Do you have someone in your life who seems to represent to you what it means to be a godly man or woman in Christ? Someone who encourages you to keep pressing forward in the faith? And someone in whom you trust for wisdom?
In Phil. 2:19-24, Paul gives the believers at Philippi the first of two godly role models in a show and tell of Christ-likeness.
Part 10 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
Paul spent the first part of chapter 2 laying the foundations of what it looks like to be like Christ, beginning with Christ Himself and continuing on with Paul’s exhortations to Christian life.
This passage begins a section where Paul gives us human examples: people who live out the gospel, the humility, and the service of Christ. Essentially, Paul is saying to these believers (and to us), you want to know what being Christ-like looks like in a believer? Look at Timothy. Look at Epaphroditus (we’ll get to him next time).
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.
Who is Timothy?
We know a few things about Timothy from the outset. In Acts 16:1, he is described as a disciple, as the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, as having a Greek father. Luke also points out that he was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2 ESV). Timothy is with Paul in Rome during the time this letter was written and Paul includes him in the greeting. Here we find out more about Timothy as a believer as we look at Paul’s motivations for sending him to the believers in Philippi.
Why Does Paul Want to Send Timothy?
First, notice that Paul subjects his desire to send Timothy to the Lord’s will: I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon. Though he deeply loves Timothy as a person and in the Lord — and though he wants Timothy to go to Philippi for the sake of the believers there — Paul still acknowledges that God is sovereign over both their lives and over his (Paul’s) circumstances (remember he was a Roman prisoner). This is an important reminder to us to submit all our plans and desires to the Lord, no matter how strong our feelings and intentions.
Spiritual Progress Report
Paul needs encouragement. He’s in tough circumstances. Yet his focus never swerves from what is most significant: the gospel preached and people growing to maturity in Christ. He asks Timothy to update him on the spiritual progress of the Philippian believers because he knows he can rely upon Timothy for this.
And the apostle expects that the report he receives will be an encouragement to him, that hearing about the spiritual progress of these believers will cheer him greatly. It will be an encouragement to him to continue on in spite of difficult times and opposition.
I find it very encouraging to hear from other believers how God is working in their lives: changing, shaping, and conforming them into Christ’s image. Even when I’m a bit discouraged with things in my own life, it takes my focus off myself and reminds me that God is working all around me, all the time.
Several things that Paul writes in this passage about Timothy’s character set him apart as a special and beloved companion to Paul. These facets of Timothy also teach us what the walk of a true believer looks like, giving us an example to imitate. (related: 1 Cor. 4:15-17; 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:7-9)
A kindred spirit. The phrase here no one like him is also translated like-minded (Gr. isópsyxos) and gives the sense of Timothy being a kindred spirit to Paul. It’s the only usage of this Greek word in the entire bible and literally means “equal-soul”: equally motivated, having similar identity and values, treating situations with equal, God-driven, Spirit-produced values. (HELPS Word-studies)
If you have ever met someone whose thinking and actions mirrors yours so much that you get along immediately, as though you had known each other for years, then you can understand the idea here.
Genuinely concerned for the believers’ spiritual welfare. The NET bible puts verse 20 this way: For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. It is not simply that Timothy will retrieve a report for Paul, but in so doing, he will also take the opportunity to minister to and build up these believers’ faith.
Paul sent Timothy to the church in Thessalonica to encourage them in a difficult time. He describes Timothy as our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, and his purpose in sending him to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. (1 Thess. 3:1-3 ESV)
So we see that Timothy is someone mature enough to disciple others and in his personality probably an exhorter and encourager.
Not self-seeking. Timothy fits the description Paul wrote about earlier of regarding others’ interests greater than his own. He has steadfastly stood by Paul during the most stressful of times, unswerving in his loyalty.
What About The Others?
Standing in contrast to Timothy’s sacrificial service, we see something a bit disturbing when Paul writes in verse 21: For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Who are “they,” these people seeking their own interests instead of Christ’s? They are believers (see Phil. 4:21), and most likely the ones gathered there in Rome and the surrounding area. It is likely that none of them were willing to make the journey to Philippi from Rome, and as a result, perhaps Timothy volunteered — the one person Paul probably wanted to stay with him.
Commentators have suggested that this verse is one of frustration or deep emotion for Paul. He expresses a similar grief of the heart in 2 Timothy 4:16: At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!
I do not understand verse 21 to be a condemnation for nor an indication of unbelief in these people; rather it seems to imply their desire to lean more into present comforts and safety versus the effort, time, and inconvenience involved in a trek to Philippi. It appears these believers were more interested in living their lives in Christ on their own terms and by their own choices. And this, coupled with Paul’s present circumstances, grieved him.
Perhaps they were not willing to serve unless they saw some gain for themselves in the service. In some sense we cannot criticize them, can we, as we live in this age of comfort and ease in the west…? Although it is not a direct imperative to us, it is certainly worth reflecting on our own lives and examining our own hearts about our willingness to submit in the ways that God chooses.
22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
Genuine, active dedication to Christ. We see the roots of Timothy’s sincere faith passed down to him through his godly mother and grandmother mentioned in 2 Tim. 1:5. And in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, there are the same reflections of this young man’s faith and of his imitation of Christ and of Paul as Christ’s servant:
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. (2 Tim. 3:10-11 ESV)
Paul compares Timothy’s service to the gospel of Christ to that of a child serving his father. How does a child serve his father?
- With reverence and adoration
- With respect
- Out of love
You can almost sense Paul glowing with fatherly pride as he talks about Timothy. This is not the first time Paul has talked about Timothy as a son. In 1 Timothy 1:2 and 2 Timothy 1:2, he calls him my true child in the faith and my beloved child. (related: 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 2:1; Paul also refers to him as our brother in 2 Cor. 1:1, Col. 1:1, and Philem. 1:1).
Timothy is a believer who puts his faith into action, who openly and actively demonstrates love for other believers, who cares for their interests and their spiritual growth.
Hope and Trust Reign
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.
Paul closes his discussion of Timothy by returning to the hope that Timothy will go as soon as his own (Paul’s) circumstances unfold. He again returns to the expectation of being set free that we saw earlier. Paul submits himself in this area as well in the Lord.
Paul’s clear faith in God’s sovereignty to reign in and work out His good purposes in all things is an example and motivation for us to lay all things before the Lord with a hope and trust worthy of who He is as our sovereign Creator, Ruler, and Father.