The secular world seems to have fallen in love with commendations. After centuries of demanding obedience as a duty for the privilege of being employed, many hospitals, offices, factories and retail outlets have walls decorated with plaques and certificates to the finest workers. 'Highly commended', 'best salesperson', 'most productive assembler', 'excellent customer relations' are some of the plaudits. Of course, it is right to recognise and advertise such people. Hard work, loyalty, enterprise and long service all come with a price tag - self-sacrifice.
Paul's commendation of Timothy was both the obligation of an employer and the privilege of a colleague. But it was more than that: it was the generous affection towards a brother. It was right to honour such a faithful servant of God and imply that the church should honour him too (Philippians 2:29). Paul's purpose was not for Timothy to have an inflated ego. He wanted the Philippian church to learn how to treat the ministers of the gospel, who served them; and to learn to serve others for the same reasons (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
They needed to realise that Timothy's heart was full of love and personal concern for them; that he was not like so many travelling philosophers of the day, out to make money and a name for himself. He was God's servant for their sake. He ministered sacrificially to them because they mattered so much to Jesus. This passage assumes that, while such honour should be normal in the church, it is not automatic. That is why Paul is making the point. Like children, who will be intrinsically selfish unless taught to respect others, so every new believer needs to learn that self-centredness must go out as Christ comes in (Philippians 2:4).
Sacrificial service of others should be the hallmark of the church. That is how Jesus Christ served us at the cross (Romans 15:1-4). But alas, some Christians set a bad example by their self-seeking, and criticism of their ministers. It should not be like that (Hebrews 13:17). At the same time, those with authority have no right to 'feather their own nests' at the expense of their congregations (1 Timothy 3:2-3). However, a church community where Christ is at the centre, and selfless service is normal, is a brilliant demonstration of the Kingdom of Heaven. So too are school, college and workplace Christian groups for Bible study and prayer. Jesus commends faithfulness (Luke 19:17), so we should live knowing that the Lord's eye is on us; and we should take every opportunity to honour everybody who serves well.
© Dr Paul Adams