By Christopher VanDusen
If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then one of your desires in this life is to become more like Him, so you can please Him more. One of the ways in which that’s accomplished is by learning more about Him from His Word, and putting it into practice. However, what’s often neglected is learning how to be like Him by observing mature Christians. But how do you know when a Christian is mature enough to be set up as a model for an entire church? In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he answers that question in verses 19-24 of chapter two.
In this letter, Paul’s been writing to a church he planted, and had an exceptionally close relationship to, compared to the other churches he writes to in the New Testament. One of the reasons for this was that the Philippians were very faithful to provide for Paul’s financial needs. In fact, Paul wrote this letter in response to one of their leaders visiting him while he was imprisoned in Rome. This leader, named Epaphroditus, not only brought a donation to Paul, but also brought him news of how the church was doing. Therefore, Paul wrote this letter to express his thankfulness for them, and to respond to some of the problems they were facing.
Paul begins the letter by giving joyful thanks for them. Then, he tells them how he prays for them. After that, he describes what his situation is in Rome, and how his imprisonment is causing the gospel to spread to many of the Romans, even those in the government. He ends the first chapter by beginning his charge to them that they live in light of the gospel while enduring persecution.
To begin chapter two, Paul explains to them how they are to be unified and loving one another. He follows these instructions by holding up their ultimate example of self-sacrifice and selflessness — Christ Jesus — who was rewarded for His sacrifice by being made the King of the universe. Paul finishes this section by explaining to the Philippians how to become more like Christ — by being content, righteous, gospel-based, and joyful.
Following Paul’s words about how he rejoices because of his sacrifice for their spiritual maturity, and wants them to rejoice as well, he transitions in verses 19-24 to speak about his plans to help them even more:
“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)
In this passage, Paul does five things for the Philippians to prepare them for Timothy, the model he’s sending them:
- He Expects to Send His Son to Them (v. 19)
- He Exalts Timothy’s Selfless Spirit (v. 20)
- He Indicts the Selfishness of So Many (v. 21)
- He Emphasizes Timothy’s Steadfast Service (v. 22)
- He Explains that He’s Sure to See Them Soon (vss. 23-24)
Paul Expects to Send His Son to Them
First, Paul explains that he expects to send Timothy to them. Who was Timothy? He was one of Paul’s closest friends and followers, whom Paul personally mentored for years during his missionary journeys, treating him as if he was his son. Therefore, Paul used Timothy as one of his best representatives and messengers, and chose to use him like this for the Philippians, who already knew him.
He puts it like this:
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.”
Why do I say that Paul is expressing an expectation to send Timothy to the Philippians? First, because the Greek word that’s used for “hope” in the New Testament isn’t like the English word “hope”. In the New Testament, when people hope to do something, they’re saying that they have assurance that they’re going to do something. As if that weren’t enough, however, Paul says that he hopes “in the Lord Jesus“. What does he mean by this? He means that his hope isn’t in himself, or in Timothy, but in the Lord Jesus. He calls Him the Lord Jesus because this conveys His control over human events. As the Lord, Jesus is in complete control of everything, including the future. Therefore, based on Paul’s knowledge of Jesus’s will and power, he knows for a fact that Jesus will enable him to send Timothy to the Philippians.
But why does Paul say he’s sending Timothy to them? So that he’ll be “cheered by news of [them]”. By saying this, he’s implying that he knows they’ll respond well to his letter, and that he’ll hear good news of their Christlikeness and obedience to his commands. As a result, he’ll be happier than he is now, not knowing exactly how they’re doing. This shows us that he genuinely loves them, and has a deep affection for them.
Paul Exalts Timothy’s Selfless Spirit
After expressing his confidence that he’s going to send Timothy to get good news about them, Paul further explains why he’s sending Timothy by exalting, or holding up, his selfless spirit:
“For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.”
Here, Paul explains why he chose Timothy, out of all the people he could have sent. First, he says that he’s exceptional. Not one of his companions who serve him while he’s imprisoned is like Timothy. Second, he says that the reason he’s exceptional is that he’ll “be genuinely concerned for [their] welfare”. The Greek word translated “concerned” can actually convey a sense of anxiety, and could be translated “intensely interested”. In other words, Timothy will devote himself to helping the Philippians to become more like Christ, and to glorify Him more, so they can have more joy through knowing Christ more.
Of course, this statement implies that Paul isn’t confident that the rest of his companions would be “genuinely concerned for [their] welfare”.
Paul Indicts the Selfishness of So Many
In verse 21, Paul describes the rest of his Christian companions in Rome, to explain why he won’t send them to help the Philippians:
“For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”
So why does Paul think that most of his Christian companions wouldn’t be concerned about the Philippians’ well-being? First, because they “seek their own interests”. In other words, their hearts are set on benefiting themselves, and living for themselves, for their good. They’re self-absorbed, and self-centered. Second, they wouldn’t be concerned about the Philippians because they choose not to seek the interests “of Jesus Christ”. Why, at this point, does Paul call Jesus, “Christ”? Because this is His title as the “Anointed One” — the Prophet, High Priest, and King of His church. This describes Jesus as the Savior, Redeemer, and Ruler of the church. Hence, Paul is pointing to Christ’s interests in His church — including its welfare. It’s as if he’s saying, “they seek their own welfare, rather than the welfare of Christ’s family and people”.
In contrast to these selfish people, Timothy seeks after Christ’s interests because he seeks after the well-being of the church. Therefore, Paul wants Timothy to go and help the Philippians — not only to teach them, but also to show them through his behavior how to become more like Christ — to be more concerned about other Christians than oneself.
Paul Emphasizes Timothy’s Steadfast Service
In verse 22, Paul presents proof that Timothy will be concerned about the Philippians, by seeking the interests of Jesus Christ, by reminding them of his steadfast service:
“But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.”
The first reason that Paul’s confident that Timothy will be concerned about the Philippians is that he’s proven his “worth”. Worth of what? Worth for being trustworthy to care for people’s spiritual needs without supervision. In other words, he’s spiritually mature, and can handle being on his own while serving a church.
The second reason that he’s confident in Timothy’s concern is that Timothy has already served with him “in the gospel” like “a son with a father”. By serving with Paul “in the gospel”, he means that Timothy helped him to share the gospel with more people across the Mediterranean, and to establish churches. However, the significant thing here is that Timothy served with Paul like his own son. That is, he submitted to and respected him like his father, since he was an authoritative representative of the Lord, and was more spiritually mature than himself. As such, he helped Paul to accomplish many of the things he did on his missionary journeys, which required selfless and sacrificial service for the good of others. As a result of his service under Paul, he’s the best representative of Paul, and shares Paul’s deep love and affection for the Philippians.
Paul Explains that He’s Sure to See Them Soon
In the last two verses of this passage, Paul describes when he intends to send Timothy, and assures the Philippians that he’ll come to them as well. So, based on Timothy’s “proven worth” from serving with Paul like his son, he says,
“I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.”
So, when will Paul send Timothy? “As soon as [he] sees how it will go with [him]”. He’s referring to his impending hearing with the Roman Emperor to decide whether false charges that were brought against him will be upheld or dismissed. In the meantime, he is confined to a prison cell, but is allowed to have visitors.
But why does he want to wait until that time to send Timothy? There are at least two possible reasons. He’s already said in the first chapter that he’s sure the Emperor will release him from prison, so when he finds out “how it will go”, he knows that he’ll be allowed to leave his cell. Thus, while he’s confined, he needs someone to act as his messenger and representative in Rome, and there’s no one better than Timothy. A second possible reason is that he wants Timothy to bring news of his exact situation to the Philippians, once he’s released from prison, so they can better pray for him, and prepare for his own arrival. It seems that these were two reasons that Paul chose to wait to send Timothy.
However, Paul adds that he trusts “in the Lord” that he’ll come soon as well. Whereas he’s just used the same word for “hope” that’s found in the first verse of this passage to describe certainty about the future, here he uses a Greek word that literally means “persuaded” or “convinced”. In other words, he has been persuaded, and is persuaded, by the Lord, or Ruler of all things, that he will go to the Philippians soon. When he comes to them, he’ll continue to serve them in person.
Observe Proven Servants and Imitate Them
So, how does this passage apply to you, assuming you’re a believer in the Lord? Both Paul’s actions and Timothy’s actions are worthy of imitation.
First, Paul shows us how to view our plans. When speaking of what he intends to do, he puts his plans under the control of the Lord Jesus, who controls everything. The only reason that he has confidence in the success of his plans is because he knows what the will of the Lord is, and His will includes what Paul plans to do. Because we live in the very last days, with the return of Christ imminent, we can’t have certainty that all our good plans will be fulfilled. However, we can know that whatever happens in the future is under the control of the Lord Jesus, including whatever we may do.
Second, Paul shows us what to look for in a model of Christlikeness. The first mark he describes is that such a person has genuine concern for the well-being of other Christians. Second, such a person has this genuine concern because he or she seeks the interests of Jesus Christ, the Prophet, High Priest, and King of the church. Third, mature Christians have proven themselves by sacrificially serving people with other Christians for the promotion of the gospel, or the growth of the church.
So, do you view the future, and your own plans, as subject to the control of the Lord?
Are you genuinely concerned about the good of your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Do you serve the interests of Jesus Christ, so that your interests are His?
Do you humbly serve with your brothers and sisters for the gospel through selfless self-sacrifice?
Do you try to imitate mature Christians?
If you have no concern for the good of other Christians, only seek your own interests, rather than the interests of Jesus Christ, or have no desire to serve with other Christians, then you aren’t a true believer in Christ. When someone trusts in Christ, they are given love for other Christians, love for Christ, and the desire to do good to people. To believe in Christ doesn’t just to mean to believe that He was the God-man who died for our sins, and rose from the dead, but to change your mind about Him, and to depend on Him to be your King and Savior from God’s wrath and your sins. If you haven’t done that, then you are an enemy of God, and in danger of His eternal punishment. The good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to become the man, Jesus, and to suffer on the cross to take God’s punishment for our rebellion against Him. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and made Him the King of the universe in heaven. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Christ alone to be their King and Savior to receive His forgiveness and peace with Him. Please make sure that you’ve done this, or Jesus will eventually judge you and punish you for your sins. God promises to forgive all who repent and trust in the Lord Jesus.
All Scripture passages taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.