Commendation of Timothy (series: Lessons on Philippians)
by John Lowe
Timothy was unique because only he shared Paul’s anxious concern for the churches .
Title: Commendation of Timothy
Scripture: (Philippians 2:20-22, NIV)
(20) I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. (21) For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (22) But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
We need to go back to verse 19, where Paul told the Philippians, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon,” which means, of course, that Timothy will not be coming right away. This news may have surprised and disappointed the Philippians, for Paul explains at length in the following verses why Timothy must stay with him until he knows the results of his trial. When Timothy is finally free to travel, however, Paul says that he will send him in order to be cheered by news of the Philippians.
Paul’s expectation of cheerful news does not mean, as some interpreters have suggested, that the Philippians were not experiencing problems with disunity after all and that those who were seeking their own interests above the interests of others (2:4) were people around Paul at the time he wrote the letter (1:15-17; 2:21).
(20) I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.
Paul is not comparing Timothy with himself (for if that was the idea he would have written: “I have no one else like myself”), but with others who have no real concern for the welfare of his friends at Philippi (21). Timothy was unique because only he shared Paul’s anxious concern for the churches (2 Cor. 11:28). There is a right and a wrong anxiety, just as there is a right and wrong attention to one’s own business (2:4). As Paul’s most trusted assistant, Timothy has the best interests of the Philippians at heart, and he is both competent and willing to serve them without regard for the cost to himself. Timothy possessed an excellent spirit that naturally cared for the Churches’ welfare; there are few of his kind around today.
It appears that Paul believes Timothy would be the best person to carry this letter to Philippi. But Timothy is not bearing the letter. WHY? Paul answers this question by telling the Philippians something they already know (22), and something that explains why they are so eager to see him: Timothy is an exceptional ally in times of trouble. Paul shows this by giving Timothy three commendations. First, Timothy understands what it means to be united in spirit with other believers, both with Paul and with the Philippians. In 2:2 Paul urged the Philippians to be “one in spirit,” and here he uses a similar term to say that Timothy is of like mind with him. The way in which Timothy is like-minded with Paul, however, is that he has a genuine interest in the Philippian’s welfare.
(21) For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
There were other Christians who might have been entrusted with this important mission to Philippi, but Paul sadly records that none of them was interested in taking such an arduous task, for they all put their own interests before those of Jesus Christ. Although this reflects “poorly” on those whom Paul graciously refuses to name, it highlights the self-sacrifice of Timothy, whose single-minded devotion to Christ’s cause is demonstrated by his care for the Philippians. It may seem at first sight as if it wasn’t a big deal to seek to serve one’s own interests; but how insufferable it was in the servants of Christ appears from the fact it renders those whom it possesses completely “useless.” For it is utterly impossible that one who is devoted to self, would use up himself for the Church. Then, you will say, did Paul cultivate men who were worthless and pretenders? My answer is that it is not to be understood as if they had been intent only on their own interests, and did not care in the least bit for the Church, but that, involved in their own private affairs they were the more negligent to promote the public advantage of the Church. For it must necessarily be that one or the other of two dispositions rules in us: either that, overlooking ourselves, we are devoted to Christ and the things that are Christ’s, or that, too intent on our own advantage, we serve Christ instinctively.
The apostle’s second commendation of Timothy is that he stands apart from every other believer Paul might have sent to the Philippians because, unlike them, he puts the interests of Jesus Christ above his own interests. Like Paul, who was more concerned for the advancement of the Gospel than he was in prison (1:12) or that other Christians were making his hardship more difficult (1:17-18), and like Christ, who put obedience ahead of exploiting the privileges available to Him as God (2:6-8), Timothy subordinated his own interests to the “things of Jesus Christ.”
(22) But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
“But you know that Timothy has proved himself,” and has not shown himself to be self-seeking. Timothy had given the Philippeans first-hand proof of his worth, just as metals are approved by testing (Acts 16:3; 19:22; 20:3-6), Timothy’s mettle had been tested in the difficulty of apostolic service, and both Paul and the Philippians had found him as faithful as a son to his father, as willing to slave in the work of the Gospel as Paul himself. They were not strangers to his excellence―it had been tested during previous visits.
“because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” What a dutiful spiritual son Timothy must have been to deserve this tribute. Between Paul and Timothy there existed a two-fold relationship. To one another they were “like child to father”; to God, they were like servants, one serving with the other.
It’s no wonder that Paul, in light of Timothy’s unique character and abilities, feels that he can send Timothy only after he gains a clear view of the outcome of his imprisonment. With some believers around him having their own interests more at heart than those of the Gospel and some seeking to increase his affliction (1:17), it is understandable that Paul would not want to spare his trusted comrade. Eventually he will send him, and Paul expects to come in person, but for the present another messenger must suffice.