Study Notes from Philippians by Dr. David Nelson

Philippians 2:19-30: The Person God Uses

By Dr. David Nelson

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul shared how his sufferings resulted in the advance of the gospel. He wrote to exhort the church to solve their internal problems so that they could bond together as one man for the advance of the gospel. Churches today need to work together for the advance of the gospel even in the midst of suffering and hardships.

19I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

25I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. [1]

After praying for the Philippian church in 1:3-11, Paul shared examples of selfless humility, interspersed with exhortations. In 1:12-18 and 1:19-26, he shared his own personal story. God had used his sufferings to advance the gospel and he had worked through an inner struggle to serve them. Then in 1:27-30 he exhorted them to live worthy of the gospel by serving together side by side for the advance of the gospel. Again in 2:1-4, he exhorted them to unity through selfless humility, followed by the example of Christ whom God honored because of His selfless humility (2:5-11). In 2:12-18, he exhorted them to work out their differences and live a blameless life to have a godly testimony. Now, he shares the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus in order to encourage them to emulate their examples of selfless humility. This is the person that God uses.

God uses people today who exemplify Christlikeness to accomplish His purposes. From this passage about Timothy and Epaphroditus, we discover three characteristics of the person God uses to accomplish His purposes.

The first characteristic of the person that God uses is a shepherd’s heart for others (2:19-21). Paul shared his plans with the church of sending Timothy to them soon. He is confident that he will hear good news from Timothy’s visit. The reason he is sending Timothy is because he has genuine concern for their welfare. Timothy sincerely cared for the believers in Philippi. He was a member of the team that first preached the gospel in Philippi and witnessed the events there that led to the church’s founding and Paul and Silas’ imprisonment (Acts 16). Timothy had also returned to visit the church there while Paul was in Athens and in Corinth (1 Thess. 3:1-2; 6; Acts 18:5). So Timothy knew the church well. Timothy was likeminded with Paul (cf. Phil. 2:1-4) in the advance of the gospel. Timothy genuinely cared for the believers there. All the others seek their own personal interests (cf. 2:4), not the interests of Christ Jesus (2:21). The words “likeminded” and “seek their own interests” are phrases used in 2:2-4. Paul and Timothy had the same mindset. They agreed on the advance of the gospel. They laid aside their personal interests for Christ’s command of making disciples of all nations. Timothy embodied the character qualities that Paul wants them to emulate. He had a shepherd’s heart for the church. He was genuinely concerned for their welfare and he was embraced Christ’s interests instead of his own interests.

This is the kind of person that God uses today. We must have genuine care and concern for the welfare of others. We must lay aside our interests for the interests of Christ. His agenda is making disciples of all nations for the glory of God.

The second characteristic of the person God uses is proven character (2:22-24). Timothy had proven character. The word “proven” is Gr. dokimē. According to Arndt, dokimē is “the experience of going through a test with special ref. to the result, standing a test, character.”[2] Timothy had passed the test through suffering and hardship and demonstrated solid character. The noun form (Gr. dokimion) is used in 1 Pet. 1:7, where gold is tested and refined. In Timothy’s specific case, he had served with Paul like a son with a father in the gospel ministry. A son submits and learns from his father. Such was the testimony of Timothy. Therefore, because of his stellar character, Paul would send him as soon as he found out the result of his case. He, too, trusted in the Lord to visit them as soon as he was released from prison.

The person that God uses is the one who has proven character. Giftedness may bring temporary success, but a person’s integrity enables them to have long term service and fruitfulness for the Lord.

The third characteristic of the person God uses is a sacrificial heart for others (2:25-30). Epaphroditus had demonstrated this character quality. The church of Philippi had sent him to minister to Paul. While he was in Rome serving Paul’s needs, he got sick and almost died. Now, Paul was going to send him back. To Paul, he was his brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier. Epaphroditus was a fellow servant of the gospel just like Paul. He may have been one of the pastors of the church in Philippi sent on a special mission to deliver the church’s donation (cf. 4:14) and serve Paul’s needs. Epaphroditus was concerned that they had heard about his demise. In fact, he almost died while in Rome with Paul. God, however, restored him to good health. This was an encouragement to Paul because he wanted Epaphroditus to return to Philippi to serve the believers. Losing a fellow worker would be disheartening. Many had criticized Paul for his message and ministry, but Epaphroditus had served with Paul and was likeminded as Paul. Paul exhorted the church to honor Epaphroditus because he had risked his life in service to Paul in behalf of the Philippian church. While some in the church may have perceived Epaphroditus’ mission a failure because he almost died, Paul encouraged them to “receive him in the Lord with all joy” and to honor him for his service.

Thus, those who are honored are those who serve others sacrificially like Epaphroditus did. This teaches us the importance of service and the importance of honoring those who serve others in this way. God honors those who have a shepherd’s heart for others, those who have proven character, and those who sacrificially serve others.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:19–30.

[2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 256.


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