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Philippians 2:19-30: Exemplary Service

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may find relief in learning your circumstances. For I have no one like him: he truly cares about your well-being. The rest of them all seek their own concerns, not the concerns of Christ. But you know his credentials, how he served with me as a child with his father for the sake of the Gospel.

So then, I hope to send him as soon as I know my immediate circumstances.

I am confident in the Lord that I, too, shall come soon.

However, I considered it more necessary to send to you Epaphroditus. He is a brother, coworker, and comrade to me; to you he is a messenger and the servant who tends to my needs. I sent him because he was longing for all of you, greatly distressed, because you heard that he had fallen ill. Indeed he had fall fatally ill, but God had mercy on him -- and not only him but me also, lest I have grief upon grief.

So then, I sent him all the more swiftly, so that by seeing him again you may rejoice and I may be relieved. So then, welcome him in the Lord with all joy and treat those like him with high esteem. For it was for the work of Christ that he came near to the point of death, risking his very life, so that he could compensate for what was lacking in your service to me.

___ Translation Notes
1. "find relief." This word in Greek only appears here in the NT. Its meaning is simple enough: to take heart. It means to become encouraged (as opposed to despair). I think "relief" is serviceable, and it's just better English than "that I may be of good cheer."
2. "cares about." In Greek this is the "future tense." The TNIV and NKJV both interpret it as a straightforward future. I think this is not good. The Message and NIV both get it right by translating it as a timeless fact that is a simply a part of Timothy's unchanging character.
3. "your circumstances... your well-being." The same expression in Greek, but this sounds better than using either English phrase twice.
4. "The rest of them all..." Literally just "they all," but I felt it would be good to expand it a bit. It just begs the question "who are 'the rest of them?'" without answering it. The Greek text doesn't answer it, either, so I think that's fair. The other reason I translate this way is so I can get rid of the conjunction "for." Had I just said "they all," that would almost demand a conjunction, I think.
5. "credentials." This is referring to the thing that makes Timothy legit and credible. His credentials are not a piece of paper, but his apparently well-known track record of faithful service.
6. I get the feeling Paul paused after talking about Timothy. Then he learned something about his immediate circumstances, so he knew he could come, too. And then he paused again and changed his mind, sending E-Rod instead.
7. Verses 25-26 are one sentence in Greek, but I had to split them up. Verse 25 is a reintroduction of Epaphroditus, and I think my translation looks awkward here. The Message puts it well: "You sent him to help me, I'm sending him to help you." (I'm paraphrasing The Message there.)
8. "Compensate." To make up for what was lacking. To fulfill what is lacking is to compensate, so I basically took the ESV and made it look like slightly better English. I can't say the ending looks good, but I have no idea how to say it better. As a side note, it's possible to see Paul as condescending here. Well, it's not my job to defend him and say he's not. If you read the rest of the letter carefully, it's clear that if he's being condescending here, it's only in the same sense a teacher expects students to realize they are just students and still need to learn from good examples.

___ Commentary
Paul's hope is in the Lord Jesus. Paul's confidence is in the Lord Jesus. His trust is undoubtedly in Timothy and Epaphroditus, who do a wonderful job as role models of Christlike living. Timothy served with the obedience of a child with his father. Note the word "serve" there. It's the same as the word for servant/slave used of Paul and TImothy in the opening (1:1) and of Jesus in the hymn (2:7). Epaphroditus served even "to the point of death," which parallels Jesus in 2:8.
Through both his words and his specific word choice, Paul links both Timothy and Epaphroditus to Jesus as examples of godly attitude.

Once again, death makes an appearance. This time, death is not viewed as a gain but as a loss. The difference is that death means absence from the land of the living, and Paul and others would miss Epaphroditus if he died. For Paul, to live is Christ. For Epaphroditus, to live is to put one's life on the line (2:30). Sacrifice is the point of life. That's not to say that we should adopt a masochistic view of things, but we must have priorities higher than our own comfort.

The joy that comes from being saved from something you feared would happen is one of the greatest joys there is. Being able to see a friend face-to-face that you heard was dying -- seeing him in perfect health -- is a relief that words can't express. Joy in this book is not always a grimace with pain looking forward. God has not abandoned our present circumstances.

As for v. 30, it's interesting that he's gone this far in the letter and still hasn't outright mentioned the Philippians' monetary contribution. Apparently there was something he needed more than the money. What was lacking? Was it that the Philippians didn't have the right attitude for the Gospel to match their financial contribution? Let's read on and find out.