Part of discipleship is imitation. Ideally (and biblically), this will be an informed imitation, in that it will not merely be done in an unthinking, assuming way “because I said so.” Proper discipleship includes biblical, theological, cultural, and philosophical reasoning for the pattern is explained and defended. But informed or not, part of discipleship is the molding of the student to become like the teacher. As such, in the school of Christ, it is an immense help to pattern ourselves after human examples who exemplify aspects of the life of faith and holy virtue we wish to cultivate (are not these and a thousand other aspects of the Christian life learned by emulation, by doing? What book can teach you to pray better than watching the example of a seasoned believer?).
Philippians 2’s theme is the humility to which our sovereign God calls us (v. 3). Paul gives us four examples and illustrations of what this humility looks like—what comprises it, and how it expresses itself. The first example is the greatest: our Lord Jesus, who though He was eternal God, humbled Himself to die on behalf of sinners and rose to be their Lord. He continues with himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. Each is a thrilling and challenging exploration of the richness and multifacetedness of humility, including its often-overlooked graces.
Timothy, Paul’s dear son in the faith, serves as our illustration of a truly humble, sanctified servant of Christ. This section sets forth five marks of humility and maturity that the Lord wishes to cultivate in our hearts.
A. Likeminded (v. 20a)
This point is rooted in verse 19. Paul wished to come to the Philippians church and see how they were doing, but was incapacitated because of his house arrest. Once he had news of the verdict at his trial, he would send Timothy to tell the Philippians and to get an update on their spiritual progress. Then comes verse 20. Why is Paul sending Timothy? Not simply because he can’t go himself, but because there is no one else Paul knows who is of the same spirit as him. Paul sends Timothy and not someone else because only Timothy’s heartbeat and mindset echoes his.
“Kindred spirit” is used only here in the NT. It is a compound term literally meaning “one soul.” Timothy has become fully like his teacher, in the best way. If Paul cannot go himself, he sends the one who is most like him! Timothy’s passions, soul-patterns, desires, theology, worldview, value system, goals, and intentions are one with Paul’s after serving alongside him for nearly a decade.
How does this manifest humility? Because likemindedness is a result of discipleship, and proper discipleship means learning—which also means you know you don’t know everything, and you wish to sit at the feet of someone farther along the path than you. Timothy has willingly sat at Paul’s feet and learned from him. He is teachable. He is not gullible or unthinking—I am sure many thoughtful, long conversations about minutiae of faith and practice were had between the two men! But he is willing to learn, willing to adopt, willing to rethink and reframe and change his mind. These very ordinary attitudes are essential to effective discipleship. And if they are in place, you can have the privilege of having the mind and heart of the wise, strong, thoughtful believers under whom you place yourself!
B. Largehearted (vv. 20b-21)
Timothy’s mind and soul are matched by expansive affections. Paul goes on: Timothy’s kindred spirit is expressed in genuine concern for the Philippians. This alone says several interesting things about the connection between mindset and the heart (which I cannot elaborate upon for space’s sake). For our purposes it is enough to say that because Timothy had learned well from Paul, his heart was burdened for the noble concerns that weighed on the apostle’s heart. This is especially of note because of the contrast between Timothy and the carnal preachers in chapter 1, as well as those mentioned in verse 21. For Timothy to be given over to the welfare of the Philippians, he cannot be focused on his own mage, his own desires, plans, needs, and so forth. (The “they” in verse 21 hearkens back to the preachers in chapter 1.)
Moreover, it is noteworthy that for Paul, to be pathologically focused in your own needs, wants, and so forth is incompatible with the concerns of Christ, the One who laid down His rights to die for rebels! (O how many Christians cling stubbornly to their own way on a point of doctrine or practice, instead of yielding more fully to the authority of the risen Christ!) And also, I observe that for Paul, to be genuinely concerned about the spiritual welfare of other Christians—their holiness, their fruitfulness, their pressing into the fullness of the inheritance won for them at the price of blood, their joy, their happiness in God and His ways—is to have not merely his own concern, bit that of Christ Himself!
“I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith” (Phil. 1:25).
C. Proven Workman (v. 22a)
“But” again contrasts dear Timothy with the fleshly ministers: He is battle-tested! He has been examined and has passed the test; he has been weighed and found sufficient. Indeed, this is what “proven worth means; it carries the idea of having tested something as to its value and effectiveness and the thing tested has passed. Of course, humanly speaking where does this most clearly show up? In the trial, difficulty, and painful decisions that come in serving Christ. That is how someone proves their character. What do they choose, what do they prioritize, what path do they go when cost is involved? Evidently, Timothy had been broken before the Lord (humility!) and had His priorities, values and resources. He was given over to what mattered. He did not have an inflated sense of his self-importance, his preferences, or his plans and desires. He knew he was here for something bigger than the satisfaction of his whims and longings! He was willing to die to self to advance the cause of Christ-and when it cost him, he made the right decision.
A note here for those in trial: Be faithful! Trial prepares you for greater usefulness and ministry. It refines your heart and as such expands your capacity to receive God’s blessing and do more for Him. It aligns your heart ever more with His and will thus lead you onto a path of blessing and usefulness unimaginable to you! Keep choosing Him!
D. Labor-Intensive (v. 22b)
In Timothy’s case, his provenness was revealed most brightly in his willingness to serve Paul and serve alongside him “in the furtherance of the gospel.” “Serve” is the verb form for “slave.” Besides carrying the obvious connotation of hard work, it also implies Timothy is yielded to authority—both God’s and Paul’s. The humble person will spend himself for the right things, and he will yield himself to God-ordained authority in doing so. True ministry involves many sleepless nights, concerns, frustrations, heartaches, the sacrificing of personal convenience and pleasure. Most of this stems from the blatant inconsistency, hard-heartedness, and fleshliness of the Lord’s people! But Timothy presses through, dependent on the Spirit and His grace, setting aside his own longings to be more focused and useful in the furtherance of the gospel.
There is a price to be paid for the gospel to advance, both in evangelization of the lost and in the surrendering of the saved to all its implications (i.e., greater yieldedness to the lordship of Christ in all things). How do you need to humble yourself, and cut at the very root of the subtlest forms of pride? Kill your pride! Pride is the enemy of true gospel ministry and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.
E. Loyalty and Honor (v. 22c)
This thought flows out of the previous one. Timothy demonstrated deep love for, loyalty to, and honoring of Paul (like a healthy, godly father-son relationship ought to be; Malachi 1:6). He gave him respect, honor, deference. Paul, of course, had a hand in Timothy’s discipleship and preparation for ministry, and this created in Timothy a debt of love he never could fully repay. Doubtless the love, maturity, example, humility, perseverance, and holiness of the older man had left a massive impression on the younger, and molded his heart to show a persistent, deep, abiding faithfulness to him, even when other people (like Demas) turned away. Paul obviously loved this man like a son, and Timothy’s devotion to him was certainly a part of that.
Moreover, the loyalty Timothy expressed enabled him to be an unusually close confidant of Paul’s, and allowed him ministry opportunities and effectiveness he would not have otherwise known. Indeed, Paul trusted him implicitly, and was happy to have his input and involvement in times of dire need and ministry opportunity. Here, we have Timothy embarking on no small journey (800 miles!) at the behest of his beloved father in faith and ministry. Paul knows he can count on Timothy to do exactly as he’s asked (and beyond!), while Timothy is humbled and honored at the opportunity to help his beloved father in any way he can—and to do what he can to further the rule of Christ in the hearts of His people! You can see how Paul and Timothy indeed had one soul. They were burdened for the same things. They were driven men who were completely given over to calling and service. They prioritized the person and work of Christ and were intent on winning the lost to Him and to grow believers into greater surrender to all the implications of that glorious person and work. Doubtless the pressure of ministry in a fallen world, and in those early days of Christianity, created a bond between them of loyalty, respect, and love that may be difficult to replicate today.
The humble servant of Christ is likeminded with those who are spiritually mature and with the mind of Christ. His affections and concerns mirror those of his Lord and his spiritual influences. He is battle-tested; he has been forced to make hard choices and his character has been proven. He works hard as a slave of Christ. And he is loyal to God’s people, especially those who have poured into him. This is the heart God asks of us. Will you offer yourself to Him afresh and ask Him to cultivate these graces in you?