Icon of St. Timothy
19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. 23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. 24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.
St. Paul’s love for the Philippian Christians is such that he cannot bear not hearing from them for very long. Because of this, he plans to send his most trusted associate Timothy to them to bring back news from them. Note how he has confidence in the Philippians; he assumes that the news that Timothy will bring back will encourage (Gk. eupsycho, literally “do good to the soul”) him. FF writes, “See how St. Paul’s own commitment and courage depend upon the welfare of others, since he loves them as being part of the same Body with him. In the same way, our hearts should be joined to others in our Christian communities” (44). When our brothers and sisters in Christ rejoice, we should rejoice; when they hurt, we should hurt.
Regarding Timothy, St. Paul refers to him as isopsychos (literally “equal-souled”). FF elaborates on Paul’s commendation of his spiritual son: “The other Christians around St. Paul in prison (the local Roman Christians, we may assume—St. Mark and St. Luke being elsewhere) are not like him. They tend to put their own convenience and plans ahead of their service to Christ Jesus. But not Timothy—he seeks only the Lord’s will and their welfare!” (44).
Icon of St. Epaphroditus
25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. 29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.
This passage reveals a main purpose of the letter. St. Paul wrote the Philippians to thank them for their generosity and to encourage them in the face of coming persecution, but he also wrote to commend the bearer of the epistle, a man named Epaphroditus. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to St. Paul with a financial gift and news about their small congregation, most likely thinking that he would stay with St. Paul a long time to take care of his needs. Epaphroditus’ relatively quick return to them must have struck them as odd. It might have even brought reproach upon him. St. Paul assures them that it was he who sent Epaphroditus back; Epaphroditus did not bail out on him! As FF writes, “It is entirely characteristic of St. Paul that, in prison and on trial for his life, he still selflessly takes thought for such lesser matters as the embarrassment and feelings of a brother” (45-46).
St. Paul assures the Philippians that they have no reason to be ashamed of Ephaphroditus. He compliments him by calling him a “brother”, a “fellow worker” and a “fellow soldier” and adds that he “ministered to my need.” He was concerned for the Gospel, for St. Paul and also for the Philippians (“he was longing for you all”). The word translated “he ministered” is actually “he was a leitourgos” (“offerer” or even “liturgist”). A leitourgos was someone who brought an offering, and St. Paul uses this word for Ephaphroditus because he brought the Philippians’ financial offering to St. Paul. As FF writes, “In using this imagery, St. Paul would have the Philippians show Epaphroditus the same respect that the children of Israel owed to their priests” (46).
Epaphroditus had for some reason (perhaps due to the rigors of travelling) become ill, so much so that he almost died. His death would have brought much sorrow upon both St. Paul and the Philippians, but thankfully, he regained his health. St. Paul urges them again to not only receive him with all gladness, but to hold all such men (i.e., people who devote themselves fully to the Gospel) in esteem. He mentions that Epaphroditus did what he did “to supply what was lacking in your service to me.” This is not a slap against the Philippian church, as FF explains:
“In other words, there is nothing lacking in Epaphroditus! It was to make good your lack (i.e. your inability to deliver the offering because of distance) that he took such dreadful risks. Surely he should be greeted with a hero’s welcome—not with reproach!” (47).