Philippians is one of Paul’s more personable letters, being written to a church he founded and obviously cared a great deal for. This is evident in the many affectionate passages, greetings and prayers in the letter; perhaps no more so than in the brief note on St. Paul sending Timothy and Epaphroditus to aid the Philippian church.
This particular section of Philippians doesn’t really deal too much with any doctrines or theology, per se; rather, this shows the very personal and human side of Paul. His choice of Timothy is tinged with tenderness; it is apparent that he regards Timothy highly as both a friend and a minister, someone whom he is willing to trust the Philippian church with.
“But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.”
Similarly, Paul’s mention of Epaphroditus is equally affectionate:
“I 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, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed 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. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”
It is clear that the Philippian church is close to Paul’s heart, being a church he personally founded and cared deeply for. It’s these glimpses past Paul’s armor of doctrine and into his caring, loving and affection side that give great insight into Paul’s thought. He is a minister, an apostle, and corrector, and overseer, a debater, a defender of the faith…but he is also a friend who cares deeply about both the church he has founded and also deeply for his partners in ministry. While he regards these men as friends, he also gently demands respect for them because of their virtue as enduring disciples; they aren’t being sent merely on a social call but to shepherd and guard the church, and as such the church is to treat them with due respect.
This brief portion of Philippians gives an equally brief glimpse into Paul the Friend, the warm, personable side of Paul that one doesn’t get from reading, say, Romans. Paul was a man like you and I, with the same affections and loves for his fellow man that we have, and he never lost that despite his rise in prominence in early Christianity. The moral of the story? Never let a ministry/project/any undertaking for God suck away the very warmth, love and friendship that that is the mark of a follower of Christ.
- The Apologetics Study Bible – Homan Christian Standard Translation (not referenced in this essay)
- The Holy Bible (English Standard Version)
- Commentaries on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians – John Calvin (not referenced in this essay)
- The New Testament – its background, growth, and content – Bruce M. Metzger (not referenced in this essay)