For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state [like Timothy]. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the Gospel. (Philippians 2:20–22—NKJV)

Ever since I heard the old French axiom “noblesse oblige,” I was granted a gift in my understanding of honor. Though I have never been a nobleman born to high rank and station, I have known men and women who have exemplified noble behaviors and have modeled for me the drive to live honorably. People in the military have a rudimentary understanding of the idea of giving honor to whom honor is due. They salute the uniform and the honors accrued over a long time of service, whether or not the individual wearing the uniform exemplifies the highest, loftiest, and the most splendid of virtues in their personal life.

Noblesse oblige is a term that takes the military idea of bestowing honor upon someone of high rank and turns the idea on its head. Translated, it means “nobility obliges.” The basic understanding is that anyone of high birth and social position should behave nobly toward others including generous behavior toward others. It implies an expectation of taking the responsibility to lead and manage rather than be idle. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. spoke of a social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force: “we must instill a sense of duty in our children,” “every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.” Noblesse oblige.

Our word honor comes from the Latin alluding to official dignity, repute, esteem (our military, judicial, and political protocols come from this early meaning). In our day, the idea of honor takes on many forms. A bank is expected to honor a check drawn on one of its accounts. Countries are expected to honor treaties. We are to honor our obligations in debts we incur. The phrase, “upon my honor” used to mean something significant. It meant that one was staking his good name, trustworthiness, and reliability upon the veracity of his words.

Honor, for our purpose in this study, is “possessing or characterized by high principles, a keen, clear sense of right and wrong, adherence to principles considered right, integrity, upright, conduct a principled life, chastity and purity.” What it amounts to is ceremonially honoring the highest protocol in matters of morality, ethics, and integrity. It would be striving to act out the highest example of manly or womanly virtues. For the authentic Christian, this kind of noblesse oblige is required of us because we really are of noble birth, we are given authority to be called the sons of God (John 1:12–13). Since we are children of God, we are to act the part in our interactions with others—we are duty-bound.

One prime example of one who had proven his character was Timothy. Timothy demonstrated biblical noblesse oblige by emulating all that Paul had just been saying in chapter 2 of Philippians. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” who humbled Himself with no reputation, took on the form of a bondservant, “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5–9). Timothy exemplified a humble heart determined to live a life of servant leadership because the servant cannot be greater than his Master.

In our quoted text, several principles of honor stand out in Paul’s testimony concerning Timothy. First, Timothy had a capacity to really care for others. “Like-minded” is literally equal-souled, and “sincerely care” is to genuinely give thought to others and promote their individual interest. There was something real about his ministrations toward them. Second, Timothy was proven in character; he had nurtured a record of sterling behavior. He had weathered tough choices and not shied away; you would not find him hiding behind an excuse. He was one who would beg for the hard choices, not for the easy way out. He desired to follow the protocol of the highest principles of godly manliness. Third, Timothy modeled servant leadership as he served willingly under Paul, “as a son to a father.” His place was exalted by displaying honor. Timothy knew the value of showing deference, not just to an office, but to his elders (1 Timothy 5:1). He displayed the highest standards of interpersonal interactions. Finally, Timothy was always a part of the team. He served with good will and humble spirit. Paul sees him as a fellow-laborer, one who honorably served others for the sake of the Gospel. Truth, honor, and service must never be separated; they must always work in harmony or the Name of Jesus Christ will suffer. Trust and obey.