Precious metals are usually mined among other minerals that discolor and hide their true beauty. So, they are put through a purification process. The ore is placed into a crucible which is heated to extreme temperatures in a furnace. The intense heat draws out the impurities which are skimmed away leaving the shimmering beauty of the precious metal.
A biblical proverb alludes to this ancient method of purifying metals to illustrate the process by which God purifies His people. “The crucible is for silver, the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts” (Prov. 17:3). The testing of hearts, as we can learn from Scripture, happens through the trials of life. It is in these trials that our faith is put to the test and the faithful are proven in the end.
According to our text, Timothy was tried and proven faithful. He is a man of humility. In the verses leading up to this, we discovered that he possessed a submissive attitude toward Christ which produced a sympathetic concern for others. This sympathetic concern for others formed in him a singular focus on the interests of Christ. Now, we will learn that this singular focus on Christ manifests in a servant’s proven worth. In other words, Timothy is useful to the Kingdom of God. He is the kind of person that can be sent to recharge a church body.
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
Before we begin, notice that the word “but” begins the verse. It sets the context in contrast to what was stated before it; namely, “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21). We don’t know exactly who the “they” were in Paul’s mind, but we do know what characterized them. They were seekers of self-interest. They did what was good for them, what was beneficial and practical and satisfying to them.
Timothy, on the other hand, sought the benefit of others because he was singularly focused on the interests of Christ. This is how we begin, with the character of a humble person who seeks to please the Lord, not himself. In this verse, we learn that a humble person possesses a substantiated worth that is proven over time by his selfless service in the kingdom of God.
A Proven History
When an NBA basketball player approaches the free-throw line, the commentators usually rattle off a few stats about his shooting. “He is 93% from the line,” they might say (which is significantly high). It gives the viewers some sense of what to expect from the player behind the line. With a high percentage, there is a high chance that he will sink the shot. Timothy had a high percentage as one who seeks the interests of Christ (Phil. 2:21). Paul says, “you know Timothy’s proven worth” (Phil. 2:22). In other words, when it comes to faithfully serving the kingdom of God, Timothy sinks his shots.
There are two words in the original Greek that are key to unfolding some rich truths from this phrase. The first word is translated “you know” in the English Standard Version of the text. It conveys more than an intellectual acknowledgement. It is to know through a prolonged form of learning by experience and involves a kind of absolution and certainty. Think of it this way, you can learn about skydiving by reading a book, but you really know about skydiving by actually skydiving. The knowledge that this points to has an intimate connection with the knowledge itself. In fact, this is used as a Jewish idiom to refer to sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. They know each other in the most intimate way. Here, Paul is reminding the church that they have experienced Timothy’s faithfulness and know it to be true.
The second word is translated “proven worth” in our English Bible. It is the noun form for “tried” or “approved” to communicate a kind of substantiated character. We might say that Timothy is “tried and true” in our common language. To “test” something implies that it needs to be proven true or not. When Paul was chastising the believers in Corinth, he said, “For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything” (2 Cor. 2:9). Here, it is obvious that Paul needed proof. He was unsure of their obedience to God. So, he was writing to “test” them. Timothy had been tested. So, the English translation states the result of such a test—namely, worth and value. Timothy was proven to be valuable.
When putting these two words together, we can have a richer sense of Timothy’s character and faithfulness in the minds and hearts of the Philippian believers. They were intimately acquainted with Timothy’s proven worth. They saw it and experienced it (Acts 16, 19, 20). He was a man of humility, full of faithfulness and character. They knew his stats. They were confident in his ability to sink the shot.
A Selfless Service
For some of us, it can be hard to identify with the deep love that exists between a father and his son. Many today live in or come from broken families where this relationship is foreign. Nevertheless, we can all imagine it. God has designed the father-son bond to be unlike any other. When two men, particularly biological men, grow together during the most formative years of their lives making memories, sharing struggles, enduring pains, it unites their two hearts in a way that can be hardly explained.
Paul and Timothy possessed this special kind of bond. Timothy was not his biological son, but his spiritual son. He calls him, “my true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2) and “my son whom I love” (1 Cor. 4:17) to give a couple of examples. Paul reared Timothy in the faith and trained him for ministry in the most intimate settings. They preached together, sang together, served together, and even served time together in prison (Heb. 13:23). Two to three years from writing this letter to the Philippian church, the apostle Paul will come to the end of his life and pass the spiritual baton to Timothy confident that he will continue the race which he started (2 Tim. 4:1-8).
All of this is to say that Timothy possessed a substantiated worth in the mind of Paul, not just the Philippians. And, his true value was born out of the selfless service he learned under the ministry tutelage of the apostle Paul. This is why Paul argues for Timothy’s worth by, “How as a son with a father, he has served with me” (Phil. 2:22). In the way that Paul served Timothy also served.
A Gospel Labor
While there are many ways that one can prove himself valuable, only one mattered to Paul. It is the service that is “in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22). Timothy was sinking shots, but not the kind that involves a basketball. He was playing in the arena of the world as a player for the Kingdom of God. In this game, the players strategize and agonize to make the gospel known while defending it against its opponents. His team was made up of missionaries whose game plan was to save souls from the wrath to come and to plant the Lord’s flags in foreign territory for the glory of God.
Jesus described the work of gospel advancement as a struggle, an uphill battle to take the land back from the enemy who stole it from God. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12). Here, in the trenches of the spiritual battle, Timothy proved his worth by persevering against the hardest struggles and most violent opposition. And, by the Spirit of God, he prevailed. He was a true gospel warrior with a proven worth and selfless attitude. It was gospel, or nothing.
What is your life like? How do you struggle? Are you being proven through the struggles of gospel advancement by persevering in Christlike humility? Timothy did. And, he is one of many models that the Lord has given us to imitate. Are you reliable and worth your share in the ministry?