Summary: We all need someone who can speak truth into our lives, whatever the cost. We also need to be that someone for another friend. Such relationships, based on hearts united in Christ, form bonds that allow us to risk great things for God.
I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to forget that the letters in the New Testament were first written as real letters. They deal with real life and real people—but I can forget that. I mean I don’t write letters that sound anything like Paul’s letter to the church in Rome! My letters are more mundane. I talk about my family, the weather and maybe how my work is going. So it’s easy for me to forget that Paul’s letter, for example, to the Philippians was first written as just that—a letter to his friends in Philippi.
But today’s passage reminds us that Paul lived a real life; he was writing amid real circumstances; and he was surrounded by real people. Today we consider Philippians 2:19-30. This is the fifth week in our series: Got Joy? This is the most down-to-earth passage we’ve seen, thus far. It deals with real life and real people.
In verse 19 Timothy is re-introduced. You may recall Timothy was mentioned in the first verse of the letter. He joined Paul’s traveling missionary team just before they arrived in Philippi. From that point on, Paul and Timothy were ministry companions. At the time Philippians was written, they had served together for about ten years. Their relationship was special. More than likely, Paul was the one who led Timothy to faith in Christ and he was Timothy’s most influential mentor.
The text indicates Paul hoped to send Timothy to visit the Philippians. Remember that Paul was under house arrest in Rome. As a result, he wasn’t free to travel. He was chained to a Roman soldier. But he was still concerned about the Philippians. Ten years earlier Paul had planted the church and he still cared about it. He wanted to know how his friends were doing; what was going on; if the gospel was taking root in the surrounding area?
In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul catalogues many of the difficulties he faced as an apostle. At the end of the list he adds, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” This pressure weighed on Paul. He loved God’s people and he loved God’s church! I can identify in a way with this because of our experience in Chile. We had a part in planting a number of churches while we in South America. Because of that, I’m always eager to hear how they’re doing, what’s going on, how’s so-and-so doing? That’s what Paul refers to in verse 19. He wants to be cheered by news from God’s work in Philippi.
And he wants to send Timothy as his messenger. Why? Look again at verse 20. Paul had no one else like Timothy. Paul uses a Greek word that’s found only here in the New Testament. Literally it means “equal-souled” or “one-souled.” It refers to people who are like-minded; they have a kindred spirit. In the constellation of Paul’s relationships no one else reflected his heart for God and his heart for people quite like Timothy. Timothy was a kindred spirit with Paul. He was someone Paul could count on to always look out for the interests of others. Paul knew from experience that Timothy shared his burden for all the churches—including the church in Philippi.
On top of that, in verse 22 Paul says Timothy had proven himself. The word refers to proven character or tested value. By that point, Timothy had served faithfully in the work of the gospel for ten years. Throughout that decade, in the crucible of real-life challenges, Timothy had proven to be faithful, reliable and trustworthy.
I recently re-read a book about leadership called The Making of a Leader. I studied under the author, Bobby Clinton, several years ago at Fuller Theological Seminary. In the book Bobby identifies a number of ways that God tests leaders as they’re developing. For example, God will orchestrate circumstances to test a leader’s integrity. Bobby calls this an integrity check. If the aspiring leader fails to pass, God will recycle the test until he or she gets it right. If the emerging leader doesn’t pass the test, then God won’t promote that person to any higher level of leadership. Clinton identifies dozens of ways like the integrity check that God shapes and proves leaders.
Timothy successfully ran the gauntlet of those God-ordained leadership tests. He had proven himself faithful. He was a man who could be trusted. As a result, Paul writes in verse 23, “I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.” Thus, Paul wants to send Timothy to the Philippians because of his kindred spirit and because he was a man of proven character. It appears Paul was also hopeful that he would be released soon so he could visit himself. We pick this up in verse 24. “And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.”