After explaining how the Philippians can maintain pure conduct before God (Philippians 2.12-18), Paul turns his attention to two brothers in Christ who have meant a great deal to him during his ministry: Timothy and Epaphroditus. These passages are often overlooked by Christians, but they communicate the deep heartfelt affection of Paul for his fellow laborers in the faith.
Timothy’s Service (2.19-24)
Timothy is an example of selfless service in the gospel with Paul pursuing Christ’s interests
19I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.
I hope…to you soon: His hope was not in himself—his power, intelligence, abilities, etc. Paul’s confident expectation in the Lord Jesus was to send Timothy to the Philippians. Even as he was convinced of his remaining, coming, and helping of the Philippians (1.25-26), so he was expecting to send Timothy.
So that…news of you: Here is the purpose for sending Timothy—Paul wants to hear about how the Philippians are doing. Timothy will help the Philippians by his presence and counsel and will help Paul with his report of their Christian life.
20For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.
For I have no one like him: Lit. like-minded or equal in soul. Paul and Timothy are of the same mind and attitude. Think of all the traveling companions the apostle Paul and then consider this statement. Timothy was a man after Paul’s own heart.
Who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare: Paul’s heart was for the Philippians; so too was Timothy’s. They shared the same concern and interest in the Philippians’ spiritual wellbeing. They faced the daily anxiety for all the churches (cf. 2 Cor 11.28).
21For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
For they all…of Jesus Christ: That is, all those available to him. It seems doubtful that Luke would fall under this category; perhaps he was minister elsewhere and was not with Paul. While those around Paul are “brothers” (4.21), they are apparently not as willing as Timothy to spend and be spent for the sake of others. Another theory: this is a sorrowful statement about the present condition of the world (full of selfishness and self-seeking) and having a brother like Timothy is a rare thing.
22But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
But you know Timothy’s proved worth: “know” is the kind of knowledge which comes by experience (Gk root ginosko). In fact, he had been to Philippi at least once (Acts 16).
How as a son…in the gospel: It was fitting for Timothy to labor (lit. slave, from Gk douleuo) like this with Paul since he was Paul’s “true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1.2; 2 Tim 1.2; 1 Cor 4.17). The kind of service mentioned here is done in a humble manner at the demands of another, i.e. slave. This is the kind of work Paul and Timothy engaged in as father and son. Timothy “was both a son and servant of St. Paul, and also a fellow-worker with St. Paul, both being slaves of God” (Caffin 63).
23I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me,
I hope therefore to send him: Whenever Paul wanted information about a congregation or wanted to encourage and build-up brethren and he personally could not go, Timothy went.
Just as soon…with me: Whether he will be released from prison or face a martyr’s death. This way Timothy would bring the report of Paul’s fate. This indicates there is no certainty about his future at the time of his writing.
24and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
And I trust…will come also: This is similar to what he said in 1.25-26. Paul is persuaded that what is needful is for him to continue in the body. He has come to this conclusion and holds to it (perfect tense). Only in the Lord can he look to the future with such confidence. “We do not know certainly what he meant by the term shortly. The uncertainty as to what whim might strike Nero was an uncertain thing to count upon” (Lipscomb 193). Coffman thinks this hope was probably fulfilled, pointing to Titus 3.12 as evidence.
Epaphroditus’ Sickness (2.25-30)
God spared Epaphroditus so that he could render further service to Paul & his brethren
25I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,
I have thought…Epaphroditus: Epaphroditus is known only by this verse and 4.18. He is a different person that Epaphras, another co-worker of Paul’s—Epaphroditus was from Philippi, Epaphras was from Colossae. This man Paul was compelled to send back home.
My brother…minister to my need: Paul uses five (5) phrases to describe the usefulness of Epaphroditus. First, he is Paul’s (“my”) brother in Christ. Second, he is Paul’s fellow worker (Gk sunergon); he worked with Paul in the furtherance of the cause of Christ. Third, he is Paul’s fellow soldier; they had been through severe trials and tests together. Fourth, he is the Philippians’ (“your”) messenger (Gk apostolon); that is, he had been sent by the church. Fifth, he was Paul’s minister (Gk leitourgon, cf.v.17) on behalf of the Philippians. By conveying their contribution which is “a fragrant offering” (4.18) he renders a sacred service.
26for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.
For he has…he was ill: Barclay gives a reconstruction of the events surrounding this narrative. Epaphroditus was sent to Paul by the Philippians with their gift (see 1.5, 4.17-18) and in Rome he became sick (possibly with fever, which was common then). The sickness is not stated. Epaphroditus is eager to get back (and Paul eager to send him, v.28) to assuage the brethren’s fears. He longs for these Christians as Paul does (1.8); he is distressed as the Savior was (Mt 26.37).
27Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
Indeed, he was ill, near to death: Whatever Epaphroditus came down with was serious.
But God had mercy on him: “But” draws sharp contrast (Gk alla) – not death, but life from God. Paul recognizes that God is the giver of life and health.
Not only on him…sorrow upon sorrow: There is the sorrow of his brother’s illness and, if he had died, the sorrow of his death which would have affected Paul. God’s mercy spared him these sorrows and made him “unsorrowful” (“less anxious,” v.28).
28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
I am the more eager…I may be less anxious: the reunion of the Philippian saints with Epaphroditus would be a time to rejoice. Thus, Paul is sending back his brother to them, wanting them to experience the joy God gives at such reunions. Also, the reunion of the Philippians and Epaphroditus would give occasion for Paul to be “less anxious” (Lit. more un-grief).
29So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,
So receive him in the Lord: Since Epaphroditus fulfilled his mission, his life spared by God, and he’s coming back home—welcome this broth back with arms wide open as the Lord Jesus welcomes us into His presence (cf. Rom 15.7).
With all joy, and honor such men: With heartfelt, unalloyed joy they are to welcome him. But also they are to esteem Epaphroditus and recognize how invaluable he is. Why? V.30
30for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
For he nearly died for the work of Christ: because when it comes to the work of Christ, Epaphroditus is a man who will risk life and limb to get the job done.
Risking his life: lit. handing life over. He was willing to expose himself to hazard.
To complete…your service to me: Epaphroditus risked his life so act as a ministering priest, presenting the sacred offering of their contribution to Paul. Others point to the presence of Epaphroditus as making up for the lack of presence of the Philippians (cf. 1 Cor 16.17).
Special Study—Why didn’t Paul heal Epaphroditus?
Paul had healed others miraculously (see Acts 28.8). Why not Epaphroditus? First, maybe he did. The text is relatively ambiguous and God could have used Paul as a conduit of his mercy (v.27). But the consensus among scholars is that Paul did not heal Epaphroditus and the why-question remains. Epaphroditus is not the only companion of Paul who was not healed (Trophimus in 2 Tim 4.20). Even though he had miraculous powers, the exercise of those powers were for a specific purpose (Mk 16.20) and were to be used at the discretion of God. That’s why certain companions were not healed and why Paul did not heal himself when afflicted (cf. 2 Cor 12.7-9).