It’s been said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I’m uncertain about the role of “sincere” flattery, but it’s more than clear that imitating others is an indication of their personal influence and impact. Imitation shows that what others do plays a significant role in our behavior and character and thus our identity.
In Philippians 2:19-30 we learn of two fellow workers with the Apostle Paul who are held in high regard as he shines a spotlight on the sacrifice and service of Timothy and Epaphroditus and implores the believers in Philippi to emulate their devotion. Here’s how.
First, it’s noteworthy that Timothy was young (1 Tim. 4:12), physically weak from frequent illnesses (1 Tim. 5:23), and generally aloof and reserved with others (1 Cor. 16:10; 2 Tim. 1:6-8). And yet he was sincerely more concerned for others than himself (Philippians 2:20). Although Paul had many others with him during his imprisonment (Philippians 4:21-22), Timothy truly was outstanding.
Though Timothy’s service to the Apostle Paul included a mentoring relationship as student to teacher (“no one else like him,” literally “of like soul,” v. 20), the Apostle did not necessarily see himself over Timothy in any organizational sense. Though Timothy served Paul as a son does a father, both were on equal footing in relationship to the Lord’s service (1:1). It was not Paul whom Timothy served ultimately, but the “work of the gospel” (Philippians 2:22).
Just as we grow up imitating, to a large extent, those around us, so too Timothy’s service is a lesson in the value of gleaning Christian character from others (see 1 Cor. 11:1). The Holy Spirit uses mature Christians to shape and mold us and that is why it is sad when believers in Christ are arrogantly independent. From our first breath to our last, all humans are dependent creatures and, like it or not, we are influenced significantly by those around us.
Epaphroditus, too, is remarkable. He has been proven in hardships and most likely delivered the material support to Paul in Rome (Philippians 2:25-30). Epaphroditus was a “brother,” “fellow worker,” and “fellow soldier” showing himself a devoted companion and comrade to Paul. Rather than his illness that caused him sorrow, it was knowing that others in Philippi would be distressed from hearing of his condition that gave him pains. Such selfless concern for and devotion to others is noteworthy indeed! In fact, his illness was directly related to “the work of Christ” (2:30). Although Paul does not indicate the precise circumstances surrounding his illness nor his healing, he does state that Epaphroditus’s suffering hardship is worthy of “honor” (Philippians 2:29).
And so, Timothy and Epaphroditus both display the character that Paul longs to see in the Philippians and he commends their example to them. They are tirelessly devoted to others for the sake of unity and the progress of the Gospel.
Where virtue is concerned, being flattered by others’ imitation is quite the accolade!
What character traits in others do you find attractive and worthy of emulation? Who in your circles has had an impact on you that advances your faith? When you think of people you know who are advancing the Gospel message, how can you follow in their path? Who do you know that suffers physical illness but still walk strong with Christ through their suffering and how can you honor them?