Two Examples of Humility (Philippians 2:19-30)

Having considered both his and their situations, Paul turns to his plans regarding the Philippians. He plans to send Epaphroditus back to them immediately and hopes to send Timothy to them and to visit them himself soon.

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.(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Anxious to get news about the Philippians, Paul hopes “in the Lord Jesus” to send Timothy to visit them as soon as he knows the verdict of his trial. Only then would he know what news and instructions to send with Timothy. Whether the news is that he’s going to be freed or that he’s going to be executed, he wants them to “be glad and rejoice” (2:18) with him. He’s hopeful that he “may be cheered” by the news that Timothy brings to him about them.

Timothy is a coworker with the apostle Paul. He became a Christian as a result of Paul’s first visit to his hometown, Lystra, and joined Paul’s missionary group when Paul visited Lystra on his second missionary journey. He continued to accompany and work with him during the rest of Paul’s life, sometimes serving as his special representative. In fact, Paul had sent him to Macedonia, which Philippians was in, on at least two earlier occasions (1 Thessalonians 3:2; Acts 19:22). Near the end of Paul’s life, he wrote two letters to Timothy as the pastor of the church in Ephesus.

Here Paul describes Timothy as having served with Paul in the ministry of the gospel as “a son with a father.” The phrase points to the close relationship between Paul and Timothy and possibly also to Timothy’s being Paul’s spiritual son (his having been converted through Paul) and his submissiveness toward his senior partner. Paul’s respect for Timothy is shown by his telling the Philippians that he had no one else like Timothy for taking a genuine interest in their welfare, looking out for the interests of Jesus Christ, and being able to work with Paul.

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.

The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus, a member of their church, to visit Paul to deliver a gift (money) for Paul and to care for him when Paul was a prisoner in Rome. He fulfilled his mission so conscientiously that he became seriously ill trying to provide for Paul’s needs. Although Paul had been enabled on other occasions to work mighty miracles, he wasn’t able to heal Epaphroditus. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones observes, “Miraculous healing is possible…but [it] is not possible whenever you and I think it should take place. It is under the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ, either he wills it or he does not will it” (The Life of Joy: An Exposition of Philippians 1 and 2, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1989, pages 230-31). Epaphroditus became so homesick for his church and distressed over its hearing that he was ill that Paul decided to send him back to Philippi as soon as he was well enough to travel.

Paul’s appreciation for Epaphroditus and his help is shown by Paul’s referring to him as his “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” and requesting the Philippians to “receive him in the Lord with all joy” and to honour him for his ministry among them. Paul feels that Epaphroditus’s return to the Philippians alive and well would make them rejoice. Since Epaphroditus was almost certainly present during Paul’s dictation of the letter, Paul’s description of him and other comments regarding him were likely spoken for his benefit as much as for the Philippians.

Paul gives more than travel plans in Philippians 2:19-30. He provides two examples of fellow workers who display the mind of Christ that he’d just urged the Philippians to have (in Philippians 2:5). In verses 20-21 Paul says that Timothy takes a genuine interest in the Philippians’ welfare and looks out for the interests of Jesus Christ, rather than looking out for his own interests. In verse 30 he says that Epaphroditus had almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to help Paul. Thus, both Timothy and Epaphroditus illustrate what Paul encouraged the Philippians to do in Philippians 2:4, look to the interests of others as well as to their own, and so are good examples of the humility that Paul urged the Philippians to display so that they would have unity (Philippians 2:1-4).

The passage also demonstrates that Paul was an example of such humility. He was in prison and most of his friends had left him. Yet he was going to send the two remaining with him, Timothy and Epaphroditus, to the Philippians for their well-being. James Montgomery Boice observes:

What was Paul thinking about during the dark days before his execution? About himself? About his future? Not at all! He was thinking about the needs of his fellow Christians, and he was willing to sacrifice his own interests for theirs. Are you willing to sacrifice your own interests for the concerns of other Christians? If not, you must remember that this is your calling, for you are called to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus laid aside his glory and became a man, taking to himself all the suffering and weakness that is part of our humanity. Then he died on the cross for your salvation. Jesus lived for others, and he will teach you to live for others also, just as he taught the apostle Paul and his friends—Timothy and Epaphroditus. (Philippians: An Expositional Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2000 reprint (first published in 1971), page 161)

Yesterday evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 2:19-30 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”

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