Commentary

A Humble Person Possesses a Sympathetic Concern

Scriptures: Philippians 2:20
by Jacob Abshire on July 20, 2022

The night before the darkest day, Jesus gathered His disciples in an upper-room to tell them the most devastating news: He was leaving them. It mattered not to Him that He would be ridiculed, falsely accused, whipped, beaten, broken, and killed on His way out, but that His friends would be comforted in His absence. Nothing about this seemed ordinary. If anyone deserved comfort, it was Christ. Yet, it was Christ who was comforting those who frankly didn’t need it—all things being equal.

Paul calls this the mind of Christ. It is the supernatural disposition of humility that is expressed in counting others more significant than oneself (Phil. 2:3). Jesus didn’t just possess it, He modeled it in the most supreme way. He “emptied himself” of the divine privileges of being God in order to steep low in the muck of man that He might lift others to heavenly privileges (Phil. 2:7). “Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

Paul strongly desired for the Philippian church to put on this kind of humility. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 2:5) for it unlocks the eternal joy that they desperately needed. So, he decided to send Timothy, a practical portrait of genuine humility, that they might be motivated to imitate him in this way. First, we learned that a humble person possesses a submissive attitude (Phil. 2:19). Now, we turn to the next verse to see that genuine humility also possesses a sympathetic concern for others.

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

A Rare Concern

The writer of Hebrews describes Christ as a “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14). The Old Covenant priests passed through three chambers in the temple in order to make temporary sacrifices for the sins of man. Jesus, on the other hand, is a better priest, a great high priest. He passed through the heavens as the “Son of God” and entered the chambers of God to make an eternal sacrifice for all who believe in Him (Heb. 4:14). In this, Jesus is truly the greatest high priest. But, the writer adds this:

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Hebrews 4:15

When Jesus emptied Himself of His divine privileges, He subjected Himself to the pain and sufferings that come with the privileges of man. This is what is meant by the word “weaknesses,” literally “the feebleness and infirmity of man.” Jesus suffered the natural limitations of humanity. His body was His battleground. Jesus faced and fought sin, and was victorious despite the grief and anguish associated with this life. This makes Him a rare, triumphant, sympathetic priest.

The humility of Christ is rare, even among professing believers today. Paul wrote, “I have no one like him” (Phil. 2:20). Timothy was a rare believer, one who excelled in genuine humility. He modeled the sympathetic concern of our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, and Paul had no one like him. This was no understatement or hyperbole. Epaphroditus is also described as having such a rare kind of Christlike character, but Timothy was Paul’s truest and closest companion in ministry. 

There were many in Paul’s life that would fail in such a commendation. We find many described in Paul’s final letter, ironically written to Timothy. “All who are in Asia turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15). “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:10). “No one supported me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). Paul was familiar with the grief of deserters and faith-failures. Timothy, however, was not one of them. He was a faithful co-laborer in the ministry of the gospel, even until the end.

The original language describes Timothy as a “kindred spirit” (Phil. 2:20). He was literally one of equal soul, mind, and life. He was like-minded and like-character. He embodied the same motivations as Paul. He imitated Paul as Paul imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). In other words, he could be trusted to demonstrate the level of care and character that Paul would have demonstrated had he gone to Philippi himself. So, as Paul commands the church by the Spirit of God to have the mind of Christ, he plans to send Timothy, one who was like-minded, to show them that genuine humility possesses a rare and sympathetic concern.

A Genuine Concern

The word “concern” in this verse is a significant, yet sometimes confusing, word (Phil. 2:20). It refers to a deep sense of anxious care. It is not a surface-level kind of concern. It is not a concern in speech only. It is an authentic and deeply moving interest in the well-being of others. It is the kind of concern that turns the stomach and disrupts sleep. It is a restless, consuming anxiety. It can lead to internal distress that brings about persistent distractions, physical fatigue, and loss of appetite. In short, it is a kind of dangerous anxiety when improperly held and unrighteously tempered.

Later in this same letter, Paul will use the same word in a negative sense. “Do not be anxious about anything,” he says, “but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In this sense, anxiety that is not given over to the Lord as our sympathetic high priest is sinful. “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you, he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Ps. 55:22). Withholding our anxieties from Christ invites unnecessary pain leading to distrust in the God who humbled Himself to sympathize with our weaknesses. It denies eternal joy for the sake of temporary pride.

Further light can be gleaned from Jesus’ teaching on the subject. From the side of a mountain, He taught about kingdom living and how kingdom citizens handle anxiety:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:25-34

Notice the Lord’s repeated use of the personal pronoun. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25). Since genuine humility is selfless, counting others more significant than oneself, anxieties that are self-centered are anxieties that Jesus forbids. Believers are to be kingdom focused, concerned about the well-being of others. This is what is meant by the culminating and antithetical command to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). When our concerns are for others for the sake of the kingdom, God takes care of ours. 

In summary, genuine humility is expressed through concern for others that ultimately leads us to prayer and action. This is what characterized Timothy. Paul says that he “will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Phil. 2:20). He was kingdom focused. He lost sleep and subjected himself to fatigue and suffering for the sake of others. He possessed a sympathetic concern. He exhibited the humility of Christ.

How unusual is the one who has genuine concern for the spiritual wellbeing of others! Would you be that kind of person? Would you put on the humility of Christ so that Christ might use you to bring eternal joy to the lives of those around you? For such is the one who is marked by genuine humility.