Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 2:19-24

Timothy and Epaphroditus

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[a] proven worth, how as a son[b] 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.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction not to complain, because the Philippians — and we — are to be as shining lights in a dark, fallen world. Paul also said that he considered himself to be a sacrificial drink offering poured on the greater sacrifice of the Philippians’ faith.

In today’s reading, we find out more about Timothy. Epaphroditus will be the subject of next week’s post.

Paul, hoping in the Lord Jesus, is writing about Timothy because, as a friend to the congregation, he wanted the young man to visit them shortly to take back good news of them to Rome (verse 19), where the Apostle was under house arrest, chained to a guard.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, as the Philippians had not been in touch with Paul for a while, he was concerned about them:

See Paul’s care of the churches, and the comfort he had in their well-doing. He was in pain when he had not heard of them for a good while, and therefore would send Timothy to enquire, and bring him an account …

Paul says that he has no one like Timothy, who is generally concerned for their welfare (verse 20).

Although the Philippians were a good congregation overall, Paul was concerned about spiritual fissures showing. If he could have been with them, he surely would have.

John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

… there was another element in his wanting to be with the Philippians.  It wasn’t just fellowship. It wasn’t just love.  It wasn’t just affection.  It was also spiritual progress.  While he was a prisoner at Rome and while he may have been a little bit melancholy as he thought about the affection he had for these Philippians, he was also pretty astute in his mind and he realized that he needed to be there, not just for the sake of fellowship but also for the sake of their spiritual progress They had some real needs.

For example, look at chapter 1 verse 27.  He says, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.”  Now the first thing we would note is that there was a bit of discord among those people in Philippi.  We don’t know the extent of it but there was some disharmony there and there was need for greater unity.

Chapter 2 verse 1 affirms it.  He says, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”  Here he’s calling for humility He’s calling for unity He’s calling for oneness. He’s calling for loving each other the same, and so forth …

And there was one other thing on his mind and that is that the Philippian church was being attacked by some theological opposition In chapter 1 again verse 28 says, “In no way be alarmed by your opponents.”  Striving together for the faith of the gospel indicates that there was a war going on about the faith of the gospel.  As some opponents were coming in teaching false doctrine, the fact that they opposed the gospel, he says in verse 28, is a sign of destruction for them.  Then in verse 29 he reminds them, “It has been granted for Christ’s sake not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me and now here to be in me.”  In other words, this is to be expected.  You’ve been called to suffer.  You’re being attacked.  There are those who are coming with false doctrine, opponents and enemies.  Obviously under this attack he was concerned that they have an adequate and appropriate response to that So that was another reason that he would have desired to be with them.

Philippians 3 and 4 provide further insight.

MacArthur explains Paul’s unswerving desire to do God’s will:

Now because he had such a strong desire to help the Philippians out of love, and because at the time he was a prisoner, he had no recourse other than to send someone else.  And so verse 19 he says, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you.”  Obviously Timothy then is going to carry Paul’s mission.  He will carry Paul’s affection.  He will carry his message and effort toward unity and toward doctrinal clarity and strength against persecution. That’s why he wants him to go.

Thus we are introduced to Timothy.  Notice how Paul frames what he says.  “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy.”  I like that.  I hope would not be enough for Paul because everything he hoped for had to be submitted to the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus.  That little phrase “in the Lord Jesus” simply means consistent with His will, His purpose, His person, His plan, just that, in accord with His will Paul never did anything.  That’s the baseline, that’s the bottom line in Christian experience.  The goal of the believer is to fill out the will of God, to do what God wants him to do And so, you live in constant submission to the will of God, and we should always say, “I hope in the Lord Jesus, I trust in the Lord Jesus to do this or that.”

Paul never wanted to act independently of his Master’s desires He submitted all of his plans to the Lord.  The Lord was sovereign.  Everything was submitted to the Lord.  That was the bottom line in his life.  And by the way, this is not a stock phrase like “if the Lord is willing,” sort of slapped on the end, tacked on in an unthinking way Nor is it some especially self-abnegating phrase indicating that Paul hasn’t got any clue about what his future is and doesn’t have any idea of what’s coming and so he just sort of pushes it off to the Lord.  It’s not that either.

It’s simply to say I make plans and I make strategies and I set goals but they are all subject to the sovereign Lord under whose leadership I live.  That’s the only way to live, to live in a confident trust in the sovereignty of God.  So he says I hope in the Lord Jesus, that is if the Lord Jesus wills it and if the Lord Jesus wants it, and it’s consistent with His person and plan, to send Timothy.

MacArthur gives us a brief biography of Timothy, who was in Philippi when Paul planted the church there:

He was a native either of Derbe or Lystra, two little towns in the are we know as Galatia His mother was a Jew by the name of Eunice, his grandmother, Lois His father was a Greek so he had a Jewish mother and a Greek father and thus he was able to meet those two sort of colliding cultures, Judaism and Hellenistic Greek culture Obviously he had not been circumcised He had to be circumcised, but he had not been circumcised and as a consequence to that its indication that probably he was educated in Greek culture and Greek circles formally.  So informally he was educated by his mother and his grandmother from whom he learned the doctrines of salvation, as Paul tells us in his epistle to him.  From his father and the culture of the Greeks, he learned that world and that perspective.  So he was eminently qualified to go with Paul into the Greek world to bear the message of Jesus Christ.

We don’t know when he was converted to Christianity We don’t know the details about it.  We know by the time Paul met him in Acts 16 he had already become a Christian and was such a proven young man that Paul said, “I want to take him with me.”  He became Paul’s protege I don’t know if you know how extensively he was a part of Paul’s life. He speaks of him as his son in the Lord, his son in the faith, his true child.  He speaks of him as his brother and his coworker and his fellow servant and his fellow slave.  He was with Paul in Philippi, he was with him in Thessalonica, he was with him in Berea, he was with him in Corinth, he was with him in Ephesus, he is with him here in Rome as he writes this He was associated with Paul in the writing of some of his epistles…such as 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians.  And when Paul wrote to the Romans, Timothy was there as well.

He was of great use to Paul because he was so willing to do anything Paul ever wanted him to do Paul could send him somewhere, he would go.  Paul could take him with him, he would go.  Paul could leave him somewhere, he would stay.  And always faithful to fulfill that which God had given him to do A message in the hands of Timothy would be as safe as it was in the hands of Paul because Timothy was truly his protege.

The Philippians knew him, too, because he had been Philippi from the very beginning He was taken up by Paul in Acts 16.  Later in the sixteenth chapter the church at Philippi was founded, Timothy was surely there at the very founding of the church.  And so they knew Timothy as long as they had known Paul And certainly next to [Paul] he must have been their second favorite.  So he was the right choice.  And Paul was very anxious to send him because of his concern.

I wrote about the relevant passages in Acts in 2018:

Acts 16:1-5 — Paul, Timothy, Silas, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Eunice, Lois

Acts 16:6-10: The Holy Spirit and Spirit of Jesus, Paul, Phyrgia, Galatia, Mysia, Bithynia, Macedonia, Luke

Acts 16:11-15 – Paul, Lydia, first European convert, women, Philippi, Thyatira

Acts 19:21-22 – Paul, Timothy, Erastus, Ephesus, Macedonia, Archaia, Jerusalem, Rome

Acts 20:1-6 – Paul, third missionary tour, Timothy, Sopater the Berean, Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus, Gaius of Derbe, Asians Tychicus and Trophimus, Luke, Greece, Macedonia and Troas

Like Paul, Timothy had great empathy for the various congregations, including the Philippians.

MacArthur says:

Verse 20, “I have no one else of kindred spirit.”  Similar to Paul.  Paul is saying, “As I survey the people that I might send to you, I have only this man, I have no one else available to me of kindred spirit.  He’s the only one similar to me.  He’s the only one who is like me.”

The word there is one…really two words in the Greek, “of kindred spirit,” iso psuche, one souled, one souled…s-o-u-l-e-d, one minded.  He is one with me in mind, one with me in thought, one with me in feeling, one with me in spirit.

In other words, he thinks like I think.  He acts like I act.  He reacts like I react.  That’s why I’m sending him.

He operated like Paul.  He learned to think like Paul.  He learned to perceive like Paul.  He learned to evaluate like Paul, to assess like Paul.  He came with a spiritual mind, not with emotion. 

Paul wrote of other Christians in Rome who were spreading the Gospel, saying that, unlike Timothy, they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (verse 21).

Paul had already mentioned these men in Philippians 1:15-18.

Henry says:

Note, Seeking our own interest to the neglect of Jesus Christ is a very great sin, and very common among Christians and ministers. Many prefer their own credit, ease, and safety, before truth, holiness, and duty, the things of their own pleasure and reputation before the things of Christ’s kingdom and his honour and interest in the world: but Timothy was none of these.

MacArthur says that finding a kindred spirit in ministry is difficult, if not impossible:

… you may spend a life time in ministry and when you come down to the end find that you have been indeed rich if you have produced one who is like you.  I have no one else.

Even Paul found that those who were unusually faithful and those who were unusually able and those who were unusually gifted were very, very few, very few.  Only Timothy. 

Paul reminds the Philippians of Timothy’s proven worth, how Timothy is a spiritual son serving with him as a spiritual father to further the Gospel (verse 22).

MacArthur explains:

Verse 22, Paul says, “You know of his proven worth.”  Just that phrase, “you know of his proven worth.”  This is not an unknown quantity here.  Timothy’s integrity was well established.  You know, ginosko, by experience is the implication, you’ve experienced his validity, his proven worth, dokime, that word from dokimos, familiar New Testament word, means to be approved after testing He has passed the test.  He was proven.  Please note, not by school but by service.  Not by a test but by testings and trials.

Previous ministry on a number of occasions had provided evidence of Timothy’s spiritual character and maturity.  As I noted, he was there when the church began in Acts 16.  You read Acts 19, Acts 20 you’ll see again that he intersects with the Philippian congregation.  They knew, you know by personal experience the proven worth of this man.  He was known to you from the start.

By the way, 2 Corinthians appears to have been written from Philippi also.  And as I mentioned earlier, Paul and Timothy were together in the writing of that epistle And so he was there even at that writing and certainly was well-known to them.

This unique servant of the Lord was a seasoned man You’ll remember that in the qualifications for elder, 1 Timothy chapter 3, it could not be more clear as to what the standard must be.  The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy that this man who was an elder must not be a new convert lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil And then in verse 10 regarding a deacon, he says, “Let these also first be tested.”  And the “also” means that the elders had to be tested, just as the elders are tested also, the deacons have to be tested In other words, they have to be dokimos, proven after testing And again I say, not proven in school but proven in service Not proven by a test, but proven through testings.  This is a man who is a model spiritual servant because he is seasoned.  He has been proven …

The word “serve” is to slaveHe slaved with me, sunemoi(?).  Please note this, it doesn’t say he served me.  It doesn’t say he served under me.  It says he slaved with me.  He’s a fellow slave.  Paul doesn’t see himself as the master and Timothy is the slave.  He slaved alongside of me.  Just like he said to him in 2 Timothy 2, “Suffer hardship along with me as a good servant of Christ.”  He sees Timothy as an equal That’s again his humility.  He sees Timothy in the spiritual dimension as an equal.  He slaved along with me.  But from Timothy’s viewpoint, his attitude was like a child serving his father.

It isn’t a master and a slave.  It isn’t a sergeant and a private relationship.  He slaved with me with the mentality of a son serving alongside his father so that whatever submission was there was a not a forced submission but an earned respect Both were servants of God, both slaved side by side But Timothy with the willing, loving, submission of a son who honors and respects and wants to learn from the father of his love.  The word for son here is not huion which is the generic word for son, but teknon which means child He served alongside me as if he were a little boy and I was his spiritual father That’s marvelous…marvelous, beautiful submission, wonderful meekness.  He never competed with Paul.  No more than a little boy competes with the father of his heart’s affection.  But he came alongside his father.  From his father’s view they were serving together.  From the boy’s view he was lovingly and affectionately looking at his father whom he loved and honored and learning from him with joy.  That’s why he calls him, “My true child in the faith.”

Paul repeats his wish of verse 19, hoping to send Timothy as soon as he can, depending on how things go with him (verse 23).

That implies he had a personal issue of some sort and wanted Timothy with him until it was resolved.

Paul says that he trusts in the Lord that he, too, will be able to make a trip to Philippi soon (verse 24).

MacArthur thinks that Paul might have visited Philippi once more:

Paul did get released from this imprisonment, I’m confident of that Acts chapter 28 verse 30 says he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness unhindered.  I believe it was a two-year imprisonment At the end of that time he was free for a while.  Later on was imprisonment and there he lost his life. But when he was released he may well have gone to Philippi.

I haven’t yet written about 1 and 2 Timothy, but MacArthur gives us an insight into Timothy’s mindset when Paul wrote those letters:

Now let me close with this, and I want you to listen very carefully cause this is so helpful.  Here Paul writes Philippians and he just paints a picture of Timothy that sets him apart as this wonderful person, a real model for us And it was trueBut Timothy was human and Timothy was a sinner And for those of us who are sinful human beings, even though we’re redeemed, there is an ebb and a flow in life, isn’t there?  There are highs and lows.  There are victories and defeats.  And it isn’t long after this…it isn’t long, we don’t know exactly how long, until the Apostle Paul just a few years writes back to Timothy the final letter and he says to him some things that are most remarkable.  Second Timothy chapter 2 verse 21, “If a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the master, prepared for every good work.”  Timothy, I want you to be useful.  “Now flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness and call on the Lord from a pure heart and refuse foolish and ignorant speculations.  And don’t be quarrelsome.”

Now wait a minute…wait a minute, that’s the last letter Paul ever wrote at the end of this life and he writes it to Timothy and says, “Timothy,” first letter he said, “Be an example to the believers.”  Now he says, “Follow righteousness, run away from unholiness.”  And I personally believe that at that point in Timothy’s life there was the ebb, there was the waning of his spiritual strength.  And Paul, knowing his life is at an end as he writes 2 Timothy, is so burdened because Timothy is the only one who is of kindred spirit He’s the only one whose only interests are Christ’s.  He’s so totally focused and so totally serviceable and so uniquely gifted and yet he’s reached an ebbing of his spiritual zeal.  And Paul has to write the second epistle to strengthen him. Be strong in the Lord, he says in chapter 2 verse 1 And so Timothy is the perfect model for usHe’s so human.

In closing, Timothy, in obedience to Christ and in imitation of Paul, is another role model for us to follow in our Christian journey:

We see the standard of what he was in Philippians.  Paul holds him to and calls him back to that standard in 2 Timothy.  And he would do the same for us today.  You see the model of Timothy, hear the word of Paul to Timothy later and be sure that you become what you can be in the power of God’s Spirit.

Paul goes on to write about Epaphroditus, the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Philippians 2:25-30