Philippians 2:19-24 “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 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. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.”
Once new Christians get to know about Timothy he becomes their favourite New Testament character . . . along with the apostle Andrew, I suppose. They are unintimidating and accessible disciples of Jesus, people who not in the limelight, who serve others, who always seem to stay young. They are very congenial men, real three-dimensional personalities with a vulnerable discipleship which this implies, but earnest followers of the Lord. Let’s remind ourselves very briefly about Timothy: just three words.
First word, youth: Timothy was comparatively young. By the time Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians he was probably in his thirties, but still ill-prepared for the heavy responsibilities of pastoring and teaching hundreds of Christians newly out of paganism. Second word, shyness: he seems to have been temperamentally self-effacing. When men passed comment on his youthfulness Timothy visibly wilted. He needed to be reassured and encouraged by Paul. The apostle once wrote to the church in Corinth, “If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am” (I Cor. 16:10). Third word, frailty: he wasn’t a robust person. He had a delicate stomach and needed to be taking doses of medicinal wine. So here was Timothy, thirty-something, self-effacing and frail. I comment on those obvious characteristics because they are not much in evidence, alas, in those about to enter the ministry today. They are ten years younger but consider themselves in their prime, many of them are joggers, over-interested in sport, and they are confident of their preaching gifts. I like Timothy.
But we must begin by considering the faith of the apostle Paul shown in our text.
1. PAUL’S TRUST WAS IN THE SOVEREIGNTY OF JESUS CHRIST.
The apostle was no stoic, locked up in his prison cell impervious to what happened from day to day, as impassive as the stones of his dungeon. Not at all. Paul was a man of Christian affections. Why did he want Timothy to go to Philippi? He wanted the latest news about the church there: “that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you” (v.19). How was Lydia doing? How was the jailer and his family progressing in the faith? Were Euodia and Syntyche reconciled? Had Epaphroditus arrived safely? Had they got this letter and what had they made of it? Paul, like all of us, loved to be encouraged with good news of the kingdom of God spreading, and churches knowing the Lord’s blessing. The one certain way he would get accurate information was through Timothy reporting to him of everything he saw there. Paul longed to know what the latest news was from Philippi. He was no stoic.
What a man! He seems to us to be one who completely trusted in the Lord. How easily those words can trip off our tongues. What perfection they describe. How long it had taken the apostle to learn to walk by faith. He comes out of our text as a noble figure. There is a dignity and a graciousness about him that is deeply humbling. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. No haughtiness; no self-assertiveness of character, but a submission to the Saviour he served. We meet people like that today and we hear it said about this one or that one, “He, or she, has a servant’s heart.” It’s one of the greatest complements you can give to a Christian.
It’s striking to see in the opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians how this phrase ‘servant’ appears three times. It is just two pages further on in your Bibles from what we are studying at this moment in Philippians 2. Paul first describes Epaphras as “a faithful servant of Christ” (v.7), secondly he describes himself as “a servant of the gospel'” (v.23), and then lastly himself as “a servant of the church” (v.25). That is someone with the mentality of a servant. Paul is putting himself in different contexts and he is saying to himself, “I’m a servant. Never forget it, Paul, wherever you are, that is your vocation, to serve, not to be served, just like the Lord.” That order in Colossians 1 also happens to be the order of a servant’s priorities, first serving Christ, and then the gospel, and then the people of God. Let’s return to our text because I want you to see that submission of Paul here.
Consider the opening words of our text, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon . . .” (v.19). You might miss it, but one minor point is this, that there is nothing here of, “Timothy, I am telling you that you are going to Philippi next week.” He could have acted like that. Certainly he had the authority to do that, but that whole attitude would have been abhorrent to Paul. Lording it over those who belonged to their own Master would have been despicable to him. He hated what we have come to call ‘heavy shepherding.’ There is a marvellous example of this in the last chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The apostle is speaking about his longing that Apollos should go to Corinth (just as he hopes to send Timothy to go to Philippi), but do you see the care with which Paul brings pressure to bear on Apollos to go? “I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers.” “Now Apollos, listen to me for a moment, I think it is time for you to go to Corinth. It would be good for them, and good for you too. The brothers are going next week so that would seem to me to be the perfect time for you to make up the group. I am urging you most strongly to go to Corinth . . .” “I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity” (I Cor. 16:12).
So here is Paul, and firstly he condescends to young Timothy. He will not treat him like a slave, but as a fellow minister on the same level as himself. “I hope to send him soon …” In other words, if Paul had not sent him there is no way that Timothy would desert Paul. He had to be commisioned by Paul, and the apostle underlines this by saying it twice, repeating it in verse 23, “I hope, therefore, to send him along as soon as I see how things go with me.” But there is more here than being a deeply gracious person in his attitude. That is not the main reason I have in drawing your attention to this verse. Notice this, that Paul’s hope is “in the Lord Jesus” (v.19). We don’t know what God’s will is for ourselves, let alone for the Timothys who are our friends or fellow labourers. You remember that James warns every believer, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow” (Jam. 4:13&14). We are all ignorant, I say, of God’s will for us for the future. Every plan we make is indefinite; it depends on what Jesus has decided to do. Paul is saying, “I would like to do this very much. I would like to send Timothy to you. It depends on how things are going here. But sending him is only my ‘hope’, that’s all. In other words, I trust that my will for Timothy going to you coincides with the Lord’s will in this matter.” That is how a servant thinks. That is how Paul made every decision for the future, hoping that the Lord Jesus would permit it. How different from the self-confident way people announce their plans for their future and tell us that this is God’s will.
Notice again how Paul emphasises this again when he speaks of his own future in the 24th verse, “I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” His trust was in the Lord about his future. Paul is not talking about a minor matter here like sending Timothy to visit Philippi. He is talking about whether he himself lived or died. Whether his imprisonment would end, the chains would be unlocked and he would be released to visit his beloved church at Philippi. “That all depends on the Lord,” says Paul. “I am confident in him alone about my future, not confident in the justice of Roman law, not my own pleading in the court, not my rights as a Roman citizen, nor any inner certainty I have about the outcome, whatever it might be.” Paul looked above all of that to the throne of the universe, and to Jesus Christ who sat on it, who is not pleased to inform us about our futures, but who does guarantee sufficient grace for whatever he decrees.
Arthur Pink’s father was a Christian and one day in their home in Nottingham in 1902 his father was reading the morning paper. Suddenly his father looked up from his paper, turned to his mother and said to her, “I’m sorry to see this worded in this way.” “What’s that?” she asked. “It’s the proclamation of the coronation of Prince Edward at Westminster Abbey. They give the exact date, but they haven’t written Deo Volente, ‘God Willing.'” The father’s concern stuck in Arthur’s mind, and came back to him a couple of months later when the coronation planned for that date had to be postponed because Prince Edward had appendicitis.
You see what Paul is saying? “The Lord Jesus Christ has the perfect plan for my future, and he has not chosen to reveal it to me, so I live in hope and trust each day, even for something as simple as sending my assistant to Philippi.” Paul knew that the future was mapped out for him by the Saviour. Christ holds the key of all unknown and I am glad. To hope in Jesus Christ about our futures is a wonderful exercise of renewal and peace. That our Lord sits in heaven and does whatsoever he pleases must be our confidence. That he works all things after the counsel of his own will the Holy Spirit has told us. In other words, Jesus is in charge of this winter, and next year and all the years that remain before us – what a comfort that is. Jesus is in charge of your life, to the very hairs on you head. Not the devil, and not chance, and not man but Jesus Christ. He is the one who opens doors and who closes them too. We have plans, but the Saviour is finally going to work out his plans for us. He is ultimately going to bring us to heaven, and on the way he is going to bring much of heaven into our lives. What great pleasure it is to discern how the Lord is going to providentially steer our ship to the port of his own praise. All our journeys, their course, their speed, their fair weather, their rough weather, “all appointed are by him.” He is going to do this with the whole people of God, while the uncomprehending world is busily working away managing the sails and tugging at the oars with quite an opposite purpose in mind.
Paul wanted to send Timothy soon, but there were uncertainties, difficulties and hindrances from the world. But God had purposed all of those, was taking them up and using them because it might be far better for Timothy to go to Philippi later. So all the world’s opposition that Paul would meet would actually have been promoting God’s design – “howbeit,” the world “meaneth not so!”. They were fulfilling God’s will in their resistance to it. They were enlarging God’s church by scattering it. They were making the rest that Jesus gives become the sweeter by making our own experience in the world so very restless.
What a history we could compile of our own experiences, as we trace the footsteps of providence all along the way it’s led us until today. We might have said, “I’ll go there soon,” but God said, “Later.” So God’s providence prevented us from going, but then it was delivering us from something – we know not what. John Flavel says something like this: Here providence directed us, and there it corrected us. In this it grieved us, and in that it relieved us. Here was poison, but then there was the antidote. Here, providence sent over us a heavy cloud, and there it dispelled the cloud again. Here was a time of shrinking, and then there came a time of enlargement. Here was a time of need, and then abundant supply. This relationship withered, but that one sprang up to such love and joy. Words can’t express the delights and gratifications a heart may find which says, “I hope in Jesus Christ . . .” What a happy world the servant of the Lord Jesus lives in. The blind world knows nothing of this. As John Flavel says, “The bee makes a sweeter meal of one single flower, than the cow does of the whole meadow where thousands of flowers grow.”
Alec Motyer says, “Paul’s doctrine taught him that a sovereign God ruled all things: whether freedom or imprisonment, comfort or discomfort, sickness or health. The child of God lives under the sovereignty of God. Paul’s practice was to accept without question or rebellion what the Lord ordained. The same Lord who called him to be an apostle could and would also ordain the sphere of apostleship, be it a free-roving commission to the Gentile world, or the restrictive limit of a Roman gaol” (J.A.Motyer, “The Richness of Christ,” IVF, London, 1966, p.102). That is what we learn of Paul’s awareness of and submission to Almighty God as seen in these verses. His trust was in the sovereignty of God.
What can we learn of Timothy from these verses?
2. TIMOTHY WAS KEPT BY THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
i] Timothy was Dissimilar from Any Other Christian Whom Paul Knew.
Just that little phrase, “I have no one else like him” (v.20). There was a uniqueness about Timothy. You couldn’t say that about the Mormon missionaries could you? They all look alike. They are self-consciously determined to appear the same as every other Mormon missionary, indeed they have no choice in the matter. There is a grey, standardised, computerised religiosity about cult membership. It is a give-away that its origin is man and not God. Whenever you meet people of God you are soon speaking this kind of refrain, “There’s nobody like her. . . He is unique. . . I’ve never met anyone like that person. . . They broke the mould when they made her. . .” You think of the great personalities in the history of the church, J. Gresham Machen, Rabbi Duncan, Billy Bray, Martin Luther, Cornelius Van Til, John Bunyan, Dr Lloyd-Jones, Hans Rookmaaker, Gladys Aylward, Francis Schaeffer, William Carey, John Murray, Elisabeth Elliot, Billy Sunday, Herman Dooyeweerd, Jonathan Edwards, J.C.Ryle . . . each one a very different personality. You befriend one of those people and you are soon saying, “He, or she, is unique.” God respects diversity in human personality and he uses the gifts he bestows on them. No two Christians can be the same.
If we are different because of some sinful inelegance of character then we must mortify and change that. I mean if we are noisy or boisterous or taciturn or sulkers or worriers or fearsome then we cannot plead that God made us that way. God is not responsible for any sinful trait of personality. We are different in our age and appearance and intelligence and gifts, but we are to be the same in our graces – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. Don’t lag behind any other Christian in any one of those graces. They are ‘fruit’ in the singular not ‘fruits’: one great corporate fruit of grace which every Christian is to display in his life.
Some of you are afraid that if you become a Christian then you will have to lose aspects of your personality and certain interests and hobbies that are important to you. I must say that when anyone becomes a true Christian he has to bring everything to God, because Jesus Christ must be the Lord of everything in our lives. You must give to the Lord your love of music and sport and reading and even your family and possessions. You give him your motor bike and sports car. Your computer and the world wide web belongs to the Lord when you become a Christian. Then he will give them all back to you but not as things that master you. He will elevate and purify your relationship with them. They will not become your idol or even a snare. But every good and perfect thing in the creation is yours. All things are yours. He doesn’t want you to be interested in nothing but religion. He encourages your fascination in everything in the world. You will still be that unique person that you’ve always been, but with all the enrichment and maturity of God.
Timothy was like no one else, especially in his graces, his interest in other people. He was in a class by himself. There was no one else as mature at Timothy. He stood out above them all. None of the others could touch him in the interest he showed in the people of Philippi. But again we have to return to the apostle Paul. There was nobody Paul loved as he loved Timothy, but it was Timothy that Paul sent away from Rome, and from his prison cell for this long journey across the seas. How Paul sacrificed this most precious friend for the sake of Jesus Christ and his church. James Paton recounts his father (Also named James) accompanying him from his remote Scottish village as he left home for theological study and then the rest of his life spent in the South Seas of the Pacific:
“My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half-mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence, my father, as often was his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long, flowing yellow hair (the yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain. We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then, solemnly and affectionately said, ‘God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil.’
“Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him – gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him, and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke and looking out for me. He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to return, his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze, and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonour such a father and mother as he had given me.
“The appearance of my father, when we parted, his advice, prayers and tears – the road, the dyke, the climbing up on it and then walking away, head uncovered – have often, often, all through life, risen vividly before my mind, and do so now while I am writing, as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian angel. It is no Pharisaism, but deep gratitude, which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God’s grace, to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example.” (John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides, 1891, reprinted Banner of Truth, pp. 25&26).
ii]. Timothy was Sensitive to the Needs of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Timothy “takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests” (vv. 20 & 21). There are those who take an apparent interest in your welfare, but when they think you are taking advantage of them, knocking on their door to visit them when they have their own plans for the evening, calling them too much on the phone, making some demands on them, then they stop coming to the door at your knock, pretending they’re out. Their words on the phone are terse. They weren’t interested in you at all, because genuine interest in another is always costly. It may seem good to have someone as a friend, but it is not always easy. Paul tells the Philippians, “You’ve got a genuine friend in Timothy.” The word ‘genuine’ means a birthmark. There is a birth from above, a gift of God in regeneration, and one mark of it is genuine interest in others. Only a few have that.
Dr James Montgomery Boice draws our attention to the father of Joseph, who was one of the patriarchs. Jacob was a fine shepherd who took a genuine interest in the welfare of his flock. Once his uncle Laban criticised him for the way he was treating his sheep, and Jacob protested, “I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself . . . This was my situation: the heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household” (Gen. 31:39-41). Jacob was a genuine shepherd interested in the well-being of his flock. Then some time later he met up with his brother Esau who wanted to hurry him along to his home. Jacob was concerned about his family (he had little children), and about the flocks being driven furiously, so he said to Esau, “My lord knows that the children are tender, and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children” (Gen. 33:13&14). Let’s apply those words to pastors. Genuine interest in people’s welfare means not driving them, dealing gently with them, and being patient, bringing them along with us, teaching them line by line and precept by precept. Timothy was concerned for the welfare of the people of God. Richard Cecil, a powerful Anglican preacher in London 300 years ago once said, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach is quite another.”
A true Christian is genuinely interested in other Christians. Let me give you one concrete example. Think of the old tradition of Sunday afternoon letter-writing to a missionary. It’s a great routine, year after year, sharing the Sunday morning service and the news of the church with a missionary. We have a missionary in Nairobi and when he was a student here he shared a room with another student who was the first gospel Christian he’d met. This student brought him to our church and the Christian Union, and during that time he became a Christian. For decades that student wrote every Sunday to our brother. Brian was genuinely interested in Keith.
Last week I was reading the childhood South Wales memories of Roald Dahl. I don’t recommend the book at all, but one feature impressed me, and that was his mother’s love for him and his love for her. He was her only son (there were some daughters), and she had lost her husband when Roald was a little boy. But her love for him wasn’t stifling but generous. When he came and told her at 18 years of age that he was going to Kenya for some years she displayed only pleasure in his promotion (though the prospect of a parting lasting many years must have been hurtful). That period even merged into the war years when he served in the RAF. Every week Roald wrote to her, and she kept his letters, unknown to him, and when he died he discovered all 600 of them neatly tied together in bundles in the envelopes in which they’d been sent. Theirs was a genuine love for each other.
This week we ordained one of our members to become a missionary to Ecuador. By the new year he will be in South America, and it will be a few years before we see him again. Are you genuinely interested in his welfare? If you can’t make it to write every Sunday (and that’s a rare person) then, please, every communion Sunday afternoon or evening will you write to one of our missionaries in Latvia, Austria, the south of France, Kenya? Only a few people are genuinely interested in others, and they are those born from above, but, Paul says, “everyone looks out for his own interests.” (v.21) Everyone! Because everyone has sinned and come short of the glory of God. The mark of a sinner is his self-interest. But God had saved Timothy from self-preoccupation. To whom do you belong? Those who are genuinely interested in others? Then watch them, how they talk and act. Learn from their servants’ hearts. Imitate them. Consider Jacob as an example of a tender shepherd.
iii] Timothy Promoted the Interests of Jesus Christ.
“For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (v.21). Timothy stood out because he was always looking out for the interests of the Lord Jesus. There isn’t a pastor in the world today who doesn’t lament a certain phenomenon; everywhere ministers are concerned to see how Christian men’s interests get locked into their work, and Christian women’s interests get locked into their families, and the interests of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ comes a poor third in their lives. These were people who began by spending themselves in serving Christ, but now other interests have taken precedence over that. So they are church members, but hardly zealous for Christ. That is a world-wide lament from every minister we meet the whole world over. I received the November 2002 Newsletter of the Albanian Evangelical Mission two days ago and there was a report on the fledgling church in that country, once the only officially atheistic state in Europe. It has some good things to say, of an estimated 10,000 believers in the country in 170 evangelical and Pentecostal fellowships. That compares to 1991 when there was one fellowship in the country with three members. Then it adds these words that “a common problem around Albania is that a lot of young men who professed faith in Christ as teenagers in the 1990s are now in their twenties and falling away. Young men often refuse to take on a leadership role in the churches. They lack open zeal and commitment.” (Albanian Evangelical Mission, 29 Bridge Street, Wrexham LL13 7HP). The fact is that every single young man says to himself that he has an impeccable reason for his lack of commitment. He is not like the others in his absence and detachment from gospel work. In fact he is exactly where the others are – backsliding. That is where the battle with worldliness is being lost in that generation everywhere in the gospel church.
But Timothy at that age triumphed. He looked out for the interests of Jesus Christ. How did this happen? Timothy was raised in a home where his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice taught him to read. They had faith in God and the book they used to teach Timothy was the Holy Scriptures. The home was a home of prayer, and these women had psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to sing. That was the atmosphere in which Timothy was raised. Maybe old Lois would pick up her magnifying glass and would study the page of Scriptures which she was going to read that day to Timothy. She would do this an hour before he came in from his play, reading and re-reading the passage to make sure she herself understood it, and thinking of what lessons she would point out to him, and what would be her prayers afterwards with the little boy. That is when the interests of Jesus Christ and his kingdom were brought before Timothy, through his mother and grandmother.
But the great change hadn’t taken place in Timothy’s life. He was yet unconverted. The two women began the work, but it was left for Paul to finish the work. We see this same pattern ourselves in children raised within this church, hearing daily family prayers, knowing Scripture and catechism, but not until a summer camp or a conference do they come to faith in Christ. The fine fruit was slowly ripening and then in a day and an hour it falls at a touch into the basket. Paul came one day and he preached at Lystra, and Timothy was converted on the spot. Let’s remember Lois and Eunice with tenderness. Let’s thank God for their prayers and Bible teaching and their hope. I am sure that all of us Christians would rejoice to see God using any instrument at all to convert our children. A new minister; a good tract; a personal providence; even a TV evangelist – whatever.
Assurance of salvation came to Timothy through Paul, and then there came a new zeal in learning how to live the Christian life. “How should I live the Christian life?” he asked Paul. “The Lord Jesus said, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’ That is to be your priority Timothy,” the older man has said, “then all the other things in life will be given to you. But if the King is not always number one then the world will get you. Timothy, listen, I must tell you about one of my friends called Demas. He once loved the Saviour and he worked for the gospel, but other interests got in, and he is nowhere today.” So Paul told young Timothy, and he laid it to his heart.
How do we get our priorities right, and start to put the interests of Christ in first place in our lives? We begin with the knowledge that this is God’s will for us, and then we examine ourselves to see whether it is so with us, or whether the passage of time and pressure from the world has resulted in an erosion of values and a creeping worldliness that means we have left our first love. Then we must go to God and confess this, and repent of it with a broken and contrite heart, and cry to God for strength to do our first works. “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Make me like Timothy. I have been looking to my own interests and not those of Jesus Christ. How could I treat you in this way?” Then with new devotion and zeal we put things right in our lives.
iv] Timothy Could Work with Other Men.
“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” (v.22). The mark of a mature Christian is that he is not a loner, but he can work alongside others. He can make his contribution and disagree without resigning at the drop of a hat. It is working alongside an older man that is the rock of stumbling to many. They have their own agenda, and they chafe at the fact that it is not this older man’s agenda, and they sulk, and grumble, and eventually do their own thing. At first we are told that younger John Mark couldn’t work with Paul. I have known such tensions over the years. Can you work with an old Christian? Doesn’t the Bible say much about respecting one with a head of white hair? Don’t the Scriptures tell us of such relationships, Moses and Joshua; Elijah and Elisha; Peter and Mark? Could you work with an older believer? You say, “It depends on the older believer.” Does that mean that only if he agreed with you could you work with him? Timothy learned how to lead by first of all being led. Some want to be leaders but have never shown that they can be led. The first eight years I was pastor here I had two godly women as deacons. They had prayed for the church and for me to come as pastor during the years it was under the influence of modernism. I don’t agree with women being deacons but I honoured them for that period until they resigned and we had gifted men to appoint to this office. A servant’s heart only grows when there is a servant’s spirit and a servant’s actions.
This picture of a father and son working together would have been familiar to all the Philippian church. Most sons worked with their fathers. James and John worked with their father Zebedee on the fishing boats of the Sea of Galilee. Similarly Simon and Andrew worked with their father Jonas. They learned their trade with Dad. Their primary apprenticeship was to him. He taught them the skill and craft and the tricks of the trade. Step by step they picked up from him how it was done. Dads would know how things work. They’ve been around longer. They are abreast of life in practical matters, and they have some moral authority.
Timothy had learned nothing at all about the Christian faith from his anonymous biological father. Maybe he had died when Timothy was a little boy, but Paul had travailed in birth until Christ was formed in this young man and Paul became his spiritual father and mentor. The relationship wasn’t formal but instinctive. Paul could write a letter to him later on and say, “You . . . know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions sufferings” (2 Tim. 3:10 & 11). Timothy knew Paul as many of you knew your fathers. But I want you to notice that the wording in our text is not exactly as we would expect it. We read verse 22 in a cursory way and we think it is saying that as a son with his father he has served Paul in the work of the gospel. But it doesn’t say Timothy had served Paul does it? It says that Timothy served with Paul. The apostle was involved in the work of the gospel, and so was Timothy, working with Paul, not working for Paul. There was a joint service as co-workers and partners, the old man and the young man together.
Timothy has proved himself, Paul tells the Philippians. We believe it, and having seen this description of him we bow before God and go to the blood of Christ and cry for mercy and strength to become the servants of Christ, his gospel and his church as Paul was.
17 November 2002 GEOFF THOMAS