New Testament Words and Verses
Philippians 2:19-30, One: Timothy
Rarely have I seen such kind and perceptive words uttered by a boss about his workers as we see Paul using about his assistants Timothy and Epaphroditus. If every boss were so kind and perceptive, the workplace would be transformed for the better. Combined with these words of commendation are a number of word choices that help to give these twelve verses an air both of intimacy and practicality that makes you want to read the section over and over again.
Timothy First (vv 19-24)
Recall Paul is in prison and is concerned about the state of the Philippian congregation. We have seen that when Paul was away from another beloved church, Corinth, difficulties developed in the congregation. Paul would like to forestall similar things from happening in Philippi. So, he plans to send Timothy to visit them soon. The language of vv 19-20 uses at least three words either unique in the NT or powerful enough to mention. First, the Greek:
19 Ἐλπίζω δὲ ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Τιμόθεον ταχέως πέμψαι ὑμῖν, ἵνα κἀγὼ εὐψυχῶ γνοὺς τὰ περὶ ὑμῶν.
20 οὐδένα γὰρ ἔχω ἰσόψυχον, ὅστις γνησίως τὰ περὶ ὑμῶν μεριμνήσει·
“I hope in the Lord Jesus quickly to send Timothy to you, so that I may be encouraged in my soul when I learn about your affairs. For I don’t have anyone so equal in soul as he, who genuinely cares about your affairs.”
I translated two words a bit artificially because I wanted to bring out their “soulish” root meaning more clearly. They are both NT hapaxes: a) εὐψυχέω—to be of good cheer; and b) ἰσόψυχος—of an equal soul; like-minded. It would make Paul’s soul cheer up (lit. “to be of good soul”) immensely if he could send Timothy to them. Paul has no one else whom we say “is of such like-mindedness/of like soul” to himself, who instinctively understands Paul’s soul. But the unique thing about Timothy is that he also genuinely (γνησίως—another hapax) will care for (μεριμνήσει) the Philippians. We pause for a moment both to say how rare it is that Paul has someone he can trust like he seems to trust Timothy and that he would speak about him with such unabashed approval and appreciation.
Verse 21 is a bit intrusive and really breaks up the pleasant flow of the narrative. He says:
οἱ πάντες γὰρ τὰ ἑαυτῶν ζητοῦσιν, οὐ τὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.
“For all (of them/the others) seek their own affairs/advantage, not those of Jesus Christ.”
I suppose Paul can’t resist getting a dig in against “them,” whoever they are, who seek their own interest—in contrast to Timothy who seeks the interests of Christ. We ignore the line because Paul has so many other useful things to say, and this adds little to his overall message. Back to Timothy, then, in verse 22. Timothy has had his worth or value “tested/approved” (δοκιμὴν) in his labor in the Gospel.
Plans for a Visit (vv 23-24)
Thus, in verse 23, Paul reiterates the idea first mentioned in verse 19—that he hopes to send Timothy. Now we understand why Timothy would be such a good choice. But there is a slight hitch in the plans, and perhaps we ought to examine the text to see what the problem is:
τοῦτον μὲν οὖν ἐλπίζω πέμψαι ὡς ἂν ἀφίδω τὰ περὶ ἐμὲ ἐξαυτῆς·
“Therefore, I hope to send this one (i.e., Timothy) when I see how things work out concerning me presently.”
Paul hopes to send Timothy “when I might see how things work out concerning me presently/in the near future.” The verb ἀφοράω in verse 23 is not only rare but also a bit confusing. Literally it means “to look away from.” In its only other appearance in the NT (Heb. 12:2), we literally have, “looking away from (ἀφορῶντες) and toward/into Christ.” The word “everything” is implied after the participle “looking away from.”
But, the best I can do in Phil. 2:23 is to render it as “looking at outside developments to see how things work out.” Again, the word ἐξαυτῆς in verse 23 is confusing, because its normal meaning in the NT is “immediately.” But I think Paul is trying to say that he is undecided regarding his immediate plans with respect to Timothy because there are things right now that are happening to him that will affect his plans. In any case, he closes the paragraph with confidence:
πέποιθα δὲ ἐν κυρίῳ ὅτι καὶ αὐτὸς ταχέως ἐλεύσομαι.
“For I am persuaded in the Lord that I myself will come quickly.”
But this confidence would confuse me a bit if I received the letter. The whole purpose, it seemed, in sending Timothy was because Paul couldn’t come by virtue of his imprisonment. But then, as he goes on in his writing, Paul basically says, ‘I will hold Timothy back here until I see how things work out with me.’ So, it appears that Paul is undecided on what he actually is going to do, but he wants to give the impression to his readers that an imminent visit of Timothy and maybe even himself, looms.
All the slight uncertainties on how to read the nuances of Paul’s words and thoughts cannot take away either from the earnest desire he has to see the Philippians or from the warm feelings and confidence he has in Timothy. This is Paul at his best.
Philippians 2:19-30, Two
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