Philippians Bible Study, Week 11

19But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.  20For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.  21For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.  22But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.  23Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me;  24and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.

25But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need;  26because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.  27For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.  28Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you.  29Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard;  30because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. Philippians 2:10-30 (NASB)

Things to think about

What “ministry” functions or roles[1] do you fulfil among your family, among your work mates or school mates, or among fellow church members?

Do you know someone who is an inspiring Christian worker or minister (either personally or through reading a biography)?

Are you developing your ministry/service skills?

Are you looking for ministry/service opportunities?

Are you supporting someone else in ministry?

Is there someone who can use your support?

Do you serve God devotedly and sacrificially?


Of all his letters addressed to churches, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is the most personal. In Philippians we get to meet some of the people associated with the church, albeit briefly.  In this week’s passage we get to meet Timothy and Epaphroditus.[2]

Timothy: “You know of his proven worth”

From elsewhere in the New Testament we learn that Timothy’s father was Greek, but that his mother and grandmother were godly Jewish Christians (Acts 16:1-2). Timothy’s mother Eunice had seen to it that her son had learnt the Old Testament scriptures[3] from a young age (2 Tim. 1:5, 3:15).

Timothy met Paul while Paul was on his second missionary journey. He joined the apostle on his mission and they became close friends and colleagues. We know that Timothy was with Paul in Philippi (Acts 16), in Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-14), in Corinth and in Ephesus (Acts 18:5; 19:21-22). Furthermore, he had been imprisoned with Paul and suffered hardship with him (cf. Heb. 14:13:23). Paul was very fond of Timothy and referred to him his son (1 Cor. 4:14; 1 Tim. 1:2; cf. Phil. 2:22).

Paul was an excellent disciple-maker, and he was training Timothy to follow in his footsteps in apostolic ministry. As a way of endorsing Timothy to other churches, Paul mentions him in the opening greetings of many of his letters to various churches: in 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and in the closing greeting in Romans.

Paul often sent Timothy as his representative to support churches, such as the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 3:2, 5-6), the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 4:17, 16:10-11), the Philippian church, and the Ephesian church. 1 and 2 Timothy are letters that claim to have been written by Paul to Timothy while Timothy was looking after the church at Ephesus.

In Philippians, Paul presents Timothy as someone who embodied the qualities that Paul was looking for in the Philippian Church. Paul had urged the Philippians, “Do not just look out for your own personal  interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). Paul tells the Philippians that Timothy has a genuine interest in them, and in the interests of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). By way of contrast, Paul says of others that, They all are seeking their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21). Is this reprimand aimed at the Philippians?

Paul had also urged the Philippians to be faithful and obedient to his teaching (Phil. 2:12). Paul portrays Timothy as an obedient son who has faithfully and devotedly served[4] his father, and describes him as literally having an “equal soul/spirit” as himself; translated as “kindred spirit” in the NASB. By all accounts, Timothy was an excellent minister of the gospel, and well able to strengthen and encourage believers in their faith during times of adversity (cf. 1 Thess. 3:2-3).

Paul was stuck in prison and unable to be with the Philippians. So he planned to send Timothy to help and support them in their current difficulties of disunity and persecution. He planned to send Timothy as soon as he knew what the outcome of his trial would be.

Epaphroditus: “Hold people like him in high regard”

Epaphroditus was a member of the Philippian church. The Philippians had sent him to Paul, in order to minister to Paul’s needs while in prison, to give him a financial gift, and also to bring news about the church to him. While visiting Paul, Epaphroditus became gravely ill and almost died. This distressing news caused concern among the Philippians. And Epaphroditus himself was distressed because the Philippians had heard that he had fallen ill.

Paul was sending Epaphroditus back to the Philippians; but he wanted to make sure that he would be well received by his church family. Paul did not want the Philippians to think that Epaphroditus had failed in his ministry; so Paul described him in generous, glowing terms: Epaphroditus is Paul’s “brother” and “fellow worker” and “fellow soldier”. “Fellow worker”, or “co-worker”, is a term that Paul typically used for his ministry colleagues.[5]

Paul continued by calling Epaphroditus an “apostle” (apostolos) of the Philippian church (their authorised representative) as well as their “minister” (leitourgos) who had ministered to Paul’s needs. A leitourgos is a minister engaged in sacred and solemn work for religious purposes (cf. Heb. 1:7; 8:2; Rom. 15:16). In broader society, a leitourgos was a high status minister-benefactor engaged in good works for the benefit of society (cf. Rom. 13:6). Both meanings combine well for Epaphroditus, as one of the purposes for his visit to Paul was to give Paul a gift to support him during his imprisonment. Paul used the word leitourgos of himself in Romans 15:16, and of the work of collection for the Jerusalem poor in Romans 15:27 and 2 Corinthians 9:12.  (Martin 1983:130)

The Philippians were instructed to welcome Epaphroditus back home with joy —there’s that word again—and  they were to hold people[6] like him in high regard because he had risked his life in order to fulfil his ministry (leitourgia) to Paul. The ministry (leitourgia) of Epaphroditus is given “overtones of a priestly act”. (Kent 1978:134) (cf. Phil. 4:18)

Epaphroditus had risked his life in fulfilling his ministry. “Risked” is a gambling term. He had “staked his life for the service of Christ in the interest of the apostle [Paul] and on behalf of the Philippians community whose lack of help was unavoidable since they were many miles away.” (Martin 1983:133-4) The word husterēma (used in the last phrase verse 30) can mean “what is lacking”, “absence of a person”, or “poverty”.

Both Timothy and Epaphroditus had devoted themselves to the work of the gospel and continued to dedicate and exert themselves in ministry. They were are great support to Paul’s ministry and to the churches Paul founded.


Endnotes

[1] Verses which mention spiritual gifts and ministries: Acts 2:17-18; Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27-28; 14:26-33; Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pet. 4:9-11.

[2] Epaphroditus is most probably not the same person as Epaphras of Colossae (Col. 1:7; 4:12; Phil. 23).

[3] The New Testament was in the process of being written and was not referred to as “scripture” until later. The New Testament letters and books were generally referred to as “the writings of the apostles”, or something similar, during the first and second centuries.

[4] The verb used in Philippians 2:22 literally means to “serve as a slave” and has the implication of “serving with devotion”. The noun doulos literally means a “slave”, but Paul used the word frequently to mean “a minister devoted to God”. Cognate verbs, such as the one used in Philippians 2:22, have a similar meaning.

[5] Paul’s fellow workers (sunergoi) were: Timothy (Rom 16:21); Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16:3); Urbanus (Rom 16:9);  Apollos (1 Cor 3:6-9); Titus (2 Cor 8:23);  Epaphroditus (Php 2:2:25) Euodia, Syntyche and Clement (Php 4:1-3); Aristarchus, Marcus, and Jesus also called Justus (Col 4:10-11); Philemon (Phil 1); Mark, Aristarchus (again), Demas, and Luke  (Phil 24).

[6] There is no word for “men” used in the Greek text of Philippians 2:29b.

Image credit: Free Bible Images

© 5th of August 2010, Margaret Mowczko


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