Be a Timothy
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 2:19-24
Read vv. 19–30
One of the reasons why many Christians love Philippians is because it’s such a personable book. It’s not just a book of theology and ethics; rather, Philippians gives us a unique window into Paul’s heart and into what made him tick. As I’ve studied Philippians, I’ve been challenged over and over by Paul’s zeal for God, the gospel, and God’s people. Paul was a great man.
The section we just read gives another window into Paul’s heart. He loved the Philippians, and he desperately wanted to serve them well. But what is especially significant about 2:19–30 is that it reminds us that part of what made Paul great was that he surrounded himself with a great team. They sharpened Paul, lifted burdens, and multiplied Paul’s ministry.
Specifically, Paul reflects on 2 coworkers—Timothy and Epaphroditus. He describes their impeccable character, their ministry to Paul, and their ministry to others. And we need to recognize that this is not just some random commendation of 2 dead guys.
Instead, Timothy and Epaphroditus’s testimony challenge us, first, that we need people like them in our lives. You need good friendships that provide mutual spiritual support and that multiply ministry. Second, their testimonies challenge us to mimic the qualities that made Timothy and Epaphroditus so useful.
This morning, we are going to focus on vv. 19–24, and the title of my sermon is, “Be a Timothy.” When, I think of these verses, I pray, “Lord, make me like Timothy, and give me more friends and co-laborers like Timothy.” I hope this will also be your prayer when we are finished. Again, Paul also provides a powerful example in this text, so we’ll begin with his example and then move to Timothy’s example. The basic takeaway from Paul’s example is to…
I. Paul’s Example: Invest lovingly in God’s people (vv. 19, 23–24).
Explanation: Paul is obviously addressing personal matters with his friends at Philippi. Therefore, a major challenge with interpreting this passage is that we don’t know the whole story. We don’t know all the problems at Philippi, and what other communication they had.
However, Philippians is pretty clear that the church was struggling with internal tensions, persecution from the outside, and minor threats from heretical teachers. They were doing better than some other churches, but they could still really use some help.
It’s very possible, maybe even likely, that they had even requested a visit from Timothy, Paul’s right-hand man, since Paul was in prison and wasn’t free to come. However, Paul planned to send Epaphroditus first. And Paul thought that the Philippians may be disappointed when Epaphroditus showed up instead of Timothy.
So, in this section, Paul explains why he couldn’t send Timothy immediately. Specifically, Paul was about to go on trial, and he needed Timothy. However, once the trial was over, he planned to send Timothy, and eventually, Paul hoped to come himself.
However, it’s worth emphasizing that Paul humbly left all his hopes in God’s hands. Notice that he opens v. 19 by saying, “I trust (i.e., hope) in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy.” And he ends the passage in v. 24 by again acknowledging his dependence on the Lord’s will. He says, “I trust in the Lord that I myself shall come shortly.” Paul made plans, but he understood that the Lord may have a better plan, so he humbly acknowledged God’s sovereignty over all his plans.
It’s a reminder that our lives are in God’s hands, and it’s a good discipline for our own souls and those around us that we frequently verbalize, in the words of James 4:15, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” I’m not sovereign he is. And that’s a good thing, because he always knows better than I do what is truly good.
That being said, assuming the Lord allowed it, Paul was hungry to minister to the Philippians. And Paul’s example of loving investment should challenge us in 2 ways. First…
Invest in others. Notice Paul’s testimony in 23–24. Again, Paul was in prison and facing the threat of martyrdom. That’s a big deal, but he speaks here as if his trial is a passing concern. Rather, he is eager to send Timothy to the Philippians as soon as possible, and Paul eagerly anticipated visiting them himself as soon as he was released.
Paul didn’t dream of getting out of jail so that he could put his feet up on the beach or relax on a mountainside. No, he was hungry to hit the ground running and minister in person to all the churches he couldn’t visit during his incarceration.
FWIW, it seems that Paul eventually got that opportunity. Paul wrote 1 Timothy after he was finally released from prison, and in 1:3 Paul says he had recently visited the province of Macedonia, which is where Philippi was. I’m sure that visit meant everything to the Philippians and that God used it to strengthen the church.
We see again that Paul consistently modeled the challenge of 4. He didn’t “look out…only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Even though Paul had already given so much to serve of the church, he was still passionate about serving the Philippians. As we saw last week, he was ready to be “poured out…on the sacrifice and service of your faith.”
And Paul’s example should challenge us about our own investment in ministry and especially in people. Are you eager to invest in people? Are you quick to be there when a brother or sister has a need? So often, we are quick to find excuses why we can’t help. But not Paul, he was eager to serve and eager to encourage, because he loved his brothers. May God give us that same love and that same investment. So, Paul challenges us to invest in others. The second challenge in Paul’s example is…
Become invested. Notice that Paul opens the passage in v. 19 with a somewhat surprising admission. Paul says he is eager to send Timothy as soon as possible. However, he doesn’t say that he wants to send Timothy for their encouragement. Instead, Paul says I want to send him, “That I also may be encouraged when I know your state.”
Of course, Paul was primarily concerned to encourage the Philippians. That’s obvious in the remainder of the paragraph. However, it’s striking to me that that Paul admits that his joy was at least partially dependent on the well-being of the Philippians. He was invested in them.
While this is obviously commendable, the hard reality is that this investment left Paul vulnerable. He is admitting that his heart would be weighed down until he knew that the problems at Philippi were resolved.
It reflects the fact one of the challenges of investing in ministry is that we feel the weight of people’s burdens and failures. If you really care about people and ministry, you are going to experience great joys, but you will also experience great pain when people struggle and fall.
I’m reminded of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11. After rehearsing all the physical pains he endured for the ministry, he states in vv. 28–29, “Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?” Paul’s love for people created a tremendous emotional weight.
And if you have ministered to people much at all, you know how that investment can rip out your soul. It hurts! So, we are tempted to put up walls around our hearts so that no one can get it and no one can hurt us like that again. But not Paul. Even though he had given so much, his heart was still deeply intertwined with the Philippians.
Maybe you are hurting today, because a child, a family member, a disciple, or a church member has hurt you. You’re tempted to throw in the towel and build that wall. I want to challenge you to hang in there, because Christ is worth it, and he is sufficient to sustain you and because people are worth it.
Keep loving, keep encouraging and keep giving sacrificially. Stay invested in people, just like Paul. In sum, Paul provides an example of how we must lovingly invest in God’s people. Notice as well the example of Timothy. In vv. 20–22, Paul gives a powerful description of Timothy’s character, and through it he challenges us that we must…
II. Timothy’s Example: Serve faithfully (vv. 20–22).
That’s quite the commendation, and I see 3 challenges for us in Timothy’s example that especially apply to ministry in the church but that are also significant for just about any relationship—marriage, family, work, etc.
Develop sincere, selfless love (v. 20). First of all, Paul commends Timothy for being “like-minded.” The Greek term literally means “equal-souled.” In other words, Paul had absolute confidence in Timothy, because he knew that Timothy thought just like him and equally shared Paul’s passionate concern for the Philippians. As a result, Paul knew that Timothy would “sincerely care for your state.”
Paul didn’t have to worry about Timothy showing up with his own agenda. He didn’t have to worry that Timothy’s preaching would be tilted 20 degrees to the left or right of Paul’s. No, Paul knew that Timothy was wholly committed to the truth, and he was wholly committed to the well-being of the Philippians.
Are you that kind of minister? Would those who know you best commend you as someone who will “sincerely care” for the needs of others, because they have consistently seen that you are a person of integrity and genuine love? Or would they be hesitant, because you are often swayed by selfish and pride? It’s not just about ministering for the good of others, it’s about showing off your intelligence or making a name for yourself?
We’ve all known those kinds of people. They are never quite in with both feet. They are always looking for an angle to get what they want or let you know how great they are. They fish for compliments and praise. As a result, you don’t really trust them, and they don’t have nearly as much impact as they otherwise could have.
Don’t be that person. Grow a sincere love that is committed to the very best interests of your brothers and sisters in this church, in your family, and wherever else you have influence.
And when you find a friend who cares for you the way Timothy cared for the Philippians, keep that person close. This is especially important for the teenagers and young adults in the room. It’s so easy to crave friends or someone to date who is fun, attractive, and will boost your social status. Resist that urge. If you focused on fickle qualities, you are going to end up with fickle friends who will let you down.
Instead, look for people like Timothy, because in the long run, a Timothy will do your soul far more good than someone who appeals to your vain desire. The second challenge from Timothy’s example is…
Commit to Christ’s purposes (v. 21). This verse sounds startling. What does Paul mean when he says in v. 20 that he has no one else like Timothy and in v. 21 that “all seek their own (interests)”? Is Paul critiquing all of his coworkers including Luke, Epaphroditus, Aristarchus, and others? If so, that’s a pretty strong and surprising critique.
I think we are safe to assume that this can’t be what Paul means. Afterall, Paul speaks very highly of his coworkers in other places, and 25–30 say very kind and complimentary things about Epaphroditus. Therefore, most interpreters believe that Paul is specifically thinking of those who were potentially available to visit Philippi.
Sadly, Paul couldn’t trust everyone to have sincere motives. In fact, we saw that pretty clearly in 1:15–16, where Paul lamented those who “preach Christ even from envy and strife” and “from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains.” These people had the gospel right, but their hearts were in the wrong place.
But thankfully, Paul says this was not the case with Timothy. He sought, “the things which are of Christ Jesus.” Of course, Timothy was not perfect. He put his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us, and he was a sinner just like us. He fought the same passions and cares. But he had earned a reputation as a man wholly committed to “the things which are of Christ Jesus.”
What a testimony! The fact is that life and ministry are oftentimes very complicated. There are lots of fears and concerns that complicate most decisions. However, it’s a tremendous blessing to be around people who are committed to filtering through all the mess and get down to one basic issue—what does the Lord want? I don’t know that a leader could receive a much higher commendation than for someone to say, “He is committed to the Lord’s will—to doing what is right—above all else.”
When you find someone like that—what they care about above everything else is honoring the Lord—hold onto them. They will be dependable friends, and they will sharpen your soul.
And then be that person Like Timothy, be someone who is wholly committed to “the things which are of Christ Jesus.” This begins in your personal walk with the Lord. Make it pleasing Christ your first priority everyday. And then make Christ your first priority in your relationships. Be a spouse, a parent, a child, a coworker who is first and foremost interested in helping others to Christ. And finally, make that your focus as you serve in the church. It’s not about me. It’s not about what I want. It’s about Christ! Commit to Christ’s purposes. The 3rd challenge in Timothy’s example is…
Develop character and loyalty (v. 22). I’ll say up front that Pastor Kris and I long for and pray frequently that God would give us more co-laborers who fit v. 22, and the ones we have are pure gold. If you want to be useful in ministry, then pray and strive to be v. 22.
First, Paul describes Timothy as having “proven character.” The Greek term comes from a verb meaning “put to the test.” Therefore, Paul is saying that Timothy had been through the fire. He had faced many difficult tests. He had followed Paul through harsh travel conditions, poverty, and persecution.
As well, Paul had sent him on some difficult missions. How would you like to be the guy who draws the short straw and has to visit the Corinthian church on Paul’s behalf when they are at each other’s throats and some in the church are making terrible accusations against Paul? That’s a hard mission.
We sometimes assume that Timothy was a timid softy, but that’s bogus. Timothy had been through war with Paul, and he had proven himself faithful. As a result, if Paul had to pick one companion to keep with him in a foxhole, it was Timothy. He knew Timothy could take the fire and that he wouldn’t back down. He had earned his testimony.
And then notice the second description of Timothy in v. 22. “As a son…” In other words, Timothy was loyal to Paul. He always had Paul’s back.
Now, it is worth emphasizing that Timothy did not have a blind loyalty. Ultimately, what united Paul and Timothy and what drove Timothy to serve Paul like a “son with his father” was “the gospel.” That’s where Timothy’s ultimate loyalty was, and Paul wouldn’t have it any other way. Any leader that encourages a blind loyalty in disregard the truth, is not a leader you should follow.
That being said, Paul knew that Timothy had his back. As a result, Paul didn’t worry about what Timothy was saying or doing behind his back. Paul knew that if Timothy had a problem with Paul, Timothy would come to Paul, not gripe to others. And if Paul sent Timothy on a mission, he knew that Timothy would embrace Paul’s vision and fulfill it exactly the way Paul wanted it done. They were partners in the truest sense.
We can’t have too many Timothys in the church. 1 or 2 guys at the top can’t make the church healthy and effective, because we can only do so much. No, what makes a church effective is that a multiplicity of co-laborers with proven character.
They’ve endured the fires of spiritual growth and ministry and matured through them. They are strong believers with spiritual depth. They have something real to offer, not just some flimsy tricks. As Proverbs 27:17 states, it takes iron to sharpen iron.
And furthermore, they are loyal to each other, to the church’s vision, and to the leadership of the church. Again, we’re not talking about blind loyalty. However, the practical reality is that we can’t go anywhere without a shared vision or without commitment to a common goal. But when the church is built on a core group of mature, loyal, dependable servants, it can accomplish much for the glory of Christ.
I’m so thankful that we have a lot of those people in our church. Pastor Kris and I rejoice often over the many wonderful co-laborers we get to work alongside and in whom we have absolute confidence. You are pure gold and you are vital to the health of church and to our gospel light in Apple Valley.
I’ll add that I’m so thankful for Pastor Kris, because he has embodied Timothy for me. When I arrived at Life Point, he effectively got a demotion, but I have never felt even the slightest bit of resentment or disloyalty. We have our disagreements, and we are different people, but I’ve never worried about him undercutting me or chasing his own agenda. It’s hard to overstate how much that means.
So, if you are a Timothy, know that we see, and we are incredibly thankful. And know as well that the Lord sees, and he will more than reward you for your faithfulness. And if you honestly aren’t there, then I want to urge you to become a Timothy. It all begins with growing godliness and personal discipline.
From there embrace what God has called us to be and throw yourself into the ministry of the church. Be a loyal friend to your brothers and sisters. And be faithful and dependable in ministry. It may not sound all that exciting, but it means everything, and the church depends on these kinds of people.
And then be a Timothy in every other context. Would your spouse gladly give you the kind of commendation that Paul gives to Timothy? Are you likeminded, because you are both committed to “the things of Christ”? Does your spouse know that you have his or her back, because you’ve proven it over time? We could ask those same questions in many other contexts. Would your parents, your kids, your coworkers, your boss say that you are Timothy? We need to be godly and loyal in every context.
In conclusion, give thanks for the Timothys in your life, and by God’s grace, and look for more them. And finally let’s all strive to be Timothys in our church and in every other significant relationship God gives us.