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Philippians 2:19-21

Philippians 2:19 Now 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.

20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your best interest.

21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.

 

Introduction

Our text this morning begins the fourth major section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

 

Now remember, Paul is writing to encourage the Philippians to stand firm, to stand together, and to stand for Christ in the midst of opposition/trial.

 

Not only that, remember just before our passage this morning (in verses 17-18), Paul tells the Philippians that even though his ministry has been hard, he rejoices to see their progress in the faith.

 

However, there is a problem: it seems that some have tried to cast doubt on the sincerity of Paul’s concern for the Philippian church.

 

Therefore, in our text this morning Paul turns to address this concern.

 

 

Verse 19

Notice at once, Paul tells the Philippians that he hopes in the Lord Jesus to be able to send Timothy to them very soon. However, remember: Paul does not use empty Christian jargon nor is he paid by the word. Therefore, it is vital to stop and ask what “hoping in the Lord” actually means. First of all, notice that this entire passage (vs 19-24) is governed by Paul’s expectation that the Lord will grant his release from prison (1:23-25) FN#1. Therefore, when Paul says that he “hopes in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy”, he means that he is trusting that Jesus will resolve his situation and therefore (based on this conviction) he hopes to be able to send Timothy very soon. In other words, hoping in the Lord is not blind wishing. Instead, it is Christ-centered expectation. That is, it is hope that is based on a prior due diligence to seek God’s purpose and discern God’s will and then base you plans accordingly. Importance: at once verse 19 demonstrates what it looks like to think through a real life issue based on faith instead of simply one’s own agenda. As such, verse 19 asks me if Christ enters into my decision making process or is my frame of reference primarily myself FN#2.

 

Next, notice why Paul hopes to send Timothy to Philippi: Paul says that he hopes to send Timothy so that he also may be encouraged when he learns of their condition. In other words, just as Paul is writing to the Philippians to update them on his circumstances and thereby encourage them (1:12), so too he longs to be encouraged by the news of their condition. How? Remember, the Philippian church is under siege from an openly hostile culture. In other words, it has become costly for the Philippians to follow Christ. How then can trouble and persecution be encouraging? Simply put: God’s faithfulness. Paul wants to hear that God’s presence and grace are at work in the Philippians. Therefore, the Philippians are standing firm, standing together, and standing for Christ in the midst of a hostile context FN#3.

 

Finally, notice the timeframe of Paul’s faithful planning. Paul hopes to send Timothy to Philippi (not at once but) shortly. Importance: the remainder of this passage (vs 20-24) is in large part given to explain this delay. Not only that, the weight and length Paul devotes to this explanation indicates that it is very important to Paul that the Philippians have a clear understanding of the issue at hand. Why?  It seems that behind Paul’s concern are the whispers and rumors started by those who want to cause Paul trouble. In fact, we have met these troublemakers before and we will see them again throughout the letter (1:17; 1:21; 2:3; 3:18-19). Simply put, these troublemakers are alleging that Paul is not genuinely concerned for the Philippians, even after all the Philippians have done for Paul (1:7; 4:10,15-16,18) FN#4.

 

Verses 20-21

Next, notice the reason Paul gives for Timothy’s delay. Paul says that there is no one else besides Timothy who will genuinely be concerned for the Philippians’ wellbeing. Instead, they all seek after their own interest not of those of Christ. Importance: the big question in verses 20-21 concerns how we are to understand Paul’s statement that he has no one else with him who will be genuinely concerned for the Philippians.  In other words, are we to understand that Paul has been deserted by all his helpers so that there is no one with him who is faithful? No. Paul’s own witness in this very letter tells us that right the opposite is the case. For example: Paul tells us that the vast majority of believers in his area are faithfully proclaiming the Gospel (1:14). Not only that, Paul ends his letter by sending greetings from the faithful brethren “who are with me”, including those from Caesar’s household (4:21-22). Finally, Paul has Epaphroditus with him, the faithful brother who the Philippians sent to Paul and who Paul is sending back to the Philippians, presumably with this very letter in hand (2:25-30).

Simply put: the idea that Paul has no one with him who is faithful except Timothy is just not the case based on the witness of this very letter. Therefore, instead of understanding Paul to mean that he has no one else at all who is of kindred spirit, it is better to understand Paul as saying that he has no one else who he can send. In other words, Paul has not been abandoned. Instead, he requires a highly qualified and experienced leader for this work and there are just not that many around FN #5.

          Notice the result: if this is the case then we are able to reconstruct the situation facing Paul as well as the reason Paul devotes so much space in this letter to setting the matter straight. Notice then, in all likelihood the troublemakers in verse 21 (who “seek after their own interests instead of those of Christ Jesus”), are the very same people who back in 1:17 used Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity to try and seize Paul’s leadership role. In fact, in both passages the description of these men is all but identical FN #6. Next, it seems that these troublemakers have offered and petitioned to go to Philippi on behalf of the Church. That is, instead of simply trying to insert themselves into local leadership, they are now trying to expand the reach of their influence and corruption. Notice the result: when their request is rejected by Paul and the local leadership, it is these very troublemakers who have sent letters, started rumors, and made the false accusation that Paul does not care about the Philippians and therefore will not send anyone to minister to their needs. Notice then Paul’s response: Paul writes to the Philippians that though there have been offers to go, those who have made these offers are spiritually corrupt and unqualified. In other words, Paul both answers the rumors as well as exposes the character of those who started them.

 

Bottom line: by listening to scripture and thinking through the issues before us, we are able to get a better idea of Paul’s situation while at the same time bringing into focus all the various components of the text. Not only that, by doing so we are reminded that Scripture addresses the very real and concrete issues that God’s people face in everyday life.

 

Footnotes

Verse 19

1] Philippians 1:23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,

 

2] Notice then, hope that is based on the self is more often than not ridged while hoping in the Lord is far more flexible. Why? When we are seeking the Lord, we are deferential to God’s will instead of set on our own way. Notice the result: when Christ is our frame of reference we are already facing the right direction in any situation we encounter. In turn, what will often happen is that we have rightly discerned the big picture categories of God’s will for that situation. However, God will often refine and bring about His purpose in the most unexpected way (thus the need for us a creatures to be flexible to the Creator’s plan).

 

3] Not we see this notion again and again from Paul

Philippians 2:16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

Notice then, Paul longs to hear that the Philippians are holding fast to the Word of life thereby indicating that he did not labor in vain. In other words, God honored Paul’s ministry by granting the Philippians true and lasting salvation as well as His sustaining presence and grace with them. Simply put, the fact that the Philippians are standing firm is testimony to the reality of their salvation and the fact that God is with them. 

            In the end verse 19 reminds me that my wellbeing and emotional frame of mind depend far more on God’s presence and favor with me than on the details of the situation I am facing. For as Paul says later in this very epistle, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

 

4] In fact, a major objective behind Paul writing this entire epistle is to assure the Philippians of his love and deep concern for them (1:8). In turn, a major key to accomplishing that objective is to make sure that the Philippians know the real reason for Timothy’s delay.

 

Verse 20-21

5] The notion that Paul has no one else is better understood in a qualified manner (versus and absolute manner). That is, it is better to understand Paul as meaning that he has no one else who he can send. Notice then Paul cannot send the vast majority of the faithful believers who are with him because (a) either they are not qualified or spiritually mature enough for such a weighty assignment or (b) they are busy/needed in their own location and the ministry that is ongoing there. In turn, Paul cannot send Epaphroditus. Why? Remember, the messenger is to return to Paul with news from Philippi. However, to ask this of Epaphroditus would be to expect too much from both Epaphroditus (who has already been delayed by illness) as well as the Philippians who sent and need him.

 

6] Compare

Philippians 1:17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.

Philippians 2:21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.

Simply put, in both cases Christ is exchanged for selfish gain to the hurt of the Church and the consternation of Paul.

 

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