Studies in Philippians
AS PAUL is bound, and cannot visit the Philippians himself, he sends Epaphroditus and contemplates sending Timothy. In these two characters, we have two "living expressions" of the evangel for this economy. They set forth the highest ideal in service and suffering. In Timothy, we see the model slave. His very name is eloquent, for it means Honor-God. He is one of the few of whom it could be said that he did not seek his own, but others' good. In many ways, he seems to be a typical character for the present, combining, in his own person, both Circumcision and Uncircumcision, and the weakness of the flesh with the power of the spirit.
The facts of Timothy's life, as recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction, are doubtless intended to give us a living picture of the inception of this administration. After Paul's separation from Barnabas, the Levite, he came to Lystra, the place where he had been stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19). It is more than possible that it was at this time that Paul received the transcendent revelations which he later makes known in his perfection epistles (2 Cor.12:2). So that Timothy, in spirit, commences with this administration, yet in flesh is connected with the previous kingdom heralding. He commences at Lystra and goes all the way to Rome, not only in flesh, but in spirit.
With striking attention to detail, we are told that he was the son of a believing Jewish woman (Acts 16:1). This Jewess belonged to the dispersion, evidently, as she is found outside the land, and wedded to a Greek. As such she may well represent that believing remnant of the holy people among the nations, to whom Paul was especially sent. But he also turned to the Greeks, and the company of people who received his message was a mixture of believing Israelites and Greeks. Such a combination, also, was Timothy. God will use this body of people in His highest service. So He used Timothy.
From the very beginning, Timothy earned the approbation of the brethren in Lystra and Iconium, where he lived (Acts 16:2). Probably he believed through Paul's ministry when he was there before, for, while he was, physically, the son of a Jewess and a Greek, spiritually he was the son of Paul (1 Tim.1:2,18; 2 Tim.1:2). This may illustrate an important point in service in the present administration which needs to be pressed. While the body of Christ is composed of those who are a mixture, physically, being from both Circumcision and Uncircumcision, this should not extend to their spiritual parentage. They should all be sons of Paul. Those who receive life and are nurtured by means of his ministry are equipped for service today. Those who are mixed in their spiritual descent, sons of Peter as well as of Paul, are not fit to serve acceptably in this administration of God's grace.
It would seem that Timothy was with Paul much of the time thereafter. At Berea, he remained behind when the Jews of Thessalonica came there, and Paul was sent away by the brethren, but he soon received word to rejoin Paul at Athens (Acts 17:15). When he found Paul in Corinth, Paul was pressed to certify to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. When they opposed, Timothy probably listened to the memorable words, "your blood be on your head! I am clear. From now on I shall go to the nations" (Acts 18:6). Thus Timothy was present at the commencement of the Corinthian ecclesia, and actually experienced the great crisis there when Paul left his brethren according to the flesh and turned to the Uncircumcision.
The next time that we hear of Timothy he is sent with Erastus to Macedonia, and doubtless went to Philippi (Acts 19:22). Paul himself remained in the province of Asia. It is evident from this that he no longer was a mere attendant of the apostle, but was himself an apostle, commissioned by his spiritual father to represent him in the work. As Paul himself wrote to Timothy, he had fully followed his teaching, motive, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings (2 Tim.3:10). This is precisely what each slave of our Lord should do today if he wishes to render acceptable service, and to have a part in the ministry of this administration. Even the order in which these essentials are given is significant, for only those who fully follow Paul's teaching are really eligible for service and suffering.
Paul follows with the injunction, "Now you be remaining in what you learned and verified, being aware from whom you learned it ..." (2 Tim.3:14). The tendency to forsake Paul's teaching is very strong. In his own days, all in the province of Asia turned from him (2 Tim.1:15). Since then Christendom as a whole has left his teaching or so adulterated it with Circumcision doctrine that it is practically nullified. Therefore it should be our very special endeavor to guard against this propensity in ourselves. God graciously granted some light at the Reformation and through the so-called Brethren, but the reaction is very strong, and the light is dimmed. Even so with us. Already some are failing to remain in the truth, which few, indeed, have ever grasped in anything like its fullness.
Later Timothy was sent to Corinth also. In Paul's words concerning him, we may receive further insight into his service. Paul writes to them, "I am entreating you, then, become imitators of me. Therefore I send to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will be reminding you of my ways which are in Christ Jesus..." (1 Cor.4:16,17). Paul's "ways which are in Christ Jesus" is a key phrase for the present. Nowadays this is ignored. Paul is pushed aside and men are reminded of the ways of the Lord Jesus as He ministered to the Circumcision, as recorded in the four gospels. But Timothy was taught better. Being vitally connected with both sides, he knew that this is no model for the Uncircumcision. Paul's teaching calls for ways which accord with Christ Jesus in glory, not as a homeless Wanderer on earth.
Again the apostle writes: "If Timothy should be coming, look to it that he should be with you without fear, for he is working at the work of the Lord, as I also. No one, then, should be scorning him" (1 Cor.16:10,11). At another time Paul wrote to Timothy himself: "Let no one be despising your youth..." (1 Tim.4:12). And again: "God gives us, not a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of sanity" (2 Tim.1:7). Among the carnal Corinthians Timothy makes a pleasing yet pathetic contrast. Too young to command the respect due to an elder, he seems to have had a tendency to timidity and fear. How different from the popular conception of a great church dignitary of today! Youth is aggressive and self-reliant and needs little encouragement to assert itself. Yet the model here set before us is one whom the world (and most of the church) would despise, and who needed to be encouraged not to allow himself to be slighted.
Perhaps Timothy's tendency to timidity was due in measure to his physical condition. He had a weak stomach and was frequently infirm (1 Tim.5:23). Many of us may be able to sympathize with him in this, and can realize how it unfits one for that self-assurance which is deemed essential in those who must meet the public. But we may rest assured that it was given him by God, not to hinder but to help, for the Lord's work never needs the arm of flesh, and in this administration of the spirit, great physical endowments may be a hindrance to genuine and acceptable service. Not that we should seek to be ill. We do all in our power to counteract our infirmities, yet thank God for those which remain, for they are doubtless needed in order to keep us lowly (2 Cor.12:7).
Among the last words on record which Paul writes to Timothy we see how true Timothy remained to his father, and how Paul longed for one on whose fidelity he could count. Perhaps we may take the action as symbolic for this present era, for the second epistle to Timothy deals with the last days. He writes, "Endeavor to come to me quickly, for Demas, loving the current eon, abandoned me, and is gone to Thessalonica... " (2 Tim.4:9,10). If there is to be a return to Paul, it must be done speedily. Demas is probably derived from the root deem, PUBLIC. The public, the mass, even of the church, have abandoned Paul. Not a few are antagonistic to him, even among those who, like the Thessalonians, were once lovers of our Lord's advent. Let us, then, in spirit, hasten back to Paul, and to the revelation which he gives from his prison in Rome.
In a like symbolic sense we may take the reference to Timothy in Hebrews, if, indeed, it be the same Timothy there as elsewhere. Nothing is said in other places of his imprisonment. Now we are told, "Know that our brother Timothy has been released..." (Heb.13:23). Here we have a contrast. In Ephesians, Paul is imprisoned. In Hebrews, Timothy is at liberty. Does this hint that he is not involved in the fate of the Circumcision as set forth in this epistle? Physically, having a Jewish mother, he could easily be caught in the apostasy of Israel, and be bound by her defection. But he is not only freed from all physical relationships in Christ, but he is at liberty to go out and serve even when the Circumcision are restrained by the change of administration.
Such is the career which prepared Timothy to be a model for service in this era. The quality of his preeminence in contrast to others is clearly seen in the short paragraph which Paul devotes to him in this epistle. He wishes to know how the Philippians are, so that he also may be of good cheer. He wishes to send someone, and his choice falls on Timothy, "for I have no one equally sensitive, who will be so genuinely solicitous of your concerns, for all are seeking their own, not that which concerns Christ Jesus" (2:20,21). Here he probes deep, into the very heart of the matter. Are we seeking our own, or that which concerns Christ Jesus? Do we serve selfish interests, or those of our Lord?
One of the delicate touches in this epistle lies in the word "equally sensitive." Though all is spirit now, in service, the spirit should control and ennoble our sensations, and make us most sensitive to the welfare of those whom we seek to serve. Two things are needed, a fine perception of the feelings of others and a genuine solicitude as regards their affairs. It would be useless to send some unimpressionable or callous representative whose heart strings could not vibrate in tune with theirs. And still less would be done if he were indifferent to their concerns. In service, we should approximate the vital sympathy which each member of the human body shows for the others, for this is the figure used of our relationship in Christ.
"All are seeking their own." What a word to find in this epistle, when, in the flush of their first love, the saints were nearer the ideal than at any time since! If all sought their own then, what shall we say now? Some, indeed, there have been, through the years, of whom we would say that they did not consider their interests, but gave up all for Christ. But, if we should ask them, doubtless they would also confess their failure in this regard. It seems to be the universal sin in service which few of us are able to overcome. Yet it should be our aim, despite our failures, to forget our own concerns in preoccupation with the things of Christ.
As we have seen in our review of Timothy's career, he had been thoroughly tested as a companion and servant of Paul. This is most aptly summed up in the words, "as a child with a father he slaves with me for the evangel" (2:22). Two pictures are presented here, child and father, slave and lord. Between Paul and Timothy, there was the loving and living relationship of father and child, and they both together attended to the affairs of Christ Jesus as though they were his loyal slaves.
I have often been criticized for using the word "slave" to describe the character of our service. But I delight in it. There is no question of its correctness. This alone should settle the point, for interpretation and feelings must be barred in translation. But here, for instance, it is in fullest harmony with the context, for a slave, who has no privileges or property of his own, makes a good figure for those who should not seek their own. I imagine that the objection may arise because we do not wish to serve without doing our own will and attending to our own welfare. But I glory in the "title" slave, and only wish my service were in accord with this lowly distinction.
Yet Paul was not willing to part with Timothy until his own matters (which were also his Lord's) had been settled. It must have been a vast comfort to him to have Timothy at hand in his imprisonment. At his first defense, no one went with him, but all abandoned him (2 Tim.4:16). Perhaps this influenced him in calling for Timothy and keeping him until his fate had been finally decided. And indeed, he would wish to send the news to his friends at Philippi as quickly as possible. What better commendation for the model slave than the fact that Paul would not part with him even though he would like to have sent him!
Such is the example set before us today: closest association with Paul in his teaching and ministry, and loyal devotion to him in his imprisonment. Is not this a picture of the path we should pursue in spirit? May the Lord send us slaves like Timothy, having His honor at heart, seeking that which is Christ Jesus', a genuine son of Paul, following his teaching and practice, sensitive and solicitous of the welfare of the saints!
A. E. Knoch
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