The Parables of Epaphroditus: Part 4

The Parables of Epaphroditus: Part 4

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 4 – The Captain and the Anchor (Walk Firmly)

It had been a few hours since Epaphroditus and the kids had set out walking again. They had climbed up and down several rocky hills, pushed their way through bushes, and clambered over boulders, but it didn’t seem like they had made any progress. There was no sign of the road. It wasn’t easy walking off trail, and their pace slowed.

“Kepheus, are you sure we’re headed in the right direction?” Sofia asked. 

“I’m positive. I remember that boulder.” He tapped his stick against it as he walked by.

“That’s because we passed it earlier. We’re walking in circles!” Pavlos said. He was getting hungry again.

“Quiet you. This is the shortcut.”

Sofia paused midstep. “Shh… Can you hear that?”

Kepheus stopped abruptly and Pavlos bumped into him. “Hey, watch it—”

Epaphroditus held up his hand to quiet them. They all listened together. It was faint at first, but then it came more clearly: trickling. 

“Is that—?”

“Water!” Sofia said. She ran in the direction of the sound. Not wanting to be left behind, the boys followed. 

The source of the water was found on the side of a small cliff on the hill. It dribbled and dripped until it eventually drained into the ground. It was no stream, but it would fill their waterskins. It already watered the plant life surrounding it; everything was a bright, rich green.

“Ahh fresh water,” Pavlos said after taking a long drink. 

“We needed that,” Kepheus said.

“Yes, we did,” Epaphroditus agreed. “Praise God for providing this water and giving Sofia the ears to hear it!” 

Sofia beamed and took off her sandals to let her feet cool under the trickling water.

“Let’s take a short break. Then I’ll figure out where we are.” Kepheus said. “We should be there by now.”

“Are we lost?” Pavlos asked.

“Quiet you. I need to think.”

Epaphroditus spoke up, “We’re going to be okay. This is a map moment. Remember?”

“Oh!” Pavlos exclaimed. “I remember. From the first parable!”

“And how are we supposed to walk?”

“With joy because we trust God,” Sofia said.

“Exactly,” Epaphroditus said. “And since now is as good a time as any. I’ll read you the next section of the letter. This one is about walking firmly.”

“I like the sound of that,” Kepheus said.

Then Epaphroditus began reading.

• • •

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

• • •

Before the kids could ask their usual flurry of questions, Epaphroditus posed his own, “Do you know what it means to stand firmly?”

“Does it mean you’re strong?” Pavlos asked.

“It means you’re steadfast,” Sofia said.

“If you stand firm, you won’t be moved,” Kepheus added.

“Good answers. And in order to stand firm, you need something under you. Something to hold you in place. If it’s just your own strength, it doesn’t work. You’ll be shaken. That’s why Paul tells the Philippians, and us, to stay true to the Lord. It’s only in him that we can stand and walk firmly.”

Epaphroditus took another drink and then refilled his waterskin. “Kepheus, what do you say we find a high point to look around? You might be able to see something you recognize. I’ll share the parable of the captain and the anchor as we walk.”

Kepheus nodded and began looking for the best way up. Sofia set about putting on her sandals, and Pavlos guzzled water so he could fill his waterskin again. When Kepheus found a path that worked, he signaled to the others and led the way up. Sofia walked carefully behind him with her clean feet, Epaphroditus followed, and Pavlos brought up the rear, hurrying to catch up, his belly sloshing all the way. 

• • •

Two ships went on a journey across the sea. The captain of the first ship was a veteran sailor who had been a ship captain for many years. He had sailed all over the world and seen many things. The captain of the second ship was very young and this was his first time as a ship captain.

They set off together on their journey, sailing down the coast. A few days in, they were caught in a terrible storm. Pelting rain and strong winds made it incredibly difficult to walk along the deck. Huge waves made it almost impossible to keep the ships on course. The storm was slowing them down on their journey and there was no sign of it letting up any time soon.

The young captain was scared. He had never seen a storm like this before and he feared that he could not sail through it. He was not yet a skilled sailor, and he did not know how to navigate the huge waves and strong winds. So he did the only thing he knew to do: he lowered the ship’s anchor, securing them to the sea floor. The anchor would hold the ship firmly in place while they waited out the storm, and they could sail again when the storm passed.

The older captain made a different decision. He wanted to get to their destination on time and lowering the anchor would mean staying in the same place, possibly for days. He was a skilled sailor, so he decided to continue sailing through the storm. He set the sails and stood on the deck, guiding the ship through the storm. 

The rain fell, the winds blew, and the waves pounded against the ship. The old captain did everything he knew how to do, but eventually his skills were not enough. The storm was too powerful and his ship crashed into the rocky shore, making it too damaged to complete the journey. 

When the storm passed, the young captain brought up the anchor and finished the journey. He knew less about sailing than the older captain. But perhaps that is why he succeeded. In the middle of the storm, he did not trust his own strength—because he had none to trust in. Instead, he trusted the anchor to hold them firmly in place. 

• • •

“I think I get it,” Sofia said. “The captains couldn’t rely on themselves. They needed to rely on something more.” 

“Right. And we do too. The question isn’t if we are hoping in something. The question is what are we hoping in?” Epaphroditus said.

“So what should we hope in?” Kepheus asked.

“I think you already know. There’s only one true anchor.”

“Jesus!” Sofia said.

“Exactly. If we have hope in anything other than Jesus, we will be disappointed. Only Jesus meet our need.”

The ground they were walking on was beginning to level out from the uphill climb. “I think we’re about as high as we can go,” Kepheus said. The four of them stopped and looked out from where they stood. It was a beautiful view with rolling, rocky hills covered in trees, shrubs, and grasses, but there was no sign of the road or the town.

Kepheus sat down and let out a big sigh. “I don’t know which way to go. I need to think.” 

Epaphroditus came and sat down next to him. Sofia and Pavlos joined too. “Kepheus, what do you stand firm in?”

Kepheus looked up at Epaphroditus, surprised. “I don’t know.”

“I think you do. Try again.”

Kepheus thought for a moment, then with reluctance he said, “Myself.”

Epaphroditus nodded. “That’s not a surprise. We all do that. We’re like the older ship captain who trusts in himself. But with Jesus, it’s okay to admit when you’re out of your depth. He will never fail. You just have to trust him.” Epaphroditus put his arm around the boy. “We all stand in something. The question is: are you going to stand and walk firmly in the only thing that matters?”

“I would like to,” Kepheus said.
“Good,” Epaphroditus said. “Funny enough, the best way to walk firmly is to remember to walk humbly. We are weak, but God is strong. Remember Paul? Do you think he stands firmly? Even when he’s in prison?”

“Yes,” all three said.

“That’s because Paul stands firm in Jesus. In fact, he’s willing to throw everything else away just so he can hold more tightly to Jesus. He doesn’t need anything else. And even if his path isn’t what he expected, he knows his destination is the same. He’s confident in his savior.” 

“So what should we do?” Kepheus asked.

“I’ll let you answer that.”

Kepheus thought for a moment. Then his shoulders relaxed and he said, “We should trust God with this.”

“And we should pray,” Sofia added. 

So the four of them prayed. They asked God not only for a way out, but for help walking joyfully, humbly, and firmly. 

When they finished, Epaproditus said, “Kepheus, I just realized that we’re not quite at the highest point we can be.”

“We aren’t?”

“No, there’s one point higher still.”

The kids looked around. “Where?” Kepheus asked. “You mean that tree?” He was referring to a tree not far from them. It looked to be the oldest and tallest tree in the area. 

Epaphroditus shrugged. “Worth a try.”

Pavlos rubbed his hands together. “We like climbing trees!”

The kids set their packs down and ventured over to it. After giving it a good look, Kepheus jumped, grabbed the lowest branch, and slung himself up into it. 

Pavlos tried following, but he couldn’t reach. “Help! Help me up!”

“Quiet you!” Came the familiar reply. 

Epaphroditus put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Sorry, Pavlos. Let’s leave it to Kepheus this time.”

Disappointed, Pavlos crossed his arms. Stepping back, he looked up to watch his brother climb higher. Sofia and Epaphroditus joined him.

When Kepheus was just short of the topmost branches, he stopped. 

“Why did you stop?” Sofia yelled up to him.

“Because this branch has the best view!” Kepheus shouted back.

“No it doesn’t. The one above it does!”

“It would, but that branch is dead! It won’t hold my weight. I had to avoid some of them on the climb up too.”

“Oh. I see what you mean. Good call!”

“It’s just like what we talked about.” Epaphroditus said. “The solid branches are like the anchor the younger ship captain used. With them, you can walk firmly!”

“You never miss a teaching moment, do you?” Kepheus said.

Epaphroditus grinned in response.

“What do you see?” Pavlos asked.

Kepheus took a moment to look out over the landscape. Then he pointed with excitement, “I can see town just beyond that hill! Which means we can get back on the road… there!” He pointed at a different spot. “It’s really not that far.”

Pavlos and Sophia gave a loud cheer. 

“Praise the Lord!” Epaphroditus said. “Now come down!”

“Coming!” Hurrying to retrace his climb, Kepheus grabbed one branch and then another. Growing confident, he put his weight on a branch he had passed over on his climb up. Before anyone could warn him, there was a loud CRACK! and Kepheus and the branch came tumbling down.