“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.” (Philippians 2:19-24 ESV)
Not long ago, I experienced a sudden urge to reach out to our pastor and ask if there was any way in which I could pray for him. He returned my text immediately—and I learned he was just about to walk into a difficult situation and needed an extra measure of strength.
Experiences like these don’t happen to me often. But what does happen often in my experience—and the experience of every believer—is that the Lord puts the right people into the path of his saints at the right time, just when they need encouragement or support.
The same was true for the believers in Philippi.
These early Christians loved the Apostle Paul dearly, and the feeling was mutual. They had taken their stand with Paul even when he was persecuted (Philippians 1:7). So, Paul had exhorted them to continue striving together for the advance of the faith (v. 27), imitating Christ’s humble self-sacrifice (2:5-11) to stand out in a corrupt culture (v. 15). Moreover, they were to walk in this wartime faith even if their beloved apostle should die in this same cause (v. 17).
Having laid this challenge before his readers, Paul hopes “in the Lord”—a phrase indicating his trust in God’s sovereignty—to send Timothy (v. 19), Epaphroditus (v. 25), and himself as reinforcements (v. 24). Calvin summarizes: “as in war an expectation of help animates soldiers, so as to keep them from giving way, so this . . . was fitted to encourage greatly the Philippians[.]”
In the verses that follow, Paul expounds upon these virtuous men to illustrate his teaching. First is Timothy, who will be “genuinely concerned” for the church’s welfare (v. 20) and whose commitment to Paul’s gospel ministry proved his worth as that of a faithful son apprenticing under his father (v. 22). In sum, Timothy showcases Paul’s earlier command to do nothing from selfish ambition (v. 3).
Timothy was not like others. “I have no one like him,” Paul reflects (v. 20). “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (v. 21). To whom does Paul refer? We aren’t given names, but Paul does not appear to refer to heretics who opposed him—characters like Hymenaeus and Alexander in Ephesus who made shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:19-20), or Alexander the coppersmith who caused Paul great harm (2 Timothy 4:14). Rather, Paul is speaking, says Calvin, “of those very persons whom he reckoned brethren[.]”
Why is this significant? Because these others to whom Paul refers were likely believers who desired the gospel’s advance, claimed concern for the cause of Christ, and perhaps were engaged in the work of ministry to some extent. Yet their self-interest neutralized their usefulness to Paul and to the Lord. Calvin continues:
From this it appears, how great a hinderance it is to Christ’s ministers to seek their own interests. Nor is there any force in these excuses: “I do harm to no one”—“I must have a regard, also, to my own advantage”—“I am not so devoid of feeling as not to be prompted by a regard to my own advantage.” For you must give up your own right if you would discharge your duty: a regard to your own interests must not be put in preference to Christ’s glory, or even placed upon a level with it.
Whether we are ordained gospel ministers or laymen, we must heed this rebuke. Many begin their walk with the Lord earnestly desiring the things of the Lord—central among them, the pursuit of his mission among the nations. But in time, like the seed sown among thorns, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). In such cases, the problem is not that we have earthly needs or interests—these are largely unavoidable—but that we exalt them to the place of priority above the things of Christ. Or, as Calvin puts it elsewhere, our hearts are “perpetual forgeries of idols.”
It is little wonder that Paul hoped in the Lord to send a man like Timothy to encourage the church in Philippi. Let us, together with the gospel workers whose fellowship we enjoy, heed Timothy’s example, rightly ordering our loves and our lives in the light of Christ’s all-surpassing worth. Let us be useful to our Lord.
I confess that my heart is full of cares that compete with you. I am often characterized by self-interest and not reckless abandon to the cause of Christ. Purify my heart from lesser loves, and grant me to give you the rightful place in my affections which you deserve. Make my life an example like Timothy’s, and use virtuous servants of Christ like Timothy in my life to spur me on in devotion to you.
In Jesus’ name,
- Ask God to reveal the priorities which you have allowed to overtake his will for you.
- Pray for the pastors in your church to follow Timothy’s example, selflessly serving the Shepherd by loving his sheep.
- Pray for missionaries serving with ABWE to seek the interests of Jesus Christ above all.