Like father, like son

Every so often, even long into my adulthood, my mother would say to me, “You’re just like your father.” She didn’t mean it as a compliment. My father and I weren’t close, and I thought of us as being two very different people. But like it or not, the older I got, the more I had to admit that there was some truth in what my mother said. Whether through genetics or modeling, there were indeed ways in which my dad and I were alike.

Indeed, I remember a moment in my teen years when my mother’s parents were visiting. For some reason that I can’t recall, I called out the back door of the house to my grandfather, who could hear but not see me. When he came into the house, he was confused: judging only by the voice, he was sure Dad was the one who had called.

Like father, like son. My voice is similar. I have the same-shaped nose, the same dusting of white at the temples. My mother’s complaint was that I shared something of his temperament. But there are other ways for fathers and sons to be alike, as the apostle Paul well knew.

Previously, we saw how Paul informed the Philippians of his travel plans, even as he wrote to them from his confinement in Rome. He expected to be released and hoped to see them again soon. But first, he would send Epaphroditus with the letter, and shortly after, Timothy would visit.

But Paul mentions Timothy first. Here are his words again, this time from the New International Version:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. (Phil 2:19-24, NIV)

Paul considers Timothy to be his spiritual son. It’s not because Timothy came to Jesus through Paul’s preaching; Timothy was probably already a disciple when they met (Acts 16:1).

Rather, it’s because they’re so much alike in the ways that matter to Paul. Timothy has served faithfully in “the work of the gospel”; he has the same concern for the Philippians welfare. Moreover, Paul says, “I have no one else like him.” But he’s not saying, “I have no one else I can count on.” The New Revised Standard translates this as, “I have no one so like myself.” In the Greek, he is literally saying, “I have no one like-minded” or even “same-minded.” Timothy, in other words, thinks the way Paul thinks, has the same priorities.

This seems to deliberately echo his earlier plea: “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Phil 2:2, NIV). Timothy models the character he wants the Philippians to emulate. Like Paul, his priority is the progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ, unlike the Christians in Rome who preached the gospel out of “envy and rivalry” and “selfish ambition” (1:15-17). Paul has already urged the Philippians to be humble and not to look only to their own interests (2:4); Timothy, again, is their role model.

The situation then, seems to be this. Paul, grateful for the Philippians’ gift but also concerned about tensions in the church, writes a letter which he intends to send back with Epaphroditus. By the time Timothy gets there, the letter will have been read aloud to the gathered church. Will the letter have had its intended effect? Will folks put aside their differences and start cultivating the humility of Jesus? Timothy will know what to look for, because he thinks like Paul.

And hopefully, when Timothy returns to Rome, Paul will be “cheered” by the news Timothy brings from Philippi.

Meanwhile, let’s not forget about Epaphroditus. Paul speaks of him next, with equal admiration.