, they can count on you. When they don’t have the faintest notion of what in the world is going on around them, they will know that you’re going to be there with them. You’ve created a small sanctuary of trust within the jungle of unpredictability. You’ve made a promise that you intend to keep.”


In our text this morning, we’re in Philippians chapter two, if you want to go ahead and thumb over to that. We’re going to see three men, Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus.


This whole chapter of Scripture, what we’ve been studying through, Paul’s been telling the Philippians what it looks like to be a mature member in the family of Christ, the church. And it seems strange, if you study Paul’s epistles, the Pauline epistles, Paul’s letters, whatever you want to call them, Paul usually ends his letters with addresses like this to individual members.


And so the question we have to ask is, why did Paul put this right in the middle of the book? Here’s what I think Paul’s telling us. Everything I’ve been teaching you, finding your worth in Jesus, being selfless, serving one another, not arguing and complaining. He’s saying, my boys, Timothy, my boy Epaphroditus, these dudes are the real deal.


They live this. In a world that’s warped, where people serve themselves and use others, these men serve others and they pour their lives out. It’s actually the language that Paul used. They pour their lives out. Listen. Burnout, anybody heard the term burnout before? Come on, we’ve heard that. Burnout was not in Paul’s lexical range, alright?


This was not in his language. He didn’t say, he said, I’m not burnout. I’m pouring my life out. I’m gladly pouring my life out because he’d been so secure and so found in the love of Jesus that he’d forgotten himself when he was serving other people. And he was saying, these two men, they live like this and they shine like stars in a warped and crooked world.


They’re an example of what a human being can be. They’re genuinely concerned for your welfare, not looking to their own interests, but to the interests of Jesus Christ. Look at what it says in verse 19, it says, 


I hope in the Lord Jesus sent Timothy to you soon that I may also be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him. 


What’s the superlative? Look what he says, who will show genuine concern for your welfare for everyone looks out to their own interest, not to the interest of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proven himself as a son to a father. In the work of the gospel, jump down to verse 25, he says, 


but I think it’s necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, my coworker, and fellow soldier, who’s also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of me.


Listen, Paul is so encouraging here, right? If you’ve read many of Paul’s letters, the dude is not always encouraging. All right? Paul’s a truth-teller. That’s what we’ll call him. Paul’s a truth-teller. Peter in the book of Galatians, he gets all over Peter. Alright? For all of history to hear about.


Chapter 4, he’s gonna get all over these two ladies who are bickering. And I just can’t help but wonder, like, I don’t want to be the one who’s recorded for all of history for people to have their quiet times and ponder about the argument that I had, right? I want the Epaphroditus and the Timothy-type letter.


But here’s a tough question. It’s been messing with me all week that I’ve been wrestling with. If Paul was to send a letter or today an email about me as a family member, what type of email would I get? I want to invite you to ask yourself the same question. If Paul were to write an email about you as a sibling in the family of faith, what kind of email would you get? 


Would it be encouraging? Would there be a little spice on it? Would there be a little rebuke? Here’s the truth as I thought through this: I don’t know that I’m a hundred percent ready for my letter. I’m just being honest. I’m like, dude. I’m still a little selfish. All right, my wife would attest to that. But here’s the question that’s underneath the question: Would they say that you’re growing and looking more like Jesus? 


Would Paul say, hey, this person looks more like Jesus than they did before? Here’s what I want to zero in on. What can we learn from what Paul says about these guys that we can glean from and emulate so that we can grow into who God made us to be? Y’all ready to dig into it? How do we grow as healthy Christians in the family of faith?


First, I’m going to give you three things, three practical things. 


First, we need spiritual parents. 


Everyone say spiritual parents. Spiritual parents. Who see us, shape us, and send us. Verse 22, he says, 


You know that Timothy’s proven himself as a son to a father. 


Have y’all ever been to Urban Air, like the trampoline park? I don’t recommend it, if you can get out of it. But at some point, you’re gonna get invited to a birthday party to go there and you’re gonna have to go. It’s an inevitability. It’s like death, taxes, and these trampoline parks, alright? And these places are just absolute death traps, alright?


There’s, there’s trampolines on the floor, trampolines on the wall. They’re, they’re, they’re money sucks too. Like, they got credit card machines and games. You send your kid in there, spend money. And they’re petri dishes. You know those ball pits that they took out of every restaurant?


They got those, all right? So it’s, it’s dangerous, it’s expensive, and your kids are going to come back sick. Wonderful, right? It’s like the, the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno, okay? It’s terrible, but it’s inevitable. And eventually, there’s always some reckless kid that’s way too big to be in the area that he’s in, that’s knocking kids over, that’s taking names and breaking noses, right?


And everybody around is thinking the same thing. Where are this kid’s parents? Like, where are your parents at, dude? And eventually you’re sitting there thinking like, if your parents don’t show up, you’re about to get a new parent. All right, cause I’m going to step in and I’m going to put a stop to this.


Listen, here’s the reality as you go through life. We all see people who are acting crazy, right? It’s not just kids, sometimes adults. And you’re thinking, where are your parents? Even pastors. Listen, we see stories in the news. Don’t act like you haven’t seen them. Every time I see one of those stories of pastors acting crazy, I always ask the question, like, where’s your spiritual parent? Where’s your spiritual father? Who are you calling when you’re making these decisions? 


And I bet if we tracked it down and we went and talked to him, I bet a lot of these guys wouldn’t have anyone to call. Something I’m thankful for in this house is there, there’s an abundance of spiritual fathers and mothers who want to walk with us, not just young pastoral staff, but you. 


Here’s the reality. It’s not just pastors who need spiritual fathers and mothers. All of us do. Business leaders need this. Teachers need this. Parents need this. Doctors need this. Plumbers need this. Parents need parents. Amen? Leaders need leaders. Pastors need pastors. And mentors need mentors. We need older saints, people of faith, who help us navigate.


They speak God’s word to us when we need to hear it and when we struggle to believe it. They tell us the truth about ourselves. These are gifts we’re giving ourselves. They encourage us and guide us. They equip us and release us into our God given purpose. Listen, there are so many people who never reached their full heavenly potential in Christ, who God has made them to be because they don’t have a spiritual parent who’s walking through with them. 


They’re winging it. Here’s the truth. you’ll never become who God’s made you to be, winging it. And the best news is that you don’t have to. God has brilliantly crafted his church to create an environment of growth and flourishing. This is God’s design. Listen, all of us hit moments where we don’t know what to do. 


Parents are acting crazy. Not parents. That was too telling. Maybe some truth slipped out. Parents are aging, right? Kids are acting crazy. That’s what I meant to say. Maybe your parents are acting crazy. Maybe you’re acting crazy, right? You need somebody to walk with you. An essential part of thriving in faith is having someone to guide you.


So I’m going to look at two things. How do you identify a spiritual parent? What’s their role? And next, how do you go out and find one? 


First, the role of a spiritual parent. 


They’re an example of godly living. They cover you in prayer. They speak into God’s calling on your life.


They train you in the development of your gifts. I was talking to Marcus and Brook before service, and back when I used to be here, every time I’d step off stage, like, Rick would be in Australia. I just want you to know, Pastor Rick cares so deeply about our churches. Rick would be in Australia, and he’d be like, “Bronson. Have you ever watched ESPN, man? He goes, you’re talking up there like you’re on The View. You need to be more ESPN. He was like, next time go up there and say quit softening your voice. Come out there and say it. Lead, man.”


He was a spiritual parent to me. He was telling me the truth. He was telling me things I need to hear. He was helping develop me and equip me. 


Spiritual parents listen. They’re patient with your growth. They’re not afraid to correct or rebuke you when necessary. And they’re trustworthy and confidential. I know for most of us, we’re probably sitting there thinking like, yeah, dude, you can quit building the case. We got it. We know we need mentors, right? 


But here’s the question. How do you get one? I get asked this question all the time from young people. 


How do I find a mentor? 


I’m going to give you three practical things you can do to find a spiritual father and a spiritual mother. They’re going to throw it up on the screen and I’m going to walk through it.


Here’s what you do: You pursue someone whose life in Christ looks like what you want your life to look like. You find someone whose life looks like what you want it to look like in Jesus, and you pursue them. Ask them to coffee, and be prepared to pay for it. Can’t afford it? We have free coffee after church, alright?


Say, hey, give me 30 minutes of your time. Okay, that’s number one. 


First, identify and pursue. 

Number two, come in with questions. 


Don’t make them carry the conversation. Come in with specific questions. Like, hey, you have a great marriage. It’s one of my favorite ones. If I see somebody with a great godly marriage, I’ll come in and say, hey, you have an incredible marriage. Can you give me one bit of advice? Just one bit of advice, something I can add into my life, my marriage, something you’ve done. 


Hey, you have great kids who are serving the Lord, who love God. Tell me one thing you think you did right. I know you got a lot of things you think you did wrong. Give me one thing I can add. 


Hey, you’ve got a godly business. I can tell from your business that you have a deep life with God. You don’t even have to talk about your faith. Those principles so come out of your business. Tell me how you did that. How do you live as a person with faith in the workplace? 


Here’s a real secret. Here’s a key. You ready for this? Don’t ever sit down with someone and ask them to be your mentor. Don’t start with that. You know why? Because mature people, they’re not going to invest time until they know what they’re getting into. They’re not going to make a longterm commitment until they know what they’re getting into.


Number three. Go do whatever they told you to do for a month.


Don’t text him again. Don’t call him again Go put into practice whatever they told you and come back to them and come back to them and say “Hey I did this This is what it produced in my life. Give me a next step.”


I’m telling you. There’s a guy in our church 2019. I don’t, I don’t even remember this meeting to this day. Apparently I sat down with him and he asked me a bunch of finance questions. And he was like, Hey, how do I, how do I have a healthy financial life? And I was like, well, pay off your debt.


And then start taking whatever retirement your company offers, take the match and then start maxing out your, your Roth contributions. And then from there you can start investing and whatever. This dude comes to me three years later in 2022. Hey man, I did everything you told me to do.


I was like, what are you talking about? He said, “I paid my debt off, and started taking the match from work, and I’ve maxed out my IRA, and I’m starting to invest. What’s next?” I’m like, I need to find you a financial advisor. Yo, I would meet with this guy every day of the week. You know why? Because he came in, he got advice, he took it and he put it into practice. He’ll mentor spiritual fathers and mothers. Love walking with people who are taking advice and growing. If you’ll do that, you’ll take those three step processes. I’m telling you, you’re going to find somebody. 


For me, I’ve had spiritual parents in this house for 15 years. Harry Bates is one of the pastors here for a long time.


He’s over in West Little Rock. He gets tired of me calling him. I wear that dude’s phone out. There’s not another campus pastor that calls Harry as much as I do. All right. Half the time when he answers the phone, he goes, what, what do you want? We just got off the phone. Call him for parenting advice, pastoral advice.


I’m telling you, find someone in this house. There are so many different people. A couple of years ago, we had a couple come into our church named Austin and Beverly McCaskill. Austin and Beverly came into one of our Connect classes, just like we have here. And they raised their hand. And they said, Hey, um, we have a question.


Can we serve here? I was like, can you serve here? Yeah, yeah, of course. They’re like, well, our last church, we were too old and they wouldn’t give us anywhere to serve. And so we’re just looking for a church. We’re at a phase in our life. We want to serve, 


Y’all. They have a waiting list. They have a literal waiting list to get into their life group at this point in our church. I’m telling you, if you’re getting older in your life and you’re saying, Hey, what is my purpose? You know, I’m getting into retirement. What do I do? Y’all there are young saints, sons and daughters in the house, and you can be their answer to prayer.


I’m telling you, you open it up your home, start in a life group. I remember when they first started the life group, like no one’s going to sign up for our life group. I’m like, I’m telling you, please lead this life group. They got a waiting list now. You letting somebody take you to coffee and pepper you with questions. 


I’m telling you, it could have a long-term kingdom impact. I want to encourage you guys to find a spiritual parent. As you mature in your faith, find a spiritual son and daughter. This is God’s design for growth within the church. It’s called discipleship. This is how it plays out. 


Number two, we need spiritual siblings who go to battle with us.


But I think it necessary, to send back Epaphroditus, my brother, my coworker, And my fellow soldier. 


I love that. Brother, co worker, fellow soldier. Listen, most siblings battle each other, alright? I got three. Got three kids, twin boys, Roman and Judah. The other day, we’re sittin in the front yard playin and I look over and Judah is about to beat Roman to death because Roman tried to take his stick away from him. 


I’ve been trying to explain this to Callie for little boys. A good stick is solid gold. All right. You find a good stick. It’s got a place in the garage. Okay. I caught her out there throwing their sticks away. I was like, that’s gold for them. All right.


These boys become like Gollum and Lord of the Rings. All right. It’s they’re precious. They’re stick. They’ll kill for this thing. I almost had a Cain and Abel situation last week. All right. Growing up with my siblings. I know siblings don’t like to share toys. Girls. Sisters don’t like to share clothes.


Okay? I’m telling you, I’ve never seen more violent fights than I saw between my two sisters, because one of them stole their shirt. Telling you, anything I’ve ever seen in mixed martial arts doesn’t even come close to Laura and Leah Duke. Laura, was whipping Leah around by her hair. Like, she’s off the ground windmilling her, okay? 


I told my therapist about the violence I saw. The pillow fight we’re going to watch this summer between Tyson and Logan Paul? It’s got nothing on Lauren Lee and Duke, I’m just telling you. But greatness in a family happens when we move from battling each other to battling for each other and with each other.


In churches, we can be tempted to battle each other over preferences, like the music’s too loud or it’s too quiet. I like hymns, or I like new songs. We battle over preferences in teaching style, over preferences on minor theological emphasis, even preferences over politics. 


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s an election year. I just wanna prepare you. It’s gonna get crazy out there. It hadn’t gotten crazy yet, but just wait! I want to encourage y’all. I watched so many churches get ripped limb from limb in 2020. It’s not gonna be like that this year. Why? Because of our unity; it’s incredibly important. Our unity is not based around politics and politicians, but around Jesus. 


Our unity is not based on politics and agendas, but on Jesus’ kingship and lordship. Here’s what happens when we let secondary preferences rule in a community: It breaks apart the family. When secondary preferences supersede a united and collective vision, families fall apart. 


I’m going to just divide this church right now. Throw that picture up there. 


[picture is about the choice of which way to hang toilet paper]. 


What’s the right way to do it? You have an opinion, come on. “This” is the proper way. Alright, I have the microphone, I have the authority. These people are right, okay? Listen, I have family members, adult family members, adults, aunt and uncle, who didn’t talk to each other, this is a real story, for two weeks because the husband kept putting the toilet paper on wrong, alright? That’s crazy. 


Here’s the truth. A family that’s built on preferences is incredibly fragile. Siblings who let preferences decide their unity and love for one another are prone to battle, not with each other but against each other. You may have experienced this. 


We have to have something stronger than secondary preferences to have a strong family. We have to have a collective, united vision of what we’re trying to accomplish. So they’ll put secondary preferences to the side in order to see this vision come to pass. Listen, at New Life Church, we have an incredibly high vision that flows out of the mission of Jesus that he gave to the apostles that now are ours and our legacy as people who are taking the baton as the church.


Our vision at New Life Church is simple, to bring in our friends and family to hear the life-giving message of Jesus so that they’ll become fully devoted to Jesus. We have been called and commissioned by God as a community. Listen, you people of faith are coming through a long line of other saints who’ve carried this baton for centuries.


We’re part of a story that God’s been telling. We’re in our time. We’re to bring in our friends and family and preach the gospel, tell them the gospel that, despite their failures and deepest insecurities, there is a God who made them and knows them. There is a God who loves them. That Jesus came, that God came down in flesh as Jesus Christ to live, die, and rise again. 


So when God looks on us, he doesn’t see our sin, but he sees the righteousness of his son. That in Christ, we can live with more purpose and meaning than we could ever have imagined. And that when this life of purpose is through, we’ll reign as kings and priests in a new heaven and a new earth with Jesus Christ.


This is the call of God. This is the ministry of the gospel. This is the purpose of the church, to go out into a world that’s hurting and crooked and scarred and teach them that the places in us that feel dead, God can bring them to life. God can bring resurrection power. 


Listen, some of you in here, you feel like your marriage is dead. God can make your marriage a sign and wonder to God’s power and grace. Some of you in here have relationships that are broken. God can resurrect dead things. What God does is that He takes scars, like in the hands of our Savior, and he makes them a beautiful sign of his resurrection power, that he has power over life, death, and the grave, that no matter what we’ve been through, God can redeem, God can heal, God can resurrect, and God can bring life, meaning, and purpose.


I just want to stir you up. This is what we’re here doing. Our prayer is simple. It’s the way that Jesus taught us to pray. God, let it be. God, your will be done. Let’s throw it up here. Let’s say this together. 


God, your will be done. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God, your kingdom come. Your will be done in Little Rock as it is in heaven. Y’all, that is our prayer. I want to remind you of these realities. We are it. We are God’s Plan A. We are called by him. We’re called to be his church in such a time as this, in our city, in our state, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our families, and in our world. 


How do we do this? Do we go out there and sling Bibles at Chili’s and leave people fake money? Don’t do that. We’re like, I got some real treasure for you on the other side. They’re going to throw it away, and they will hate you and probably the church. Don’t do that. 


How do we do it? How do we battle together? I want to give you three things. The text tells us: 


  • Have concern for others: Pray daily for your community and pastors. 
  • Look to the interest of Jesus: Contribute through giving and service.
  • Be available in your calendar to sacrificially serve: Participate in the life of the community through small groups and serve groups. 


What would happen if we begin to see a couple of guys getting together, not just as a small group or a serve group, but brothers and sisters linking arms, coming together as soldiers for a cause to become in each of us, who God’s made us to be in the family and to see our friends and family transformed by the life-giving message of Jesus? What an incredible thing it would be! 


Listen, lastly, in life, we go through storms. Anybody ever been through a storm before? We need a church family who goes through the storms with us. Verse 26, this is talking about Epaphroditus. Paul says, 


For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.


He was distressed because you heard he was sick. He didn’t want you to worry about him. 

This is Paul speaking. Listen, I don’t know what kind of storms you’ve been through, but I know what I’ve been through. 


In 2023, I got a call at the beginning of the year from my cousin, Daniel, and he said, Bronson, I need you to book a flight right now and come back up to Ohio. That’s where a lot of my family is. He said, Sarah, so my cousin is really sick. She’s going to the hospital. So I called my other cousin. I said, “Hey, is Dan being dramatic?


Like I got to preach this weekend. Do I really need to get a flight?” And he said, “Yeah, dude, it’s bad. You need to get up here.” I got there, and the waiting area was full, people were crying, there’s this weight in the room, and she’d gone into multi-organ failure. She had strep that she hadn’t dealt with, and it had gotten worse and worse and worse, and it shut down different organs, it was a freak thing that happened, and she passed away that night.


She left behind three children and a husband, and my story is this family took me in when I was going through some things in my life, they took me in. They became spiritual parents to me, nurtured me. And I watched my uncle Kevin screaming and weeping and saying, I’m in agony. Hugging my aunt. 


And do you know who was around us in that room? Praying for us, suffering with us and loving us. It was my aunt and uncle’s small group. It was their church. They went through that storm with us. They weren’t just there with us in the hospital room. The next day we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three weeks so that we could mourn as a family and not have to think about a single meal. Y’all, it was a beautiful picture. Here’s what I want to encourage you. The greatness of the church. Listen, we could have the greatest services in the world. We could build the biggest crowds in the world, but if we don’t enter into these types of relationships, Jesus says true greatness comes when we serve one another. 


What’s your scar? What’s your thing that you need to be willing to say, “Hey, I’ve got a scar, I’ve got some pain, but God turns ashes into beauty. God takes dead things and brings them back to life in the hands of Jesus, his resurrection power.”? What’s the part of your story where you need to see God come in and touch it and become glorious?


How can that work? Listen. Who better to minister to a family with a child who has special needs and they’re trying to sort it out, than another family who has gone through the exact same thing? Who better to minister to an addict, than somebody else who’s gone through it with Jesus and found freedom? Who better to sit with someone whose life is in turmoil, being ripped apart because their spouse had an affair and they don’t know what to do, than somebody else who sat in that exact same situation? 


Listen, you may well be God’s chosen and appointed person to bring the grace of Jesus into unspeakable situations. I just want to encourage you, from somebody who’s experienced it, that those small things are incredibly powerful within a church. Business leaders, who better to sit with a young businessman who’s trying to live life with integrity and build his business the right way, not lying, and stealing, but building incredible businesses that speak to the power and the glory of God, than another businessman who’s done the same thing? I would encourage you, let’s go through life together. 


If I could put it simply, everything I’ve just said, I wanna encourage you to do what you’ve always been doing. Continue to walk with Jesus together. Become who God made you to be. If we do this, as churches do this, it’ll be a sign and wonder to God’s grace and God’s power in the world. Ask God how you can simply make yourself available in the family of faith. 


You might be young, and looking for a mentor. There’s a spiritual parent who needs you to ask questions because they need to walk in their purpose, too. Spiritual parents, there are young people dying for you to open up a table at life group launch. I’m telling you, you’ll have a waiting list. Just watch and see. 


When your friends go through storms, be the first ones to be there for them. 


Come Holy Spirit. God, we ask that you speak to us, God, that you would show us our place in this community. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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