Lessons from the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus (Philippians chapter 2, verses 19-30)

  • This article is based on a talk at Glenwood Church on 10 May 2015. Listen to the full talk here.

    In the early part of Philippians chapter 2, Paul tells the Philippian Christians that they should strive to be the people that God wants them to be. He tells them the following things:

    • “In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus.” (verse 5)
    • To obey God and “Keep on working to complete your salvation with fear and trembling” (verse 12)
    • “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” (verse 14)
    • “Offer your lives as a sacrifice in serving God.” (verse 17)
    • “Be happy and full of joy” (verse 18)

    He then talks about these Timothy and Epaphroditus immediately afterwards, referencing these key ideas. Paul is holding them up as examples of the kind of people the Christians living in Philippi should try to become.

    He says Timothy is not interested in his own affairs, but in the work of Christ. He describes Epaphroditus as a brother in Christ – as a soldier serving alongside him. Both of them are working hard for the purposes of God – they are working to complete their salvation.

    It’s not stated, but presumably they don’t complain or argue as they offer their lives sacrificially to serving God, and Epaphroditus has almost died because he chose to serve sacrificially. And when Epaphroditus goes to the city of Philippi, he will bring joy to people.

    So there are some lessons we can pull out of their behaviour; questions we can ask ourselves about the way we live.

    So who was Timothy?

    Timothy was a young man when Paul met him. They met in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra (See Acts chapter 16). This was on Paul’s second big missionary journey.

    Timothy’s mother was Jewish and had come to believe in Jesus as the messiah, as had his Grandmother. His father was Greek and was not a believer.

    That’s hard, isn’t it? If you’re a Christian and one or both of your parents aren’t. However, it didn’t stop Timothy from being a very important leader in the New Testament. He is mentioned in seven of Paul’s letters, plus there are two letters written to him, and he is mentioned in the letter to the Hebrews, which was probably written by people who knew Paul well. That’s ten letters that mention him.

    He is also mentioned in the Book of Acts, which is how we know where Paul met him. After Jesus, and some of the disciples, and Paul himself, he is probably the person who is mentioned the most often in the most different books of the New Testament.

    One thing that Timothy did was throw himself whole-heartedly into his faith. He was very close to Paul. In fact, Paul refers to him as being like a ‘son’, which is a big thing to say about someone. And that’s an interesting thing to look at from the other way around. Timothy worked with Paul, served him “as a son serves his father”. He was working ‘in the family business’, in the way that sons did in those times. He was Paul’s apprentice. It could well be that Timothy served as his secretary and maybe was the person who actually wrote Paul’s letters because it was quite common to dictate letters – and effectively put himself in a position to learn from Paul.

    There’s something we can learn from the way Timothy chose to work with Paul. Maybe we don’t have that Christian influence in our family, but we can decide to learn from someone else.

    It’s important that we also recognise the real influence that Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and Grandmother, Lois, had on him. Elsewhere, Paul talks about their “sincere faith” that they passed on to him (2 Timothy chapter 1, verse 5). Again it can be hard if you are bringing up children and you’re a follower of Jesus and your partner is not. All I can say is Eunice and Lois were able to pass on their sincere faith to Timothy. So it is possible to do that.

    Paul says this in verse 20 and 21: “I have no one else like Timothy, who truly cares for you. Other people are interested only in their own lives, not in the work of Jesus Christ.” Timothy cares for the Philippian Christians. He cares for other people and Paul then contrasts that with people who look to their own interests first. And then Paul says that looking to your own interests first is not compatible with the work that Jesus Christ calls his followers to.

    So, that’s Timothy. A young man who didn’t let his background hold him back, who endeavoured to learn all he could about life as a Christian and who lived out the way of Christ by putting the needs of others ahead of his own.

    Who was Epaphroditus?

    He was from Philippi. The Church there sent him to support Paul. And now Paul says that he is sending him back to the Philippians for a couple of reasons. One is that Epaphroditus misses home, the other is that he’d been very ill and Paul wants the Philippians to know he’s OK. There’s a third reason, if we put the chronology together in this section. Epaphroditus is going first, then Timothy and then Paul is hoping to come himself. And it seems likely that when Epaphroditus went home, he took this letter to his fellow Christians.

    Paul uses three terms in quick succession to describe Paphro –

    • brother in Christ,
    • co-worker
    • fellow soldier in the army of Christ

    That final one is interesting because there aren’t many military metaphors in Paul’s writing. Paul wrote this letter when was in prison. Maybe he used the term ‘soldier’ because there would have been an armed guard nearby.

    Or possibly he uses it very deliberately. Philippi was not a Greek city, even though it was in Macedonia. It had been founded by the Romans as a military colony. So there would have been a lot soldiers and ex-soldiers knocking around there. It was a metaphor that would have been well-understood in the church there.

    In the Roman army when you served as a soldier, you stood shoulder to shoulder in battle formation. Paul is talking about working really closely in the mission that God had called them to.

    And then Paul tells the Philippians that Epaphroditus had been really sick, and nearly died, but he’s OK now. And then he ends on saying the church should honour Epaphroditus “because he almost died for the work of Christ.” Paul says, “He risked his life to give me the help you could not give in your service to me.” (verse 30)

    What we can possibly take from this is that Epaphroditus was ill but carried on with his mission to reach Paul, so he could deliver a financial gift from the church in Philippi. Paul thanks the church for the gift Epaphroditus brought in chapter 4, verse 18. He also thanks them for their ongoing financial assistance to him during his missionary work.

    Imitating Christ and serving others may involve risks. The challenge for us as Christians is: are we willing to take the risk? Epaphroditus could have died. The way Paul writes about it he was really, really close. But he wanted to fulfil the mission he had been given by the church – to deliver their gift.

    We need to honour those people who take risks and seriously pray that if we are ever in that position that we will be willing to take the risk as well.

    So those are some ideas about how maybe we should live our lives based on the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus.

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