Some verses in the Bible are deeply disturbing, and unexpected. As Paul commends Timothy to the church in Philippi, he tells them, 'I have no one like him (of like soul), who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare (Phil. 2:20). So far, so good. But then Paul continues, 'For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ' (v. 21). Are these not surprising and perplexing words? Even if Paul is generalising (he later warmly commends faithful, life-risking Epaphroditus to the Philippians), what he says is deeply disturbing.
Paul is in prison, probably in Rome. In chapter l:15ff, he has told us that some in Rome (?) were preaching 'Christ from envy and rivalry', seeking to 'afffict me in my imprisonment' (1:17). Now he tells us that 'they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.' These are salutary words.
It is only too easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that, while we are not the Christians we should be, we would never sink so low as to put our own interests above and before those of our Lord Jesus. My brothers and sisters, it is only too easy to drift along in the Christian life, becoming increasingly conformed to the world around us, but hardly knowing it. In the context of Paul's words, the interests of Jesus Christ are equated with Timothy's genuine concern for the welfare of the Philippian believers. Like his Lord and Saviour, Timothy put the concerns and well-being of God's people before his own interests. The mind of Christ (see 2:5ff) was stamped on Timothy's mind and resulted in a selfless care and concern for others. This is what Paul hardly saw in anyone else: 'they all seek their own interests'!
There is no escaping the teaching of our Lord Jesus that it will be, and is, costly to follow him. He invites us, indeed summons us, to take up our cross and follow him. He calls us to 'seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness.' He tells us, 'by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for the other' (John 13:35). John must have drunk deeply of Jesus' teaching because he later wrote, 'We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers . . . Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth' (1 John 3:14,18).
One of the pre-eminent interests of our Lord Jesus Christ is the care of his 'little flock'. He loves his lambs and gently leads those that have young. He seeks to show his care and compassion through the self-denying kindness and practical care of his people. But - and it is a huge 'but' - the truth is that we can become so wrapped up in ourselves, in our situations, in our own concerns and cares (legitimate), that we neglect the brotherhood (see 1 Pet. 2:17).
Whose interests do you and I live for? When did we last disturb our own comfort and go out of our way to minister the Saviour's kindness to our fellow struggling believers? Why not stop now and write a letter of encouragement, put on your coat and make a surprise visit, send flowers, pray, pick up the phone, or whatever, and make someone's day. A few days ago I received a letter from someone I have never met. From the writing (it was hand written, something of a rarity today) I assume it was from an older man. His letter was an out-of-the-blue encouragement to me. Wouldn't it be good and honouring to our Saviour if we could all do something that would minister his kindness and care to his 'little flock'? Timothy sought the interests of Jesus Christ.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saintsí Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.