The verse is obscure, I will admit. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul briefly mentions this attribute about his son in the gospel: Timothy. But, God in his grand scheme, saw to it that this book of Philippians and this verse would make it to our canon of scripture. Although the passage is short and easily missed at first glance, it packs power in its commentary on the nature of man.
I will argue that human nature has changed very little since the beginning of the created order. No doubt, our selfish nature was passed onto us from the first Adam and often raises its ugly head in our daily interactions with others. We have been programmed to always look out for number one.
I often cringe when I read of citizens who are assaulted in broad daylight, robbed, beaten, and left bleeding in the subway or the street; with bystanders walking by doing absolutely nothing. I have wondered what I would do in a similar context. Would I jump into the middle of a situation that was not my own?
In the modern world, the idea of becoming a Good Samaritan comes with physical and/or legal risks that must be weighed. We have been conditioned to respond to our own needs and often ignore the needs and concerns of others. And, when push comes to shove, we mostly look out for number one, neglecting the needs of others.
People were the same in the 1st century as we are today. We live in a “dog eat dog” culture. This is why I am refreshed by this verse in Philippians which references this idea that Timothy had a reputation for concerning himself with the needs of others.
In his 1st century context of shepherding a local congregation in Ephesus, Timothy was an asset to that local congregation as he ministered to the needs of local believers. No doubt, his gift of genuine concern was effective in building that local body of believers into a growing body of healthy Christ followers.
It is safe to assume from the text that the great Apostle Paul not only recognized this gift in his letter to the church at Philippi but also recognized Timothy as his son in the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 1:2-4)
It becomes easy to fall into a self-absorbed mindset; when our needs are pressing, and our concerns are the only things on our minds. We have daily anxieties about work, marriage, children, communities of faith, and school. In short, we are preoccupied with our personal world.
The list of our own concerns seems never-ending; earning more money for our families, losing those extra pounds, cleaning out our garage, managing financial resources, managing inflation, tending to our own self-care needs, educational and career development, looking after our pets, and making sure our kids are well. The bottom line is: we must be concerned about our own welfare in order to provide for our own. (1 Timothy 5:8)
However, in order to fulfill the command to love God and love others, we must take the second part of the great commandment seriously.
“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:39-40 (NIV)
Living selfishly with no regard for the genuine concern of the welfare of others would be to miss the point of that commandment. This is the easy way, not the Christian way, of living our lives.
The Biblical Pattern
There is no doubt that the Biblical text supports a pattern of more than just self-absorption. In fact, the Bible is clear on this matter in support of a model of unselfish behavior.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2:3–4 (NIV)
This verse confronts our natural human instinct. To express genuine care for others is a reflection of the great commandment. We are to love God and love people. How do we love people well without showing a genuine concern for that person? Part of loving people well comes with the price of caring about the concerns, joys, and disasters of their lives.
Jesus expresses a model for us in this endeavor in His discourse on spiritual investments when He says:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me …I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:35-36, 40 (NIV)
What a Christ-inspired model for our lives! We simply must not stand before the Lord one day and say that we were too busy to care for the needs of others. As Christ’s followers, we have a responsibility that goes beyond providing kind words and a smile. We are called to act on behalf of the One who sent us and care for the needs of others.
How refreshing it is when we meet someone who takes a genuine interest in us! We are naturally attracted to people like this. There are some practical ways to live a life in which we express genuine care for others. One way to express that genuine concern is in our daily conversations with others.
I have often found myself in everyday conversation in which the other person would dominate the discourse by talking about THEMSELVES. The conversation was all about them, their concerns, and their ideas. As a matter of fact, it was difficult to say much because the words were so focused on them.
Here is my challenge today for all of us: In your dealings with people this week, find a way to express genuine interest in the other person. Can you put aside the demands of your own problems, challenges, and issues and express genuine interest in the life of another?
- Ask about their family, and then listen with intention to the answer
- Ask about their job, and then pay careful attention to what they say
- Ask if they have a need you can pray about, then pray right then, on the spot
- Ask a question that shows you SEE them and HEAR them
As you exercise this new habit, you will find that people will respond in positive ways and the relational dynamics will change in ways you might have never thought possible.
I wonder about Timothy’s pastoral practice and calling. I am curious about those under his pastoral leadership in Ephesus. No doubt, his ministry philosophy of expressing genuine concern for those around him must have been a large contributing part of his success in ministry. As he expressed genuine concern, the people under his care must have returned the joy, love, and support of his ministry. In the end, everyone wins when we express genuine concern.
And what about you in your workplace, parenting, marriage, and career? Could the secret sauce of relationship success be tied to the pursuit of expressing genuine care for those we meet along the journey?