Two Christlike Examples in the Book of Philippians
Sometimes when you’re reading the letters of Paul, it can be easy to forget that you’re reading an actual letter from one guy to a few of his friends. But, every now and then, in the midst of the rich theology and dense arguments, Paul addresses a few matters of housekeeping. These details may feel out of place at times or irrelevant to our own lives, but often there is more meaning packed into these verses than we can see at first glance. A perfect example of this is Philippians 2:19-30, where Paul takes a break from telling the Philippians how to act to tell them about a couple of people they know.
The Example of Timothy
The initial step we can take to better understand this writing detour is to look at what he says about these people. Paul mentions Timothy first and his desire to send him to the Philippians. The main reason he provides for this desire is that Timothy is special in his genuine concern for their welfare. Paul says he’s proven himself in the way he looks out for the interests of Christ, not himself.
The Example of Epaphroditus
Next, Paul discusses a lesser known Bible character, Epaphroditus. Paul wants to send him along as well, having originally been sent by the Philippians to care for Paul in his current imprisonment. Additionally, Epaphroditus had fallen ill, and he knew the Philippians were worried about him. He almost died, in fact, but he’s now recovered and ready to return home. So Paul tells them to receive him with joy and honor him because he risked his life for the work of Christ.
When you think about it, it seems somewhat weird that Paul is telling the Philippians who he is sending when they will likely be the ones to deliver the letter for him. But, he’s telling us more than that. Namely, Paul is telling us why he is sending these men in particular and how they are examples to be followed. Paul isn’t making a side note here as much as he is illustrating the concepts he’s lined out in the rest of the letter.
Living Like Christ
Timothy and Epaphroditus are living lives truly “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). Epaphroditus especially is living out the following two verses by being unafraid of anything and suffering for the sake of Christ (Philippians 1:28-29). Timothy is a model of the command earlier in chapter two to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Paul is using these men’s actions as an example of following Christ, who “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
This is exactly how Paul wants the Philippians (and us) to live. He writes this in a number of ways throughout his letter to them, but now he’s sending along a couple of flesh and blood examples as well. Paul continues this idea in chapter 3 as throws himself into the mix as well, saying, “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). That “us,” of course, includes Timothy and Epaphroditus. Not that any of them might be worshipped or idolized, but to provide them with real-life examples of what it means to live like Jesus. Paul is calling us not only to imitate these men but also to be more Christlike and live in a way that is also worthy of imitation.