Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
We come to a very personal section of the epistle to the Philippians. The letter itself is personal throughout—more so than other of Paul’s letters. But here Paul shows in a concrete way his interest in and concern about the church which he dearly loved. He resolves to send two men, Timothy and Epaphroditus, to that church. His explanations are presented in the verses we study.
Remember: Paul is in prison at Rome. He has been there for almost two years. The time has come when judgment will be given in his case. Paul has reason to believe that he will be freed from prison, but the outcome was not certain. Under these circumstances he determines to send his two close friends to encourage and assist the church at Philippi.
First, Paul declares that he intends to send Timothy to them. Timothy had been an assistant to the apostle for many years. Timothy had learned Scripture from his youth (II Tim. 3:15). Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey at Derbe and Lystra (Acts 16:1). Paul took Timothy along with him to assist him in the work. Timothy was Paul’s assistant from that time on. He was sent by the apostle on various missions (I Cor. 4:17) and had been assisting Paul while the latter was imprisoned in Rome. Timothy was with Paul still at the time of the writing of this letter.
Timothy was well-known also to the church at Philippi. He had labored in Philippi on three occasions (Acts 16:13; Acts 19:22; Acts 20:3). He knew the situation in that church personally. Doubtless he had many friends there. He had been present at the gathering in of some of the prominent members of that church: the Philippian jailor and Lydia.
Timothy was obviously very precious to Paul. Verse 20 states that he has “no man likeminded who will naturally care for your state.” He was of like mind with Paul. Together these two sought the same thing: the glory of God in the way of the gathering of the church. In determining to send Timothy, Paul sends that one who is closest and most important to him. This is remarkable, especially in light of the fact that Paul is yet in prison. One might think that Paul needed Timothy more than did the Philippian church. But Paul will sacrifice that which is most cherished to him to assist the church.
It does appear as though there were no others with Paul who could be sent to Philippi at this time. In verse 21 he points out that “all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” The statement raises questions which ought to be discussed. Were there no others with Paul who were suitably spiritual? Does Paul mean that those who were with him were unreliable?
In sending Timothy, Paul has a twofold purpose. He sends Timothy to inform the church of the outcome of his trial. The Philippians would be very interested in that. Timothy could possibly bring good news of Paul’s release. Paul knows, of course, that all that comes upon him is in harmony with God’s will. This is the thrust of his remark also in verse 19, “But I trust in the Lord Jesus….” Christ, Lord over all, will bring to pass all that God has determined for the benefit of the church and for Paul’s own profit.
At the same time, Paul is anxious to hear from the Philippian church as well. In verse 19 Paul mentions that he will be of good comfort when he knows their state. Obviously, he expected Timothy to return soon to Paul with a report of the state of the church at Philippi.
A more worthy messenger could hardly have been sent! He is to Paul as a son with the father. There was a precious, close relationship between these two. Therefore, Paul could also send Timothy so confidently—knowing that he would convey Paul’s message properly, and quickly return with a report to Paul.
Again, Paul speaks of his hope of freedom in verse 24. His trust in the Lord is such that he is very convinced that he will be set at liberty to continue his labors in the church. Then his intention is to visit Philippi once more.
There is another whom Paul resolves to send to Philippi: Epaphroditus. We know not much about this man except what Paul himself states in this passage. He had been a messenger from Philippi to Paul—and a welcome visitor he was! The Philippian church had sent this envoy to be a companion and assistant to Paul. Paul identifies him as “brother, companion in labor, and fellow-soldier” (vs. 25). Each term specifically identifies Epaphroditus in a special way. He is “brother” (as are all the saints) to Paul; he labors with him in the work of proclaiming the gospel; but he is also one who fights the good fight of faith. Epaphroditus does not hesitate to risk his very life for the cause of the gospel.
The dedication of this great saint is wonderfully presented in the passage. “Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death…” (vs. 30). The details are not given, but the illness was “for the work of Christ.” Some have claimed that Epaphroditus almost worked himself to death. When he became ill, he ceased not to carry out the work. Finally, he had come to the point of death. He provided the “lack of service” of the Philippians. This is not to say that the Philippians had failed Paul in some way. Rather, because of the distance which separated them, they could not perform the kind of service they might have otherwise done. Epaphroditus did what Philippi could only wish they could do. But all this was at the expense of his health.
Now this great servant of Christ had recovered. Paul speaks of the fact that this was the mercy of God on Epaphroditus and on Paul himself. God knows the cares and needs of His people—and He provides. So he would be sent by Paul back to the Philippian church to comfort and reassure them. The church had been greatly distressed upon hearing of the illness of this man of God. They would find great comfort in seeing him again face-to-face. They were told to receive him in the Lord with all gladness. The reason for the”gladness” is simply that he has been restored to them—but they are to receive him “in the Lord.” That ought to say something to us also when we receive saints of God.
They are reminded as well to “hold all such in reputation.” Paul does not imply that Philippi might not esteem Epaphroditus much anymore. Rather, they are to esteem all ministers of the Word highly for their works’ sake. This reminder is, perhaps, more necessary today than ever before. There is the real danger that Christ’s ministers are despised. Their work is not highly regarded. Paul reminds the church of the high calling of those who literally spend their very lives for the cause of the gospel.
The return of Epaphroditus would cause the church at Philippi to rejoice—but would also make Paul “less sorrowful.” He too had been disappointed that Philippi had been in heaviness because of the illness of their messenger. Now Paul would be relieved that they were encouraged once more.
One must be struck in this entire passage by the great love which Paul had for the church in Philippi. His terms of endearment and his sacrificial actions of sending two of his most reliable assistants while he himself could have made good use of them indicate that deep and spiritual interest. It is an interest and concern which must be shown to the church by all ministers of Christ’s Word. Further, it is the kind of spiritual concern that each member of the church ought to show to the body of Christ. What a beautiful place the church would be if that kind of love and interest were shown by all!
1. What is the significance of the first phrase in verse 19: “I trust in the Lord…“?
2. What was the mandate to Timothy by Paul?
3. Why should Paul be concerned about the “state” of the church at Philippi?
4. What is the “likemindedness” of verse 20? Find references elsewhere in Scripture that this is true. How ought that be seen in the church as well?
5. What connections did Timothy have with the church at Philippi in earlier times?
6. Is not verse 21 a harsh judgment on fellow workers? Was not Luke, for one, with Paul in Rome? ‘Was this true of Luke?
7. Would the judgment of verse 21 indicate that such would not ‘be Christian?
8. What do we know of Timothy’s father? mother? grandmother?
9. What indicates Paul’s conviction that he would soon be freed?
10. Explain the threefold description of Epaphroditus in verse 25.
11. Must a servant of God “work himself almost to death” for the cause of the Kingdom? Did Epaphroditus overdo in this regard? Why did not Paul, who had miraculously healed others, not do the same for Epaphroditus?
12. How would we evaluate our own labors for the cause of the Kingdom?
13. Is there a danger that we hold not in reputation those who give their very lives for the cause of God’s Kingdom? What does this statement of Paul mean to us and our attitudes toward ministers of the gospel?