The Example of Epaphroditus

“Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me” (Philippians 2:25-30).

Introduction

Epaphroditrus was a faithful member of the church in Philippi. When Paul was imprisoned in Rome Epaphroditus, whose name means ‘poured out’, willingly obeyed his leaders’ wishes to travel there to minister to the apostle. It is also possible that he was a deacon in the church. He was obviously very brave as well as someone who dedicated his life wholly to the service of God, for a lesser man would have feared any attachment with someone facing capital punishment. It seems that he did not hesitate being associated with Paul, despite the fact that he could endanger himself as a direct consequence. In these few verses we learn something of the trustworthiness and example of Epaphroditus.

The soldier

Paul calls Epaphroditus a “fellowsoldier”, but note also all five titles he gives him:-

1. Brother: Surely Paul would only say this of someone who was truly born of God. Notice that he does not say ‘a brother’ but “my brother”. Once again, we see that these endearing words destroy the silly notions of some theologians who seek to portray Paul as strict and harsh, for here we see the tenderness of his spirit.

2. Companion: Serving God and ministering to the apostle was a labour of love for Epaphroditus. He was more than a mere friend of Paul, for he supported, encouraged and comforted him too. Anything that could cause a rift between them was seen as an abomination. He was willing to stand alongside Paul regardless of how severe the situation might be. He was no quitter or coward. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) … “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

3. Fellowsoldier: This must refer to his steadfastness and faithfulness in service. While many fair-weather friends forsook Paul in his hour of need (2 Timothy 4:16), Epaphroditus was not counted among them. He stood firm despite the obvious dangers. “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

4. Messenger: The word is derived from ‘apostolos’ which is clearly the root for ‘apostle’. In the sense Paul uses it, it probably simply means ‘ambassador’ and ‘representative’, that is, someone sent on a special mission. Epaphroditus had a true calling of God on his life.

5. Minister: The Greek word ‘leitourgon’ has a precise meaning that is lost in the English translation. It was only used of great men who loved their city, culture and country. Paul is stating that this young man was an extraordinary person who was willing to go beyond the call of duty. “But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:43-44).

The sickness

While in Rome Epaphroditus became seriously ill to the point that everyone thought he was going to die. No doubt those in Rome and Philippi were praying for his recovery. He had the perfect opportunity to return home for no one would have criticised him if he did. But instead of being filled with self-pity, he was more worried that everyone was fretting over him. This is the measure of this remarkable young man, for not even a life-threatening sickness could cause him to quit.

Epaphroditus did return to Philippi, not to escape any dire circumstance, but instead to show his fellow believers that he had indeed fully recovered and was back in active service. Paul wanted any sadness in Philippi to be turned into joy, in fact, he was overjoyed at even the thought of the church rejoicing together over Epaphroditus’ healing. It must be observed that the gift of healing was not a permanent anointing residing in any particular person in the early church or that such miracles always took place on a daily basis, otherwise Paul failed Ephaproditus by not ministering healing to him. This was also true of Trophimus whom Paul left sick in Miletum (2 Timothy 4:20). The modern notion of ‘healing ministries’ was unheard of in the first century church. Sickness and disease was healed according to the will of God and in answer to the prayer of faith rather than presumption. “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15). Since none of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including healing, died out with the apostles, as some foolishly imply, we believe that God can still heal the sick today according to His sovereign will. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

“God has mercy” must refer to the fact that God directly intervened to restore Epaphroditus quickly to health, for the language here suggest a miraculous acts rather than a slow recovery.

The stature

Paul made certain that no mean-minded person had cause to question Epaphroditus about his faithfulness and service. He was being ordered back to Philippi rather than desiring to go. The phrase “hold such in reputation” means ‘to honour as a precious prize’. Paul explains why Epaphroditus had become so ill in the first place and the words “not regarding his own life” reveals this. The words come from a gambling term and indicated that he had taken a high-risk chance. This is not meant to put forward a negative view of Epaphroditus’ sacrifice, but instead it shows that he staked his whole life for the ministry of Christ. Very few even in Paul’s day were willing to do this. It is better to burn out for Christ than rust out.

“Not regarding his own life” can also mean ‘hazarding his life’. We may feel that Epaphroditus was foolish and unwise not to take time out to rest. Modern-day missionaries love their furloughs, preachers their sabbaticals and Churchgoers their retreats. The early church would mock us for such lukewarm attitudes and self-service. While it is Biblically acceptable to take time out to encourage ourselves in the presence of the Lord, it should never be because we feel that we deserve the rest. “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31). Epaphroditus’ sacrificial work was for the Kingdom of God. This is why Paul said that the church in Philippi should count it a privilege to stand in the presence of a true man of faith.

Conclusion

The Philippian church supported Paul’s ministry through giving and prayer, but Epaphroditus was willing to be right there with him in the work, not as a glory-seeker but as a servant. He is an excellent example of selfless sacrifice; something this letter is all about. He is a challenge to soft, easy-going and nominal Christianity. His life shows that the Christian life is difficult and demanding. It calls for faithfulness and commitment if we are going to emulate Epaphroditus. Remember that personal comfort is never praised in Scripture. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23-24) … “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24) … “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

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