As we continue our study in Philippians, Paul is still discussing the submissive mind. He gives us a description of the submissive mind in the example of Jesus Christ (The Great Example, Phil. 2:1–11). He explains the dynamics of the submissive mind in his own experience (The Ins and Outs of Christian Living, Phil. 2:12–18). Now, he introduces us to two of his helpers in the ministry, Timothy and Epaphroditus. He knows that his readers will be prone to say, “It is impossible for us to follow such examples as Christ and Paul! After all, Jesus is the very Son of God and Paul is a chosen apostle who has had great spiritual experiences!” For this reason, Paul introduces us to two “ordinary saints,” men who were not apostles or spectacular miracle workers. He wants us to know the submissive mind is not a luxury enjoyed by a chosen few; it is a necessity for Christian joy and an opportunity for all believers.
Paul probably met Timothy on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6), at which time, perhaps, the youth was converted (1 Cor. 4:17). Apparently, Timothy’s mother and grandmother had been converted first (2 Tim. 1:3–5). He was the son of a Jewish mother and Gentile father, but Paul always considered the young man his own “dearly beloved son” in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2). When Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra while on his second missionary journey, he enlisted young Timothy as one of his fellow laborers (Acts 16:1–4). In one sense, Timothy replaced John Mark, whom Paul had refused to take along on the journey because of Mark’s previous abandonment of the cause (Acts 13:13; 15:36–41).
In Timothy’s experience, we learn the submissive mind is not something that suddenly, automatically appears in the life of the believer. Timothy had to develop and cultivate the “mind of Christ.” It was not natural for him to be a servant; but, as he walked with the Lord and worked with Paul, he became the kind of servant that Paul could trust and God could bless. Notice the characteristics of this young man.
1. He had a servant’s mind (vv. 19–21)
But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.
To begin with, Timothy naturally cared for people and was concerned about their needs. He was not interested in “winning friends and influencing people”; he was genuinely interested in their physical and spiritual welfare. Paul was concerned about the church at Philippi, and wanted to send someone to convey his concern and get the facts. There were certainly hundreds of Christians in Rome (Paul greets twenty-six of them by name in Rom. 16); yet not one of them was available to make the trip! “All seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (v. 21). In a very real sense, all of us live either in Philippians 1:21 or 2:21!
But Timothy had a natural concern for the welfare of others; he had a servant’s mind. It is too bad the believers in Rome were so engrossed in themselves and their own internal arguments (Phil. 1:15–16) that they had no time for the important work of the Lord. This is one of the tragedies of church problems; they divert time, energy, and concern away from the things that matter most. Timothy was not interested in promoting any party or supporting any divisive cause. He was interested only in the spiritual condition of God’s people and this concern was natural to him. How did this concern develop? The answer is in the next characteristic of this remarkable young man.
2. He had a servant’s training (v. 22)
But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.
Paul did not add Timothy to his “team” the very day the boy was saved. Paul was too wise to make an error like that. He left him behind to become a part of the church fellowship in Derbe and Lystra, and it was in that fellowship that Timothy grew in spiritual matters and learned how to serve the Lord. When Paul returned to the area a few years later, he was happy to discover that young Timothy “was well spoken of by the brethren” (Acts 16:2). Years later, Paul would write to Timothy about the importance of permitting new converts to grow before thrusting them into important places of ministry (1 Tim. 3:6–7).
A popular local nightclub performer visited a pastor, and announced he had been saved and wanted to serve the Lord. “What should I do next?” he asked.
“Well, I’d suggest you unite with a good church and start growing,” the pastor replied. “Is your wife a Christian?”
“No, she isn’t,” the musician replied. “I hope to win her. But, do I have to wait? I mean, I’d like to do something for God right now.”
“No, you don’t have to wait to witness for the Lord,” explained the pastor. “Get busy in a church, and use your talents for Christ.”
“But you don’t know who I am!” the man protested. “I’m a big performer—everybody knows me. I want to start my own organization, make records, and appear before big crowds!”
“If you go too far too fast,” warned the pastor, “you may hurt yourself and your testimony. The place to start winning people is right at home. God will open up places of service for you as He sees you are ready. Meanwhile, study the Bible and give yourself a chance to grow.”
The man did not take the pastor’s counsel. Instead, he set up a big organization and started out on his own. His “success” lasted less than a year. Not only did he lose his testimony because he was not strong enough to carry the heavy burdens, but his constant traveling alienated him from his wife and family. He drifted into a “fringe group” and disappeared from public ministry, a broken and bankrupt man.
“His branches went out farther than his roots went deep,” the pastor said. “When that happens, you eventually topple.”
Paul did not make this mistake with Timothy. He gave him time to get his roots down and then he enlisted the young man to work with him on his missionary tours. He taught Timothy the Word and permitted him to watch the apostle in his ministry (2 Tim. 3:10–17). This was the way Jesus trained His disciples. He gave personal instruction balanced by on-the-job experience. Experience without teaching can lead to discouragement, and teaching without experience can lead to spiritual deadness. It takes both.
3. He had a servant’s reward (vv. 23–24)
Therefore, I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.
Timothy knew the meaning of “sacrifice and service” (Phil. 2:17), but God rewarded him for his faithfulness. To begin with, Timothy had the joy of helping others. To be sure, there were hardships and difficulties, but there were also victories and blessings. Because Timothy was a “good and faithful servant,” faithful over a few things, God rewarded him with “many things,” and he entered into the joy of the submissive mind (Matt. 25:21). He had the joy of serving with the great Apostle Paul and assisting him in some of his most difficult assignments (1 Cor. 4:17). Timothy is mentioned at least twenty-four times in Paul’s letters.
But perhaps the greatest reward God gave to Timothy was to choose him to be Paul’s replacement when the great apostle was called home (2 Tim. 4:1–11). Paul himself wanted to go to Philippi, but God sent Timothy in his place. What an honor! Timothy was not only Paul’s son, and Paul’s servant, but he became Paul’s substitute! His name is held in high regard by Christians today, something that young Timothy never dreamed of when he was busy serving Christ.
The submissive mind is not the product of an hour’s sermon, or a week’s seminar, or even a year’s service. The submissive mind grows in us as, like Timothy, we yield to the Lord and seek to serve others.
Paul was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”; Timothy was part Jew and part Gentile (Acts 16:1); and Epaphroditus was a full Gentile as far as we know. He was the member of the Philippian church who risked his health and life to carry their missionary offering to the apostle in Rome (Phil. 4:18). His name means “charming” and a charming Christian he is.
1. He was a balanced Christian (v. 25)
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, companion in labor, and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need.
Paul could not say enough about this man—“My brother, companion in labor, and fellow-soldier.” These three descriptions parallel what Paul wrote about the Gospel in the first chapter of this letter:
- “My brother” — “the fellowship in the Gospel” (Phil. 1:5)
- “my companion in labor” — “the advance of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:12)
- “my fellow soldier” — “the faith of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:27)
Epaphroditus was a balanced Christian!
Balance is important in the Christian life. Some people emphasize “fellowship” so much that they forget the advance of the Gospel. Others are so involved in defending the “faith of the Gospel” that they neglect building fellowship with other believers. Epaphroditus did not fall into either of these traps. He was like Nehemiah, the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with his sword in one hand and his trowel in the other (Neh. 4:17). You cannot build with a sword or battle with a trowel! It takes both to get the Lord’s work accomplished.
There was a group of believers who thought only of “fellowship.” They had little concern for reaching the lost or for defending the faith against its enemies. In front of their meeting place they hung a sign: JESUS ONLY. But the wind blew away some of the letters, and the sign read—US ONLY. It was a perfect description of a group of people who were not balanced Christians.
2. He was a burdened Christian (vv. 26–27, 30)
He was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. He came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
Like Timothy, Epaphroditus was concerned about others. To begin with, he was concerned about Paul. When he heard in Philippi that Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he volunteered to make that long, dangerous trip to Rome to stand at Paul’s side and assist him. He carried the church’s love gift with him, protecting it with his own life.
Our churches today need men and women who are burdened for missions and for those in difficult places of Christian service. “The problem in our churches,” states one missionary leader “is that we have too many spectators and not enough participants.” Epaphroditus was not content simply to contribute to the offering. He gave himself to help carry the offering!
But this man was also burdened for his own home church. After arriving in Rome, he became very ill. In fact, he almost died. This delayed his return to Philippi and the people there became concerned about him. But Epaphroditus was not burdened about himself; he was burdened over the people in Philippi because they were worried about him! This man lived in Philippians 1:21, not 2:21. Like Timothy, he had a natural concern for others. The word “distressed” in 2:26 is the same description used of Christ in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37). Like Christ, Epaphroditus knew the meaning of sacrifice and service (2:30), which are two of the marks of the submissive mind.
3. He was a blessed Christian (vv. 28–30)
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. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
What a tragedy it would be to go through life and not be a blessing to anyone! Epaphroditus was a blessing to Paul. He stood with him in his prison experience and did not permit even his own sickness to hinder his service. What times he and Paul must have had together! But he was also a blessing to his own church. Paul admonishes the church to honor him because of his sacrifice and service. (Christ gets the glory, but there is nothing wrong with the servant receiving honor, 1 Thes. 5:12–13). There is no contradiction between Philippians 2:7 (“He emptied Himself”) and 2:29 (“hold men like him in high regard”). Christ “emptied Himself” in His gracious act of humiliation and God exalted Him. Epaphroditus sacrificed himself with no thought of reward and Paul encouraged the church to hold him in honor to the glory of God.
He was a blessing to Paul and to his own church, and he is also a blessing to us today! He proves to us that the joyful life is the life of sacrifice and service, that the submissive mind really does work. He and Timothy together encourage us to submit ourselves to the Lord, and to one another, in the Spirit of Christ. Christ is the Pattern we follow. Paul shows us the power (Phil. 4:12–19); and Timothy and Epaphroditus are the proof that this submissive mind really works.
Are you permitting the Spirit to reproduce “the mind of Christ” in you?