Throughout Paul’s letter to the Philippians he has been encouraging them to adopt the mindset and attitudes that would lead to unity. It seems that some interpersonal conflict was in danger of spreading and causing strife within the Philippian church.
In chapter 2, after encouraging the Philippians to give up rivalry, conceit, griping and arguing, he puts forth several examples of men who “did it right,” men who were worthy of emulation. First, Paul reminded them of how Jesus Himself had given up the true glory and rightful authority of being God in heaven, to take on a human nature in order to serve and sacrifice for us sinners. Paul goes on in this chapter to indicate how he was doing the same for their behalf (2:16b-17) and finally he turns to the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus.
Here is what he says about them:
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Notice how they both served and sacrificed for the sake of others. It is this other-centered, willingness-to-sacrifice attitude that Paul was confronting them with, urging them to follow these examples.
So Paul gave them a description of the submissive mind in the example of Jesus Christ (vv. 6-8), explained the dynamics of a submissive mind in his own experience (vv. 16b-17) and now introduces us to two more examples. Warren Wiersbe points out that it was necessary for Paul to add these two examples, because he knew his readers might be prone to claim: “It’s impossible for us to follow such examples as Christ and Paul! After all, Jesus is the very Son of God and Paul is a chosen apostle who has had great spiritual experiences.”
You might feel the same way. Thus, Paul introduces them to the attitudes of two “ordinary saints” who were unspectacular and normal. Just like us.
“He wanted us to know that the submissive mind is not a luxury enjoyed by a chosen few; it is a necessity for Christian joy, and an opportunity for all believers” (Warren Wiersbe).
Timothy (Philippians 2:19-24)
Apparently Timothy was a favorite of the Philippians, and Paul deems it necessary to explain to them why he had not already sent Timothy.
Paul probably met Timothy on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6ff), at which time, perhaps, the young man was converted (1 Cor. 4:17). Apparently, Timothy’s mother and grandmother had converted first (2 Tim. 1:3-5) and they had quite a positive influence on Timothy’s conversion and beginning discipleship (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father, but Paul always considered this young man his own “dearly beloved son” in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2). When Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra while on his second missionary journey, he enlisted young Timothy as one of his fellow laborers (Acts 16:1-4).
Apparently Timothy took the place once held by John Mark, whom Paul had refused to take on this second missionary journey because of Mark’s previous abandonment to the cause (Acts 13:13; 15:36-41).
Paul begins with Timothy: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you” (v.19).
Remember, Paul is under arrest in Rome. And as always with Paul, there is no presumption in his planning as he hopes “in the Lord Jesus” to send Timothy their way.
This is not a glib cliché. This is the way Paul lived, as other outtakes from his letters make clear: “if the Lord wills” (1 Corinthians 4:19) and “if the Lord permits” (16:7) — Deo volenti.
It is Paul’s way of saying, “If it be the Lord’s will.” It shows that he did not make decisions based simply on common sense or on what he thought was best, but he submitted everything to the Lord and His will.
When he mentions how Epaphroditus got well from his illness, he doesn’t say, “Thank goodness he got better!” but rather, “God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but also on me.”
When he instructs the church to welcome Epaphroditus, he tells them to “receive him in the Lord with all joy.” Clearly, the Lord was the focal point, source and goal of all of Paul’s life and ministry.
Paul bows to God’s will, but at the same time he longs for Timothy to make that round-trip to Philippi and back to Rome because he felt sure that cheerful, heartening news would be coming from Philippi as the Philippians read his letter and took it to heart.
Paul deeply loved this little church, as he said in the introduction of this letter: “I hold you in my heart . . . how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (cf. 1:7, 9). As a result, Paul had hitched his emotions to the ups and downs of the church.
Certainly the apostle was a happy man, but his was not an unclouded happiness. The ministry brought new joys, but with those joys there were also new sorrows.
As he had earlier written to the Corinthians, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (2 Corinthians 11:28, 29).
Similarly, he wrote to the Thessalonians, “When I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5).
Paul’s heart rose and fell with his people. His greatest pains were heart pains over his people. But his greatest joys were heart palpitations over their advances. Paul anticipated that news from the Philippians would do his heart good.
The reason Paul wanted to send Timothy is clear in verses 20-21:
20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Timothy’s heart for others was unique—there was “no one like him” in this way among the Roman believers and other compatriots of Paul. Literally Paul said, “I have no one equal in soul.” He was truly a “kindred spirit,” one whose heart beat like Paul’s—a heart that was truly tied to the welfare of others.
What Paul means, then, is that Timothy has the same love and concern for the Philippians as he himself does. They are “equal-souled” in their concern for the welfare of the Philippians and the furtherance of the cause of Christ.
This seems an astonishing statement, but the rest of what Paul said will make it clear. Paul’s assessment was that there was no one like Timothy “who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” — that is, one who, when he arrived on the scene in Philippi, would give the active interest and practical care that Paul desired be shown—the kind of care he himself would give them if he were present with them.
The word translated “genuinely” here in v. 20, “genuinely concerned,” is the word gnesios.
The related adjective gnesios occurs four times. It can refer to children born in wedlock, i.e., they are legitimate and “genuine” children. It is also used to qualify teaching as being genuine or accurate, and love as pure and sincere (2 Cor 8:8).
Interestingly enough, it is used by Paul in 1 Tim 1:2 and Titus 1:4 to refer to Timothy and Titus as “true” sons (of the apostle) in the faith (cf. Phil 4:3). Though the stress in Phil 2:20 is on the idea of sincerity, Hawthorne is probably correct to note that the root idea of “legitimate children” should not be overlooked. Thus Timothy is genuinely interested in the Philippians because he is a genuine son of Paul, and thus “equal-souled.”
Timothy is genuinely concerned for others.
Ironically, the very self-centeredness that Paul had just warned the Philippians about in 2:4 (“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others”) was part of everyday life in Rome —“They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (v. 21).
It is said that when Henrietta Mears, one of the most effective American Christian educators of the twentieth century, would walk into a room, each person often had the feeling that she was saying to him or her, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Miss Mears’s genuine concern for others marked and elevated a whole generation of remarkable leaders.
Timothy stood in stark contrast to others there in Rome, who “all seek after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” This must be a general statement. Paul had many fellow workers whose commitment to Jesus Christ was complete at this time, one of whom was Epaphroditus. Paul would commend him shortly (vv. 25-30).
More likely Paul had in mind those believers in Rome who were so engrossed in promoting them own ministries (Phil. 1:15-16) that they had no time for the real work of the Lord. In contrast, Timothy served with Paul in the furtherance of the gospel (2:22). Christ and the gospel were at the center of Timothy’s life.
Like Timothy, we also live in an age of unprecedented self, of weightless souls consumed with their own gravity. And today many Christians actually believe that it is “Christian” to pursue self-fulfillment as an ultimate goal in life. It is often believed that salvation is all about me, rather than about God.
But Timothy’s example trumps such self-delusion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps — reading the Bible. When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised [in] our path to show us that, not our way, but God’s way must be done.
It is a strange fact that Christians frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s “Crooked yet straight path.” They do not want a life that is crossed and balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1954), p. 99)
The Philippians were well aware of Timothy’s worth, having observed him serving with Paul, and developing their own affection for him. So Paul says…
22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
Warren Wiersbe notes:
“The submissive mind is not the product of an hour’s sermon, or a week’s seminar, or even a year’s service. The submissive mind grows in us as, like Timothy, we yield to the Lord and seek to serve others.”
Timothy had a track record of observable worth in the gospel ministry. Paul did not add him to the team on his first missionary journey, but left him in Derbe and Lystra where he grew in his faith and got involved in ministry so that when Paul returned years later young Timothy was “well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2).
Timothy had served as Paul’s envoy to Macedonia a decade earlier (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Acts 17:14; 18:5; 19:22), to Corinth on several occasions (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10), and also to Ephesus (cf. 1 Timothy 1:2ff.).
Hawthorne observes, “Timothy was a young man with exceptional potential for missionary statesmanship and church leadership.”
- He is left behind in Berea to continue the work after Paul is forced to leave because of threats against his life (Acts 17:14).
- During a time of persecution he is sent to Thessalonica to strengthen the believers in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3).
- He is sent to Macedonia from Ephesus with a similar mission (Acts 19:22).
- He is sent as Paul’s emissary to bring teaching and healing to the troubled church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17-21).
- He is apparently sent to Philippi and perhaps returns with a monetary gift from that church for Paul (Philippians 2:19; 4:15-16; Acts 18:5).
- He is instructed how to appoint elders and deacons in the churches (1 Timothy 3).
- He accompanies Paul on his last trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).
- He is at his side during his imprisonment.
So Paul is referring to more than 10 years of ministry side-by-side in the spreading of the gospel.
Harry Ironside noted:
“Youth is often exceedingly energetic, and impatient of restraint. Age is inclined, perhaps, to be over-cautious and slow in coming to conclusions, and it often is a great difficulty for two, so wide apart in years as Paul and Timothy, to labor together happily. But where the younger man manifests the spirit that was in Timothy, and the elder seeks only the glory of God and the blessing of His people, such fellowship in service becomes indeed blessed.” (51)
Furthermore, his devotion to the Apostle Paul was remark-able: “as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (v. 22b). Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father because Timothy, like so many others, had come to Christ under Paul’s ministry.
In vv. 23-24 Paul indicates that he would be sending Timothy to them as a gift, but that this meant a sacrifice on his part, again for their sakes.
23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
The Philippians had always been generous with Paul (see Philippians 4:14-16), and now Paul wishes to be generous with them. His “gifts” to this church are Epaphroditus and Timothy. Paul is here telling the Philippians that he is sending them the best gift that he has to give.
Paul’s gift of Timothy to the Philippians is at Paul’s expense. How easy it would have been for Paul to ask Timothy to stay there with him, at his side, to minister to him. Instead, Paul indicates an eagerness to send Timothy as soon as possible.
We must remember that Paul was being confined until the outcome of his trial was over. Men like Timothy and Epaphroditus were Paul’s hands and feet. They did for him what he could not do himself. To send men like this away is something like a blind man loaning his Seeing Eye dog to a friend.
However, as much as they desired a visit from Paul or Timothy, Paul would be sending Epaphroditus back to them at this time. They were not to think of Epaproditus as “second rate,” however, as Paul will explain in vv. 25-30.
On the contrary, Paul considered him his “brother,” “fellow-worker,” “fellow-soldier,” and “their apostle and servant” (2:25). Indeed, they were to honor men like him because of his work in the gospel on their behalf which almost cost him his life (2:27-30).