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Philippian Studies: Chapter 7 - Timotheus And Epaphroditus

By H. C. G. Moule

         "Puisse la meme foi qui consola leur vie
         Nous ouvrir les sentiers que leurs pas ont presses,
         Et, dirigeant nos pieds vers la sainte patrie
         Ou leur bonheur s'accroit de leurs travaux passes,
         Nous rendre ces objets de tendresse et d'envie
         Qui ne sont pas perdus, mais nous ont devances."
                     A. VINET

      PHILIPPIANS ii. 19-30

      Epaphroditus--The variety of Scripture--Contrasts in context--Henry Martyn's letter--"The human element"--"His letters I have read"--The two aspects of Scripture--Divine messages in human context--"Together with them"

      Ver. 19.   +But I hope in the Lord Jesus+, with an expectation conditioned by my union with Him in all things, and with you in Him, +promptly to send to you Timotheus,[1] that I too+, I as well as you, who will of course be gladdened by his presence, +may be of good cheer, getting+, through him, +a knowledge+ (gnous) +of your circumstances+ (ta peri humon).   I send him, and not

      Ver. 20.   another, +for I have+--at hand, and free to move--+no one equal-souled+ with him,[2] +one who+ (hootis) +will genuinely take anxious care about your circumstances+; the "care" which is not a weary burthen, better cast upon the Lord (iv. 6), but a sacred charge, undertaken in and for Him, and absorbing all the

      Ver. 21.   thought.   +For all of them+ (oi pantes), all from whom I could in this case select, +are bent on+ (xetousi: cp. Col. iii. 1) +their own interests, not the interests of Jesus Christ+; they plead excuses which indicate a preference of their own ease, or reputation, or affections, to a matter manifestly and wholly HIS.

      Ver. 22.   +But the test through which he+, Timotheus, +passed+ (ten dokimen autou) you remember (ginoskete, "you recognize," as you look back); you know +that as child with father+ so +he with me+, in closest companionship and sympathy, +did bondservice[3] for the Gospel+, eis to euaggelion, "unto it," for the furtherance

      Ver. 23.   of its enterprise and message.   +So him then+ (touton men oun[4]) +I hope to send, immediately upon+ (hos an . . . exautes) +my getting a view of+ (apido) +my circumstances+, my position with regard to my trial

      Ver. 24.   and its result.   +But+ (though I thus allude to external uncertainties) +I feel sure, in the Lord+, in the light of union and communion with Him, +that I too in person shall speedily arrive+, in the track of this my messenger and forerunner.

      Ver. 25.   +But I count[5] it obligatory+ (anagkaion), and not merely a matter for hopes and personal satisfaction, +to send to you+, as I now do, in charge of this Letter, another person, +Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier+, a man who has toiled and contended at my very side for the Lord and against the Enemy, +while he is+ also +your missionary and ministrant[6] for my need+.   Yes, I feel that I ought

      Ver. 26.   to send him, and to send him now; +since he has been suffering from home-sickness for[7] all of you+, (all, without exception; his affection knows no party or partiality,) +and from the distraction+ (ademonon) of over-wrought feeling, because you have heard that he

      Ver. 27.   fell ill[8] (esthenese).   +And+ so it was; +for he did fall ill, almost fatally+ (paraplesion thanato).   +But our+ (ho) +God pitied him+, sparing him the grief of broken hopes and purposes in the Lord's work on earth, and the grief of being a cause of tears to you; +and not only him but also me, that I might not have[9] sorrow upon sorrow+.   For had he died, I should have had a sore bereavement, and the sad consciousness that you, in a loving effort for my benefit, had lost a beloved friend; and all this added to, heaped upon (epi c. acc.), the antecedent pain of my captivity and the trials which it involves.

      Ver. 28.   +With the more earnestness therefore I have sent him,[10] that seeing him you may be glad again, and that I may feel less sorrow+, finding my imprisonment, and also my loss of this dear friend's company, softened to my heart by the thought of your joy in

      Ver. 29.   welcoming him back.   +Receive him therefore in the Lord+, in all the union and sympathy due to your common share in Him, +with all gladness, and+

      Ver. 30.   +hold in high value such men as he is; because on account of Christ's work he was at death's very door,[11] playing+ as it were the +gambler with his life,[12] that he might+ (lit., "may") +supply your lack+, do the service which you could not do, and so complete your loving purposes, in regard +of the ministration+ you designed +for me+.

      Our present section illustrates well the inexhaustible variety of Scripture.   That pregnant Christian thinker, the late Dr John Ker, has some good sentences on this subject: "What varieties are in the Bible, side by side!   The Book of Ruth, with its pastoral quiet after the wars of the Judges, like an innocent child which has crept between the ranks of hostile armies; the intense devotion of the Psalms after the speculative discussions of Job, and before the practical wisdom of Proverbs; the gloom of Ecclesiastes, and then the sweetness of the Song of Solomon, as sharply divided as the eastern morning which leaps from the night, or, as an old Greek might have said, silver-footed Thetis rising from the bed of old Tithonus; Isaiah's majestic sweep of eagle pinion, with Jeremiah's dovelike plaint; the cloudlike obscurities of Ezekiel, to be solved, as one might expect, by piercing light from the sky; and the perplexities of Daniel, to be opened by the movements of the nations."[13]

      What a variety lies before us here!

         "Into the heaven of heavens we have presumed,
         And drawn empyreal air";

      while the Apostle has told us (only fourteen verses above) how Christ Jesus, in the glory of the Throne, in the Form of God, cared for us men and for our salvation, and made Himself void, and took the creature-nature, and died; and how He is now on the Throne again in His Incarnation, to receive supreme and universal worship.   And then again we came back to earth, yet so as to be led into the deep secrets of the Lord in the inner life of His saints below; "God is working in you, to will and to do, for His good pleasure's sake."   And then we have seen this inner life expanding and shewing itself in the holy life without, which shines as a star in the dark, and speaks like a voice from the unseen.   And then again we have watched the Apostle's martyr-joy as he thinks of dying for his Philippians, if need be.   Close upon all these heights and depths now comes in this totally different passage about Timotheus and Epaphroditus, with its quiet, practical allusions to individual character, and to particular circumstances, and to personal hopes and duties; its words of sympathy and sorrow; the dear friend's agitated state of mind; his recent almost fatal illness; the mercy of his recovery; the pleasurable thought of his restoration to the loving circles at Philippi.

      Nothing could be more completely different than this from the grand dogmatic passage traversed a little while before, nor again from the passages to follow in the next chapter, where the believer's inmost secrets of acceptance and of life are in view, and his foresight of glory.   We are placed here not in the upper heaven, nor before the judgment-throne, nor in the light of the resurrection-morning.   We are just in the "hired rooms" at Rome, and we see the Missionary seated there, studying the characters of two of his brethren, and weighing the reasons for asking them, at once or soon, to arrange for a certain journey.   He reviews the case, and then he puts down, through his amanuensis, for the information of the Philippians, what he thinks of these two men, and what he has planned about them.

      All is perfectly human, viewed from one side.   I or my reader may at any time, in the course of life and duty, be called upon to write about Christian friends and fellow-workers of our own in a tone neither less nor more human and practical than that of this section.   In any collection of modern Christian letters we may find the like.   I open at this moment the precious volume of Henry Martyn's correspondence, published (1844) as a companion to the Memoir.   There I read as follows, in a letter to Daniel Corrie, dated Shiraz, December 12, 1811: "Your accounts of the progress of the kingdom of God among you are truly refreshing.   Tell dear H. and the men of both regiments that I salute them much in the Lord, and make mention of them in my prayers. May I continue to hear thus of their state; and if I am spared to see them again, may we make it evident that we have grown in grace. Affectionate remembrances to your sister and to S.   I hope they continue to prosecute their labours of love.   Remember me to the people of Cawnpore who enquire.   Why have I not mentioned Colonel P.?   It is not because he is not in my heart, for there is hardly a man in the world whom I love and honour more.   My most Christian salutations to him.   May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, dearest brother.   Yours affectionately, H. MARTYN."

      What is the difference in quality and character between this extract and our present section of Philippians, or between it and many another passage in the Pauline Epistles?   From one point of view, I repeat it, none--none that we either can, or should care to, affirm.   Of the letters compared, one is as purely human as the other, in the simplicity of its topics, in its local and personal scope, in its natural and individual manner.   I would add that, so far as we can tell, the one was written under just as much or little consciousness of a supernatural prompting as the other.   I feel sure that when St Paul wrote thus (whatever might be his sense of an afflatus at other times, when he wrote, or spoke, or thought, abnormally) he "felt" exactly as we feel when writing a quiet letter; he was thinking, arranging topics, choosing words, considering the needs of correspondents, just as simply as we might do.

      And all this is an element inestimably precious in the structure and texture of the Bible.   It is that side or aspect of the Bible which, at least to innumerable minds, brings the whole Book, in a sense so genuine, home; making it felt in the human heart as a friend truly conversant with our nature and our life.   "Thy testimonies," writes the Bible-loving Psalmist (Ps. cxix. 24), "are the men of my counsel," an'shey 'atsathi; a pregnant phrase, which puts vividly before us "the human element" of the blessed Word, its varieties and individualities, its living voice, or rather voices, and the sympathetic confidence which it invites as it draws close to us to advise and guide.   How perfectly in contrast are the Bible on the one side, with this humanity and companionship, and such a "sacred book" as the Koran on the other, with its monotonous oracles!   Strange, that the man-made "sacred book" should be so little humane and the God-made Book so deeply and beautifully so!   Yet not strange, after all.   For God knows man better than man knows himself; and when He prepares a Book of books for man, we may expect it to correspond to the deep insight of Him who is Maker of both the volume and the reader.

      For now on the other part we have to remember that this Book, so naturally and humanly written, as to a very large proportion of its contents, is yet God-made all through.   It is, in a sense quite peculiar to itself, divine.   I quoted a passage from a letter of Henry Martyn's just now, on purpose to place it beside this letter of St Paul's, with a view to shewing the likeness of the two.   But are they like in all respects?   No; they present a radical difference from another side.   It is just this, that the biblical letter is not only human as to its type and utterance; as to its message, it is authoritative, it is from God.   Henry Martyn writes as a Christian man, and it helps us spiritually to be in contact with his affectionate and holy thoughts.   Paul writes as a Christian man, but also as "a chosen vessel to bear the Name" of his Lord; as the messenger of the mind of Christ; as he who received "his Gospel" "not of man, nor by man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. i. 12).   From his own days to these he has been known in the Church of God as the divinely commissioned prophet and teacher.   Clement of Rome in the first century refers to him as having written to Corinth by divine inspiration.[14] Simon Peter, earlier than Clement, refers to Paul (2 Pet. iii. 16) as the writer of "Scriptures," graphai: that solemn word, restricted in the language of Christianity to the oracles of God.

      The simplest and seemingly most naturalistic passage occurring in a Pauline letter is a "Scripture"; and as such it speaks to me only not like the utterances of a Martyn but with the voice of the Lord of the Gospel.   "Paul, Paul--his letters I have read, but not always I agree with him!"   So, according to the story, said a German literary visitor in an Oxford common-room, fifty years ago; the words shocked the Anglican company.   Very many people think with the German now, whether or no they have really "read Paul's letters."   But their thought is not that of the Church of God; and the soul that will indeed make experiment of what "Paul's letters" can be when they are read as divine, and before God, will surely find itself in harmony in this matter with the Church.   It will be little disposed to take up the cry (true enough in itself), "Back to Christ," in that false sense which discredits the servant's words as if the Master was not committed to them.   "If they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also."

      In a passage like the present therefore we feel the two elements or aspects, the human and the divine, each real and powerful, and both working in perfect harmony.   The human is there, not in the least as a necessary element of error; rather as an element of delicate and beautiful truth, the truth of justest thought and feeling.   The divine is there, as the message from Christ Himself through His servant; sacred, authoritative, binding on belief, giving solid ground for the soul's repose.   We study here St Paul's watchful and unselfish remembrance of the Philippians, in the case of Timothy and his mission, and still more in that of Epaphroditus.   We recognize of course the actings of a noble human heart, and we are right to do so.   But we find more than this; we see JESUS CHRIST informing us, in the concrete example of His servant, exactly how it behoves us, as His servants, to feel and act under our responsibilities.   St Paul's thought and action is "written for our learning."   True, the "learning" comes not as a mere code, or lecture.   It takes the form of a living experience, recorded, in the course of correspondence, by the man who is going through it.   But the man is a vehicle of revelation.   He writes about himself; but his Master is behind him, and is taking care that his whole thought shall be the well-adjusted conveyance of a thought greater than his own.

      As we come to the incidental details of the passage, we find the same double aspect of Scripture everywhere.   St Paul speaks about people who are "seeking their own interests, and not the interests of Jesus Christ" (ver. 21).   He says this quite naturally, and with a reference quite local and in detail.   But on the other side the words are an oracle; they convey the message of the Master of His people; they implicitly claim on His part that we shall seek not our own interests, but His.   Again, quite in passing, the Apostle speaks of this or that "hope" or "trust" as being formed "in the Lord."   He does so with no conscious dogmatic purpose, surely; it is because it comes as naturally to him to do it as for an ordinary correspondent to say that he hopes to do this or that "if all goes well."   But in the epistolary Scripture these brief phrases have another side; they are authority and oracle; they convey the mind of Christ about our right relations with Him; they tell us, from Him, that it is His will that we too, as His, should form our hopes and plans "in Him," in conscious recollection of our being His members.

      St Paul speaks again of his human sensibilities.   He tells us of his sorrows, and his longings for encouragement, and his thankfulness that an aggravation of trial, "sorrow upon sorrow," has been spared him.   He speaks of Epaphroditus, and of his generous carelessness of his own health and life, and of the illness he had contracted, and of his merciful recovery, and of his home-sick longing for Philippi, and of his "bewilderment" of regret as he thinks of the Philippians' anxiety about him.   All this is quite as naturally and "humanly" conceived and written on St Paul's part as anything that I or my reader ever wrote about joys and griefs, our own or of our friends.   But not one whit the less is this all a message, an oracle, from our Lord Jesus Christ, in a sense in which no letter of ours could possibly be such.   For it is a "Scripture."   And so it tells me from above that the free and loving exercise of human sympathies is entirely according to the will of God; that human tears and longings are in perfect harmony with holiness.   It assures me that from one point of view it is right to speak of the prolongation of the believer's life as a "mercy," even though "to depart is to be with Christ, which is far better."   It assures me, let me notice by the way, that bodily sickness is not by any means necessarily a direct result or index of sinfulness in the sufferer. There are those who think and say that it is.   But this is not the view of the "chosen vessel."   He sees no sin in Epaphroditus' "falling ill, nigh unto death," "drawing near, up to death."   It is for him only an occasion for fresh gratitude and affection towards the sufferer, and for deep thanksgivings to Him who in His mercy has granted the recovery.   All this is not only an experience, recorded with beautiful naturalness; it is a revelation, an oracle.   We learn by it, as by the voice of Christ, that although "He took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses," His servants do not therefore of necessity fail in either faith or love when they suffer "in this tabernacle," and "groan, being burthened."   Let them look indeed with great simplicity, in humble faith, for the healing power of their Lord, whether or not it may please Him to apply it through human agency.   But do not let them think it an act of faith to dictate to Him, as it were, the necessity of their physical recovery.   "If it be Thy will," is never out of place in such appeals.   Faith can breathe its most absolute and restful reliance into that "If."

      We close the section of Timotheus and Epaphroditus.   We have given our main thought to the light which it throws upon the nature of the Scriptures, those blessed "men of our counsel."   We have scarcely turned aside to think of the actual "men" of the passage; Timotheus, and his self-forgetting devotion to the Lord and to St Paul, overcoming the sensitiveness of a tender nature; Epaphroditus, at once brave and affectionate, yearning for the old friends in the old scene, restless in the thought of their trouble about him, yet ready to "throw his life down as a die" in the cause of God and of His people.   But if we have said little about them, it is not that we do not love their very names, and feel our union with them.

         "Once they were mourning here below";

      finding then, as we find now, that the day's burthen is no dream.   But we shall see them hereafter, in the mercy of God, "changed and glorified," yet the same, where there will be leisure to learn all the lessons that all the saints can teach us from their experience of the love of Jesus.

      Meanwhile let us pray, with the Moravians in their beautiful Liturgy:

      Keep us in everlasting fellowship with our brethren of the Church triumphant, and let us rest together in Thy presence from our labours.

      [1] Timotheon is slightly emphatic by its place in the Greek; as if to say, "Though I must still be absent, he will soon be with you."

      [2] Not "equal-souled with myself"; which would demand rather, in the Greek, oudena allon echo isopsychon.

      [3] Possibly, "entered on bondservice," "took up the slave's life," with a reference to Timothy's earliest connexion with St Paul (Acts xvi. 1-3).   But the reference to the memories of Philippi is much more likely.   The aorist, edouleusen, will in this case gather up into one the whole recollection.

      [4] The touton is slightly emphatic by position, for St Paul is about to speak of other persons also, himself and Epaphroditus.

      [5] Egesamen: I render the epistolary past by a present tense, which is the English idiom.

      [6] So I render apostolon, to represent something of the sacredness attaching by usage to the word.   If I read aright, we have here an instance of gentle pleasantry, quite in harmony with the gravity of the Epistle at large.   He takes the Philippians' message of love and gift of bounty as a sort of gospel to himself, and so regards their messenger as a missionary to him.   So also with the word leitourgos: its usual associations in New Testament Greek are sacred, or at least solemn; and so St Paul seems to employ it here. Epaphroditus was no mere agent; he was a "ministrant," commissioned from a high quarter--the Philippians' love.

      [7] epeide epidothon en: the epistolary past (en) is rendered in accordance with English idiom.   Epipothon is perhaps too heavily rendered above; but the phrase is certainly a little stronger than epepothei would have been.

      [8] Perhaps it was an attack of Roman fever.

      [9] Ina me . . . scho: lit., "that I may not."   But the English idiom asks for "might."   The Greek puts the past intention into what was its present aspect.

      [10] Epempsa auton: the epistolary aorist.

      [11] Quite literally, "up to death he drew near."   It is as if St Paul had been about to write, mechri thanatou esthense, and then varied the expression by writing eggise.

      [12] Paraboleusamenos te psyche: so read, not paraboleusamenos (which would mean, "taking evil counsel for his life," neglecting its interests).   Paraboleusamenos is a well-attested reading; the verb is not found elsewhere, but the form is abundantly likely.   It would be developed from the adjective parabolos, "reckless," connected with the verb paraballesthai, "to cast a die."

      [13] Thoughts for Heart and Life, by John Ker, D.D. (1888), p. 92.

      [14] See Ep. i. ad. Cor., Sec. 47: "Take up the Epistle of the blessed Paul, the Apostle. . . .   He wrote to you in the Spirit (pneumatikos) about himself, and Cephas, and Apollos."

         "One family we dwell in Him,
            One Church, above, beneath,
         Though now divided by the stream,
            The narrow stream of death.

         "One army of the living God
            To His command we bow;
         Part of His host hath cross'd the flood,
            And part is crossing now."
                     C. WESLEY.

Back to H. C. G. Moule index.

See Also:
   Preface and Introduction
   Chapter 1 - Introductory
   Chapter 2 - The Intimacy of Human Hearts in Christ
   Chapter 3 - The Apostle's Position and Circumstances
   Chapter 4 - The Christian's Peace and the Christian's Consistency
   Chapter 5 - Unity in Self-Forgetfulness: The Example of the Lord
   Chapter 6 - The Lord's Power in the Disciple's Life
   Chapter 7 - Timotheus And Epaphroditus
   Chapter 8 - Joy in the Lord and its Preserving Power
   Chapter 9 - Christian Standing and Christian Progress
   Chapter 10 - The Blessed Hope and its Power
   Chapter 11 - Purity and Peace in the Present Lord
   Chapter 12 - The Collection for St Paul: The Farewell


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