Summary: Timothy and Epaphroditus served God with reckless abandon. They were willing to go wherever God led them.
There’s a subject in school you either love or hate--History. People who lack an appreciation of history don’t learn from it. Military leaders study the lives of great generals and the strategies of past battles. Even with the advent of sophisticated technology on the battlefield there is still much to learn from the past.
We study the lives of people throughout church history to learn how God worked through those willing to follow Jesus. In verses 19-30 we see two men God used to accomplish great things.
Paul has been stressing how we need to be humble, self-sacrificing servants of God. He’s offered the example of Christ, and now he provides two role models: Timothy and Epaphroditus.
He starts out by sharing his hope. Verse 19 could be translated, “I hope, under the Lordship of Jesus.” All Paul’s hopes and plans were subject to the Lordship of Christ. He looks forward to seeing the church at Philippi again, but his trial in Rome could be prolonged and could go against him, so he’s prepared for the worst. The outcome will be governed by God’s providence.
Paul is sending Timothy in his place, a worthy stand-in. Timothy’s name means “to honor God,” which he did! He had a Greek father and a Jewish mother, and was raised in Judaism. We’re told that his mother and grandmother instructed him in the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul often refers to him as his spiritual son; Paul had mentored Timothy and had utmost confidence in him. He came with Paul’s authority, a man of God with sound character.
By sending Timothy to Philippi, Paul reveals his sacrificial love for the believers there. With his impending trial Paul could hardly afford to spare Timothy, who was helping him prepare his defense. He was willing to forego Timothy’s support. Paul has been encouraging believers to make sacrifices and he’s prepared to make one himself.
By praising Timothy’s availability Paul uses a bit of exaggeration/hyperbole, alleging that all others were selfish, verse 21. While some people weren’t prepared for the demands of discipleship, many were giving their all for Christ.
Timothy’s not going alone; Epaphroditus is returning to Philippi. He had journeyed to Rome with a gift from the congregation for Paul. While in Rome he became seriously ill which alarmed many, but he recovered and was ready to return home. Paul was spared the sorrow of losing him to death. Epaphroditus will now return with Paul’s epistle. Paul calls him his brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier. He was one who shared the demanding rigors of Christian service.
In verse 30 Paul says that Epaphroditus “risked” his life to serve God. This word “risked” can mean to gamble or do something reckless. Perhaps he took a chance with his health making the trip to Rome. He certainly took the risk of being associated with a prisoner of Rome awaiting trial. He could’ve been implicated as an accomplice.
In the former Soviet Union, Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky was denied a visa to Israel and became a human rights activist (a “refusnik”). He was arrested for treason and sentenced to a Siberian labor camp where he remained for nine years, until international pressure forced his release. Many of his friends were harassed by the KGB and some were arrested for assisting him. A similar fate could well have happened to Epaphroditus.
We follow Christ as His disciples, not mere converts who have the password to Heaven’s gates. Someone reflected that “The only reason Christians are safe in the United States is that we are moderately Christian.” If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
During times of religious persecution the church is pretty much free from hypocrisy; those who are only going through the motions don’t usually take a stand for Christ. A divided commitment to Christ is no commitment at all. A Christianity that costs nothing, suffers nothing, and does nothing is worth nothing.
During the American Revolution, farmers who joined the Continental Army during the spring and summer went AWOL in the fall and winter. They were known as "summer soldiers". They signed up with the Army after their crops were planted, they fought the British over the summer, but then returned home to help with the harvest.
Meanwhile, citizens who supported the revolution when the war effort was going well (but not otherwise) were called "sunshine patriots". This led Thomas Paine to write his famous pamphlet Common Sense, in which he stated: "These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph."