19 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. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 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. 23 Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself also shall be coming shortly. 25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 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, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly in order that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29 Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. [NASB ‘77]
Paul turns to very human concerns, but in so doing gives us examples – in his descriptions of himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus – of how to live out his teaching from the first 18 verses of this chapter. The three men Paul discusses in this text live lives patterned after the example of Christ. They live for and love others, they focus on the gospel, and they give their lives for something bigger than themselves. Because of this they are fellow soldiers and useful workers for the kingdom.
Paul just told them in verses 16-18 that he trusts that they’ll persevere until the end so that his labor on their behalf won’t prove to have been in vain. He uses that as a transition to now express his plans to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to them to encourage them and also to find out how they’re doing.
He starts by saying he wants to send Timothy to check on them so that he can be encouraged by their condition. He obviously thinks Timothy will bring back a good report. It’s interesting that he doesn’t say Timothy will encourage them but that the report he brings back will encourage Paul. He’s just said he trusts that his ministry won’t be in vain, so Timothy’s report will reinforce that and thus encourage him.
In verses 20-21 Paul draws a contrast to describe Timothy’s Christ-like qualities. The contrast gives a sobering description of the believers around him. He says he has no one of kindred spirit who will be concerned for the Philippians as he is. Everyone who’s with him is concerned for his own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. It’s a devastating critique. For Paul to discuss these people this way – as people he could send to Philippi – it makes sense that they are Christians. Yet he has to say of them that they do not live as Christ lived. They think only of themselves. They aren’t like Paul, they don’t share his concerns. And they ultimately don’t share Christ’s concerns either. They might be nice people but they ultimately aren’t about Christ’s work.
It’s easy to read this and be shocked at these people. How can they be around Paul and hear his teaching and live this way? How can they call themselves Christians and not be concerned about the things of Christ? How can they live so selfishly? And yet – how many of us fit this same description at certain times in our lives? Or perhaps more than just certain times? Paul ultimately describes people living by sight rather than by faith. They’re consumed by the world – by what seems important right now. And that’s a very easy way to live – perhaps even easier today than in Paul’s day. And note that Paul apparently describes most of the believers who are with him. If that’s the case, we should read these verses soberly and examine our own lives to make sure we’re exceptional rather than typical.
Timothy isn’t like the others. He is a kindred spirit with Paul in that he’s concerned about the Philippians and concerned about the gospel. Notice how Paul equates Timothy’s concern for others with his concern for the things of Christ (your welfare at the end of verse 20 goes along with those of Christ Jesus at the end of verse 21). He ties it back to his teaching in verses 3-4. Those who are concerned for others – who esteem others more highly than themselves and look out for the interests of others – ultimately are concerned for the things of Christ. To be others-centered is to be Christ-centered.
Putting this positively, a Christians displays his preeminent devotion to the Lord Jesus by seeking the true welfare of others. It is necessarily so, for the Lord Jesus displayed his total obedience to God by pouring himself out wholly for others. Had he not done so, his consecration would have remained theoretical, if not hypothetical. Timothy was like his Lord. (J.A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians; The Bible Speaks Today; 141.)
In verse 22 Paul once again points to his gospel-centered life. Timothy is a kindred spirit because he’s concerned about the Philippians but also because he served alongside Paul in the furtherance of the gospel. It always comes back to the gospel. It’s what drives Paul’s life and it apparently drives Timothy’s as well.
So the picture of Timothy is of a man committed to loving others and spreading the gospel. He puts others ahead of himself – just like Christ. And he makes Christ’s message – the gospel – the focus of his life. His love for others informs his passion for the gospel, and his passion for the gospel informs his love for others. And it’s the existence of both that proves God’s work in his life. The one God’s completing shows it in his love for others and his work for the gospel.
Note that by describing Timothy as a kindred spirit Paul points to himself as well. As much as Timothy is an example of what it means to live like Christ, so is Paul. For him too, it’s all about those he ministers to and all about the gospel.
Paul shows another element of his perspective in verses 19 and 24. In 19 he says he hopes in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly. And in verse 24 he says he trusts in the Lord that he will come to Philippi very soon too. In both cases he makes it clear how he sees his life. He isn’t a prisoner of Rome and his life isn’t his to run. It’s all about his Creator and Savior. If Christ wants Timothy to come to Philippi soon, he will. If Christ wants Paul to come there also, he will. But if the Lord doesn’t want either to occur, that’s OK too. Paul knows what he wants but his desires are always subject to God’s will. He hopes and trusts, but he hopes and trusts in the Lord. It’s the Lord who runs his life – not Paul. It’s the Lord who has him imprisoned – not Rome. It’s the Lord who will decide if and when he’s released and whether or not he comes to Philippi – not Paul. And Paul wouldn’t have it any other way. This perspective allows Paul to live freely in spite of his circumstances.
In these verses Paul discusses another man who lives like Christ – Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus apparently was sent to Paul by the Philippians with a gift (4:18). The gift is what presumably prompts Paul to write this letter. His intention is to send it back with Epaphroditus.
He describes Epaphroditus as my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier. All three terms describe the believer. We’re all brothers and sisters in the faith since there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but we’re all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28) and all children of God (2:15). We’re all workers as bond-servants of Christ (1:1, 2:7) doing the work of Christ (2:30) in the furtherance of the gospel (2:22). And we’re all soldiers fighting for the kingdom – and willing to die for it – and against sin and leaving behind everything doesn’t help us in the battle (II Tim 2:3-4).
Epaphroditus has just recovered from a nearly-terminal sickness. Paul says God had mercy on both Epaphroditus and Paul in saving Epaphroditus’ life. If Epaphroditus would have died it would’ve caused Paul sorrow upon sorrow. It’s interesting that the same guy who described death as gain and said that if it were up to him he’d choose being with Christ over being in this life (1:21-23) says here that God showed mercy by saving his friend’s life. It just shows that Paul is human. He would’ve genuinely missed Epaphroditus had he died and he’s therefore glad he’s alive (which is a picture of how Christians should see the death of a brother or sister in the faith – we miss the person and mourn their death, but rejoice that they’re truly in a better place and state). And as for Epaphroditus, it may be that he’d be better off with Christ, but no one wants to go through death so it makes sense that God had mercy on him too. [It’s also interesting that apparently Paul couldn’t heal him. It shows again that Paul is subject to God and fully appreciates it. He doesn’t express surprise or bitterness over his lack of power. He lives his life happily in submission to his Savior.]
Since Epaphroditus knows his friends back in Philippi knew about his sickness and were worried about him, he now strongly desires to go back so he can reassure them that he’s OK. He loves the Philippians and doesn’t want them to hurt. Just like Timothy, he’s concerned for them above himself (just as Paul is – he wants them to see Epaphroditus so they’ll rejoice and Paul won’t have to worry about them). At this point it’s not his health that he’s worried about, it’s the welfare of the Philippians.
Paul encourages the Philippians to receive him in the Lord (do you see how everything is in the Lord with Paul?) with all joy. They should hold him in high regard because he nearly gave his life for the work of Christ. In this he’s like Christ Himself, who was obedient to the point of death (2:8). We’re not sure what happened to make him so sick, but it seems he gave everything to fulfill his duty to bring Paul the gift. And just as Christ was exalted as a result of his obedient sacrifice, Paul encourages the Philippians to hold Epaphroditus in high esteem because of his sacrifice. With his actions Epaphroditus shows how different he is from the people Paul can’t send to Philippi – he’s so concerned about the things of Christ he’s willing to give his life for them. Ultimately he shows that he’s just like Timothy and Paul – he’s Christ-like.
Paul’s last statement to the Philippians at first sounds somewhat ungrateful. He says Epaphroditus risked his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. All he means by this is that Epaphroditus was able to bring the gift the Philippians wanted to give earlier but didn’t have the chance. Paul will refer to this later in the letter (4:10). He’s not being ungrateful; he’s simply stating what they all know. He now has the gift they couldn’t send to him before now.
Since this entire text is application it’s fairly easy to come up with application points, isn’t it? The goal is to be people Paul could send to Philippi, not people so concerned about their own interests as to be essentially useless for the work of the kingdom. And that’s really what’s at stake here. The people who are with Paul who aren’t his kindred spirits, who don’t care about the welfare of the Philippians and thus aren’t interested in the things of Christ ultimately have very little value to his ministry. They’re presumably in the kingdom but not very integral to it. When we’re all about ourselves we’re not about God and not about God’s work, and not very useful for the ongoing ministry of the gospel.
The ones who are useful – who can go to Philippi (and perhaps this is how we should hold each other accountable from here on – “Are you eligible to go to Philippi?”) are those who work out their salvation and become like Christ. Who live like Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus. The sacrificial life is the useful life. It’s the one who denies himself and takes up his cross who’s the disciple. It’s the one who obeys and loves who’s most used in the kingdom. When we – through the strength of Christ who works in us for His good pleasure (2:13) – model the selflessness and obedience of Christ, we become brothers, fellow workers, and fellow soldiers in the cause of the kingdom.
Well might we honor such a man (Epaphroditus); and well might we wish to be like him. But, indeed, that is the purpose of the portraits given here of Epaphroditus, Timothy and Paul. The grace of God had been at work in them. The effectual work of the indwelling God (verse 13) was changing them, in will and deed, into the likeness of the great Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. They were varied characters, with varying gifts and diverse temperaments; their backgrounds could not have been more dissimilar; but they were each coming to resemble the Savior; they loved Him and followed His example. (J.A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians; The Bible Speaks Today; 144.)
Let us be like these three mighty servants of God, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus, who were ready to risk their lives for the sake of Christ and for his work. The battle is on and the fight is keen and hot. Let us all be certain that as fellow soldiers we keep rank, we never falter or fail, and whatever the demands may be, whatever the cost, we shall be ready at any moment, yea unto death, to stand and to fight for our glorious King, the Lord Jesus Christ. (D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Joy and Peace; 235.)