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Persevere Because We Await One Greater Than Timothy

It’s been nearly nine months since my last post in the Philippians Weblog Commentary. Today, though, I resume my online commentary on Philippians with a post covering Philippians 2:19-24. The textual outline of this passage is below.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon,

so that I too may be cheered by news of you.

For I have no one like him,

who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.

For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

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.

Paul’s Plans to Send Timothy

Paul has received the Philippians’ gift (Phil. 4:18). Now he plans to send this letter to the Philippians by Epaphroditus, their emissary to Paul (2:25). But Paul also plans to send Timothy behind Epaphroditus “soon.” Paul’s reason for doing this is twofold:

  1. so that he may be cheered by news of the Philippians upon Timothy’s return to him (v. 19) and
  2. because Timothy is the only trustworthy messenger Paul can send back and forth (v. 20).

“So That”

Paul “hope[s] in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that [he] too may be cheered by news of you [the Philippians]” (v. 19). This begs the question, “How could Paul be cheered by news of the Philippians?” Paul answers this question for us earlier in chapter 2, just before the passage we examine today. Paul commands the Philippians in 2:16 to hold fast to the word of life (persevere in the faith) “so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” As we saw in the last post, “Paul rejoices with the Philippians even in the midst of his hardship—which could lead to death. Paul’s joy does not rest in his own present circumstances; it rests in the Lord, in what the Lord is doing in the lives of the Philippian believers.” Timothy would note whether the Philippian church is implementing all of Paul’s varied instructions in this letter. Timothy would note whether the Philippians are

  • united for the defense and propagation of the gospel (1:27)
  • acting with humility toward other believers (2:3)
  • looking to the interests of others (2:4)
  • working out their salvation (2:12)
  • doing all things without grumbling or questioning (2:14)
  • holding fast to the word of life (2:16)
  • joyfully welcoming Epaphroditus home (2:29)
  • rejoicing in the Lord (3:1; 4:4)
  • guarding against “Jesus-plus-what you do” theology (3:2)
  • thinking maturely (3:15)
  • holding true to what they have attained (3:16)
  • imitating Paul’s and other leaders’ examples (3:17; 4:9)
  • standing firm in the Lord (4:1)
  • overcoming strife in the church (4:2-3)
  • letting their reasonableness be known to everyone (4:5)
  • praying with thanksgiving (4:6)
  • thinking on things that are worthy of praise (4:8)
  • greeting every saint in Christ Jesus (4:21)

and Timothy would report back to Paul whether they were doing these things. Of course, Timothy’s report would result in Paul’s cheerfulness; Paul has already noted that God will “bring to completion” the “good work he began” in the Philippians “at the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6) and that the Philippians will work out their own salvation with fear and trembling because God is at work in them (2:12-13). Paul is assured that the Philippians will persevere in the faith; hearing this report from Timothy would only cheer him more (cf. 1 Thess. 2:6-7).

“For” (meaning because)

The reason that Paul plans to send Timothy is also because “no one like him will be genuinely concerned for [the Philippians’] welfare” (Phil. 2:20). No one else around Paul at the time of his letter writing would care for the Philippians as Timothy would. Other messengers around Paul were “seek[ing] their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (v. 21). These would have included the envious preachers who “proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment” (1:17). Also, Timothy had been with Paul at the church’s inception (Acts 16:1-4, 13-15, 40). Therefore, the Philippians “know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22). Paul thus hopes to send Timothy to the Philippians “just as soon” as Paul knows what will happen to himself (v. 23), but he trusts “in the Lord” that he will come “shortly … also” (v. 24).

Persevere Because We Await One Greater Than Timothy

If, as Martin suggests, Philippians 2:6-11 is the key passage of Hebrews; if he is also right that the main message of Hebrews is to live under Christ’s lordship (I would maintain that we do this, in part, by rejoicing in the Lord), then the application of this text, according to Philippians when taken as a whole, is to persevere in our faith because we await One greater than Timothy. I say we are to persevere because of what Paul has already said in Phil. 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” I say that we are to persevere because we await One greater than Timothy because Paul will later command in Phil. 4:1 to “stand firm thus in the Lord” on the basis of 3:20-21, “Our citizenship [recalling the central command of 1:27] is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Epaphroditus has long since delivered the letter to the Philippians. Scripture does not record whether Timothy ever visited the Philippians, nor if he did, whether he reported their conduct back to Paul. Scripture is clear, however, that “we await a Savior” from our heavenly country. “Stand firm” in your faith, persevere, because we await One greater than Timothy who won’t be reporting back to Paul … Jesus will be judging the living and the dead.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. -Hebrews 9:27-28

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Categories: Bible Commentary

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