Philippians - Pursuing Christ to Know Him

by Thomas W. Finley


Paul’s continued appeal for unity (2:1-4)

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Verse one begins with “so,” signaling that this passage is a continuation. Paul is continuing his appeal for unity here, which began in 1:27. There he appealed to the Philippians to live as citizens of a heavenly kingdom by demonstrating unity as they strive together for the gospel. Now, as a further word on this unity, in verses 1-4 Paul reveals our resources in Christ for unity. He also gives instructions on how to maintain unity. Interestingly, in these verses the emphasis is simply on unity among the believers without a reference to a specific purpose for such unity, like the gospel work. Unity in itself is a great purpose of God in His plan for redeemed man (Eph. 2:12-15; 4:13-16). The gospel outreach ends with this age. Yet God’s goal to bring redeemed man into a oneness in union with Christ is a significant part of His eternal purpose in summing up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10; Rev. 21:1-2).

Verse one presents a series of qualities connected to Paul’s deep desire for unity: “if there is any encouragement in Christ . . . any comfort . . . any participation . . .any affection and sympathy, complete my joy.” Paul is giving an impassioned plea here to the Philippians. He is pleading with his readers that if there is any encouragement in Christ, etc., — and there is — then they should take hold of these qualities for the sake of unity and thus complete his joy. All believers need encouragement, which is in Christ, and this encouragement given to others promotes unity. Genuine love, from Christ, affords much consolation or comfort. Our common participation in the same Spirit is a divine resource for unity (Eph. 4:3-4). The final phrase of this verse — “affection and sympathy” — again points to virtues found in Christ as resources for unity. The word for “affection’ here is the same word Paul uses in 1:8: “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Paul appeals to the Philippians in verse two to “complete my joy.” This shows how important the unity of the believers is to the aged apostle. His heart is longing for them to be unified. Paul’s longing is only a reflection of the longing of God Himself. This personal appeal should touch the heart of the Philippian believers, who greatly respected and supported Paul as a man of God.

Paul’s instructions for unity are given in deeply significant terms:

“being of the same mind” — This means to have the same attitude and thoughts about things as Christ does. It means to see things as He does and then act as He acts. We can see that this idea is in accord with the opening prayer (1:9-10). There Paul prays for the believers to live in love by testing and discovering what is according to Christ. This does not mean that all believers should have the same view on all minor doctrines or non-moral issues of conscience in living out their faith. This is clear from Romans 14:1-8. The issue here is how to live together in unity. This is to be achieved by all of us being attuned to Christ’s attitude and way of living with one another. And this attitude allows for different understandings of doctrine or Christian practices related to non-moral matters. This matter of being of the same mind is then modified by two following phrases – “having the same love” and “being in full accord and of one mind.”

“having the same love” — This means having the same love of Christ for each other. Partiality leads to sects, but maintaining the same love towards one another leads to unity. (Note Jas. 2:1-9). Christ’s mind is that of loving each one fully.

“being in full accord and of one mind” — Here I believe the ESV translation is inadequate. Two literal translations read: “one in soul, minding the one thing” (LITV); “of one soul, minding the one thing” (YLT). “Minding” means to pay attention to something. Here this means that all of us should pay attention to the “one thing.” What is the “one thing?” Paul defines that for us in 3:8-15, where he declares the surpassing value of knowing Christ, and pursues Christ to know Him in experience. Paul does this in order to gain the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. As we seek to know Christ in experience as our goal, this will bring us into His mind of living in unity.

Verse three continues the thought of unity. By “minding the one thing” the thoughts and actions of “selfish ambition” and “conceit” are naturally excluded. “Selfish ambition” is that inner drive that seeks some benefit for the self, like recognition, vindication, financial payoff, etc. Greek scholar Dean Alford renders this word as “self-seeking.” It has self-interest at the forefront (contrast the remainder of verse three and also four). “Conceit,” arrogance and pride are at the heart of division, not unity. “Argument only comes by pride” (Prov. 13:10a, LITV). The saintly Robert Chapman, a man of much experience in Christ, stated, "Humility is the secret of fellowship, and pride the secret of division."[1]

The contrast to this “selfish ambition” and “empty conceit” is “humility” that counts others as more significant. It means that we have a heart that can be attuned to the interests of others and consider their needs as surpassing our own. Christ, in His humility, laid aside what would benefit Him, and became a servant, going all the way to the cross for the sake of our needs (2:7-8).

Humility in us firstly stems from our position as a creature wholly dependent upon God the Creator. In this posture we realize that we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. Realizing our own need of dependence we will not lift ourselves above others. A classic devotional book on the Biblical view of humility is “Humility, the Beauty of Holiness,” by Andrew Murray. This is perhaps my favorite devotional book and has been treasured by many thousands of believers.

Verse four adds a naturally following step to viewing others as more significant. Here we begin to take notice of others’ interests, concerns and needs. We can consider these interests and sympathize with the needs of others. This will lead us to a readiness of heart to reach out to them and to serve them at the impulse of the great Servant, Christ, who lives within us. All of this is done not by our efforts, but by our seeking after Christ to know Him (“minding the one thing,” v. 2). This seeking will lead to love that abounds more and more, as we see and enter into what He is doing and how He is loving (1:9-10).

Life Application

One of the greatest marks of true Christian community is living together in unity. All of us know the challenge of this. Often it seems difficult to live in harmony with others because of differing temperaments, different backgrounds and upbringing, differing goals, etc. Yet, these verses uncover the real root of the problem – the life of the self. It is self, with its pride and its own self-seeking that is the real problem. These verses also give us the solution to the challenge of unity. The solution lies in the resources of Christ Himself – His encouragement, His love, His affection and sympathy, etc. We can never look to ourselves to work up these virtues or attempt to copy them. Christ Himself is what we need in our experience.

Further, the real key for living in harmony with other believers is for each of us to be “minding the one thing.” That one thing is to pursue knowing Christ in our daily experience. It involves making knowing Him the focus of our lives every hour in every situation. When we seek after this, then we can lay hold of Him as the source of all that we need. All of this involves humility, a dependence upon God whereby we can do nothing of ourselves. Instead, by faith, draw upon the resources in Christ. When we do that then we can regard others as more significant than ourselves and be concerned about their interests and needs, not just our own.

Christ, our example (2:5-11)

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This section, particularly verses 6-11, is known widely in Christian literature as “the Christ poem.” Because of its highly poetic nature, most writers have considered these words to be an early hymn of the church. In a few words, it beautifully portrays Christ’s divine nature, his incarnation and death on the cross, and His exaltation to the highest position of Lord. The two major movements within the poem are Christ’s humiliation downward (vs. 6-8) and His exaltation heavenward (vs. 9-11).

2:5 — This section begins with a command, telling us that we should be thinking in a certain way. It is a way of thinking that is Christ’s way of thinking. Such a mindset or attitude may have been described to some degree in verses 2-4. But now it is seen most vividly in the actions of Christ’s journey of humility in verses 6-8. It is the mindset of Christ that Paul wants us to experience. The charge to possess this mindset is obviously a continuation of the call to humility (for unity) in the prior verses 2-4.

2:6 - “who, though he was in the form of God.” This clause points to Christ’s eternal pre-existence. He did not become God at a point in time. He existed as God in eternity “past” (see John 8:58 and Ex. 3:14). What does the “form” of God mean? Paul chose this word “form” (morpheStrong’s #3444) carefully. The word does not refer merely to some outward fashion or features which may be temporary. Rather, it refers to the outward expression of a being’s inward nature, his essential characteristics or qualities. In essence, Christ was God. When Christ became a man He took on the “form” of a servant. “A servant” was the visible expression of Christ’s humanity. Yet that expression was fully in agreement with His inner essence. The heart of God as One who serves others was revealed through the incarnation.

Although Christ existed in the form of God (the essential divine quality), He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” This probably means that Christ did not regard His equality with God as something to be held onto, but rather something that He would willingly relinquish. He did not relinquish His essential deity when He became a man (Col. 2:9). However, He relinquished His equality with God in heaven by becoming subordinate to God the Father while on the earth as a man.

2:7 – “but emptied himself.” Christ poured Himself out (“emptied himself”) by taking on the form of a servant. He had the highest form – that of God. But He then “emptied himself” by taking on the form of the lowliest of humans, a servant. His self-emptying was not a matter of subtraction, but of addition. Christ, the Son of God, did not relinquish His divinity when He became a man. Rather, He took on a new mode of being as a servant, one who is not equal with God. He became a servant of God to carry out His will (Heb.10:7), and He became a servant of all mankind (Mk. 10:45). This is a great step in Christ’s journey of humiliation.

In His new role He was born in the “likeness of men.” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). “In the likeness of men” means that He is like men, a human. Yet, there is some difference. He is also divine and sinless. The glory He had before the incarnation was veiled in human flesh (Jn. 17:5). As a human being Christ relinquished His independent exercise of His divine attributes (note Matt. 24:36). As a servant, Jesus provides for us the great example of servanthood. He came to serve, not to be served (Matt. 20:28). His role as a servant of others is in line with the whole thrust of instructions for the Philippian believers in 2:3-4. Note also John 13:5-17 where Jesus modeled His role of servant as an example for us.

2:8 – In incarnation Christ was found by others in appearance as a man. He looked like other men, but without the sin of man. Then, as a man, He humbled Himself to be obedient to the will of the Father, even unto death. Crucifixion was reserved for punishment only upon slaves and those who rebelled against the Roman government. It was not only extremely painful and cruel, it was also the most shameful and humiliating of deaths. Although the Romans practiced crucifixion, they abhorred the very thought of it, as something utterly shameful. The Jews considered such a death as a curse (Deut. 21:23). For Christ to be willing to endure this death, which included taking upon Himself the sins of the world, was a great step of humility. It was a total denial of self (Lk. 22:42). The cross was utterly despised by the world, but believers came to honor the cross as the greatest symbol of love and sacrifice in all of human history.

2:9 – Because of Christ’s willing humiliation and total obedience as a servant, God took action to exalt Christ to the highest position in the universe. God’s raising and exaltation of Jesus is His confirmation that this humble One is His Anointed and the Lord of all (Acts 2:29-36; Heb. 2:9). There is some debate among Bible interpreters about “the name” which was bestowed on Jesus in verse nine. “The name that is above every name” here may mean simply the highest position of glory and honor. It appears that this name was given at the time of Jesus’ exaltation, not His birth (Acts 13:33; Phil. 2:9; Heb.1:3-5). This fact would go against “the name” in verse nine being simply the name of Jesus as a personal name. Yet, verse ten says explicitly “the name of Jesus.”

On the other hand, some wording in verses 2:10-11 seems directly derived from Isaiah 45:23, which states, “To me [Yahweh – the Lord] every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” We can at least say that in His exaltation the name of Jesus is now the name of the Lord – the One above all and to whom all must bow (Acts 2:36). In fact, this is the confession made in verse 11, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

2:10 – This is a verse pointing to a future event and the verse is based on Isaiah 45:23. The whole realm of creation should bow to Him. Those “in heaven” are the angels. Those “on earth” are the living humans. Those “under the earth” are the deceased humans. All of these will bow to acknowledge that Jesus has the sovereign rule over all. This does not mean that all will be saved because that is based upon our faith in this life before the Lord comes or before we die.

2:11 – There is some variance in ancient texts for this verse. Some texts use a verb form that is rendered “will confess” (future indicative), while other texts use a form that is best rendered “should confess” (subjunctive mood). We cannot make too much of this, but simply say that a universal future confession does not equal a universal salvation. The confession will be made when Jesus is openly seen as the Lord in glory and this fact cannot be denied by anyone. None will be able to deny His Lordship in the universe, although they may not submit to Him as Lord in their wills. Even the evil angels now admit that He is the Son of God, but they are still fighting against Him (Matt. 8:29; Mk. 3:11-12).

Life Application

This passage (2:5-11) is one of the most powerful pictures of Christ in the New Testament. It vividly describes His willing humiliation, His servanthood, His obedience and His exaltation. It certainly inspires us to follow Him as He lived. Let us remember that the passage begins with the command, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” I believe we can understand “mind” here as a way of thinking — a mindset. Christ’s mindset was to humble Himself, and as a man, to be an obedient servant to God, even unto death. Let us apply this thought to our lives, and let this mind be in us, day by day and hour by hour. Through receiving God’s empowering grace by faith, we can certainly follow our Lord in His way of living. Our life on this earth should not be about our desires, our preferences and the potential pleasures we might enjoy in this life. God has eternally saved us from the penalty rightly due to us for our sins. Now let us lift our eyes to see Christ and His magnificent life as described in this passage. Let us tell the Lord, “Lord Jesus, I do desire for Your life to be the example for me. I trust in You to work in me to live Your life as You lived.”

Shine as lights in the world (2:12-18)

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

2:12 – “Therefore” signifies “seeing Christ’s pattern of obedience.” In light of this pattern Paul instructs the believers to complete their obedience just as they had obeyed before. Paul is continuing his theme of instruction to the believers that he began in 1:27 and continued through 2:5. The clause “work out your own salvation” means that the believer must cooperate with God who works within him (v. 13). Jesus, as our example, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (v. 8). Now we must follow this example and obey God at all costs. The “salvation” here is the ongoing deliverance of the believer from the self-life and sin to a life that honors Christ in his living.

To “work out” means to carry out our salvation to its intended end. Our intended end is to be fully conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19), and to receive a full reward at Christ’s coming. This process is ongoing through the believer’s lifetime and God often uses trials to help that process (Rom. 5:2-5; Jas. 1:2-4, 12; 1 Pet. 1:3-7; 4:12-14). Each trial, like Paul’s imprisonment (1:19-20) and the opposition to the Philippian believers (1:28), presents an opportunity to learn of Christ and honor Him in our lives.

This process of working out our salvation involves knowing Christ in experience. It includes knowing Him in His sufferings and in the power of His resurrection. Paul unfolds this process in Chapter Three. There the apostle tells us that his goal is to become like Christ in His death (a complete death to self) in order to gain a certain prize. This prize speaks of reward, which is coming in the “day of Christ” (v. 16), and we will examine this prize when we look at Chapter Three. This “working out” should be done by us “with fear and trembling.” Why? The next verse tells us why.

2:13 – This verse begins with “for” (gar in Greek), which is an explanatory “for” related to what precedes it. The Philippian believers are told to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you.” Our attitude towards the work of God’s Spirit within us should include a certain fear of a holy God. Modern writers have often gone astray in defining this word “fear” (phobos in Greek) as simply “reverence” (meaning an attitude of respect and awe). The word should include not only reverence, but also some fear of punishment (for disobedience) by God the Judge (see Acts 5:9-11 and 1 Pet. 1:14-17).

God is at work in every believer “both to will and work for his good pleasure.” Firstly, this means God’s Spirit is pointing out His will to us and urging us to do it. He is also working to empower us to do His will. But, we must cooperate with the working of the Spirit within, saying “yes” to Him and depending upon Him in faith (Rom. 8:2-4; Phil. 3:10).

He does this working within us “for his good pleasure.” It pleases God to see our lives being delivered from sin, self and the world. This is in accordance with His gracious purposes for us in redemption.

2:14 – “Do all things” means to be obedient in everything that God desires. It is true that there is the background in the context of needed obedience in the matter of unity among the believers (1:27; 2:3-4). No doubt, this is still on Paul’s mind as he writes this passage. But, Paul is also giving them a principle here that applies to all matters of obedience. After all, this verse is written following the example of Christ’s willingness to obey in all points, even to the death of a cross. “Without grumbling or disputing.” The word for grumbling (perhaps better rendered as “murmurings”) in the NT speaks of private talks or complaints. Murmuring was a problem for the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10). This seems to point to verbal complaints.

The word used for disputing is almost always used in the NT of inward reasoning or thoughts in the hearts of men. It is hard to say if the apostle means here murmurings or secret reasoning against God and His dealings, or against others. Both may well be included. Too often believers can outwardly “obey” some command but retain some murmuring or reasoning in the process. For example, a child may be told to clean up his room. He may outwardly “obey” his parent and clean up his room. However, if his heart is complaining while doing it, or if he has negative thoughts towards his parent, then this “obedience” is not true obedience. God wants obedience without murmuring or disputing.

2:15 – Full obedience to God produces blameless lives, which means exemplary lives that others cannot criticize. The Greek word for “innocent” means pure, without evil mixed in. Such lives show forth the believers as children of God. They are “without blemish,” as required in the OT Law of an animal that could be sacrificed to God. In a dark world of men who are crooked and morally corrupt, such children of God shine as bright lights with the purity of God. Together, as a community, they are like a light on a hill (Matt. 5:14). But such a community is made up of individual lights (see Matt. 5:15-16; Mk. 4:21-25).

This “shining as lights” by Christians is another description of the honoring of Christ, as in 1:20. This shows that the deliverance which Paul noted in 1:19 is the same as the salvation in 2:12 (with the same Greek word being used). The description of the believers in verse 15 does not mean that such blameless ones have reached some perfection stage in their Christian walk. But, they have an obviously upright walk before others. And, any failure they have is rectified immediately with repentance and confession to God (and men, if necessary). They will also take steps to undo anything that they might have done wrongly in their dealings with others. It is all about a heart to fully pursue and obey Christ.

2:16 – Such shining ones will be those “holding fast to the word of life.” For one thing, this means that they are keeping the word of God central in their lives. They are drawing spiritual life from it, and seeking to be doers of the word. This verb “hold fast” also means to “hold forth” the word of life, holding it out to others so that they may receive life. Both meanings are probably included in this context. The phrase “in the day of Christ” here expresses an emphasis upon the coming judgment of believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ in that future day. Paul will have reason to be proud in the day of Christ if these believers are indeed obedient and shining as lights. In such a case, his labor in Christ toward them would not have been in vain. Instead, it would be revealed in that day to have had much effect in the lives of others.

2:17, 18 – The drink offerings of the OT were poured out upon the other offerings to be a combined offering unto God. Paul is already pouring himself out in sacrifice, suffering and labor upon these believers. Paul’s pouring out of himself upon the faith of others will eventually become his martyrdom. The meaning of the phrase “the sacrificial offering of your faith” here includes all of the Philippians’ faithfulness to God. It includes their suffering for Christ’s sake and their service in the advancement of the gospel. Taken as a whole, the life of faith lived by these believers is viewed as a sacrifice unto God.

Whenever we sacrifice all to fulfill God’s calling upon our lives we sense a reason for rejoicing. Here, both Paul and the believers in Philippi each had reason for rejoicing due to their sacrifice unto God. Yet Paul and the Philippians also worked together in the gospel and this is a cause for mutual rejoicing. This joy will be made full in the day of Christ.

Timothy, an example of a selflessness servant (2:19-24)

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 proven worth, how as a son 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.

2:19 — Timothy was in Rome and in contact with Paul at this time. Paul states that he wants Timothy to go to Philippi because Paul is very interested in learning about the condition of the saints there. Paul’s heart was not oriented towards his own situation, but towards the condition of those he cared for spiritually. The name Timothy in Greek means “honoring God” or “honored by God.”

2:20, 21 – Suddenly Paul makes a shocking statement in relation to Timothy. Timothy is unique among the others with Paul at that time. The meaning of the first clause of verse 20 has been interpreted in two ways by translators. It might mean that Paul has no one else who is like himself except Timothy. Or, it may be understood as meaning that among those with Paul no one was like Timothy, he was unique. In a sense, it does not matter which position is taken as I believe everyone would agree that in fact Timothy was indeed like Paul. Surely Paul was not governed by self-interest, but only the interests of Christ. I would like to paraphrase verse 20 as follows: “For I have no one like him who is equal in soul to me, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.”

Paul then explains that they (some others besides Timothy) all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. The Greek word here (Strong’s #2473) often translated as “likeminded” is used only here in the NT. My paraphrase uses a more literal rendering of this word as “equal in soul.” Paul’s shocking statement means that only Timothy had the same type of soul as Paul did as respects caring for the Philippians with only their welfare in mind. Paul and Timothy also embraced only the interests of Christ in their service, not their own interests. The question arises — who are these that Paul has in mind that are unlike him and Timothy — ones hindered by self-interest? The context seems to suggest that these are Paul’s other co-workers who might be with him at that time. However, Paul did not choose to send them, but only to send Timothy due to Timothy’s heart. Many commentators take this view.

One respected commentator on this letter takes another view — that Paul is not talking in verse 20 about others who might have been sent. Rather, Paul’s wording, according to this commentator, only puts forth a comparison between the qualities of Timothy and the characteristics of others whom Paul has in mind (probably not co-workers)[2]. We do know that Paul had some brothers who were “with him” (4:21). These were most likely not in prison with Paul, but were certainly accessible to him. In 4:21 Paul does not name those “with him,” as he does in his other prison epistles (Aristarchus and Mark [Col. 4:10; Phlm. 1:24]; Tychicus [Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7]; Demas and Luke [Col. 4:14; Phlm. 1:24]; Timothy [Phil. 1:1; 2:19-24; Col. 1:1]). We simply do not know for sure who these were with Paul besides Timothy.

Some have written that Paul’s words in verse 21 are hyperbole, or exaggeration. However, that does not seem plausible due to the straightforwardness of this sobering word. In any case, Paul is making a critically important point here we should not miss. Only Timothy had a mind fully like Paul’s, a mind which sought after the interests of Christ Jesus. Such a mind is seen here as being genuinely concerned for the welfare of the Philippians. Self-interest was subordinated to Christ’s interests in Timothy and in his like-minded mentor, Paul.

This reminds us of what we see of Christ’s mind earlier in the chapter. There Christ humbled Himself to be obedient to God as a servant. He adopted the Father’s mind and will. And, He did this to meet our need of redemption. It also reminds us of Paul’s appeal to the Philippians in 2:3-4, to regard others as more significant than ourselves, caring for their interests. In our work for the Lord verses 20 and 21 should greatly impress us. These verses have impressed me perhaps more than any others in my labor for the Lord. We must be sure that we are not serving for some self-interest, like acceptance of ministry, or glory or money (see 2 Cor. 1:12; 2:17; 4:1-2; 1 Thess. 2:3-7).

2:22 — “But you know Timothy’s proven worth” — Timothy had been with the Philippians more than once (Acts 16:1-3, 11-12; 19:22; 20:3-6). Timothy served with Paul as a child serves with his father. Paul uses an illustration here from common life. In those days a son would learn the family business as he worked alongside his father. We should be careful not to stretch the illustration to an exact description of Paul’s and Timothy’s relationship. Timothy willingly learned from Paul in his apostolic gospel work. Although Timothy was willing to be sent on assignments by Paul, we should be careful not to say Timothy was a servant of Paul’s. Timothy was a servant of God (1:1), and together with Paul they both served God. Timothy learned from Paul and followed his lead as Paul followed Christ. Yet, Timothy must have known from Paul that Timothy’s direct head should be Christ, not Paul (1 Cor. 11:1-3).

I think some translations do a disservice here when they translate this verse in such a way as to indicate that Timothy served with Paul in the gospel as a child serves his father. The definite implication in some Bible versions is that Timothy was serving Paul like a father in carrying out the gospel work. I really do not see that in the text. The ESV is a much better translation here: “But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” This may seem to be a small point, but it is actually very important. One great mistake many workers have made is to take other people as their “head” and serve and follow them in the work of the Lord. This kind of allegiance has led to countless cases of people following others (instead of Christ) as the leader goes severely off the path of true discipleship. In America we have a saying for the outcome of those who mistakenly follow others: “they are all going over the cliff together.” I have seen it happen.

We should always consciously and daily place ourselves under the headship of Christ alone. This is a protection factor for us and for others. We should always respect and listen to more mature brothers, but never follow them without discernment or due to some loyalty factor. Timothy had picked up a “like soul” as Paul had, but this soul, this mindset, was according to Christ. This mindset places Christ’s interests above all else and regards others as more significant than one’s self (2:3-4). Together, Paul and Timothy served Christ in the advancement of the gospel.

2:23, 24 – Paul hopes to send Timothy right away, yet Paul wants to learn something about what is going to happen to himself. This may mean that Paul wants to learn of his final fate from Caesar’s decision. It could also refer to some other matters which Paul wishes to convey to the Philippians via Timothy. In verse 24 Paul expresses his trust in the Lord (as earlier in 1:25-26) that he himself will also be coming to visit Philippi again. It seems Paul is expecting his release soon. Paul mentions his journey to Macedonia in 1 Tim. 1:3, which no doubt confirms that after his first imprisonment he again returned to Philippi.

Epaphroditus, an example of a faithful servant (2:25-30)

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

2:25 — Epaphroditus means “lovely,” or “charming.” His life as a faithful servant is certainly lovely. Epaphroditus is the one who has brought the gift to Paul from the Philippian congregation (4:18). Paul felt it was needful to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi at this point for three related reasons: 1) to relieve Epaphroditus of his distress regarding the anxieties of the Philippians (v. 26); 2) to relieve the concerns of the Philippians themselves (v. 28); 3) to relieve Paul’s own concern about the saints in Philippi (v.28). Here we see that both Paul and Epaphroditus really cared for the interests and burdens of others. This is in line with Paul’s word of caring for the interests of others (2:3-4) and in line with Christ’s attitude of a servant (2:7).

Paul calls Epaphroditus firstly “his brother,” indicating that they are equal in status before God and in a bond of brotherly love. Paul and Epaphroditus were “fellow workers,” showing that they worked well together in the gospel work. The description of Epaphroditus as a “fellow soldier” shows that he, like Paul, had a mind focused on serving the Lord and willing to suffer hardship (see 2 Tim. 2:3-4). Epaphroditus was a messenger, a “sent one,” from Philippi and he was especially one who ministered to Paul’s need. This ministry was probably not limited to just “bringing the gift,” but also to being available to render whatever service he could to Paul. Epaphroditus performed this service as a representative of the church in Philippi.

2:26-27 — God had mercy on Epaphroditus and Paul. Epaphroditus was healed by answered prayer, not by the gift of healing. God sympathized with these two and gave mercy in healing.

2:28-30 — Epaphroditus was sent back to Philippi, bearing this letter from Paul to them. The apostle notes that men of this caliber should be held in high regard. This is because Epaphroditus was so willing to carry out his task that he risked his life. We are not told how this happened, but some speculate that he risked his life by undertaking the journey to Rome. Such journeys could be perilous, especially if one’s health was already fragile.

Epaphroditus made the journey in order to bring the gift to Paul. He saw the need of completing this assignment for the benefit of the work of Christ through the apostle. This great apostle was now on trial as the great proclaimer of the gospel in the Mediterranean world. Epaphroditus had come to Rome in order to complete the service of the Philippian church to the apostle and the gospel work. This was no word of censure here, saying that the Philippians were negligent in their service. Paul later states that they had lacked opportunity to do this earlier (4:10). Some feel Paul may have meant that Epaphroditus’ personal presence was what was missing in their service, and that is what he completed by his coming to Rome.

Life Application

What a picture Timothy and Epaphroditus give to us at the close of this chapter. Earlier in the chapter we see that we are to have the mind of Christ in His humility and servant role. Now, these two men show forth the life of Christ, exhibited in selflessness and faithful service. There is much instruction for us in these examples. In whatever function God assigns to us for service to others, we should follow Timothy. He put the interests of Christ in first place. He was genuinely concerned for the welfare of others, and did not just put on an outward show of being interested. The example of Timothy charges us to humble ourselves to take grace from God so as to put aside our interests. His example challenges us to be a selfless servant of Christ, seeking to learn His genuine interest and care for others.

In Epaphroditus we see a very faithful servant. He was called by Paul a “fellow worker” and a “fellow soldier.” This means he was willing to put his hand to hard work. He was willing to endure hardship as a soldier in the fight. He performed his service with such faithfulness, even to the point of risking his life. Of course, we cannot be so faithful apart from the strength that God’s grace can give. Yet, we will never be this faithful if we are not willing to pay a price for faithfulness.

May we pray together that God can work in our lives in this way? “Dear Lord, we thank You for the examples of these two servants, Timothy and Epaphroditus. They inspire us to go deeper with You and be the kind of people that You can use in Your work. We ask You to enlighten us day by day to see where we must die to our own self-interest and self-love in order to properly serve Your interests. We ask You to remind us that the way to Your throne of grace is always open. Thank You for Your word that we can find grace to serve You faithfully in the hard times. We are not trusting ourselves to be able to do what is needed. Rather, we tell You that by Your grace we do want to follow Your will and serve You fully and faithfully. Thank You for hearing our prayer.”

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] Robert Chapman (1803-1902) was a well-known Christian in England who was called “the apostle of love.” His life of devotion greatly influenced other servants of God of his generation, including Hudson Taylor, George Müller, John Nelson Darby and Charles Spurgeon.

[2] Fee., Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, pp. 267-268.