Qualifications for Gospel Service
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. So I hope to send him as soon as I know more about my situation, though I am confident in the Lord that I too will be coming to see you soon. – Philippians 2:19-24
How does this section fit in with the entire epistle?
It is not immediately clear how verses 19–30 fit into the whole literary structure of Philippians. This section can be approached in different ways:
- A continuation of Paul’s missionary report in Philippians 1:12-16.
- He’s just, as always, disclosing to them his travel plans. (Romans 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:17, Philemon 22)
- He does both but more, that is, he’s also giving them example of someone who models the kind of service expected of them to emulate.
How does verses 19-30 relate to the preceding passages then?
Take note that the conjunction that was used can either be continuative or adversative.
The conjunction δέ (de, verse 19, translated “but” in NASB) may be viewed as merely resumptive/transitional; if so, we may render it “now” or leave it untranslated (cf. NIV). If the adversative notion is insisted upon, the contrast may be with verse 17 (“although I face some dangers, I still hope… .”; cf. Meyer; Vincent) or, better, with the more general matter of Paul’s absence, which is such a dominant theme in the epistle (cf. Lightfoot and Hawthorne, though they see here a specific contrast with 2:12). -Moises Silva
I tend to lean towards the adversative usage and see here a contrast with 2:12. Though Paul was absent, he can send someone in his stead. Paul had two people in mind, Timothy and Epaphroditus. The former he considers to send soon and more beneficial on their behalf(verses 19-24) but the latter is more necessary as we will see on verses 25-30. But for now let’s ask the question what qualifies Timothy for this service?
1. Genuine Concern for others(verse 20).
Paul in verse 20 stated that there is no one like Timothy there. A more formal translation would be “like minded” with Timothy. Paul here is calling attention to the kind of mind he requires of them, the mind that is also in Christ(Philippians 2:3-10). This mind is characterized by a true concern for others and not seeking one’s own interest.
The greek word translated as “will be concerned” literally means “will be distracted” but in the active voice. Here it means distracted to the needs and interest of others. It is easy to be distracted by our own concerns. It is also easy to help others, even unbelievers can do that. But to concern yourselves to the point of being anxious for others’ interests, that requires a kind of mind that is transformed by the gospel. This is so opposite to the human nature, but Timothy here has the mind of Christ.
In Matthew 6:25-34 we are told by Christ not to be anxious about our needs, but to seek first the kingdom of God. Paul is saying the same thing here but in the opposite direction. Be anxious instead for the interest of others. These two halves complement each other. Seeking first the kingdom of God is seeking first the eternal interest of others. That is the advancement of the gospel.
2. Genuine denial of one’s self—true desire for the things of Christ (verse 21).
Timothy was unlike others because the rest were seeking their own. NET got it right when they translated the continuous present tense “seeking” as “being busy”. They are busy and distracted by their own interest. Most have sought their own good first in order to protect their
•livelihood •comfort •acceptance •security •recognition •position •authority •friendship •following •support •possessions
Now you would expect in the second clause that Paul would say “not of others” but instead he contrasted it with “not those of Jesus Christ”. Here he used Christ’s interest interchangeably with the interest of others.
Why did he do that and what are the interests of Christ?
He did that because Christ’s interest was the eternal good of God’s people, namely the fullness of their joy in faith both in this life and in the next and only Timothy has that kind of interest. We can see it also in 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3.
Christ himself told us his interest in Matthew 25:43 “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not”
Take note also that Jesus’s interest requires self denial. He said so in Mark 8:34-35. You want to follow him? Then deny yourself. Christ’s concern for your eternal life requires that you deny yourself.
But we must be very careful here. There’s a kind of self denial that won’t cut it. In 1 Corinthians 13:3-5, it shows a kind of dying for others that profits nothing. The kind of self denial required is that of a loving and joyful carrying of one’s cross. The kind that in your joy, you’ll sell all your possessions(Matthew 13:44), or joyfully accept the plundering of your properties for the sake of others(Hebrews 10:34).
This is the only brand of self denial that will be of service to the advancement of the gospel(1 Corinthians 10:24-33).
3. Genuine Discipleship – a willingness to be discipled(vv. 22-24).
When Paul appealed to Timothy’s proven worth, he did so by pointing how Timothy served with him in advancing the gospel.The greek word for proof (ten dokimen) is “the test” as of metals (2Co 2:9; 9:13).
Paul called him his son in the faith( 1 Corinthians 4:17) because like Paul, his concern was for the welfare of others. Timothy served with him in Philippi (Ac. 16:1f), Thessalonica and Berea (Ac. 17:1-14), Corinth (Ac. 18:1-5), Ephesus (Ac. 19:21-22) and in prison in Rome (Col. 1:1; Ph. 1:1). Being this closed to the apostle would mean sudden death. This proves his genuine concern for others.
Looking back to the mind that’s also in Christ in verse 6-11, Timothy like Jesus, humbled himself and obeyed his “spiritual” father. He imitate Paul’s devotion for the progress and joy in the faith of his fellow believers. He, like Paul, consider them his crown of boasting and joy(1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).