This week our study in Philippians has a slight shift in focus as Paul directs our attention to two men that he trusts fully; proven men that have stood by Paul regardless of circumstances, even his being bound by chains in a Roman prison.
The first trusted man mentioned is Timothy.
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
Paul longs to be with friends and believers in Philippi, but his chains prevent this. Instead, he decides to send Timothy. Timothy will go, get the current news, and return to Paul to cheer him up. Why Timothy?
In eight of Paul’s epistles (letters) to the various churches he mentions Timothy by name. Most frequently, he calls Timothy “our brother.” Five times he uses this term to describe Timothy. Other terms that Paul uses to describe Timothy are “fellow worker,” “servant of Jesus Christ,” “my son,” “my dear son,” and “my true son in the faith.”
In the verses we are studying here, Paul puts special emphasis on his relationship, comparing it to that of a father and son; a uniquely special bond that is only exceeded by that of a husband and wife (one flesh). Paul and Timothy are not biologically connected, but in every other way, a father-son relationship has developed between the two.
The Bible reveals similar father and son relationships that are not biological. For example: Moses and Joshua; and Elijah and Elisha.
In some ways these relationships convey the idea of a teacher and a student. But I think it’s an even stronger bond than this. I see it more as a mentor interacting with a protégé.
A mentor is a person with knowledge and experience that shares this knowledge and experience with someone else—the protégé—who not only benefits from this, but is actually being prepared to take the mentor’s place if and when the mentor departs. It is Joshua who leads the Israelites into the Promised Land and it is Elisha who performs twice the number of miracles of his mentor, Elijah.
In these, and other examples, the mentor lays the foundation and the protégé continues, or even completes, the mission. Elisha continues the mission begun by Elijah. Joshua completes the mission begun by Moses.
Paul has invested much in Timothy, and at this late stage of his life, Paul says that there are only a handful of men left that he can trust. Verse 22 says that Timothy has proved himself. The Greek word for proved is dokime (dok-ee-may’) and conveys the idea of having been tested, even severely, and yet able to stand.
In our recent study in Colossians, Paul identified others he worked with and invested in, men like Demas. Later, Paul will write directly to Timothy and reveal that, “Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10)
Most of us can relate to Paul as he bemoans the failure of men he has trusted who have failed him. I can think of three or four people in my life who I invested significant time and attention, only to have them walk away, often without pausing to say good bye.
But Timothy is different, He can be trusted, trusted fully. He can be trusted because he is proven. Paul is emphatic that Timothy is more than a partner in the gospel (Philippians 1:5), he is like a son. He genuinely cares about others, always ready to serve. In this way, Paul likens Timothy to Jesus who “did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matt 20:28)
As Christians, each of us are tasked with carrying on the work of the gospel. It is the great commission that Jesus gave: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19)
I think it is wise to pause briefly and ask ourselves who it is that we have in our life who can be trusted to help us to better understand the Bible and to help show us how to live out the Christian life; a mentor.
None of us know, or have experienced, everything. As great a mentor as Paul was, he had his shortcomings. You can read about them in Romans, chapter seven; failing to do what he intended, and doing what he said he never would. Like Paul, we cannot let our failures and limitations prevent us from becoming mentors. If you are a Christian—one who has put their faith in Jesus Christ alone to make you right with God—you know enough to help someone else.
Notice that Jesus did not put any pre-qualifiers on the great commission. We do not see words like, “If you have this much talent, or this level of education, or have heard this many sermons…” No, He simply tells each of us to go and disciple. To disciple is to mentor, to teach, to encourage, and to lead by example. So, who are the protégés you are currently discipling? Remember, we are all tasked with the same assignment, the same commission.
Not only do we learn more about Timothy in these verses, we also learn more about Paul. Though he says, “I have no one else like him,” Paul is proving that he is a good mentor to the entire church at Philippi by being willing to give them Timothy, even though Paul needs him. Not only did Paul give them the gospel and lead them to Christ, but he also wants to disciple them, even from afar, so they will continue growing spiritually. In so doing, Paul does not allow his present circumstances to prevent the furtherance of the gospel. He willingly gives up his need of a trusted ally so that the infant church can benefit and grow, signs of a true leader and mentor.
Paul cannot simply send Timothy until he knows what will happen to him in Rome. But not to worry, Paul repeats something he said earlier in the letter, he is confident. In chapter 1, verse 6, Paul said he was confident that God, who had started a good work in him, would be faithful to complete it. Now Paul is confident that he will, at some point, be freed from his bonds and be able to travel to Philippi himself.
In the meantime, he doesn’t want the infant church to worry needlessly. Without any news about Paul’s situation, the believers in Philippi could begin to lose heart and become discouraged. To avoid this, Paul is going to send a messenger, another trusted ally, Epaphroditus.
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
Paul is not only going to send the Philippian church a message, he’s going to use one of their own as the messenger, Epaphroditus. This is probably not the same Epaphroditus (aka Epaphras) Paul mentioned in his letter to the Colossian church, but rather, a native Philippian. The name Epaphroditus was a common Greek name at the time of Paul’s writing, much like the names Steve or Tom are in our day.
The word “messenger” in verse 25 comes from the same word that yields the English apostle. Not an apostle of Christ, but an apostle (“sent one”). Epaphroditus is being sent to the church with Paul’s letter of encouragement that will serve two purposes: one, that Paul is doing well in spite of his present circumstances; and two, that Epaphroditus who has been allowed to go to Rome to help and comfort Paul, has been put to good use.
Whenever we send a mission team to Mexico to help our dear friend, Pastor Ezekiel, we not only help him in his ministry, but we are able to tell him that we are doing well. When the team returns, we get the good report of how we are making a difference in Mexico. Done well, this is always a win-win scenario.
And so it was with Paul and Epaphroditus; a win-win scenario. Paul wins by helping the church he cares about, and later he will get the benefit of being cheered up when he gets news about how the church is doing (verse 19).
Besides being a trusted messenger (apostle) to his own people, Epaphroditus has other qualities that endear him to Paul. He is a brother (fellow believer), a worker, and a soldier. One other unique characteristic of Epaphroditus is that he becomes distressed. On the surface, this might seem like a bad thing, being distressed, but I think it is another of Epaphroditus’ exceptional character traits.
The Greek term for distressed is ademoneo (ad-ay-mon-eh’-o). It describes the confused, chaotic, heavy state of restlessness that results from a time of turmoil or great trauma. Epaphroditus was more concerned about the Philippians’ worry about his sickness than he was about his own difficult situation. How sick was he? He almost died!
Whatever the sickness was it was very serious and cause for concern, but by sending Epaphroditus back as a messenger, the Philippian believers will see for themselves that he has fully recovered. Just like Epaphroditus, Paul is extremely concerned that in the absence of updated news the Philippians are worrying needlessly. It is sometimes said that “no news is good news.” Is that really true? I think Paul would give a resounding, no!
Paul tells us two important details about Epaphroditus’ earlier illness. First, Paul declares that it was in God’s mercy that Epaphroditus was healed. Whether his healing was directly by the hand of God, or he was healed by receiving good medical treatment, it was providentially overseen by God’s mercy.
When we pray for those who are sick in our midst, we would do well to Remember Paul’s words, and ask for God’s mercy. We need never tell God what to do, but we are always right to pray declaring His attributes, in this case, His mercy, as we remind ourselves that another of His attributes is His immutability. He cannot change. His mercies are new every day.
Second, Epaphroditus sustained his illness while actively working to perpetuate the gospel. The whole Philippian church could not come to Rome to help Paul, so they sent one of their own as their ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Jesus came to give us all life, and that more abundantly. He wants us to live full and joyful lives. In his first letter to the
Corinthian church, Paul says that we can do all things (we have liberty in Christ!), but not all things are profitable. With liberty comes responsibility. Paul is reminding us through sharing about Epaphroditus, that our lives are especially fulfilling when we are working for the cause of Christ. We do well to redeem each day.
Through these verses we see the importance of pressing on, no matter our circumstance. Paul does not let a dank cold prison cell stop him from advancing the gospel, but he does not do it alone, nor should we. Jesus always sent His disciples out in teams. There are very few, if any, successful “lone ranger” Christians. We do it together. That’s why we are called a body, made up of many different parts. Paul utilizes the partners God has given him, matching the assignments with the abilities, talents, and personalities of each.
We are not designed to live out the Christian experience alone. God has given us others to help us in our time of need, and he wants to use each of us to encourage others. Paul had Timothy and Epaphroditus, trusted friends and loyal co-laborers in the gospel.
So, who do you have? Who are you mentoring, helping to grow in Christ? And, who is mentoring you, helping you to grow in Christ? Scripture teaches that iron sharpens iron. We need one another.
At Crossings we are continually endeavoring to “stay connected” with one another. If you ever feel alone, please take the time to reach out. Someone here will be glad to come alongside you and encourage you in your time of need.