IX. TIMOTHY AND EPAPHRODITUS.
"But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly to you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will care truly [genuinely] for your state. For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ. But you know the proof of him, that, as a child serves a father, so he served with me in furtherance of the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send immediately, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me: but I trust in the Lord that I myself also shall come shortly. But I counted it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need; since he longed after you all, and was sore troubled, because you had heard that he was sick: for indeed he was sick nearly to death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, that I might not have sorrow upon sorrow. I have sent him therefore the more diligently, that, when you see him again, you may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all joy; and hold such in honour: because for the work of Christ he came nearly to death, hazarding his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me." — Phil. ii. 19-30 (R.V.).
The outpouring of his thoughts, his feelings, and his desires towards the Philippians has so far spent itself. Now he turns to mention the steps he is taking, in response to their communication, to express practically his love and his care for their welfare. Yet we must carry along with us what has just been said of the Christian service and sacrifice, and of the tie between the Apostle and his converts; for these thoughts are still in the Apostle's mind, and they gleam through the passage which now comes before us.
Paul had been contemplating the possibility of dying soon in his Master's cause: no doubt it was an alternative often present to his mind; and we see with what a glow of high association it rose before him. Still he, like ourselves, had to await his Master's will, had meanwhile to carry on the business of his life, and indeed (ch. i. 25) was aware that the prolongation of his life might very likely be a course of things more in the line of God's purpose, and more serviceable to the Churches at Philippi and elsewhere. So, while he has expressed the mood in which both they and he are to face the event of his martyrdom, when it comes, he does not hesitate to express the expectation that he may be set free and may see them again. Meanwhile he has made up his mind before long to send Timothy. Timothy will bring them news of Paul, and will represent the Apostle among them as only a very near and confidential friend could do; at the same time he will bring back to Paul an account of things at Philippi, no doubt after doing all that with God's help he could to instruct, correct, and edify the Church during his stay. In this way a sustaining and gladdening experience for the Philippian Christians would be provided; and, at the same time, Paul too (I also, ver. 19) would be gladdened by receiving from so trustworthy a deputy a report upon men and things at Philippi. In connection with this declaration of his intention, the Apostle reveals some of the reflections which had occupied his mind; and these suggest several lessons.
1. Notice the spirit of self-sacrifice on Paul's part. Timothy was the one thoroughly trusted and congenial friend within his reach. To a man who was a prisoner, and on whom the burden of many anxieties fell, it was no small ease to have one such friend beside him. Our blessed Lord Himself craved for loving human fellowship in His time of sorrow; and so must Paul do also. Yet all must give way to the comfort and well-being of the Churches. As soon as Paul can descry how it is to go with him, so that plans may be adjusted to the likelihoods of the situation, Timothy is to go on his errand to Philippi.
2. Notice the importance which may justly attach to human instrumentalities. One is not as good as another. Some are far more fit for use than others are. The Apostle thought earnestly on the point who was fittest to go, and he was glad he had a man like Timothy to send. It is true that the supreme source of success in gospel work is God Himself; and sometimes He gives unexpected success to unlikely instruments. But yet, as a rule, much depends on men being adapted to their work. When God prepares fresh blessing for His Church, He commonly raises up men fitted for the service to be rendered. Therefore we do well to pray earnestly for men eminently qualified to do the Lord's work.
3. Timothy's special fitness for this mission was that he had a heart to care for them, especially to care for their true and highest interests. So far, he resembled Paul himself. He had the true pastoral heart. He had caught the lessons of Paul's own life. That was the main thing. No doubt he had intellectual gifts, but his dispositions gave him the right use of gifts. The loving heart, and the watchfulness and thoughtfulness which that inspires, do more to create pastoral wisdom than any intellectual superiority. Timothy had a share of the "mind" of Christ (ver. 5), and that made him meet to be a wise inspector and adviser for the Philippians, as well as a trustworthy reporter concerning their state and prospects.
4. What is most fitted to impress us, is the difficulty which Paul experienced in finding a suitable messenger, and the manner in which he describes his difficulty. He was conscious in himself of a self-forgetting love and care for the Churches, which was part, and a great part, of his Christian character. He was ready (1 Cor. x. 33) to please all men in all things, not seeking his own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved. He looked out for men among his friends whose hearts might answer to him here, but he did not find them. He had no man likeminded. One indeed was found, but no more. As he looked round, a sense of disappointment settled on him.
One asks of whom this statement is made — that he finds none likeminded — that all seek their own? Probably not of Epaphroditus, for Epaphroditus goes at any rate, and the question is about some one in addition, to be, as it were, Paul's representative and commissioner. Nor are we entitled to say that it applies to Tychicus, Aristarchus, Marcus, and Jesus, mentioned in Colossians iv. For these men might not be with the Apostle at the precise moment of his writing to the Philippians; and the character given to them in the Epistle to the Colossians seems to set them clear of the inculpation in this passage: unless we suppose that, even in the case of some of them, a failure had emerged near the time when the Epistle was written, which vexed the Apostle, and forced him to judge them unprepared at present for the service. It will be safest, however, not to assume that these men were with him, or that they are here in view.
Still, the sad comment of the Apostle must apply to men of some standing and some capacity, — men of Christian profession, men who might naturally be thought of in connection with such a task. As he surveyed them, he was obliged to note the deplorable defect, which perhaps had not struck himself so forcibly until he began to weigh the men against the mission he was planning for them. Then he saw how they came short; and also, how this same blight prevailed generally among the Christians around him. Men were not "likeminded"; no man was "likeminded." All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. Is not this a sad saying? What might one expect at the outset of a noble cause, the cause of Christ's truth and Church? What might one count upon in the circle that stood nearest to the Apostle Paul? Yet this is the account of it, — All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.
Is it any wonder that the Apostle pleads earnestly with Christians to cherish the mind of "not looking each of you to his own things" (ver. 4); that he presses the great example of the Saviour Himself; that he celebrates elsewhere (1 Cor. xiii.) the beauty of that love which seeketh not its own and bears all things? For we see how the meaner spirit beset him and hemmed him in, even in the circle of his Christian friends.
What does his description mean? It does not mean that the men in question broke the ordinary Christian rules. It does not mean that any Church could have disciplined them for provable sins. No, it does not mean that they were destitute of fear of God and love to Christ. But yet, to the Apostle's eye, they were too visibly swayed by the eagerness about their own things; so swayed, that their ordinary course was governed and determined by it. It might be love of ease, it might be covetousness, it might be pride, it might be party opinion, it might be family interests, it might even be concentration on their own religious comfort: — however it might be, to this it came in the end, All seek their own. Some of them might be quite unsound, deceivers or deceived; especially, for instance, if Demas (2 Tim. iv. 10) was one of them. But even those of whom the Apostle might be persuaded better things, and things that accompany salvation, were so far gone in this disease of seeking their own, that the Apostle could have no confidence in sending them, as otherwise he would have done, on a mission in which the mind and care of Christ were to be expressed to Christ's Church. He could not rely on a "genuine care."
You mistake if you suppose this faulty state implied, in all these cases, a deliberate, conscious preference of their own things above the things of Jesus Christ. The men might really discern a supreme beauty and worth in the things of Christ; they might honestly judge that Christ had a supreme claim on their loyalty; and they might have a purpose to adhere to Christ and Christ's cause at great cost, if the cost must finally be borne. And yet meanwhile, in their common life, the other principle manifested itself far too victoriously. The place which their own things held — the degree in which their life was influenced by the bearing of things on themselves, was far from occupying that subordinate place which Christ has assigned to it. The things of Jesus Christ did not rise in their minds above other interests, but were jostled, and crowded, and thrust aside by a thousand things that were their own.
You may not cherish any avowed purpose to seek your own; you may have learned to love Christ for the best reasons; you may have the root of the matter in you; you may have made some sacrifices that express a sense of Christ's supreme claims: and yet you may be a poor style of Christian, an inconsistent Christian, a careless, unwatchful Christian. Especially you may habitually fail to make a generous estimate of the place to be given to the things of Jesus Christ. You may not be reckoned so defective either in general judgment or in your own esteem, because you may come up very well to what is usually expected. And yet you may be allowing any Christianity you have to be largely stifled and repressed by foreign and alien influences, by a crowd of occupations and recreations that steal heart and life away. You may be taking no proper pains, no loving pains, to be a Christian, in Christ's sense of what that should be. Though only at the beginning of the conflict, you may be living as if there was scarcely a conflict to be fought. And so in practice, in the history of your hours, you may be seeking your own things to an extent that is even disgraceful to Christian religion. You may allow your course of thought and action to be dictated by that which is of self, by gain, self-indulgence, or frivolity, to a degree that would even be appalling if your eyes were opened to discern it. We all know that in religious exercises formality may usurp a large place, even in the case of men who have received power for reality. Just so in the Christian course, and under the Christian name and calling, what is "your own" may be suffered to encroach most lamentably on the higher principle; so that an Apostle looking at you must say, "They all seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's." You are not faithful enough to apply Christ's standard to your heart and ways, nor diligent enough to seek His Spirit. Perhaps if you were strongly tempted to deny Christ, or to fall into some great scandalous sin, you would awaken to the danger and cling to your Saviour for your life. But as things go commonly, you let them go. And the consequence is, you are largely losing your lives. What should be your contribution to the good cause, and so should be your own gladness and honour, never transpires. Some of you have thoughts in your own minds upon this point, why you do not seem to find any doorways into Christian usefulness. You do wish to see Christ's cause prosper. Yet somehow it never seems to come to your hands to do anything effectually or fruitfully for the cause. What can the reason be? Alas, in the case of how many the reason is just what it was in the case of Paul's friends: you are so largely seeking your own things, not the things that are Jesus Christ's, that you are not fit to be sent on any mission. If the Apostle could say this to the Christians of his day, how great must be the danger still!
Now if we look at it as part of the experience of Paul the Apostle, to find this temper so prevailing around him, we learn another lesson. We know Paul's character, his enthusiasm, the magnanimous faith and love with which he counted all to be loss in comparison of Christ. And yet, we see what he found among the Christians around him. This has been so in every age. The unreasonableness, faintheartedness, and faithlessness of men, the unchristlikeness of Christians, have been matter of experience. If our hearts were enlarged to plan and endeavour more generously for Christ's cause, we should feel this a great trial. All large-hearted Christians have to encounter it. Let it be remembered that it is not peculiar to any age. The Apostle had full experience of it. "Demas has abandoned me, having loved this present world.... Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil.... At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men abandoned me" (2 Tim. iv. 10-16). Let us be assured, that if Christ's work is to be done, we must be prepared not only for the opposition of the world, but for the coldness and the disapprobation of many in the Church — of some whom we cordially believe to be, after all, heirs of the kingdom.
Timothy is to go to Philippi, and is to bring to Paul a full report. But, at the same time, the Apostle finds it necessary to send Epaphroditus, not, apparently, with a view to his returning to Rome again, but to resume his residence at Philippi. It seems, on all accounts, reasonable to believe that Epaphroditus belonged to the Philippian Church, and was in office there. In this case he is to be distinguished from Epaphras (Col. iv. 12), with whom some would identify him, for no doubt Epaphras belonged to Colossæ. Epaphroditus had come to Rome, bearing with him the gifts which assured Paul of the loving remembrance in which he was held at Philippi, and of the abiding desire to minister to him which was cherished there. His own Christian zeal led Epaphroditus to undertake the duty, and he had borne himself in it as became a warm-hearted and public-spirited Christian. He had been Paul's brother and fellow-workman and fellow-soldier. But, meanwhile, the Apostle was aware how valuable his presence might be felt to be at Philippi. And Epaphroditus himself had conceived a longing to see the old friends, and to resume the old activities in the Philippian Church. For he had been sick, very sick, almost dead. Amid the weakness and inactivity of convalescence, his thoughts had been much at Philippi, imagining how the brethren there might be moved at the tidings of his state, and yearning, perhaps, for the faces and the voices which he knew so well. Paul was accustomed to restrain and sacrifice his own feelings; but that did not make him inattentive to the feelings of other people. Trying as his position at Rome was, he would not keep Epaphroditus in these circumstances. He had had great comfort in his company, and would be glad to retain it. But he would be more glad to think of the joy at Philippi when Epaphroditus should return. So he gives back Epaphroditus. As he does so he admonishes his friends to value adequately what they are receiving. Paul was sending to them a true-hearted and large-hearted Christian; one who allowed nothing — neither difficulties nor risks — to stand in the way of Christian service and Christian sympathy. Let such men be had in reputation. It is a lawful and right thing to make a high estimate of Christian character where it eminently appears, and to honour such persons very highly in love. If they are not honoured and prized, it is too likely that others will be whom it is not so fit and so wholesome to admire. And the ground of admiration in the case of Epaphroditus sets once more before us the theme of the whole chapter: Epaphroditus was to be had in reputation because he had approved himself to be one seeking not his own, one willing to lay down his life for the brethren.
From the Epistle to the Philippians by Robert Rainy, D.D., Principal of New College. Edinburgh. Published by FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY in 1990. Digitally produced by Colin Bell, Julia Neufeld and the Online
Insights of the past for the present
To the Philippians - R. Rainy
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.