Philippians 2:19-30(HCSB)19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you. 20 For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; 21 all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father. 23 Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 I am convinced in the Lord that I myself will also come quickly. 25 But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus—my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need— 26 since he has been longing for all of you and was distressed because you heard that he was sick. 27 Indeed, he was so sick that he nearly died. However, God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have one grief on top of another. 28 For this reason, I am very eager to send him so that you may rejoice when you see him again and I may be less anxious. 29 Therefore, welcome him in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in honor, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your ministry to me.
It is clear that the Philippian church is close to Paul’s heart, being a church he personally founded and cared deeply for. It’s these glimpses past Paul’s armor of doctrine and into his caring, loving and affection side that give great insight into Paul’s thought. He is a minister, an apostle, and corrector, and overseer, a debater, a defender of the faith…but he is also a friend who cares deeply about both the church he has founded and also deeply for his partners in ministry. While he regards these men as friends, he also gently demands respect for them because of their virtue as enduring disciples; they aren’t being sent merely on a social call but to shepherd and guard the church, and as such the church is to treat them with due respect.
Paul is offering two additional examples of people who are serving humbly like Jesus and Paul. Timothy and Epaphroditus are examples of “having the same mind” as Christ Jesus.
Timothy is the most well-known of Paul’s co-workers and co-author of the letter to the Philippians. Timothy first appears in as a companion of Paul. Acts 16:1-5(HCSB)Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. 2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily. Timothy was a companion of Paul since the second missionary journey. He was from Lystra with a good reputation among the Christians in the area and Paul often sent him to churches as his personal representative.
Paul describes him in Philippians with very affectionate terms. Timothy is like a son to him, “no one like him,” and someone who has served alongside him for a very long time. In fact, Paul says Timothy “of the same mind”. Paul calls Timothy his “colleague,” someone who has the same concerns and interests he does.
Paul would like to return to Philippi soon, but since he remains under house arrest in Rome he will send Timothy as soon as he can. Why is Paul sending Timothy to Philippi? It is possible Paul’s imprisonment has raised questions among the Christians in Philippi. Perhaps they were concerned the advance of the Gospel was hindered by the long house arrest, as the opening prayer of the letter seems to imply (1:3-11). It is also possible they have had no news from Paul as a result of Epaphroditus’s illness. Timothy seeks the interests of Jesus Christ rather than his own. Verse 21 says that “they all seek their own interests,” but there is not subject in the immediate context. This is another hint of the self-serving minsters from 1:15-16, or possibly the opponents in chapter 3. Since Timothy seeks the interests of others (in this case, the Philippian church), Timothy is living a life worthy of the Gospel and therefore is quite counter to the culture of Rome.
Timothy has been “proven worthy,” as the church is well aware. The noun (dokimé)proof of genuineness (“approval, through testing”) a test of character in order to determine how genuine that character really is (for example in
2 Corinthians 2:9(HCSB)9 I wrote for this purpose: to test your character to see if you are obedient in everything.),
Also in Romans 5:2-5(HCSB)2 We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4 endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. 5 This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. the word is simply translated “character.” Just as gold or silver has to be tested in order to determine quality and value, a person’s character is tested and shown as they pass through difficulties and trials. Think about how people’s personalities change when they pass through hard times. That is when the “true character” is revealed. Everyone knows an example of someone who appears to have been a “good Christian” (whatever that means), but when they are faced with difficult problems they begin to question or turn away from their faith. Timothy is therefore an example of someone who is living their life “worthy of the gospel.”
Paul makes it clear that joy does not mean the absence of trial. He is making it absolutely, crystal clear that the kind of gospel joy that he has, and the kind of gospel joy that he wants the Philippians to have. He makes it clear in this passage that the kind of gospel joy that he wants them to have and that he wants us to have in every Bible believing, gospel-preaching, Christ-exalting, local congregation of Christians, he wants there to be gospel joy, but he wants us to understand that that is not going to mean an absence of trial. Even in the church, its not going to mean an absence of trial.
We can have Joy in grief. Look at how he proves this to us. First of all, look at v. 27. He’s telling you how glad he is that God spared Epaphroditus’s life. He said, “If Epaphroditus had died I would have what? grief untop of another.” He doesn’t just say that he would have been sorry if Epaphroditus had died, it would have been “grief upon grief.” “I would have had more grief,” Paul is saying. Of course, it would have been sorrowful to lose Epaphroditus, he was ministering to him, but Paul is indicating here that he had other sorrows that they would simply mount upon. Now Paul is a servant of the Lord, serving with gospel joy and yet he characterizes himself as a person that has to cope with sorrow.
Then look at v. 28. There he says, “I’m sending Epaphroditus back to you and one reason I’m doing it is so I will have less anxiety.” Now isn’t that interesting? He doesn’t say, “I’m sending him back so that I won’t have any anxiety at all,” but only, “that I’ll have less.” In other words, he is going to send Epaphroditus back so that Epaphroditus can take them word of the Apostle Paul and so that word can be sent back to the Apostle Paul that the Philippians are doing okay. Because the Apostle Paul is a little worried about the Philippians. He’s a little worried about the petty divisions in the church. He’s a little worried about people in the church that are looking out for number one, instead of being concerned for others in the congregation and seeking the welfare of the whole body. He’s a little worried about them. He is the Apostle. Elsewhere, he says, “the daily burdens of the care of the church weigh upon me.” He’s always thinking about the people of God. And so he says, “I want to send Epaphroditus back so I’ll have less anxiety.” Now, it’s so ironic that Paul would say this because later in this letter what is he going to say to the Philippians? “Do not worry about anything.” And yet, the Apostle Paul here is saying, “You know, I’m a little worried about you Philippians, because I love you, I care about you, and I want you to be well. I want you to be growing in grace, I want you to be secure in Christ, and I want you to know gospel joy. And I’m a little concerned about the congregation.” Here’s Paul wrestling with anxious cares and anxiety for the people of God, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have gospel joy.
Sorrow Not Inconsistent with Gospel Joy
And then, if you look back in vv. 20-21, he talks about Christians who were there with him at the time of his imprisonment other than Timothy and Epaphroditus. And you know what he says about them? He says that he couldn’t send any of them to the Philippians because they wouldn’t look out for the Philippians’ best interest; they would only look out for their own. Ouch! Oh, that would have been discouraging to the Apostle Paul to think, “You know, the only two guys that I can really trust to go back to the Philippians is Timothy and Epaphroditus. The rest of them are immature to the point that they look out for themselves rather than the people of God; rather than for the interest of Christ.” Surely, that must have grieved the Apostle’s heart that he didn’t have more people that could have been trusted to go back on that important ministry and errand to the Philippians.
And yet, the Apostle Paul says these things and they are not inconsistent with his experience of gospel joy. Your experience of gospel of joy does not mean that you enter in this life into a blissful estate in which there is uninterrupted harmony, peace, and utter equilibrium of everything in life. It doesn’t mean there aren’t hard things, disappointments, trials, sorrows, anxieties, and cares. It’s so important for us to understand. There will be a day when there will be no sorrows or cares, no more disappointments, but that’s when we are with Jesus in Heaven.
Paul, in this passage though, is exhorting us to experience a gospel joy now, in the congregation, even though there are still trials and disappointments and sorrows and anxieties. And that’s very important for us, because we will disappoint one another, we’ll let one another down in fellowship, we’ll be disappointed by the lack of maturity in some, we’ll feel the sting of betrayal by others, we’ll be sorrowful at certain events that happen in the family of the people of God, and yet that is not a limitation to gospel joy. It can still be experienced in the body, even in the midst of trials. Because the kind of gospel joy that Paul is talking about does not mean the absence of trial. That is a huge message to learn in the Christian life. I think a lot of Christians are looking for a time in this life when the battle will be over. The battle will never be over until Jesus calls you home or He comes, whichever comes first.
Paul’s so realistic about this isn’t he? Isn’t it refreshing to have Paul utterly realistic about life in a fallen world? He wants you to experience gospel joy, but he knows that troubles are not going away in this world, not even in the church.
The Christian Life is a Life of Companionship
Second, and you really learn this from the whole chapter, but especially from the way that Paul describes the ministry of Timothy and Epaphroditus to him, here is the lesson that he teaches: the Christian life is a life of companionship. The Christian life was meant for company, God did not intend us to go through the Christian life alone. God intended us to need, to depend upon one another and to minister to one another as we walk through this world on the way to the New Heavens and the New Earth.
The Christian life is a life of companionship. How do you see this here? Well, here is the Apostle Paul, who met Jesus face to face on the road to Damascus. To whom Jesus personally talked, who was vested with all of the authority of Jesus so that he could raise people from the dead, so that he could heal people, so that he could prophesy by the Holy Spirit, and so that he could speak in tongues and interpret and give words of knowledge. This Apostle had all of the powers of Jesus Christ vested in him by the Lord Jesus and had been taken up into the third heavens and been shown things which are not allowed for a man to tell. And yet, here he is describing to the Philippians what? How he needed Timothy and Epaphroditus. Is that huge? If Paul needed Timothy and Epaphroditus to minister to him, how much more do we need one another to minister to one another and to be ministered to by one another? Even the Apostle Paul needed godly Christian friends and their help and their support.
Nourished by the Character of Fellow-Christians
Notice how you can tell how he has nourished in his spirit by their Christian character when he starts describing Timothy as being selfless and only interested in the things which pertain to Jesus Christ. And when he describes Epaphroditus as one who was ready to risk his life for the gospel, you can almost see the life flowing back into Paul’s weary spirit in prison. As he just thinks about the character and the deeds of these men he says to the Philippians in essence, “I needed those men. I needed their ministry. I couldn’t have made it without their ministry.” And so, he is saying to them, “Brothers and Sisters, you need one another just like I needed them.”
Do you realize how important that is for this congregation? I think that a good proportion of our congregation would say that they have experienced in the life of this church family real Christian friendship and companionship. They would say that there are a group of people that really know them and love them and care about them and encourage them in numerous ways and are there with them in times of need. I’ve had that testimony from so many of you. But, I know that there are also others that are part of this fellowship who sometimes feel lonely and alone. And who feel as if they still stand in need of Christian friends who will genuinely love them and care about them and be concerned for them and come alongside of them and support them.
My friend, it should be your absolute intention, as a member of this congregation who once upon a time who raised your hand and said, “I will support the work and worship of this church to the best of my ability.” Do you know what one of the most important works of this church is? It is you being Jesus’ family to one another. And it should be your intention that there should not be one member of this church who can say, “You know, I feel lonely and alone and unsupported as I attempt to walk the walk of faith with Jesus Christ in this sin-filled world.” It should be the testimony of every member of this congregation that we are all investing in at least a few other members so that we are all ministered to and we are all ministering, every single one of us. It’s not about just being a taker, every one of us must be a giver, but every one of us needs a few people to give to us in the congregation. That’s how God built us to be. That’s what Paul is talking about here.
The Apostle Paul needed Timothy and Epaphroditus, how much more do you and I need one another? Will you make that commitment today? Friends in Christ, will you start asking the question, as you look around the congregation, “Who needs my ministry? Who needs to be befriended and helped and supported by me?” Don’t wait for me, the Pastor to do that. Don’t wait for the Deacons to do it, they should be doing that, hold them accountable, but don’t expect them to do your job for you. Don’t just expect the Deacons to do it, they’re going to be doing it, they’re going to be involved in the lives of the people of God in the church, they’re supposed to be examples, but don’t expect them to do your job. If you are a member of this church that is your job. And, oh my, there are a few of us and only 4 deacons. It is going to take all of us, together, to do this. And in the middle of this missionary report Paul reminds us that the Christian life is a life of companionship.
Christians Always Seek First the Interests of Christ
Third, Paul makes it clear in this passage that Christians always seek first the interests of Christ. And he does it in the negative. In vv.20-21, you’ll see this. He’s describing Timothy as a man who does what? “He is a man that I can trust to be concerned for the well being of the church.” But then, sadly, the Apostle Paul will comment, “There’s nobody else around here, other than Timothy and Epaphroditus, that is going to be more concerned for the interests of Christ than he is for his own interests.” And in doing that, Paul is, in the negative, commending for you this truth: that Christians always seek first the interests of Christ.
He’s made this point in Philippians 2 about Jesus, that Jesus did what? He did not seek his own interests, but he set aside his interests, so that he could seek your interests. Now, he draws your attention to Timothy, who alone among the circle of disciples was with Paul in his imprisonment, who alone of whom it can be said, “he did not seek his own interests, but he sought the interests of Christ.” In other words, he says, “Timothy is thinking like this: ‘what’s going to be for the best well being of Paul and what’s going to be for the best well being of the church? That must come first.’”Not my interests.
Do you think that way about the church? Can you think of a decision that you have made in a time when you thought, “You know, this would be good for me personally, but I’m not sure it would be good for the church as a whole, therefore, I’m not going to do it. I’m going to do what’s best for the church.” Can you think of a time where you ever changed your mind about anything? It might be as simple as whether you are going to go to a ballgame or on a vacation during some important time in the life of the church and you decide, “You know, it’s more important for me to be there at the church than it is to enjoy myself doing whatever else it is that I’m getting ready to do.” Have you ever thought that way? Paul is commending Timothy to you as a person who did think that way. He thought not just, “Would this be good for me?” But, he thought, “Is this going to be for the best interests of the church?” Paul is commending that to us in the Christian life.
Christians Are Ready to Die for the Work of Christ
Fourth and finally, in v.30, he tells us that Christians are ready to die for the work of Christ. It is the elders’ and my job, not only to equip you to live the Christian life, but to prepare you to die. If we only equip you to live the Christian life and not to face death, we have not fulfilled our obligation. Because, barring the return of Christ, there is one thing that everybody in this room has in common: we are all going to die. And if we do not prepare you to die, we haven’t done our job because every person has a dying day and dying well is as important as living well.
Well, the Apostle Paul in this passage commends Epaphroditus, who was ill and nevertheless risked his life for Paul’s sake and the sake of the Philippian church, because he thought that his life was of less value than the work of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s saying, “I give you a man who is ready to die. Because he understood that when you seek first the kingdom of God, then He will add all other things to you.”
Are you ready to die? Are you ready to die in the work of Christ? That is what the Apostle Paul is holding before the Philippians and before you and me as an example of being like Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ was not only ready to die for us, he did die for us.
It may be sending your children or your grandchildren to the mission field, to a Muslim country where they will die for Christ. Or it may be a willingness yourself to put your life in harm’s way for the sake of the gospel. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Christians are ready to die in the work of Jesus Christ.