I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.
Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow-soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honour such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.
Paul’s letter to the church at Phillipi is affectionate in tone, and his warm feelings seem to have been reciprocated. While under house arrest, awaiting trial in Rome, we learn that Paul has Timothy with him, a singularly trusted companion and fellow traveller. Timothy seems to have met Paul’s exacting standards, so much so that Paul thinks of him as his son in the faith, entrusted, beyond others, with the care of churches Paul is unable to visit.
This passage also reveals that the church at Philippi has sent one of their valued members, Epaphroditus, to care for Paul during his detention. Travelling some 800 miles to be with Paul, he brings with him gifts to ease Paul’s discomfort, including his very self to minister to him. Paul is deeply appreciative, both for the church’s care of him, and Epaphroditus’ presence.
He now has two fellow Christians devoted to his welfare. Both, for him, demonstrate the essence of the Gospel’s message in word and deed. However, Epaphroditus has paid a heavy penalty in his journeying, barely recovering from illness, and is deeply worried about the effect such news might have on his home church. Commending him for his loyalty and help, Paul sends Epaphroditus home, with warm words of encouragement, in case any might think he has failed in his mission of mercy.
This little gem of mutual human care opens a window on Paul’s nature for us; on the Gospel he, and we, proclaim. The care we bear for each other is intrinsic to the gospel. In the Christian drama in which we play our parts, people matter more than things. May we never have recourse to doctrine or dogma to deny this. May our hearts and heads be well married in living out our faith.
when we forget that
your Son’s work is in,
with and through people,
recall us to a proper understanding
of your nature in us.
May our care for
reflect our growth in Christ-likeness.
The Rev’d John A Young retired minister of the Synod of Scotland and member of Giffnock URC