Commentary

A Humble Person Possesses a Submissive Attitude

Scriptures: Philippians 2:19
by Jacob Abshire on July 6, 2022

Outside my neighborhood is a wellness clinic. Unlike a medical clinic, they provide natural supplements for weak bodies, not sick bodies. For example, people who finish an intense workout in the gym, might suffer exhaustion and weakness. So, they will stop by the wellness clinic to receive a “drip” of fluids to replenish their muscles. Others, who might have recently endured a severe sickness, might need a more rapid recovery. They too will visit for a “drip” of natural supplements to help expedite their restoration. Whatever the case, the body is lacking necessary nutrients. A quick visit to the clinic can get you hooked up to an IV with a bag full of concentrated vitamins and minerals that will recharge the body.

In a similar way, Paul intended to send Timothy to Philippi to inject the necessary supplements that the body of believers were lacking. They were weakened by division and deficient in humility which was needed to experience eternal joy. Timothy was a bag of concentrated grace that could “drip” into the church body and recharge it for gospel ministry. He was for them (and is for us) a practical picture of genuine humility. And, the first thing to see about this picture is a submissive attitude.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

Philippians 2:19-24

When walking into this text, it’s helpful to know that Timothy was just like Paul. He was, as they say, “a chip off the old block.” This is precisely what is in mind when Paul says in the next verse, “I have no one like him” (Phil. 2:20). There was literally no one more suitable to carry out Paul’s ministry than Timothy because he was a die-cut, carbon copy of Paul. He was raised in a multicultural home, converted under the ministry of Paul, and drafted into Paul’s ministry early in his life. 

Afterward, they were virtually inseparable. They endured troubles together. They preached and ministered together. They traveled and prayed together. They were so close that Paul identifies him as a son (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2) and conversely, Timothy honored Paul like a father. You can be easily impressed from the Pauline letters that no one was more loved by Paul than Timothy (2 Tim. 1:3). In fact, when writing his final will and testament, Paul entrusted everything to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:8-18). There was no one Paul trusted more, treasured more—outside of Christ—than Timothy, his ministry protégé.

With this relationship in mind, we can see that Timothy’s submissive attitude ran parallel to that of Paul. When Paul says, “I hope in the Lord to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you” (Phil. 2:19), we are not just seeing the posture of Paul, but the posture of Timothy as well. And, we can learn that they both hoped in, sacrificed for, and rejoiced in the will of the Lord Jesus.

Hoping in the Will of Christ

A submissive attitude runs on the fuel of heavenly hope. Paul says, “I hope in the Lord Jesus” (Phil. 2:19). By this, Paul is not flippantly casting his confidence to the air as many do today when evoking the name of the Lord. Rather, he was submitting his intentions and plans to the Lord’s will. He strongly desired to send Timothy to the Philippian church in order to stir up their humility that they might experience the heavenly joy that is theirs in Christ. He recognized the truth of Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Paul knew that his plans were contingent upon the Lord’s plans. And, although he held fast to his plans, he kept a loose grip in case the Lord changed them.

This kind of hope is consistent with the life of a genuine believer. James, in his letter to Christians who were scattered throughout the known world, provided a series of tests whereby our faith could be examined in order that we might know its validity. And, these tests consequently mature our faith when proven true. One of these tests is the trial of planning.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

James 4:13-16

In the battle of the wills, God always wins. And, those who recognize God’s sovereign rule over their life—even down to their daily agendas—lean into this reality recognizing its benefits, a matter we will explore in a bit. His argument is simply this: True faith yields to God’s plans. And, to the contrary, is the mark of pride, “boasting in your arrogance,” and categorically evil (Ja. 14:16). It rejects the very essence, and first step, of the walk of faith. Was it your ingenuity that saved you? Was it your planning that caused you to be born again? Did you have the foresight and power to put yourself into the kingdom of God? Or, did you learn the will of God and submit to it?

James reminds us that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Ja. 4:6). So, “humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you” (Ja. 4:10). Salvation comes to those who are humble. In the same way, sanctification comes to those who remain humble, to those who possess a submissive attitude. Isn’t this what Jesus modeled, our great example of humility and submission? Moments before his trial and death on the cross, He prayed in the garden: 

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup [the cup of crucifixion] from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Luke 22:42

Humility is the soil from which faith grows. This is why Paul repeatedly says “if the Lord wills” (1 Cor. 4:19) and “if the Lord permits” (1 Cor. 16:17). It is the natural flow from a heart of faith. Do you have a submissive attitude? Do you yield your plans to God’s plans and seek the Lord before pursuing them? Wrap your agendas in the hope of the Lord Jesus, not because it is a magical formula to attain what you desire, but because it is part and parcel to the submissive attitude.

Sacrificing for the Will of Christ

Of course, having a heavenly hope does not mean that your hopes will not result in some pain. Sometimes they do. This was certainly the case for Paul. He hoped “to send Timothy to you soon” (Phil. 2:19). Parting with friends can be difficult, especially when they are as dear as Timothy was to Paul. “You know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22). 

What resonates from Paul’s writings is his relentless thrill for gospel ministry, and those who join him in it are particularly dear to his heart. In Acts 20, we see how hard sending another gospel minister can be. Paul gathered his fellow colleagues to tell them that he is “constrained by the Spirit” to leave for Jerusalem where he anticipates “imprisonment and affliction” (Acts 20:22-23). He continues: 

“But, I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” 

Acts 20:24

In other words, his plans were superseded by God’s plans, but his hope was in the Lord Jesus. He desired to exemplify humility, because “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). He had to sacrifice for the sake of others. “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all” and “there was much weeping” as “they embraced Paul” in sorrow (Acts 20:36-38). Those who have served sacrificially in ministry alongside others know how hard this can be. A submissive attitude sacrifices for the will of Christ.

Rejoicing in the Will of Christ

Humility and sacrifice come with great reward. Many times the reward is realized in this life. Commentators define “hope” in this verse as a forward-looking confidence to achieve something beneficial. Paul described the benefit this way, “so that I too may be cheered by news of you” (Phil. 2:19). Don’t miss this: Yielding and sacrificing your plans to the plans of the Lord results in heavenly joy that reciprocates and bubbles over to everyone involved.

Paul understood this. It hurt him to send Timothy, but his hurt was little when viewed in light of the lasting joy that he would receive when Timothy brought back the news of their encouragement. The grace of God is like that. It is the gift that gives back. “It is,” as Paul said, “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). He could attest to it. He experienced it. He knew it to be true and therefore, he hoped in the Lord Jesus to sacrifice for the greater good, even his own.

To push this even further, the word “cheered” in this verse means well-souled. It is a word to describe a complete recharge within one’s inner-being. It is a kind of joy that fills to the brim and overflows. When a machine is running at full capacity and producing results as it was designed, we might say that it is a well-oiled machine. In the same way, when a believer is running at full capacity, using the grace that God has abundantly given, the believer is producing results of grace and well-souled. Timothy was such a believer. He possessed a contagious joy. He could be sent to spread joy and would return to spread joy. Wherever he went, he bubbled over with joy and those around him received it.

Isn’t this wonderful news? Isn’t it great to see how the Lord moves among His people for the sake of their good and His glory? Timothy is a bag of concentrated grace that drips heavenly joy into the lives of all who serve the Lord with him. What a model for us today! What a pattern that we all need to strive for and possess. He exemplified a submissive attitude that resulted in heavenly joy. 

Heavenly joy overflows from a submissive attitude. Are you overflowing with joy? Are you filling others up with joy? Maybe you need to find a Timothy in your life and lock into what he or she is modeling. Maybe you will be the bag of concentrated grace that drips into the life of others?