It seems like just a simple statement, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.”
But what an amazing picture.
Paul was a unique looking man. History describes him as a man “small in size, bald-headed, bow-legged, well built, with eyebrows that met, rather long-nosed and full of grace” (The Acts of Paul and Thecla, 2nd century AD). So basically he looked like our conception of a sailor–small, stocky and bow–legged with a uni-brow. But there was an added component most likely. Those who faced lashings were often bent over as their back and muscles could no longer hold them upright. They had a tendency to walk with a stooped posture. We know Paul was whipped frequently.
And then there was his son in the faith, Timothy. Timothy was a small-town country boy from Lystra. His mother was a Jew and a believer, and his father was a Greek. It never mentions his father was a believer so more than likely his father worshiped the common idols and gods of the people. We know that his mother had a big influence on him in the faith. And Timothy was special. He had a high level of committment to the gospel and to the care for Paul, even in prison.
One thing about Timothy twe know for certain is that he was often sick. Paul described him as having “frequent illnesses” (1 Tim 5:23). One of his illnesses was stomach issues and perhaps in a desire to be righteous, he only drank water, not wine. It’s notable that even in his illnesses Timothy was upholding a virtue I’m sure was counter-cultural for young man even in his time of avoiding alocohol. “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler, whoever is led astray by them is not wise,” said Solomon (Prov 20:1). But Paul had to directly say to him to go ahead and drink wine for his stomach. Not a lot, but “a little” in order to help his stomach and frequent illnesses.
So there they were–the short, bald, bow-legged and bent-over man behind bars with his young small-town, country boy disciple named Timothy who was often sick. Dynamic duos don’t always look like what we imagine.
It was significant that they both declared themselves servants. Servants surrender their will for someone else’s will. They give up their own personal desires to serve another’s wishes and ways. They don’t tell the ones they serve how to do things, instead they do as their leader directs them.
We can be servants of many things. We can be servants of money, our fears, our angers, anxieties, food, and more. “A man is slave to whatever has mastered him,” said Peter (2 Pet 2:19).
“Paul and Timothy were slaves of Christ Jesus.”
And then there is “Christ Jesus.” Perhaps we miss the startling nature of these words. For thousands of years the Jewish people had awaited their Messiah. Paul and Timothy were proclaiming that Jesus was Him–the actual Messiah. For those who hadn’t heard this before it was shocking. Was it possible? No. Could it really be? Impossible. Had their long awaited Messiah actually come?
And to the Gentiles, could it be possible that God could die for people? That salvation was a gift? That there wasn’t many gods but one god? Ludicrous! Or could it…be…?
To those in the churches who read this, the answer would be, “Yes! Hallelujah!” To the masses who had not yet heard of Jesus, it was dangerously and perhaps excitingly preposterous. Jesus of Nazareth? The Christ? Savior of mankind?
If there was any doubt about Paul’s belief in Christ, it mattered that he was suffering for the faith. How much we value something is directly proportional to our willingness to gladly suffer for that something. Paul was writing from prison.
Some say his captivity was in Ephesus. Others say Rome. But what is remarkable about this letter is what it wasn’t about–Paul wasn’t writing about his sufferings or his letter beggings for prayers of deliverance. Those requests were there but they were an aside.
Rather Paul, even in his own personal distress, was concerned about the churches in Philippi. Were they growing? Were they staying the course and not diverting back to the law? Were they living according to the pattern Paul had given them? Paul most assuredly had heard things were some minor in Philippi as well as he wanted to thank them for their gift sent through Epaphroditus (4:18). These things are what mattered most. Not his incarceration.
And then there’s the other notable mark of this letter – the mark of joy. Even though there were issues and problems and complainers in the churches of Philippi, they still were his joy (1:4,25; 2:2; 4:1). Not only that but even in his prison cell Paul took great joy in the Lord and that the same gospel preached to the Philippians was also getting preached everywhere (1:18, 2:17,18; 3:1; 4:4, 10). They were his joy. Jesus was joy. A dirty, filthy cell didn’t change that. Joy was his and couldn’t be imprisoned.
The Sum of the Matter
In the prison of our hearts when our circumstances seem to box us in, often our thoughts are marked with self-pity. And here for Paul there was none of that. His time in restricted and unpleasant circumstances was his sanctuary of joy. Joy for what the Lord was doing for the Philippians and for others, irregardless of what the Lord was doing or not doing for them.
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.”
There’s so much in that short, little sentence. So I ask myself based on these thoughts:
Have I ever let how I looked hold me back in relationships?
Have I let health issues ever hindered the gospel?
Am I servant of Jesus, surrendered to the fullness of his purposes and serving his wishes even if it means suffering?
Is this message of Jesus as “Christ” flowing through me to those who have never heard this message?
Am I walking in joy in my suffering even when I’m not delivered?