Mentoring, Paul’s Way

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon in order that I may be encouraged by the knowledge of you.”

(Philippians 2:19)

On one level, this is a continuation of the spirit that Paul has been expressing toward the people in Philippi. He holds them in high esteem and with great affection, so surely firsthand news of how they are going, brought to him through Timothy, will encourage his heart while he is in prison. How one mark of the believer is that he (or she) has a sincere desire to know how the church is doing, and a desire to rejoice with the saints (if even from a distance) with their successes. How sad it is when there is either no interest or, the interest is more of a competitive nature where one takes some degree of satisfaction in the struggles of another congregation.

On another level, we might also speak of the language that Paul uses when he speaks of how he hopes to send Timothy to them. He does not speak generically of hope, but places his hope in the Lord Jesus. This echoes James’ language when he speaks of doing this or that, “Lord willing” (James 4:13-15), remembering that God is sovereign not over our salvation, but over all of the occasions of our lives and over the opportunities that we may or may not receive. He numbers our days and we cannot move either to the right or to the left without God’s sovereign permission in our lives.

Yet, I do believe that the most significant notion in these words is that of Timothy’s role as a surrogate visitor for Paul to Philippi. We have already seen that Timothy has been mentioned as being present with Paul while he is here in prison and most of us know of the close relationship that these two men had as mentor and student. Even so, Paul is willing to send Timothy to the church, depriving himself of the comfort of Timothy’s presence, so that news might be brought from the church in Philippi.

Remember, these were times when news (and people) did not travel as fast as it does today. A departure by Timothy would not be a short event but likely would have lasted even for months (depending on the seasons and storms brewing). Yet, Paul was willing to make such a sacrifice for said knowledge. But more than that, for Timothy was essentially the one into whose hands Paul’s ministry would fall. Here Paul is preparing to send Timothy out to this church to minister to them on his behalf, essentially placing this responsibility on Timothy’s shoulders.

And that is the heart of mentoring. How often as leaders, employees, coaches, and even as parents we want to micromanage the lives of those we are leading or mentoring along so that everything goes smoothly and that they don’t make the mistakes that we made as we learned. Now, while I agree that I do not wish for my children (for example) to make many of the mistakes that I made when younger, we must always recognize often we learn more through our mistakes than we learn through our successes. Many of the mistakes we made getting to where we are now are mistakes that, in God’s providence, have guided us to where we are now. Certainly, there are mistakes that no one should make and only by the grace of God were we brought through them — these we should guide others away from — but other mistakes, when made, do not need to be the end of all things, but can be turned into a learning experience from which maturity can develop. Paul does not micromanage Timothy; similarly, we should not micromanage those whom we mentor.

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