Saturday, March 08, 2014

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus

And so begins the letter to the Philippians.  One of the questions that I had early on, was how Timothy participated in the writing of the letter. 

Digging deeper there are three clues to indicate that he did not participate in the writing of the letter. 

First there are 69 references to the word ‘I’ in the letter, while there are only 3 references to the word ‘we’ and 3 references to the word ‘us’ in the letter.  Of those 6 instances, 5 of them clearly are inclusive of the entire Philippian church and don’t mean Paul and Timothy in particular.  The verses where these instances are found are 3:3, 3:15, 3:16 and 3:20.  The only verse where ‘us’ is used and seems to particularly mean Paul and Timothy is 3:17, where Paul states:

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Paul seems to include Timothy here as an example to keep your eyes on, but there is no indication that Timothy participated in writing the letter.

Secondly we have the section from 2:19-2:24.  In this passage Paul is commending Timothy to them and describes how Timothy has been like a son to him.

Third is the passage 3:2-3:16.  Here Paul argues based on his own life that we should put no confidence in the flesh.  He provides a ‘resume’ of sorts to back up his claim that if anyone could put confidence in the flesh it was him.

Overall the tone of Philippians is very personal.  Paul clearly loves this church and he pours himself into this letter.  He includes Timothy in his opening salutation perhaps because he happens to be with him and Timothy shares deeply the love for this church.  In addition this is not the only time Paul does this, in several of his letters Paul includes others in the salutation.  In 1 Corinthians we have Sosthenes, in 2 Corinthians and Colossians we have Timothy again, and in 1 and 2 Thessalonians we have Silas and Timothy mentioned.

Moving on in verse 1 we read that Paul calls himself a ‘servant’ of Christ Jesus.  The Greek word used here is ‘doulos’ which is the same word used for ‘slave’.  Other translations use ‘bondservant’ or ‘slave’ here instead of servant. 

John Piper makes a couple of good points on this term.  In his first session he said that it is right for Christians to view themselves as a slave in the following two ways.

1 – we are owned by God
2 – God as our Master gives the orders and we obey

However there is a danger in taking this too far and viewing our relationship to the Father and our identity in Christ as that of a slave.  This is wrong, considering the following verses.

John 15:15 – No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

Galations 4:7 – So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Interestingly within Philippians there is only one other place this word is used and it is used in reference to Christ.

(Philippians 2:5-7, ESV)  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Ultimately the reason we serve Christ is because he first served us.

Finally one last observation on this first verse.  Paul does not call himself an apostle.  Most of his other letters he starts out by identifying himself as an apostle.  A possible reason, is that it is another indication of the warm relationship that he had with the church in Philippi.  Paul didn’t need to appeal to his apostolic authority, this church had partnered with him time and time again and looked up to him as their own.

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