Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Paul's Fellow Workers

"I have no one else like him [Timothy], who takes a genuine interest in your welfare" (Philippians 2:20)

In Philippians 2:19–30, Paul seems to change subjects. He has been telling the Philippians how to live the Christian life, climaxing with the need to remain in this world, somewhat absent from Christ, and suffering for the sake of the kingdom. Now he had a few words to say about Timothy and Epaphroditus. Actually, though, just as Paul used himself as an example to them in the earlier part of the epistle, so his message about Timothy and Epaphroditus also served to reinforce his themes.

First he said that he would send Timothy to them because there was no one else like him, “who takes a genuine interest in your welfare” (v. 20). Everyone else, Paul said, “looks out for his own interest, not those of Christ Jesus.” This is a severe statement of condemnation of Paul’s fellow workers, and it is hard to believe Paul would even be associated with such men. Perhaps we could say that, by way of contrast to Timothy’s single-mindedness, these other men just did not measure up, not that they were totally selfish.

Paul had been discussing the need to live sacrificially for others, to esteem others better than oneself. Now Timothy is an example: Timothy cared about them, the Philippians, and he would put their interests first, before his own.

Second, Paul assured them that their friend Epaphroditus was recovering after a brush with death. He “was ill and almost died,” and he “almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life” (vv. 27, 30). But Paul had said that it is better to die, hasn’t he (Philippians 1:21)? Yes, but he also said that it is even better to stay alive and serve the kingdom. That is what Epaphroditus had done.

Epaphroditus was a “fellow worker” and a “fellow soldier” (2:25). He was a man who might have died and gone to be with Christ, but who chose to fight his way back to health in order to serve the church below for another season of time. This was a good thing, said Paul, for “God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27). Just as Paul needed to stay alive to serve them (1:24), so they, in their representative Epaphroditus, needed to stay alive to help Paul.

Sometimes in the fire of suffering we face a serious temptation to give in, to be with Christ sooner. Paul here echoes what is clear in all of Scripture, that our calling is to endure and press on, and wait for God’s time and means of release. Keep this thought before you in the face of suffering.