2:19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you quickly, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 2:20 For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 2:21 Others are busy with their own concerns, not the Lord’s. 2:22 But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. 2:23 So I hope to send him as soon as I know more about my situation, 2:24 though I am confident in the Lord that I too will be coming soon. 2:25 But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. 2:26 Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. 2:27 In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. 2:28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. 2:29 So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 2:30 since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.
A. The Example of Timothy (2:19-24)
1. The Reason for Sending Timothy (2:19)
2. The Character of Timothy (2:20-22)
3. Summary and Explanation for not Sending Timothy (2:23-24)
B. The Example of Epaphroditus (2:25-30)
1. Paul’s Estimation of Epaphroditus (2:25)
2. Paul’s Reasons for Sending Epaphroditus (2:26-30)
We have already noted in the previous lessons that Philippians 1:3-2:18 is taken up with exhortational material directed at the church to encourage humility and unity in the face of attacks from without and divisive behavior from within. We noted too that in 3:1-4:20, Paul gives his own life as an example of Christian maturity (3:1-4:1), appeals to them for unity (4:2-9) and thanks them for their gift (4:10-20). Since we know the context of the entire letter, the question immediately presents itself as to why the material of 2:19-30 should be placed where it is. It seems that such details should go at the end of the letter as a way of concluding it. This would seem to be more in keeping with the Paul’s habits (e.g., Romans 1:14-16:27; 1 Cor 16:1-24; Eph 6:21-24; Col 4:7-18; 1 Thess 5:25-28; 2 Tim 4:19-22) as well as the contemporary Greek practice of letter writing. After all, it appears to be nothing more than Paul’s “agenda and travel plans.” Some scholars have used this observation as an argument for the composite nature of the Philippian letter. That is, they say that since this truly belongs at the end of the letter, Paul must have ended this letter at 2:30. Then, either he or someone else wrote another letter (chs. 3-4) which was later joined to Philippians 1:1-2:30 (see Lesson 1: Introduction, Background and Outline). But, as we shall see, there are good reasons for believing that the inclusion of the “travelogue” in Phil 2:19-30 is strategic and inextricably related to the themes of “humility and other centered-ness” being pursued up to this point in the letter.
There is also another question that surfaces in the discussion. Why is Timothy (2:19-24) mentioned before Epaphroditus (2:25-30)? Is this just the way Paul happened to do it, or is there a discernible reason? Chronologically, in terms of what’s going to happen in the future, it is the reverse of what one would expect since Epaphroditus is going back to the Philippians before Paul sends Timothy.
These two questions surrounding both the placement of 2:19-30 after 2:12-18 and before 3:1-20, and the order of Timothy followed by Epaphroditus, can be answered relatively quickly. First, there is good reason for the placement of 2:13-19 here instead of at the end of the letter. Recall that from the outset of Philippians (1:1-2), Paul has urged, both by example and by explicit statement, that the church cultivate the virtue of humility with a view toward corporate unity. In particular, he wants these Christians to stand firm (1:27-30) and to seek the interests of others ahead of themselves (2:3-4). That this is such a strong theme running through the epistle is evidenced by the example of Christ in 2:6-11 who poured out his life unto death for the sake of others. And herein lies the reason for the mention of Timothy and Epaphroditus in 2:19-30. Both of them are living examples of people who have done just that. In fact, it is difficult to miss the similarity of language between 2:3-4 and 2:21: Paul urges the Philippians to look out for the interests of others (2:3-4) and then turns right around and gives them the example of Timothy, of whom it is said in 2:21, that he looks out for the interests of others. Epaphroditus too is one who sought the needs and interests of others ahead of himself. He traveled all the way from Philippi in order to bring a much needed gift to Paul. In fact, he almost died for the work of Christ as he risked his life to make up for the Philippians’ inability to serve Paul (cf. 2:8). Thus both these men stand as living examples of the Christ-like attitude Paul has spent so much time urging on the Philippians.
Regarding the second question, the reason Timothy is mentioned ahead of Epaphroditus is because his visit concerns “what’s happening to them.” That is, Paul will send him in order to know about their situation and how things are going for them. Thus Paul is once again modeling interest in other people ahead of himself. We will discuss this more in our exposition below.149
The apostle Paul appears to digress in 2:19-30 to give his “travel plans.” But on close inspection much more is going on in the mention of Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy was an example of someone who truly sought the needs of others first. He was a living testimony, an “incarnation,” if you will, of the principle in 2:4.
Paul says that he hope[s] (elpizo) to send Timothy soon. But his hope is not just a wishful thought, but something that he believes to be the will of God. Thus he says that he hopes this in the Lord Jesus (en kurio Iesou). The use of the phrase in the Lord Jesus is not akin to our modern day glib comment, “Lord willing.” It means much more than that. Paul recognizes that Jesus, having poured out his life unto death, has subsequently been exalted to the place of universal Lord (cf. Acts 2:36). It means that Timothy is going to the Philippians in the authority of the exalted Lord to encourage the church to walk in the directives outlined in 1:27-2:18.
The comment so that I too may be encouraged indicates that not only will Timothy encourage the Philippians, but also Paul when he returns to the apostle in Rome. The verb encouraged (eupsucho) is used only here in the NT. In the culture it appears on Hellenistic gravestones and in letters of condolence. It carries the idea of “may it be well with your soul.”150 The news about you that will encourage the apostle is, of course, the report that the church responded to his letter. Paul will be greatly encouraged to find out when Timothy returns that the Philippians had welcomed him and followed the directives of the letter. The news about you also includes how they were doing personally and any further reports about the opposition the church was facing.
The specific reason (cf. the For) Paul will send Timothy is now given for us. It is because of the kind of man he is. The expression no one (oudena) is emphatic in the Greek text and stresses the quality of Timothy in the eyes of Paul; there simply isn’t anyone on the same level as this man. The words like him are really one word in Greek, literally “equal-souled.” The term is rare and means to be in complete agreement with someone in the context of a personal relationship. But the question remains as to who Paul has in mind? With whom is Timothy “equaled-souled?” Some argue that the comparison is with the members of the Roman church. There is no one in the Roman church who compares with Timothy in Paul’s mind. Others suggest that Paul means that Timothy is “equal souled” with him. This latter view is preferable. What Paul means, then, is that Timothy has the same love and concern for the Philippians as he himself does. They are “equal-souled” in their concern for the welfare of the Philippians and the furtherance of the cause of Christ.151
That this interpretation is probable is made clear by the following phrase: who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. This phrase relates directly to the expression “equal-souled” and unpacks it in terms of its relationship to the Philippians. Timothy has a profound and genuine concern for this struggling church. The adverb deep (gnesios) occurs only once in the NT and means “sincerely” or “genuinely.”152 The related adjective gnesios occurs four times. It can refer to children born in wedlock, i.e., they are legitimate and “genuine” children. It is also used to qualify teaching as being genuine or accurate, and love as pure and sincere (2 Cor 8:8).153 Interestingly enough, it is used by Paul in 1 Tim 1:2 and Titus 1:4 to refer to Timothy and Titus as “true” sons (of the apostle) in the faith (cf. Phil 4:3). Though the stress in Phil 2:20 is on the idea of sincerity, Hawthorne is probably correct to note that the root idea of “legitimate children” should not be overlooked. Thus Timothy is genuinely interested in the Philippians because he is a genuine son of Paul.154 Verse 22 seems to bear this out.
The verb concern (merimnesei) is in the future tense and translates the same Greek verb in 4:6. In 4:6, however, the emphasis is clearly on “worry” or “anxiety.” In fact the word is used in several places in the NT with the idea of anxiety. In Matt 6:28, 31 (Luke 12:29) Jesus warns the disciples not to worry about the basic necessities of life. They were to seek God (as are we) and He would provide all that was necessary for life. Further, the disciples were not to worry about what they were to say before the authorities, for the words would be given them by the Spirit (Matt 10:19-20).
The term can also have a less intense meaning. In 1 Cor 7:32, 34a it does not refer to anxiety as such, but to concern for the Lord’s work and concern for one’s own life. In Cor 12:25 the same term refers to a proper concern for the welfare of others so that there be no division in the body of Christ. It is this latter sense of “concern for the welfare of someone else” that is intended here in 2:20. The future tense of the verb refers specifically to the time when Timothy will be with them, though he presently shares concern for them.
Thus Timothy feels the same about the Philippians as Paul does, for he too has a genuine concern for their welfare. But not everyone available to Paul is so other’s-centered in their approach to life and ministry. As verse 21 comments, this is because [Greek has gar “for”] others are busy with their own concerns, not the Lord’s. But who are the others to which Paul refers? Actually the term he uses is “everyone” (oi pantes); “everyone” seeks his own interests. Who, then, is this “everyone” to whom Paul refers? Is Paul here, in one grand sweep, criticizing all Christians in the church where he’s located? He cannot count on even one of them because they are so engrossed in their own affairs? This seems unduly critical and probably unlikely. Others argue that there may have been people willing and available in the Roman church, but none of them possessed the qualifications necessary to deliver the letter and motivate the church to obedience and unity. This appears somewhat more likely than the first argument. While both these suggestions contain some merit, however, it may simply be that the apostle is making a generalized, somewhat hyperbolic, statement about the nature of the world in which he lived. There simply were not many people who genuinely sought the needs and interests of others ahead of themselves. It is a rare thing indeed to find a Christian who possesses the same attitude as his Lord (2:6-11). It is as rare for us today as it was for Paul then.
The concern of the Lord (lit. “the things of Jesus Christ”) in Phil 2:21 includes the church’s humility, unity, and Christ-like, “other-centered” character. Such attitudes are completely consistent with Jesus’ humility expressed in 2:6-11. The “things of God/Christ/Spirit,” is spoken of in other places in Scripture and includes such ideas as the necessity of Christ’s suffering and death (Mark 8:33) and the apparent foolishness of a crucified Messiah (1 Cor 2:11-14).
Paul continues his commendation of Timothy in v. 22. He says that the Philippians know Timothy’s qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. The Philippians were well aware of Timothy’s qualifications. The term qualifications (dokimen) means “proven character” as evidenced under testing. It can refer to the process of testing or to the product one gets after the testing is finished. The process is highlighted in 2 Cor 8:2 where Paul actually talks about “testing,” in reference to the persecution the Macedonian (e.g., Philippian) churches were undergoing. The product, namely, a proven character, is the result of enduring under suffering and opens up a deeper experience of the hope produced by the Spirit (Romans 5:4). The term often carries with it the idea of obedience, i.e., to apostolic authority (2 Cor 2:9; cf. also 13:3). Anyone who has ever worked with others in ministry knows that they would give their right hand (or perhaps both) for a person with proven character. People who own their own business or those who are managers know that nothing is more important than hiring and working with people who possess strength of character.
Paul says by way of summary concerning the sending of Timothy that he will do it as soon as I know more about my situation…. Under the heading Context above we discussed the placement of 2:19-30 in the letter and why it is that Timothy precedes Epaphroditus in the discussion. What we left partially unanswered was the question of why Paul did not want to send Timothy now, but instead felt it necessary to send Epaphroditus (2:25). Was it that he no longer trusted Timothy, as some have suggested? This interpretation is completely ruled out by the positive affirmations of Timothy in v. 22. Further, the apostle is not saying that he will not send Timothy, but only that now is not the right time (2:23). How then can we put the pieces together to create a probable scenario of what stands behind 2:19-30?
The emphasis in 2:19-24 is on the importance of Timothy to Paul and that he cannot send him now. It is possible that the Philippians wanted a visit from Paul (after his release) or Timothy (now). So they sent Epaphroditus to relieve Timothy and free up Paul’s assistant for a trip to come and see them. But Paul was not willing to send Timothy at the moment. The apostle, however, does not want the Philippians to think that Timothy is not interested in them. Therefore, he commends Timothy highly in 2:20-22 and explains that the latter has a genuine concern for their welfare. Timothy meant a lot to Paul and it seems that the apostle needed him present. Thus, he thought it better to send Epaphroditus back. Besides, Epaphroditus was longing to see the church because he knew that they had found out that he had been ill (2:26). The church, however, was not to think of Epaphroditus as second best. On the contrary, Paul considered him his “brother,” “fellow-worker,” “fellow-soldier,” and “their apostle and servant” (2:25). Indeed, they were to honor men like him because of his work in the gospel on their behalf which almost cost him his life (2:27-30).155
Therefore, Paul wanted to keep Timothy and send Epaphroditus. But he was confident in the Lord that he too would come soon. By adding this comment the apostle is telling the Philippians that although his situation is difficult, and he needs Timothy, he nonetheless has aspirations of being released and coming to see them soon.
Not only did Paul want to keep Timothy in Rome with him, he also wanted to send Epaphroditus to Philippi because the latter was longing (perhaps homesick) to see his home church. So the apostle sends this trusted servant to the Philippians with a note of deep appreciation for his service. He highly esteems his colleague with five different epithets: (1) my brother (adelphos); (2) my coworker (sunergon); (3) my fellow-soldier (sustratioten); (4) your messenger (apostolos); (5) your minister (leitourgon).
The use of the term brother (adelphon) denotes Epaphroditus’s relationship to Paul in the Lord. Paul regarded all Christians as brothers and sisters in the Lord because of the special fatherhood of God through Christ. The term “brother,” in this context, also connotes the warm personal intimacy and friendship Paul and Epaphroditus enjoyed.
The term coworker (sunergon) occurs 13 times in the New Testament. Apart from one occurrence (3 John 8), it is only used by Paul. It refers to Epaphroditus’s commitment to the furtherance of the gospel and the work that is associated with that mission. Epaphroditus and Paul were on the “same page,” as it were, in their philosophy of ministry.
Paul also referred to his dear brother as a fellow-soldier (sustratioten). He used the term on only one other occasion (i.e., Philemon 2) where he refers to Archippus as “our fellow-soldier.” The term connotes the idea of one who has fought the battles and endured the hardship concomitant with the preaching of the gospel and ministering to people. In 2 Timothy 2:3 Paul tells the young pastor Timothy to endure hardship in the course of his ministry and to do so as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.156
The previous terms, namely, brother, coworker, and fellow-soldier, relate primarily to Paul’s relationship with Epaphroditus. The next two terms, however, describe Epaphroditus’s relationship with his home church in Philippi. First, he was their messenger (apostolon). He was the one they had chosen to send Paul in order to meet the apostle’s needs. The term apostolos in 3:25 is the same term from which we get “apostle,” but here it is not the technical meaning of the term found for example in 1 Cor 9:1-2 or Ephesians 3:5. The pronoun your belongs with both apostolon and “minister of my need” and gives a general sense to the term “apostle” in this context. Further, the term is used with too local a flavor to indicate “one who holds the office of apostle” in the same sense that Paul and the twelve did. They had authority over the entire church, Epaphroditus was simply sent to help Paul. On the other hand, however, some see no significance beyond “messenger” in the title. It is nonetheless interesting that in a context where Paul the apostle cannot be with the church and has to explain his reluctance to send Timothy, that he should refer to Epaphroditus as an apostle.
Epaphroditus was also a minister (leitourgos) of Paul’s needs. The OT priestly background to this term is unmistakable. As Kent says:
In this capacity Epaphroditus had served as their “minister” (leitourgon), functioning officially on their behalf in performing a sacred service to Paul. The noun leitourgos appears five times in the NT (Rom 13:6; 15:16; Phil 2:25; Heb 1:1; 8:2) and in several of these a priestly sort of ministry is in view. It is used of Christ’s priestly ministry in the heavenly tabernacle (Heb 8:2) and of Paul’s sacred service in the evangelizing of Gentiles and presentation of them to God (Rom 15:16). Hence, the use in Philippians 2:25 has overtones of a priestly act, that of Epaphroditus’s presenting to Paul the Philippians’ offering, “an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (4:18).157
Thus Paul wants to send Epaphroditus, his brother, fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier in the preaching of the gospel back to Philippi with a important message of thanks and gratefulness. First, Paul wanted to send Epaphroditus to the Philippians because the latter greatly missed all of them and was distressed. The expression greatly missed (epipothon) is a strong term in the Greek language expressing deep desire. It is the same term Paul used in 1:8 to refer to his deep affection for the Philippians. He genuinely loved each and every one of them. He also uses it to express his deep desire to visit the Roman church (Rom 1:8; cf. 1 Thess 3:6) and in 2 Cor 5:2 he employs it to refer to the Christian’s deep longing and groaning to experience the consummation of their salvation: Christians long to receive glorified bodies—bodies which are free from the oppression, fallen-ness, and limitations of sin. Paul also used it, as he recalled the tears of his dear friend Timothy, to express his deep longings to visit this young struggling pastor (2 Tim 1:4). James uses the term to express the evil cravings and longings of the fallen human spirit (4:5)158 and Peter uses it to refer to the strong desire of a baby for its mother’s milk (1 Pet 2:2).
Thus Epaphroditus had been longing to see the Philippians and he was distressed. The term distressed (ademonon) is a forceful term as well. It is used only two other times in the New Testament, both in reference to the internal, emotional, and spiritual agony suffered by Jesus in the face of his impending arrest, “trial,” and death by crucifixion (Matt 26:37; Mark 14:33). This leads to a question, however. Why was Epaphroditus was so agitated and distressed? The suggestion that he was very concerned about the Philippians and longed to personally help them in their defense of the gospel in Philippi (1:27:30) has some merit, but the text explicitly says that he longed for them and was distressed because they had heard that he was ill. Perhaps he had gotten sick during the voyage from Philippi to Rome. In any event, news somehow got back to Philippi that Epaphroditus had gotten ill. But this still leaves the question unanswered. It strains the language of the passage to suggest that the primary or sole reason for Epaphroditus’s distress was because he knew that the church had found out that he had been ill. We must dig a bit deeper. It is possible that the Philippians thought Epaphroditus had not carried out his mission very well and that he had ultimately been only a burden to Paul. This would produce the kind of distress in Epaphroditus that Paul says he experienced. For this reason Paul felt it necessary to highly commend his brother and restore him to the church. In keeping with this, we must remember that Paul has already alluded to certain struggles the church had with its leadership (as 2:14-15 imply).
Paul tells them that indeed Epaphroditus was ill and almost died. But, says Paul, God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. It was difficult enough to be in prison, awaiting the outcome of a trial to decide his fate, but to have to suffer the loss of a dear brother—after grieving with him through his illness—was yet another grief. Added to that is the probability that his death would have been as a direct result of traveling hundreds of miles in service to Paul. As it turned out, however, God had mercy on both Epaphroditus and Paul. Hendriksen comments:
God pitied both Epaphroditus and Paul! It is comforting to know that the heart of God is filled with mercy, that is, with lovingkindness and active pity. In Christ he is ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities.’
‘Mindful of our human frailty
Is the God in whom we trust;
He whose years are everlasting,
He remembers we are dust.
Changeless is Jehovah’s mercy
Unto those who fear his name,
from eternity abiding
To eternity the same.’159
Therefore, says Paul, I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. Paul was eager to send Epaphroditus to the church so that they might know the sincerity of his service to Paul (i.e., rejoice when they see him) and that Paul might be free from anxiety about discord and fractured relations in the church. We see here again the theme of unity and humility in Paul’s dealings with the church.
Paul commands the Philippians to welcome (prosdechesthe) Epaphroditus in the Lord and honor (lit., “have honor for”) men such as him. The term honor (entimous) is used five times in the New Testament (Luke 7:2; 14:8; Phil 2:29; 1 Pet 2:4, 6). In Luke 14:8 it refers to a person’s rank in society and their being distinguished from others on that basis. At a banquet, Jesus says, they receive the places of honor. In 1 Pet 2:4 the term is used of Christ himself as the chosen one of God and precious to him. Thus the Philippians were to highly esteem Epaphroditus in light of his service and they were to do so with great (literally “all”) joy. They were to hold nothing back in their estimation and affection for him. As their ambassador to Paul he had done an excellent job, almost to the point of death. They were to recognize him for this. Again, as Paul said, Epaphroditus risked his life so that he could make up for the church’s inability to serve the apostle. With this comment Paul is not complaining about the Philippians’ lack of service to him, but is simply pointing out that it was Epaphroditus who brought their gift and directly contributed to the furtherance of the gospel. Regarding the important term, risked, Hawthorne’s comments are worth quoting at length:
But Paul’s high commendation of Epaphroditus does not come simply because of what he did, great as this may have been. It comes also because of why he did it. His was a self-renouncing motivation. He chose against himself for someone else: “He came close to losing his life,” Paul writes the Philippians, “because he staked his life to give me the help you were not able to give me yourselves.” The vigor of Paul’s vocabulary here could not but totally overcome any remaining prejudice the Philippians may have had against Epaphroditus. The participle paraboluesamenos translated here “staked” is especially powerful and in all likelihood Paul coined it….It seems…to have been created from the verb paraballesthai, “to throw down a stake,” “to make a venture,” or from the noun paraboles, “gambling,” “rash,” “reckless,” or from parabolanoi “persons who risk their lives to nurse those sick with the plague”…. Thus from this word alone it is clear that Epaphroditus was no coward, but a courageous person willing to take enormous risks, ready to play with very high stakes in order to come to the aid of a person in need.160
May God raise up an army of Epaphroditus’s in our world today! Indeed both of these men, Timothy and Epaphroditus, stand as models of humility, unity and suffering, and are an honor to Christ himself.
1. In 2:25-27 Paul talks about the mercy that God had shown him in sparing the life of Epaphroditus. On the other hand, there are times when the Lord allows Christians to die because of sickness, accident, or at the hands of other people who reject the gospel. Consider for example the life of John the Baptist, cut short even though he was a faithful servant of the Lord. Whatever our circumstances, and some of them are very difficult, by the sheer grace of God we need to lift up our eyes and look for the demonstrations of the mercy of God in our lives. We can give thanks for his bountiful mercy and grace to each of us.
2. Paul says that Epaphroditus “risked his life” for the work of Christ and the gospel. Nothing should speak more clearly into our complacent, nonchalant attitudes in America. Here is a man who almost gave his life for another brother. Let us, then, think of ways to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ and be willing before God to do whatever it takes to meet their genuine needs.
3. We said in the commentary that there may have arisen negative attitudes in Philippi directed against Epaphroditus. If this were the case, then two principles suggest themselves for our application: First, we must be careful in forming our opinions about the Christian service of others until all the facts are known. We can cause unnecessary harm and stress to others when we evaluate incorrectly what they’re doing. Second, if we are so judged by others, that is, incorrectly, we need to go to them, as Epaphroditus desired, to straighten the matter out (cf. Matt 5:24).
149 For further comment on these questions, see Fee, Philippians, 259-62.
150 O’Brien, Philippians, 317-18.
151 See O’Brien, Philippians, 318-19.
152 BAGD, s.v. gnhsiws.
153 See BAGD, s.v. gnhsios.
154 Hawthorne, Philippians, 111.
155 For a more detailed reconstruction along similar lines see Silva, Philippians,155-57.
156 The term “soldier” is the same as “fellow-soldier” except that the former is without the sun prefix. Both terms, however, stress the hardships and battles fought in the cause of the gospel.
157 Kent, “Philippians,” 134.
158 This passage is notoriously difficult to interpret, but which ever way we take it—e.g., as a reference to God’s longing for the Holy Spirit or the desire for jealousy of the spirit of sinful man—the force of epipoqei denotes strong desire.
159 Hendriksen, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 142.
160 Hawthorne, Philippians, 120.