If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit. Then he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. 20 I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. 21 All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. 22 But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News. 23 I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. 24 And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon.
25 Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. 26 I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. 27 And he certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.
28 So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and then I will not be so worried about you. 29 Welcome him in the Lord’s love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. 30 For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away. – Philippians 2:19-30
A friend and colleague of mine once observed, “We know the will of God only in the rear view mirror.” The challenge of parsing that correctly is great. We all have our personal view of what God’s will should be or what is his absolute will and his permissive will. After all, you know the will of God on the micro level only after the events of life unfold.
Paul speaks of his desire to send Timothy to Philippi with the condition, “If the Lord Jesus is willing.” It might be that God was not willing to have Timothy go to Philippi. There could be a number of reasons for that. It could be that someone else needed to go there and achieve a different result. Perhaps God wanted Timothy to stay with Paul for reasons that would become apparent only later.
God has revealed his ultimate will in clear passages of Scripture:
1 Timothy 2:4
[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
And while we may have a clear sense of what is God’s ultimate will, the path to that ultimate end can be very circuitous. It’s not always a straight line. And sometimes it doesn’t really matter.
For example, does God’s will extend to which sock I put on first in the morning? Does it extend to which color shirt I wear or what kind of flowers I plant in my flower bed? Or does it matter whether I choose to live in one city or another?
It might. And we’ll never know with total confidence what is the will of God on a micro level except to the extent to which we are able to see how it facilitates the rule and reign of Jesus in the hearts of people. Paul displays a clear rule of Jesus in his heart. He is perfectly willing to commend all things – even the mission plans he made. Thankfully, God is able to bring good out of bad (cf. Genesis 50:20), and work all things for the good of those who love him (Cf. Romans 8:28).