Philippians 2:19–24 – The Example of Timothy

Philippians 2:19-30 strikes some readers as a digression. After one of the most theologically dense passages in the New Testament, Paul spends two paragraphs in the middle of his letter to talk about travel plans with no obvious theological content. Since Paul usually mentions travel place at the end of the letter, some have suggested the letter originally ended at 3:1. This means the contentious section beginning in 3:2 is from another letter, and the “thank you note” in chapter four is a third letter. But this section of the letter is not unrelated to the great theological content of chapter 2:1-11; Paul is offering two additional examples of people who are serving humbly like Jesus (2:5-11) and Paul (2:17). Timothy and Epaphroditus are examples of “having the same mind” as Christ Jesus (2:1).

Timothy is the most well-known of Paul’s co-workers and co-author of the letter to the Philippians. Timothy first appears in Acts 16:1-5 as a companion of Paul. Timothy was a companion of Paul since the second missionary journey. He was from Lystra with a good reputation among the Christians in the area and Paul often sent him to churches as his personal representative.

HumilityPaul describes him in Philippians with very affectionate terms. Timothy is like a son to him, “no one like him,” and someone who has served alongside him for a very long time. In fact, Paul says Timothy “of the same mind” (ἰσόψυχος, 2:20), a word only appearing here in the New Testament. It has the sense of having things in common, but can mean “peer.” Paul calls Timothy his “colleague,” someone who has the same concerns and interests he does. It may be a coincidence, but the word Paul chose is a compound using ἴσος, the word he used to describe Jesus’ equality with God. Similar Jesus’ equality with God, so to Timothy has the same mind as Paul

Paul would like to return to Philippi soon, but since he remains under house arrest in Rome he will send Timothy as soon as he can. Why is Paul sending Timothy to Philippi? It is possible Paul’s imprisonment has raised questions among the Christians in Philippi. Perhaps they were concerned the advance of the Gospel was hindered by the long house arrest, as the opening prayer of the letter seems to imply (1:3-11). It is also possible they have had no news from Paul as a result of Epaphroditus’s illness. Since the church sent a gift to Paul with Epaphroditus, Paul may be concerned they think was ungrateful. Timothy’s presence would deal with any hard feelings about the use of the gift from Philippi.

Timothy is an example of genuine, humble service. First, Timothy is genuinely concerned about the church. A customer service representative will usually express concern, but just how concerned are they really? Timothy is as concerned with the needs of the church as Paul is, since they are “of one mind.” This is not a fake concern put on by someone seeking favor, but a real interest in the people at Philippi.

Second, Timothy seeks the interests of Jesus Christ rather than his own. Verse 21 says “they all seek their own interests,” but there is not subject in the immediate context. This is another hint of the self-serving minsters from 1:15-16, or possibly the opponents in chapter 3. Since Timothy seeks the interests of others (in this case, the Philippian church), Timothy is living a life worthy of the Gospel and therefore is quite counter to the culture of Rome.

Third, Timothy has been “proven worthy,” as the church is well aware. The noun (δοκιμή) refers to a test of character in order to determine how genuine that character really is (2 Cor 2:9, for example), in Rom 5:4 the word is simply translated “character.” Just gold or silver has to be tested in order to determine quality and value, so too a person’s character is shown as they pass through difficulties and trials. Think about how people’s personalities change when they pass through hard times. That is when the “true character” is revealed. Everyone knows an example of someone who appears to have been a “good Christian” (whatever that means), but when they are faced with difficult problems they begin to question or turn away from their faith.

Timothy is therefore an example of someone who is living their life “worthy of the gospel.”

4 thoughts on “Philippians 2:19–24 – The Example of Timothy

  1. Similar Jesus’ equality with God, so to Timothy has the same mind as Paul.

    This makes me think of the gospel (mainly Johannine?) passages in which Jesus says things like “if you know me, you know the Father.”

    Are you suggesting that Paul was a) sending Timothy to Philippi in the same way that God sent Jesus to us, and b) deliberately setting up that allusion?

  2. I would call this a “very soft suggestion,” since this crossed my mind: God’s personal representative Jesus humbly served all people, Paul’s personal representative Timothy will humbly serve Christians at Philippi, and the Philippi’s personal representative Epaphroditus has served Paul.

    As for a deliberate allusion – it is possible because of the iso- root in both paragraphs.Both words are rare in the NT and LXX, so the argument could be made. What I need to do is a major commentary survey to see if anyone else noticed this sort of thing (which is likely if it has much validity!)

  3. After reading this blog post on the example of Timothy I found it eye opening on how people can live their lives for God. It can be very difficult at times to keep pursuing your life for God and Timothy, just like Paul, seems to live his life on fire for God. The first part talks about how Timothy lives his life for the church, the people who are on this world, serving those who need it rather than serving himself. This is very difficult for us today because we live in a very self-driven society and are always trying to please ourselves before others. Timothy however shows real concern for the church and wants to do what he can on order to help them in any way possible. It is difficult for us to go out of our way to help the needs of others if there isn’t a reward or achievement for doing so for, we must do good to those who need it when we have to ability to do so (Proverbs 3:27). Not only does Timothy live his life for others but he also lives his life for Christ. It is prevalent that Timothy is living a life set far apart from the culture of which he was surrounded by. This can be very difficult to do so when you have people around you who do not follow your same agenda. Galatians 1:10, says that if we live our lives for men and for ourselves that we would not be serving our life for Christ. Just like putting our lives down to help serve others we do so by serving God first. Everything that we do we are meant to glorify Him, yet it can be difficult at times because we are not doing it for ourselves and getting the rewards, we think we deserve. As Christians, we must realize that we shouldn’t look for rewards on this earth but look to and pursue our reward in heaven (Phil 3:14). Once we do this, we reach the third point that Timothy did and that was he “became worthy”. Having the Holy Spirit within us we are transformed and become new in Christ, and so should our actions. Understanding who we are and what we believe allows us to have a lasting impact on those that we interact with and that is what Timothy did. He had faith that was so strong that no matter what he had to deal with he trusted God and praised him in the triumphs as well as the downfalls. Having a faith like Timothy’s is difficult because we don’t want to trust God with everything and make Him the center. We believe that we can do it on our own and when we believe that we fall. We begin to question our faith and ask if God is even on our side and that is what Timothy turned away from by putting everything that he has in his faith in God verifying him living his life “worthy of the gospel”.

  4. The question that comes to mind is what does a “good Christian” look like? Many people today want to say that a “good Christian” always has their life in order, that they never make a mistake and that they never question God. I don’t agree with that, Jesus Himself has said that there is no one good but God alone. So what does a it mean, in my opinion, a “good Christian” is some one those is striving to be like Christ. That the people is willing to let Jesus work in their lives. Even people who have been in church have struggled with their faith but the ones who were true came back around, that is what makes a Christian “good”. What does it mean about Timothy, if I am comprehending correctly it means that Timothy was a person who strived to be like Christ. Which by that I mean lived a life that serving others in the name if the Lord.

    The example Jesus left us is a life of servitude to others, forgiving others. Timothy proved that time and time again by leaving home to travel with Paul, by being willing to go to churches by himself, delivering letters. He could have quit at any time but he didn’t, Timothy stood strong in his faith even when people looked down on Him and even til the end. That is why Timothy was worthy.

Leave a Reply