Note from the authors:
“The Parables of Epaphroditus” is a historical fiction story written for children of Cedar Heights. Its original intent was to accompany Pastor Jeff’s sermon series on Philippians in 2021, though we hope it is helpful to any future readers as well.
– Avery Johnson and Carter Brown
Part 2 – The Boy and the Map (Walk Joyfully)
Epaphroditus and the kids had been walking off trail for about half an hour when Thinker said, “How do you want to do this?”
“Do what?” Chief asked.
“Have him read us the letter. We don’t want to wait until we’re in town and around people.”
“Yeah. He could try something tricky,” Sidekick said.
“Hmm, you’re right.” Chief spun around so he walked backwards while speaking to Epaphroditus. “And you probably don’t want to tell us now. Otherwise we might leave you out here,” Chief gestured at the hills around them as he spun forward again, “with no way to find your way back.”
Epaphroditus was pretty sure he could find his way back, but he didn’t say so. Thankfully, he had also been thinking about this, and he had a plan. “You all raise good points,” he said. “How about I read the letter in sections? I can space them out so we finish the last one as we enter town. If you want, I can read you the first section now. It teaches us how to walk with joy.”
“Really? That seems… simple. Why start there?” Thinker asked.
Epaphroditus smiled. “You’ll soon see. There’s more to it than you might think.”
Then he began to read.
• • •
This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.
For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.
• • •
After Epaphroditus finished reading the first section of the letter, he had to explain who Paul and Timothy were, what a church was, and most importantly, explain who Jesus was and what he did, and why Paul wanted to be with him.
Finally Thinker said, “I’ve never heard anything like this before. It’s hard to understand. Do you get it, Chief?”
Chief shrugged his shoulders. “Bits and pieces here and there.”
“Well I don’t get it,” Sidekick said. “How can Paul be so joyful when he’s a prisoner?”
“It sure doesn’t look good for him,” Chief said.
“But yet he’s so sure and encouraging,” Thinker said.
“That’s because he trusts in someone greater than himself,” Epaphroditus said. “Maybe it would help if I explained with a parable.”
“What are parables?” Sidekick asked.
“They’re like stories,” Thinker said.
Epaphroditus nodded. “Yes, you’re right. A parable is a story with a greater meaning. They might help explain this letter.”
“Good,” Thinker said. “I would like that.”
Sidekick rubbed his hands together, “I like stories!”
“Might as well,” Chief said.
“Then let me tell you the parable of the boy and the map.”
• • •
A father and his son went on a journey in the highlands. It was a long journey and it would take many days to complete. Each morning, while they were getting things ready, the father gave his son a small map of the area they would walk through that day.
The boy, wishing to be a traveler like his father, studied each map closely so he could prepare for the day’s walk. He took note of the hills and the valleys and the rivers and the meadows. He figured out when he would stop to refill his water and where they could set up camp before nightfall. Most of all, he made careful plans to avoid things that might hurt them—things like thorny brush or steep hills to climb.
He liked knowing what was coming and planning for it, and he took this job very seriously. The boy did not know what the journey would be like. He did not know when it would end or what he would find as he went along. So he loved getting the maps. He would have loved to prepare for multiple days, but the small maps given to him by his father only showed the area they were walking for that day. It wasn’t until the next morning, when his father gave him another small map, that he could begin preparing for the day’s walk.
One morning, about half way through the trip, the father handed his son another small map. The boy looked at it with dismay. The entire map showed a valley, filled with thorny bushes and loose rocks. There was no way to avoid it. They would have to go through it. “If only I had a bigger map!” the boy thought. “I could have seen this valley coming and could have made a plan to avoid it!”
He packed up his bag and began walking, grumbling as he went. They spent the whole day picking through thorn bushes and trying not to slip on the loose rocks. Wild animals stalked the ridges above them, threatening to pounce at any moment. The boy was scared and wished they hadn’t come this way. He walked close to his father, knowing that he would protect his son if anything bad were to happen.
At the end of the day, they camped near the end of the valley. As he set up his tent, he looked out over the valley in amazement. Before them was one of the most beautiful sunsets he had ever seen. For a moment, just a moment, he forgot how much he hated the valley.
The trip continued for several more days, each day beginning with a small map of the day’s walk. Each day, he studied the map and prepared for the walk ahead. But because the maps were so small, he couldn’t prepare very well, and he often found himself in places that he didn’t expect to be in—some of them were dangerous and scary while others were surprisingly nice and beautiful.
When they finally arrived at their destination, the father reached in his pack and pulled out all of the small maps. He laid them out on a table next to each other. The boy looked down with surprise. They weren’t small maps. They were all pieces of the same map—one large map of the entire region!
“You had a map of the whole journey?” asked the boy. “Why didn’t you let me see it from the beginning?”
“You love to plan and prepare, my son. If you had seen the whole map at the beginning, you would have been so focused on what was coming that you wouldn’t have enjoyed what was right in front of you.”
“But we could have avoided the long scary valley!” The boy exclaimed.
“And then we wouldn’t have seen the beautiful sunset.”
The boy was confused. “I could have planned our trip better.”
“No you couldn’t,” his father said. “You were never planning our trip. I was. Each day I gave you the piece of the map of where I wanted us to go. And I didn’t show you the whole map so that when it got tough, instead of trying to figure things out, you’d just walk closer to me. My son, you were never in a place I didn’t want you to be. We arrived safely because I didn’t show you the whole map.”
• • •
The kids were silent for a moment, then the questions rolled out of them.
Epaphroditus held up his hand to quiet them. “If you listen, I’ll explain.” After they had walked a ways to the sound of their steps, Epaphroditus spoke again. “Whether we admit it or not, each of us wants to plan ahead and take control of our lives for ourselves. But God knows the entirety of each of our paths, in fact, he plans them, but he only reveals them to us a little bit at a time, if at all.”
“But why?” Sidekick asked.
“To teach us to walk with him and trust him instead of running ahead of him.”
“The only person I can trust is me.” Chief said.
Epaphroditus slowed and looked intently at Chief “That road we were on earlier. Where did it lead?”
“How do you know? Have you ever been there?”
“Well, no…” Chief admitted, “But that’s just the way it is.”
“So you’re trusting in something more than yourself. You’re trusting the Romans put that road there and that it leads to where they say it leads.”
Chief looked down and dragged his feet in the dirt. “I guess so.”
Epaphroditus came beside Chief and put his hand on his shoulder. The boy stiffened, but he didn’t remove it.
“Chief, we trust in things other than ourselves all the time. Beyond ourselves, we tend to trust in things of this world. But if we continue to trust only in those things, we’ll always be disappointed. None of us are God, and we can never be God. Only God is God, and he is always in control. He sets the course for each one of our roads as well as everything that happens on them. We should never forget that God’s thoughts and plans are always above our thoughts and plans.”
“I think I see why that can make Paul joyful,” Thinker said.
“Me too,” Epaphroditus said, removing his hand from Chief’s shoulder. “When we trust that God is sovereign—
“Sovereign?” Sidekick asked.
“I think it means he reigns,” Thinker said.
“Oh, like a king?”
“Or Caesar,” Chief said.
“Yes, but even more so,” Epaphroditus said. “It means God plans, sees, and controls everything in order to accomplish his good purposes. Sometimes he’s the only one who knows what those purposes are.”
Epaphroditus paused to look at each of the kids to make sure they understood and then continued. “But we can find joy in even the hardest circumstances because we know he will use them for good in ways we can’t ever expect or imagine. He bends and twists every circumstance for his glory and the good of those who love him. Which means we can trust and praise him even more!”
“Like the boy in the parable.” Chief said. “He had to pick his way through a valley of thorns and wild animals, and even though he didn’t know why, it was for a reason.”
“Yeah, he got to walk closer to his father and see a beautiful sunset.” Sidekick added.
“You’re right,” Epaphroditus affirmed. “Or like me, today. I got ambushed, but because of that, I’ve gotten to make new friends.”
The kids blushed at that. “Were you scared?” Thinker asked.
“Yes, very, but when I surrendered it to God I felt peace.”
“I’m sorry we did that to you.”
“I forgive you. I know my life is in the hands of someone greater: God! His work will be brought to completion. It can’t be stopped. And that gives me confidence and joy.”
“Just like Paul,” Sidekick said.
“Which is why you want to get this letter to Phillipi,” Chief said.
“It’s an important message,” Epaphroditus said. “They’re in a place where they really need to hear it. But there’s even more to it than what we just heard. Let’s find a spot to rest, and I’ll read you the next section.”