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Philippians 2 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Timothy and Paul to Come Later

True friendship, especially between Christians, can have a fragile side. On the one hand, one of the reasons for friendship is personal, the need to have someone close with whom to share joys, sorrows and everyday events. On the other hand, the goal of all truly Christian friendship is growth in Christ on the part of both parties. And that's the fragile part: how to be gently honest with a friend without jeopardizing the relationship. That's where Paul now is in his relationship with the Philippians. He intends to send Timothy to find out whether this letter will have done any good; but he wants to do so without implying that he is really just checking up on them.

Verse 19 sets out the basic datum and its reason--a proposed visit by Timothy, with the hope of cheering Paul by (further) news about "your affairs" (NIV about you; see commentary on 1:27), presumably whether his letter has had any effect. Since this needs explanation, verses 20-22 offer a twofold justification for the sending of Timothy, which turns out to be only partly justification for doing so at all, and mostly justification for sending Timothy in particular. But the explanation gets away from Paul a bit, so in verses 23-24 he returns to the basic datum--the sending of Timothy--but with two additional pieces of information: Timothy is to be sent as soon as Paul has some sense about "his own affairs" (NIV how things go with me); and he himself will come as soon as possible. These pick up items from 1:19-20 and 24-26.

But it is not possible even here for the apostle to speak without expressing concern for the gospel. So along with the basic issue of his and their relationship, and his concern about them, the explanatory "commendation" of Timothy (vv. 20-22) has the gospel as its underlying current, becoming explicit at the end of verse 22.The Plan--to Send Timothy Soon (2:19) Having brought himself back into the picture in verses 16-18, Paul now returns to where the narrative left off in 1:26; it assumes the presence/absence motif (1:27; 2:12). Not able to come himself, he hopes to send Timothy to you soon, meaning "without delay" once the present delay regarding his future is resolved. His reason for it is primarily personal, that I [for my part] may be cheered when I receive news about "your affairs." Since the outcome of his trial is still future, he hopes to do this (I hope is repeated in v. 23), a hope qualified as in the Lord Jesus, emphasizing the grounds for it (as well as offering a proviso for something future that is simply in the Lord's hands; Bockmuehl 1997:165). Hope, therefore, should not to be watered down to our idiom "I hope so" (when we have very little confidence about something). This qualifier, plus "I am persuaded in the Lord" when referring to his own coming in verse 24, indicates that hope moves much closer to certainty.

The reason for sending Timothy is expressed in terms quite the reverse of Paul's ordinary reason for sending one of his coworkers to a church. In most cases it is for their sakes--to straighten something out or to bring something started to completion. But here it is expressly for his own sake, that "I for my part" may be cheered by good news about them. What will cheer Paul will be to "learn about your affairs," probably having not so much to do with their affairs in general as with those addressed in 1:27--2:18. This, after all, is a primary reason for the letter. This way of putting it also implies that he expects Timothy to return before he himself comes, which makes the soon in Paul's case problematic (see commentary on v. 24).The Commendation of Timothy (2:20-22) What happens next catches us off guard. Not only is Timothy not the bearer of the present letter, but he is also well known to the Philippians (see comment on 1:1); yet Paul proceeds to "commend" him. Moreover, and significantly, the commendation does not speak first about their own long-term knowledge of him but about Paul's having no one else like him (literally, "of like soul" like-minded). This sounds so much like the appeal in verses 2-4, one must assume it to be intentional--and for their sakes.

But "like-souled" to whom? Although the phrase is ambiguous as it stands, most likely Paul means "like-minded to me," rather than no one else's being like-minded to Timothy. Thus with a slight wordplay on being cheered (literally "good souled"), Paul emphasizes that the primary reason for Timothy's coming is that he carries Paul's own deep concerns at heart. When he arrives, therefore, they can count on it: "he will genuinely show concern for your affairs" (repeating from v. 19), especially with regard to their standing firm in the one Spirit in the face of opposition in Philippi (1:27-30). Paul thus begins with the reasons from his perspective that only Timothy will do; he will go on in 2:22 to the reason from their perspective. But before that he takes a broadside at some people who do not have Timothy's (thus his own) mindset.

With an explanatory for, Paul contrasts Timothy's like-minded concern for the Philippians' welfare with the mindset of others who are looking out for their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. That they stand in direct contrast to Timothy, with language reminiscent of verse 4, indicates that "looking out for the interests of Christ Jesus" equals "looking also to the interests of others." This is what the preceding section was all about, Paul's own seeking the interests of Christ Jesus, by appealing to the Philippians to work out--among themselves and in Philippi--the salvation that Christ has brought them.

But we are poorly prepared for this sentence. Verses 20 (Paul's reasons from his perspective for sending Timothy) and 22 (Paul's reasons from their perspective) make perfectly good sense. So why this interruption, and who are these people, especially since Paul's brush sweeps so widely: everyone is like this? We begin with the everyone (or "all"), which can only refer to people in Rome, not Philippi, and probably means something like "the whole lot of them." But "the whole lot of whom," since he hardly intends to indict every believer in Rome? The form of the contrast, including I have no one "like-minded" in verse 20, at first blush sounds as if he intended to contrast Timothy with other coworkers who might be available for such duty. But Paul does not say that; and the content of the sentence makes such a view even difficult to imagine. Given what we know of Paul elsewhere and the high regard with which he holds those who travel with him, and that in 4:21 he sends greetings from "the brothers who are with me," it seems highly unlikely that he should here slander them with this kind of barrage. And in any case, in light of the next verse it also seems unlikely that he would have even considered sending anyone else.

The contrast, therefore, is not between Timothy and other coworkers who could make this trip but are too self-serving to send, but between Timothy's character qualifications and those of some other people who came to mind as Paul was dictating. These people are condemned precisely because they lack the two essential qualities noted of Timothy in verse 20: (1) like-mindedness with Paul, which expresses itself in (2) genuine concern for others and thus exemplifies the character of the gospel that was presented in 2:3-4. Probably, then, this aside looks in two directions at once. What prompts it are people like those already mentioned in 1:15 and 17, who preach Christ but "not purely/sincerely," and who therefore are not truly doing so for Christ's sake. But as verse 20 has already hinted, Timothy is being set forth as yet another model of one who "thinks like Christ" and is therefore being singled out for the benefit of some in Philippi who are otherwise-minded (2:3-4). That it is intended in part for Philippi seems verified by Paul's language, which is the clue to much. Such people, he says, "seek" (NIV look out for) their own interests; Paul has already appealed to the Philippians to do nothing out of self-interest but rather in humility to regard the needs of others as having precedence over their own (2:3-4).

From his denunciation of the self-seeking, Paul returns to the commendation of Timothy, reminding the Philippians of their own knowledge of him: you know that Timothy has proved himself. The word "proven character" (NIV proved himself) has been coined from the verb "to put to the test." Because of long associations with Timothy, they know his worth, that his character has been put to the test and thus he has proved himself.

But as with other matters in this letter, Paul's interest in Timothy's "proven character" is not with his character in general but in particular by the way he has served with me in the work of the gospel. As the Philippians well know, that relationship is like that of a son with his father, the apprentice son who exhibits the mind and concerns of his father, alongside whom he has served for so many years. The reminder is similar to that in 1 Corinthians 4:17, "like father, like son": You can count on Timothy's being among you as a son who looks and acts just like me. He has served with me in the work of the gospel sounds very much like what Paul had earlier thanked God for with regard to the Philippians (in 1:5). Thus, like the content of the two preceding verses, this is expressed in terms that recall earlier moments in the letter and therefore is very likely intended also to reinforce the paradigm.

Would that all of us were like Timothy, putting the interests of others as the matter of first importance! Here again the way of humility, taking the lower road by way of the cross, is on full display; and here alone, as the gospel affects the people of God in this way at the core of our beings, can we expect truly to count for the gospel in a world that lives the opposite, not only as a matter of course but for the most part as its primary value. One must "look out for number one," after all. Agreed, as long as the cross dictates that "number one" is one's neighbor and not oneself.The Plan Resumed--Timothy Soon, Paul Later (2:23-24) With a resumptive therefore Paul returns to the basic datum of verse 19, that he hopes to send Timothy. But now, instead of soon, he qualifies with a clause that indicates why Timothy is coming later and has not accompanied Epaphroditus. As soon as Paul has any inkling as to the outcome of the trial, he will send Timothy to fill them in further on "my affairs." Thus Timothy's reason for coming is twofold: in the first instance (v. 19) for Paul's sake, to see how the letter has affected them; and now for their sakes, to be encouraged and brought up to speed about the outcome of Paul's imprisonment.

Having indicated the second reason for Timothy's coming--to report on "my affairs"--Paul concludes this brief look into the expected future by repeating what he told them in 1:24-26, this time even more emphatically: I myself will come soon. Here is the certain evidence that the adverb "quickly" does not mean "right away," as it ordinarily does, but "quickly" in the sense of "at once after I see how things go with me."

In 1:24 this persuasion was expressed in terms of necessity ("more necessary for you"), implying divine necessity that had their "progress . . . in the faith" as its ultimate concern. Now he expresses that persuasion in the strongest kind of language: I am confident in the Lord (cf. 1:14). It is hard to make it plainer, given that the outcome is still in the future, that he fully expects to be released and therefore that the talk about death in 1:21-23 was a yearning, not an anticipation of the near future. Which in turn also indicates that the metaphor in 2:17 is unlikely to be a reflection on martyrdom, but a reference to his present suffering.

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