Thus far through chapter 2 we’ve seen Paul try to cultivate the servant and other-centered attitude of Christ in his readers. Now, he presents two figures who model this perfectly.
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. (TNIV).
Timothy’s genuine concern for others (2.20-21) provides a tangible example of what Philippians 2.4-5 looks like fleshed out in the life of a believer (“not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus”). Furthermore, Timothy’s humility, loyalty and faithful service to the gospel (2.22) exemplify Christ’s servant attitude (“he made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant” Phil 2.7). Timothy gets it.
Paul then tells his readers of his plans to send Timothy soon, as well as his intentions to pay them a personal visit (2.23-24)—just as soon as he figures out what’s going to happen with him (presumably concerning the outcome of his trial).
Epaphroditus, however, will be sent right away. The Philippians had originally sent Epaphroditus to Paul in order to give him a gift and to take care of his needs while he was in prison (2.25, 4.18). Yet somewhere along the way Epaphroditus became extremely ill, so ill that he nearly died. This news apparently found its way back to the Philippian community. Now, we can surmise that far apart in a world without email communication, Epaphroditus wishes to let the community know that he has recovered.[i] Paul, for this reason, is eager to send him.
Epaphroditus’ risked everything for the work of the gospel, including his own life (2.27, 30). In this way, Epaphroditus exemplified the same attitude of Christ (2.5), who humbly submitted himself into obedient service unto death (2.7-8: “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”). Both Timothy and Epaphroditus serve as excellent Christlike examples.
Before closing, I want to highlight an application-al piece that we can take away from this passage. Paul states that had God not spared Epaphroditus’ life, it would have caused him “sorrow upon sorrow.” Paul’s emotions show us that it is perfectly appropriate to grieve the loss of a loved one. Keep in mind that this was coming from the same guy who welcomed death as gain (1.21). As Christians, we do not need to pretend that we’re indifferent (or that we’re happy!) when it comes to death or when things are difficult. Sorrow is a completely, “God-given, Christ-like emotion.”[ii]
Just as Timothy and Epaphroditus serve as great Christlike examples for the Philippian community, we too can learn a lot from the lives of others. Take a moment and reflect on the greats of faith in your life, those who consistently model Christ. What is it that’s refreshing about them? What qualities do they possess that inspire you? Reflect on these qualities. No, seriously reflect on them. What is their relationship with God like? How might you emulate him or her? Again, we can learn a lot from those around us. I believe God places such people in our lives for a reason.
[i] Hansen, Philippians, 204.
[ii] Hansen, Philippians, 206.