Anyone familiar with Anne of Green Gables will immediately think of Anne’s search for true friendship when they hear the term “kindred spirits.” This poor orphan finally finding heart companions in such persons as Diana, Matthew, Marilla, and ultimately Gilbert is what makes the story so touching and tender. She viewed a kindred spirit as one who saw things and cared for life in the same manner that she did.
Interestingly, this term is found in the NASB version in Philippians 2:20. Paul says of Timothy, “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” This phrase is a translation of the Greek word ἰσόψυχοs, which combines the word equal (“iso” like in the word isoceles triangle) with the word for soul. So the term is defined to mean “like-minded, equal in soul, same hearted.” The increasingly popular ESV does not quite do justice to the word when it has Paul saying “I have no one like him.” The NKJV and KJV get closer when they use the more literal “I have no one like-minded.” Not to be sentimental, but a brief study would show, I believe, that Paul would have been happy with us thinking of him and Timothy as sharing a kindred spirit – though in a manner much deeper than what Anne would have meant and in a way we should be striving for in the church.
For the second part of the verse reminds us of why Paul thought of Timothy this way. Paul tells the church at Philippi that there was no one else except Timothy who would “genuinely be concerned for your welfare” like he was. Paul, who by God’s grace and power had founded the church at Philippi through his gospel preaching and suffering, loved this congregation deeply. The depth of his affection is heard in Philippians 1:3-8.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Paul did not look at the church primarily as a group to be managed, or a business to be run, or – heaven forbid – an audience to admire him. No, the one who had seen the Spirit of God call him to go to Macedonia where Philippi was located, and then use his preaching to draw people such as Lydia, the jailer, and their households to Christ, dearly loved these people. He said to the Philippians that they were in his heart, they were in his prayers, they were coworkers in the gospel, and that he longed for them with Christ’s affection. And in observing Timothy, he was assured that this young man loved them in the same way he did. For Timothy had been there in Philippi with Paul (Acts 16:1-3). He had observed that Timothy’s love for them at that time and since then was just like his own. Timothy, unlike many who use the church to serve their own interests, was sincerely representing Christ to this congregation (Phil. 2:21).
This sense of Timothy’s like-heartedness is seen further when Paul says of him in verse 22 in this same chapter, “But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.” Saying Timothy had a “proven worth” referred to an old practice of biting coins to see if they were counterfeit or not, much like you might see in a cowboy movie. Since pure gold is relatively soft, you can feel it give under pressure from a bite. But if any base metals are mixed with the gold to defraud others, it will also harden the coin and make it less pliable when bitten down upon. Paul had “tasted” Timothy and found him to be the real deal.
To illustrate it further, he describes Timothy’s gospel work as being “like a child serving his father.” Paul does not mean this in the sense of a preschooler bringing his daddy his slippers when he comes home from work. Rather, he is thinking of it in the sense of a young man who is capable and trustworthy enough to take over the family business. In my former congregation, I was privileged to watch the process of a farmer slowly turning over the work of the family farm to his young adult son. Clearly the son had grown to know and care for the farm just like his dad, and his father could entrust it confidently to his son who had learned so well from him. Similarly, like a “chip off the old block,” Paul knew that he could send Timothy to Philippi and he would minister and care for the people just as Paul would have done.
More than only like thinking or a robotic repeating of a church guru, Paul is saying of Timothy that the very heart he had for the church had become Timothy’s as well. That’s why the translation “kindred spirit” is quite suitable for this text. Furthermore, it is also reveals the high standard that we are to be striving for in the training and discipleship of others. Anything less than seeing believers developing a sacrificial love for the church is not worthy of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.