Paul takes particular notice of two good ministers; for though he was himself a great apostle, and laboured more abundantly than they all, yet he took all occasions to speak with respect of those who were far his inferiors.
I. He speaks of Timothy, whom he intended to send to the Philippians, that he might have an account of their state. See Paul’s care of the churches, and the comfort he had in their well-doing. He was in pain when he had not heard of them for a good while, and therefore would send Timothy to enquire, and bring him an account: For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state. Timothy was a non-such. There were, no doubt, many good ministers, who were in care for the souls of those for whom they preached; but none comparable to Timothy, a man of an excellent spirit and tender heart. Who will naturally care for your state. Observe, It is best with us when our duty becomes in a manner natural to us. Timothy was a genuine son of blessed Paul, and walked in the same spirit and the same steps. Naturally, that is, sincerely, and not in pretence only: with a willing heart and upright view, so agreeably to the make of his mind. Note, 1. It is the duty of ministers to care for the state of their people and be concerned for their welfare: I seek not yours, but you, 2 Cor. 12:14. 2. It is a rare thing to find one who does it naturally: such a one is remarkable and distinguished among his brethren. All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s, Phil. 2:21. Did Paul say this in haste, as David said, All men are liars? Ps. 116:11. Was there so general a corruption among ministers so early that there was not one among them who cared for the state of their people? We must not understand it so: he means the generality; all, that is, either the most, or all in comparison of Timothy. Note, Seeking our own interest to the neglect of Jesus Christ is a very great sin, and very common among Christians and ministers. Many prefer their own credit, ease, and safety, before truth, holiness, and duty, the things of their own pleasure and reputation before the things of Christ’s kingdom and his honour and interest in the world: but Timothy was none of these.—You know the proof of him, Phil. 2:22. Timothy was a man who had been tried, and had made full proof of his ministry (2 Tim. 4:5), and was faithful in all that befel him. All the churches with whom he had acquaintance knew the proof of him. He was a man as good as he seemed to be; and served Christ so as to be acceptable to God, and approved of men, Rom. 14:18. “You not only know the name of him, and the face of him, but the proof of him, and have experienced his affection and fidelity in your service,” that, as a son with a father, he hath served with me in the gospel. He was Paul’s assistant in many places where he preached, and served with him in the gospel with all the dutiful respect which a child pays to a father, and with all the love and cheerfulness with which a child is serviceable to his father. Their ministrations together were with great respect on the one side and great tenderness and kindness on the other—an admirable example to elder and younger ministers united in the same service. Paul designed to send him shortly: Him therefore I hope to send presently, as soon as I shall see how it will go with me, Phil. 2:23. He was now a prisoner, and did not know what would be the issue; but, according as it turned, he would dispose of Timothy. Nay, he hoped to come himself (Phil. 2:24): But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly. He hoped he should soon be set at liberty, and be able to pay them a visit. Paul desired his liberty, not that he might take his pleasure, but that he might do good.—I trust in the Lord. He expresses his hope and confidence of seeing them, with a humble dependence and submission to the divine will. See Acts 18:21; 1 Cor. 4:19; Jas. 4:15; Heb. 6:3.
II. Concerning Epaphroditus, whom he calls his brother, and companion in labour, and fellow-soldier, his Christian brother, to whom he bore a tender affection,—his companion in the work and sufferings of the gospel, who submitted to the same labours and hardships with himself,—and their messenger, one who was sent by them to him, probably to consult him about some affairs relating to their church, or to bring a present from them for his relief for he adds, and who ministered to my wants. He seems to be the same who is called Epaphras, Col. 4:12. He had an earnest desire to come to them, and Paul was willing he should. It seems, 1. Epaphroditus had been sick: They had heard that he had been sick, Phil. 2:26. And indeed he was sick, nigh unto death, Phil. 2:27. Sickness is a calamity common to men, to good men and ministers. But why did not the apostle heal him, who was endued with a power of curing diseases, as well as raising the dead? Acts 20:10. Probably because that was intended as a sign to others, and to confirm the truth of the gospel, and therefore needed not be exercised one towards another. These signs shall follow those who believe, they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover, Mark 16:17, 18. And perhaps they had not that power at all times, and at their own discretion, but only when some great end was to be served by it, and when God saw fit. It was proper to Christ, who had the Spirit above measure. 2. The Philippians were exceedingly sorry to hear of his sickness. They were full of heaviness, as well as he, upon the tidings of it: for he was one, it seems, for whom they had a particular respect and affection, and thought fit to choose out to send to the apostle. 3. It pleased God to recover and spare him: But God had mercy on him, Phil. 2:27. The apostle owns it is a great mercy to himself, as well as to Epaphroditus and others. Though the church was blessed at that time with extraordinary gifts, they could even then ill spare a good minister. He was sensibly touched with the thoughts of so great a loss: Lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow; that is, “Lest, besides the sorrow of my own imprisonment, I should have the sorrow of his death.” Or perhaps some other good ministers had died lately, which had been a great affliction to him: and, if this had died now, it would have been a fresh grief to him, and sorrow added to sorrow. 4. Epaphroditus was willing to pay a visit to the Philippians, that he might be comforted with those who had sorrowed for him when he was sick: “That when you see him again you may rejoice (Phil. 2:28), that you may yourselves see how well he has recovered, and what reason you have for the thankfulness and joy upon his account.” He gave himself the pleasure of comforting them by the sight of so dear a friend. 5. Paul recommends him to their esteem and affection: “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such in reputation: account such men valuable, who are zealous and faithful, and let them be highly loved and regarded. Show your joy and respect by all the expressions of hearty affection and good opinion.” It seems he had caught his illness in the work of God: It was for the work of Christ that he was nigh to death, and to supply their lack of service to him. The apostle does not blame him for his indiscretion in hazarding his life, but reckons they ought to love him the more upon that account. Observe, (1.) Those who truly love Christ, and are hearty in the interests of his kingdom, will think it very well worth their while to hazard their health and life to do him service, and promote the edification of his church. (2.) They were to receive him with joy, as newly recovered from sickness. It is an endearing consideration to have our mercies restored to us after danger of removal, and should make them the more valued and improved. What is given us in answer to prayer should be received with great thankfulness and joy.
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