So far in our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we saw how Paul’s appeal to these believers (the appeal to be likeminded, striving together for the faith of the Gospel, selfless, etc.) had left the realm of exhortation and example; which we saw the most outstanding example of all was Jesus Christ in verses 5-11 and entered into the practical realm.
In verses 12-16, Paul expressed to those believers how having the same “attitude” as Jesus, how looking unto Him to imitate Him, would be beneficial in helping them to be unified as well as putting others before themselves. It would enable them to be humble and obedient, even in the tuff times, and bring glory to God.
And then we saw in those same scriptures that imitating Christ, thinking like Christ, not only benefits the body of Christ or the local church congregation, but it also has ramifications for our witness to those outside the church and to the world around us. A place in which we are to “appear as lights in the world (v. 15).”
Then we ended with Paul expressing how (vv. 17-18) such a life committed to Christ, even when coupled with suffering; he calls it, “the sacrifice and service of their faith,” is a cause for joy. A cause of rejoicing because such a life expended for others in obedient service to our Lord is a life lived with a proper, Christ-centered focus and will not be absent of rewards from the Lord when we meet Him face to face.
So, with that road already traveled, we move forward to read about two men very dear to Paul: Timothy and Epaphroditus.
19 But I hope, [a]in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven character, that he served with me in the furtherance of the Gospel like a child serving his father.23 Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me;24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself will also be coming shortly. 25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your [b]messenger and minister to my need, 26 because he was longing [c]for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly, so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold people like him in high regard, 30 because he came close to death [d]for the work of Christ, risking his life to compensate [e]for your absence in your service to me.
As we read the epistles of Paul the Apostle, it is easy to see that he crossed paths with many different individuals. It would seem that some of these people were a great hindrance to his work for the Lord. In Philippians 1:16, “some brethren were preaching Christ from envy.” in 2 Timothy 2:17 – Hymenaeus and Philetus—”whose talk will spread like gangrene,” Paul said. In 1 Timothy 1:19-20, Hymenaeus (probably not the same person referred to in 2 Timothy), along with someone named Alexander, probably the coppersmith of 2 Timothy 4:14, “suffered shipwreck in regards to their faith and were delivered over to Satan so that they would be taught not to blaspheme.”
However, most of the people Paul met were a great blessing to his life and ministry. As one commentator observed: “Paul closes nearly every one of his letters with a personal note to some of these very special people. In the last chapter of the book of Romans, Paul mentions at least 35 people by name!”
Paul was a man who made friends as he traveled through life!
We are about to be introduced to two worthy men of God, fine examples of all that Paul has been teaching the Philippians in this second chapter.
We have been learning about “lowliness,” “self-less-ness” (Php 2:3), and about “being lights” (Philippians 2:15), and now we have in two of Paul’s partner’s magnificent examples of both. Timothy and Epaphroditus are here set before us as witnesses to the possibility of self-renounced and sacrificial living.
Our first witness, a “son in the faith,” He calls a kindred Spirit. That man is Timothy.
Did you take any notice as to how Paul begins and ends this section of his writing about Timothy?
He begins with “But I hope,” in vs. 19 and ends with “Therefore I hope,” in verse 23. I point this out because we need to understand Paul’s mindset at this time and his purpose in sending them his “son in the faith,” as he calls him in 2 Timothy 1:1.
Paul’s hope is not based on his intentions, inclinations, or even his wisdom. It is, however, intentionally grounded in the Lord! Paul says: “but I hope in the Lord.”
For Paul, what the Lord wants is what he wants. If sending Timothy to Philippi is according to the Lord’s will, great, so be it. And if it isn’t, great, so be it. Paul is wholly resigned to the sovereignty of God in the matter, and any matter, for -that matter! Paul understood and believed that God is the sole owner and ruler of all things, the sovereign one of Psalm 103:19 and Romans 11:36.
Dear Christian, do you understand and believe this? Whatever happens or doesn’t happen in your life, in the lives of others, and in this world does or does not happen because God wills it so!
- Are you ok with that?
- Are you resolved to live for Him anyway, even when you don’t get your way?
- Or, do you think you know better than the one true God who created everything?
So, who is Timothy anyway?
Timothy was originally from Lystra in modern-day Turkey. He grew up in a multicultural house with a Greek father and a Jewish-Christian mother and grandmother. His name means “one who honors God.” His exposure to Greek and Jewish traditions served him well as he helped Paul spread the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Paul had led Timothy to the Lord at a young age, and Timothy was instrumental in Paul’s ministry very early on. Timothy was with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5), was sent into Macedonia (Acts 19:22), was with Paul on the return trip from Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), and assisted Paul in the writing of Romans (Romans 16:21), 2 Corinthians (2 Cor 1:1), Philippians (Phil 1:1), Colossians (Col 1:1), 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.
It has been said that Timothy was Paul’s “sole authorized representative” of the Gospel. For years Paul had relied on Timothy. Paul, at this time, was under house arrest in Rome. He eventually was released for about five years and inevitably is imprisoned again in the Mamertine prison. (2 Timothy) So, Paul “hopes” to send Timothy to Philippi.
This first usage of the word “hope” tells us what Paul (wants to do). Why does Paul want to send this man to them? First of all, he says so that he can be encouraged (vs. 19). Paul strongly desires to know of their condition, are they unified? Are they growing? Are they serving the Lord? Paul is in prison and facing possible death, yet he is more concerned over the affairs of these folks than he is about his situation.
Secondly, he wants to send Timothy because, in verse 20, he states, “I have no one else who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” literally in the original: “but absolutely not one,” or “not even one.” This is a strong statement regarding Paul’s sense of total agreement with Timothy, presumably more than anyone else. Even if this is only a general statement, it is still is an unfortunate commentary.
It appears that none of the Roman Christians are willing to serve in this way. It reminds me of Paul’s statements to Timothy shortly before he died:
“You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.”
Standing with Paul in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon, Demas is now said to be “in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.”
“At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.”
Paul says I have no one else of “kindred spirit.” That means in Greek, “one souled.”
One of our favorite movies in my household is called “Anne of Green Gables.” The main character is a small girl who, through tragic circumstances, finds herself living in a foster home. The foster parents turn out to be a massive blessing to Anne (that’s “Anne with an’ e’,” if you please), but she still faced difficulties as she grew up.
She made a statement once about the need to have a like-minded companion; it is a statement that caught my daughter’s attention. It was something like this:
“What I need is a really good friend–a bosom buddy. You know…a KINDRED SPIRIT with whom I can share my inmost soul.”
We all need such a friend, don’t you think? In this epistle today, we find that Paul regarded Timothy precisely in the way Anne longed for.
Note that being “like-souled” does not mean Paul and Timothy always agreed, but it does mean that being alongside each other was easy so that neither had to work hard at the relationship and things flowed smoothly between them.
Dear reader, do you find it easy to work alongside others for the cause of the Gospel, OR do you find relationships hard work?
If you say they are hard work, why is that?
1. Attitude (yours or others)
2. Unmet expectations
3. Lack of effort
Timothy had proven himself over the years serving the Savior alongside Paul (22). He was a faithful, humble, sacrificial servant, and word of that got around. Paul says to them, “you know of his proven worth, how he served.”
Ultimately, this is what we are, servants of Christ. Paul has shown us in this chapter that we are to be acting unselfishly towards others, even when they are not. We are to be humble, even when others are not, looking out for others, even if we think no one is looking out for us. Ultimately, we are to be imitators of our Lord.
The second usage of the word hope, “Therefore, I hope,” reveals to us his reasoning for Timothy’s going. Notice he begins with the phrase, therefore. Therefore or because of the things just mentioned I hope to send him to you.
Paul stated that Timothy was the genuine article, the real deal (20), That He seeks after the interests of Christ (21), That Timothy would genuinely care for them (20), And that he has proven such over the years (21).
So, Paul wants to send him, if the Lord wills it so, and these are his reasons why. Look back at that statement of Paul in verse 21. Paul says, “all” without exception were seeking after their interests. One commentator notes that he does NOT say they are not saved, but they are not as self-sacrificing as Timothy. Some will help only when gain for Christ is compatible with their own. So, few have a genuine dedication to Christ and unselfish devotion to his church.”
Dear Christian, do you possess a self-sacrificing spirit of service toward your church family? Is your dedication to Christ genuine or superficial?
Timothy modeled self-sacrificing love, selflessness, passion, and conviction, just like Paul, but more significant yet, just like Jesus, as Paul instructed the Philippians in verses 5-11. He was a faithful servant in the furtherance of the Gospel.
The Gospel is “good news,” and that is the truth that saved Paul, and it is the message Paul was given to share with the gentiles, and it is the message that Timothy believed and now for years has been communicating with others!
The Gospel is: We all sin and deserve God’s righteous judgment. No amount of good works can pay the penalty of our sins, which is eternal separation from God in Hell. So, God in love sent His only Son Jesus to take on human flesh and die in place of sinners. A substitute. He offers eternal life and forgiveness of all sins to everyone who, in repentant faith, trusts in Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). Salvation is not a reward for human works but is God’s gift to all who genuinely believe in the finished work of Christ.
Since it would be a little while before Timothy could be sent, Paul wants to send Epaphroditus in the meantime because he came from them to minister to Paul’s needs on their behalf. He was depressed, knowing that they were worried about him. Indeed, he almost died in this work for Christ, But God spared him, and so Paul wants to bring joy to the Philippians by sending him back.
Epaphroditus is our second witness to the possibility of a selfless and sacrificial life towards others.
We do not know much about this man except that he was a native Philippian, He was sent to Paul with gifts (4:18), and he was to remain with Paul and serve him on behalf of the church in Philippi. In this effort, he came close to death seeking to accomplish this “work of Christ,” on their behalf (30).
It appears that as we read about Epaphroditus in this letter, Paul felt strongly that an explanation as to why he was sending him back with this letter was necessary. Paul seems concerned that they may think poorly of this man and not receive him back unto themselves very well. So, Paul, with great wisdom and sensitivity, pens these encouraging words about his brother and fellow worker.
It was William Penn who, centuries ago, described the seven features of deep-hearted friendship in this way: “A true friend unbosoms (discloses thoughts or secrets freely) freely –
Takes all patiently,
Defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.”
As we are to see, Epaphroditus answers this drastic test without flinching. To Paul, he was a friend sticking closer than a brother. Like a friend in need, he was a friend indeed.
Let’s look at Paul’s description of this man:
a. Brother (25)- A fellow Christian—like-minded
b. Fellow worker- He labored with and alongside of Paul. In other words, he shouldered his portion of the load. He was not a loafer who let others carry his part. He got in there and went to work for the glory of the Lord. Verse 25 tells us that he was a “messenger” and a “minister.” The church at Philippi sent him with a gift for Paul. He was their messenger. But, perhaps, the greatest gift from Philippi was Epaphroditus himself. Why? Because, when he arrived in Rome, Paul had somebody willing to do his part.
Fellow soldier- When Paul calls this man a “fellow soldier,” he is talking about a man who is “an associate in the spiritual conflicts of the Christian life.” The term “fellow soldier” tells us that Epaphroditus fought alongside Paul and not against him! One writer noted: “They were partners in a common struggle. They were shoulder to shoulder fighting the flesh, the world and the devil. They were as one in the dangers they faced, the enemies they encountered and the goals they shared.”
Your messenger- Their “sent one.” The English word is Apostle. He was not an Apostle, but he was “sent” to minister to Paul on their behalf.
Minister to my need—He served Paul well. He took risks, almost died to fulfill his ministry to Paul on their behalf. From this description, you can see why Epaphroditus was so important to Paul’s ministry. But, because of sickness, Paul thought it was necessary to send him back and he was very eager to do so, before he even sent Timothy (28).
But why so quickly?
Paul writes that he wanted to send him back immediately. Epaphroditus was distressed that the church at Philippi had heard he was ill. Look with me at verses 26-28:
Paul decided to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi to ease their minds and to calm his nerves. Epaphroditus was in “distress,” which is no small thing. The word means “deep anguish, anxiety, or emotional turmoil.” To put this in perspective–Philippi was eight hundred miles from Rome and at least a three-month journey. Somehow the news had gotten back to Philippi that Epaphroditus was deathly ill, and he was worried that they thought he might have died. This was nearly the case. The word “ill” means “without strength,” and it is said that he probably came down with the Roman plague. The term “almost died” literally means that He was at death’s door. But God had mercy on him and healed him.
For those of us that feel sorrow from time to time, notice that one of Paul’s main reasons for sending Epaphroditus back was so that Paul would have “less sorrow” (27). Paul was not perfect and struggled at times, just as we do. That’s encouraging to read.
Paul, some believe, is very strategic in the closing verses of this section (29-30). “There were those in Philippi that would have accused Epaphroditus of failing to complete the mission. It appears that Paul wanted to leave little room for doubt – Epaphroditus was not a quitter.”
So, Paul, using the imperative here (Therefore receive him in the Lord), exhorts the church to welcome him with “great joy” and “honor.” They were to honor him and celebrate the work he accomplished while he was with Paul in Rome because he was faithful to the mission, and he nearly died, risking (30) his life for the sake of the Gospel.
By the way: The word for risking means to “hazard, to throw aside one’s life, or to gamble.” This word became a noun with the formation of a group of Christians in the third century. They called themselves the “parabolani,” the gamblers, after this verse of Scripture and in honor of Epaphroditus. It is said that whenever and wherever a plague hit, these gamblers would rush in to take care of the sick and bury the dead. They were willing to risk their lives to live out their faith.
The first phrase of verse 30 indicates that Epaphroditus’s sickness was the result of his labors for the Lord Jesus. “Ancient church tradition tells us that Epaphroditus was known for his work among the sick in Rome. It is said that he and others would try to help people that most others would not even dare go near. In other words, he put everything on the line for Jesus, in order to fulfill the Great Commission.” For this man, nothing in this life was more important than doing the will of the Lord. Even if doing what God required cost him everything!
Brothers and sisters, what is the most important thing in your life?
Family, entertainment, money, work, or self?
These past months have genuinely awakened me, reminded me, refreshed, and renewed my thinking on what is truly important in this life. As important as those things I mentioned may be in their proper perspective, none of them are as important as our relationship with Jesus Christ and doing what He requires even if it means that it will cost us everything.
Epaphroditus was a balanced believer. He was balanced in his walk, in his work, and his warfare! He was active in all these areas of the Christian life.
Where do you stand in these areas today?
We are in this thing together, and we should love one another and stand together. There is no place in the Christian family for one brother to attack another. There is no place in the Christian family for division and strife. The Bible makes it clear that we are duty-bound to love one another, Matt. 22:37-39; 1 John 3:11-18; 1 John 4:11-21.
Epaphroditus loved to fellowship, but he didn’t mind rolling up his sleeves and getting involved in the physical work of the Lord either. We need more believers with that same attitude today.
There is a great need in this day for people who are willing to take a stand against evil in the world. We need believers who are not afraid to put on the whole armor of Christ and go with Him into battle. The devil is trying to tear down and take away many of the blessings we have as believers. We need people who will take a stand for the Bible, the church, for holiness. We need some soldiers in this day!
Now, some of you reading this may not be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, cannot take a stand for such things. Let me remind you of the central truth of the Gospel one more time.
God has provided a way of salvation through the gift of His Son to the world. He (Jesus)suffered as a sacrifice for sin, as a substitute for sinners, such as we are, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will believe. The Gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement or by trying to be good enough. (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8–11; II Cor 5:14–19; Tit 2:11–14).
Friend, your sins can be forgiven. You can become a soldier for Christ, His servant, His child!!
Dear Christian, “wouldn’t it be a blessing to have a team of people like Epaphroditus in our church? Men and women who knew no greater goal in life than to be obedient to the will of the Savior! Sadly, for many, service hinges on convenience! Even simple, easy things like going to church are too much for many people! Who among us has a heart like Epaphroditus? Who has a heart that beats in time with the Master’s heart? Who has a heart to see people saved and the work of God done in this world regardless of the personal cost?
Few, very few! But you and I can become that kind of believer if we desire to! God has plenty of work available to those who will give Him all they have and are and trust Him to use them for His glory!”
Christian, you may have, in your mind, thought that such a life is impossible. Good, honorable, but impossible. After all, you may have thought, “I am no Jesus.”
These two men clearly show us that we may not be Jesus, but we can, as mere sin fallen creatures redeemed by grace, imitate Him, and be successful in what He commands us to do.