From time to time I have wondered about the personal life of the apostle Paul. What was he like when he wasn’t out preaching, defending the faith, or sitting in prison? We know very little, but every here and there in one of the letters he says something that sheds a bit of light on the man we’d like to know. One of these is the passing reference to Timothy, who travelled with him as he went through Asia peaching the gospel. Timothy was the son of a mixed marriage; his father a Greek and his mother Jewish (Acts 16:1-3). But what stands out in the letter we are examining (Philippians) is Paul’s reference to Timothy’s integrity as a companion in spreading the gospel. Paul tells the believers in Philippi that he has “no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Phil. 2:20), or as the NET puts it, “will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you, ”or again in the NJB, “cares as sincerely for your well-being.”
It is clear from the letter why Timothy was such a helpful partner in the ministry – his love of fellow believers was authentic and it led him to take whatever action was appropriate. In the following verse Paul writes that there is no one else he can send because “all the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Christ” (NLT). Timothy alone is like a son working with his father in the gospel (vv. 21-22).
As for Paul, he had been an outstanding young cleric in the Jewish faith. We know that when the religious authorities needed someone to take the action necessary to stop the growth of the Christian movement, Paul was the one they chose. It would take a strong and determined man to go out to the towns in Israel, find believers and do whatever was necessary to dissuade them from this new religion. While Paul was that kind of man, it didn’t rule out a tender relationship to a fellow worker like Timothy.
Paul displays strength of commitment to a religious cause coupled with a tender regard for a young colleague. I don’t know for sure but I suspect Paul was not the easiest person to get along with. Strong characters tend not to adjust sympathetically to the foibles of another. Yet in spite of the strong temperament he inherited, Paul recognized and deeply appreciated the conscientious commitment of a fellow worker. Here is the challenge. Regardless of who you may be due to qualities inherited from birth and adjusted by life up to adulthood, there is still the need to accept the other, recognize their worth, and work humbly with them in the task assigned by God.