Philippians 1:27 says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This is the theme of Philippians 2. The chapter begins with a call to spiritual unity. To walk worthy is to walk together. Spiritual unity requires selfless humility. To be humble is to be like Christ.
In the middle of the chapter, Paul exemplifies the Christlike humility he exhorts the church to practice. The chapter ends with the commendation of Timothy and Epaphroditus. At first glance, verses 19-30 appear to be a typical report of Paul’s travel plans. It is more than that. Timothy and Epaphroditus were prime examples of Christlike servanthood.
Epaphroditus is not on any list of great men of the Bible. He is only mentioned in Philippians 2:25-30and Philippians 4:18. These verses give no biographical information about Epaphroditus. They focus on the circumstances surrounding his journey from Philippi to Rome and back. The apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. When the Philippians found out, they collected an offering for Paul. Epaphroditus traveled at least 700 miles to deliver the church’s gift.
There is no indication Epaphroditus was an elder or deacon. He may have only been a “lay member.” We do not know if Epaphroditus was recruited or volunteered. But the church entrusted him to bear the gift. Philippians 4:18 says, “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Epaphroditus himself was a gift from the church. He was to remain in Rome indefinitely to serve Paul on behalf of the Philippians. At some point, Epaphroditus became low-sick. The news of his sickness caused the Philippians to sorrow. The Philippians’ sorrow for him caused Epaphroditus to sorrow. By God’s mercy, Epaphroditus recovered. Then Paul sent Epaphroditus home. Epaphroditus was the bearer of this letter to the Philippians. Paul did not want there to be any questions about the character, service, and faithfulness of Epaphroditus. So Paul wrote this passage to explain why Epaphroditus was sent home.
D. Edmond Hiebertcomments: “With this honorable testimony to him, Paul set forth the essence of the high ministry for which Epaphroditus enlisted in coming to Rome. Paul said nothing finer of any of his companions in toil.” The world esteems people based on pedigree, appearance, wealth, education, position, talents, and achievement. These are not to be the standards of the church of Jesus Christ. The church should honor sacrificial service for Christ. What does it mean to be a servant worthy of honor?
The Sending of Epaphroditus
Philippians 1:8 says, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:19 says, “I hope in the Lord Jesus Christ to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.” Philippians 2:25 says, “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus.”Why? Paul answers with a lofty commendation in verse 25 and a loving explanation in verse 26.
A lofty Commendation. Verse 25 says, “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need.” This lofty commendation of Epaphroditus details his relationship to Paul and the Philippians.
His relationship to Paul. In verse 25, Paul describes his relationship with Epaphroditus in three ways. The possessive pronoun “my” applies to each title. First, Paul calls Epaphroditus his “brother.” In Christ, we have a new relationship with God and others. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. The apostle viewed Epaphroditus as his equal in Christ. This designation also expresses Paul’s affection for Epaphroditus. Timothy was Paul’s dear son. Epaphroditus was Paul’s beloved brother.
Likewise, Paul calls Epaphroditus his “fellow worker.” Paul did work for Christ alone. Epaphroditus was his co-laborer, who knew how to work with and under others. Philippians 1:5 calls the church a “partnership in the gospel.” We will live forever as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a limited time to be fellow workers for Christ. Finally, Paul calls Epaphroditus his “fellow soldier.”
- “Fellow worker” affirms devotion to Christ involves work.
- “Fellow soldier” affirms devotion to Christ involves warfare.
Christian service is spiritual warfare. Paul’s imprisonment was religious persecution. But Paul was not alone in this conflict. Epaphroditus was his comrade in arms. Every pastor needs a person he can call “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.”
His relationship to the Philippians. In verse 25, Paul describes the relationship between Epaphroditus and the Philippians in two ways. First, Epaphroditus was their “messenger.” The Greek word is commonly translated “apostle” in the New Testament. It means “one who is sent.” The apostles were eyewitnesses of the resurrection Christ commissioned to lay the gospel foundation for the church. In a broader sense, Epaphroditus was an “apostle” of the church at Philippi. He was a special envoy sent to Rome to deliver their gift to Paul.
Likewise, Epaphroditus was their “minister.” The Philippians were not able to serve Paul personally. They sent Epaphroditus to do what they could not do. The Greek word translated “minister” refers to sacred service to God. It is a technical term from which we get our word “liturgy.” Paul uses it to describe the work of Epaphroditus to assist him on behalf of the saints at Philippi. Epaphroditus did not lead the public ministry of the church. His was a behind-the-scenes ministry to Paul on behalf of the church.
A Loving Explanation. The return of Epaphroditus would cause the Philippians to rejoice. But some may wonder why Paul sent Epaphroditus home before the outcome of his trial. In verse 26, Paul gives two reasons. First, Paul says, “He has been longing for you.” In Philippians 1:8, Paul says, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
- Paul did not merely yearn to get out of prison.
- He yearned to see the Philippians again.
Epaphroditus shared Paul’s yearning for the saints at Philippi. He was doubtless glad to be with Paul and serve him. Yet he longed to be reunited with the Philippians. Paul and Epaphroditus model a proper attitude toward the church. Real Christians do not have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the church. When you miss church, do you miss church? Those who will be together in heaven long to be together on earth.
Likewise, Epaphroditus “has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” “Distressed” refers to mental, emotional, or spiritual anguish. It is used three times in the New Testament. Matthew 26:37 and Mark 14:33 use the word to describe the sorrow of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Paul uses it to describe the great distress Epaphroditus suffered. Epaphroditus was depressed but not over his own situation.
Depression is often self-pity, the internalization of sorrow. Epaphroditus is a rare case of depression caused by the sorrows of others. He was not distressed because he was sick unto death. He was distressed because the Philippians heard he was sick. The sending of Epaphroditus reflected the love, trust, and respect the church had for him. The news of his sickness caused great concern. The fact that he became sick while carrying out a mission for them increased and intensified their concern.
Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interest of others.” Epaphroditus had this selfless attitude. He was distressed. But he was not distressed because of his prostrating sickness. He was distressed by the thought of their concern for him. People get upset because they go through something and feel the church does not care. Epaphroditus was upset because his sickness became the church’s concern. He was more distressed that the Philippians heard he was sick than the sickness. Their concern made Epaphroditus so distressed that Paul sent him home.
This mutual concern should mark the church. Paul sent Epaphroditus home because the Philippians heard he was sick, which made them sad. When Epaphroditus heard that the news of his sickness made the Philippians sad, it made him sad. Then Paul became sad because Epaphroditus was sad because the Philippians were sad. Everyone was sad for everyone else!
The Sickness of Epaphroditus
In verses 27-28, Paul confirms the sickness and recovery of Epaphroditus to explain why he sent him back to Philippi. Gordon D. Fee wrote: “Here is very personal material, which includes theological moments because Paul seems incapable of doing anything otherwise.”
The Reality of His Sickness. Verse 27 says, “Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” There is a word here about human sickness, divine healing, and Christian sorrow.
Human Sickness. Personal sin is not the inevitable or necessary reason for human sickness. We live in a fallen world. That is why people get sick. A sinful lifestyle may lead to sickness. But we should not be like the disciples, who, upon seeing a blind man in John 9, immediately asked, “Who sinned?” Epaphroditus was a Christian brother, worker, soldier, messenger, and minister. Yet he became sick.
We do not know the cause or nature of his sickness. We are only told the severity of it. He was sick to the point of death. But Paul does not say Epaphroditus sinned, lacked faith, or made a negative confession. Verse 30 says he nearly died for the work of Christ. Proponents of prosperity theology teach health and healing are the believer’s birthright. Epaphroditus rebuts that spiritual devotion may put one at risk of sickness or death for the work of Christ.
Divine Healing. Epaphroditus was sick unto death. Paul did not miraculously heal him. But Epaphroditus eventually recovered. In verse 27, Paul says, “God had mercy on him.” “Mercy” is the divine compassion that holds back what we deserve. God is a healer. But God heals at his discretion, not only because he is sovereign but because we are sinners who do not deserve health and healing.
Romans 6:23 says: “For the wages of sin is death.” Whenever God chooses to heal, it is an act of sparing mercy. The gospels are filled with miracles of healing. But sick people do not name-and-claim their healing. They do not declare and decree their miracle. They do not speak it into the atmosphere. They cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me.”
Christian Sorrow. Verse 27 says, “But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” The healing of Epaphroditus was double mercy. God had mercy by healing Epaphroditus and preventing Paul from grieving his friend. This is a Christian perspective on interpersonal relationships. The presence of your loved ones is a gift of mercy. If Epaphroditus died, it would have produced “sorrow upon sorrow” for Paul.
Paul was not happy about being in prison. His suffering brought sorrow. The death of Epaphroditus would have enlarged his sorrow. Philippians 1:21 testifies, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Yet the death of Epaphroditus would produce multiplied sorrow. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” It is natural and necessary to grieve. But Christians respond to the sorrow of death with the hope of Christ.
The Response to His Healing. Verse 28 explains, “I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.” In verse 25, Paul thought it necessary to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi. Now Paul says he was eager to do it. Paul did not send Epaphroditus home because he had become a burden to him. Paul did not want the Philippians to feel his sending Epaphroditus created a burden.
Paul was eager to send Epaphroditus for two reasons. First, it would cause the Philippians to “rejoice at seeing him again.” Philippians is called “The Epistle of Joy.” Joy or rejoicing is mentioned sixteen times in this letter. Most of these references express unconventional sources of joy. Verse 28 is an example. Paul sent Epaphroditus home because seeing him again would turn the Philippians’ concern into celebration. This is how it should be every time the church meets together. Every Sunday should be a homecoming celebration!
Paul’s first reason for sending Epaphroditus home was selfless. His second was selfless selfishness. Sending Epaphroditus would make Paul less anxious. I thank God for these personal passages in the writings of Paul. If we only had access to Paul’s doctrinal writings, our faith would be robbed of great benefits. Paul’s full-throated self-disclosures model what being fully human and a devoted Christian means.
Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Here, he confesses his own anxieties. His anxieties were not sinful worries about his affairs. They were the expression of his concern for the church. 2 Corinthians 11 lists Paul’s sufferings for Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:28 concludes, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” With good reason, Paul was eager to send Epaphroditus so that he may be less anxious.
The Sacrifice of Epaphroditus
In verses 25-28, Paul commends Epaphroditus and explains why he sent him back to Philippi. In verses 29-30, Paul charges the church to greet Epaphroditus with a hero’s welcome.
What the Philippians should do for Epaphroditus. Verse 29 says, “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men.” This verse records two instructions. First, Paul instructs them to “receive him in the Lord with all joy.” “Receive” is the word used in Luke 15:2, where the Pharisees and scribes complained that Jesus received sinners and ate with them. When sinners came to Jesus, he did not criticize or condemn them. He welcomed them in like long-lost friends.
With the same warm embrace, the Philippians were to receive Epaphroditus in the Lord. They were to do so with joy. This is the radical nature of Christian joy. Joy should mark how we receive those who have separated from us for any reason and must be affirmed upon their return. With a shepherd’s heart, Paul instructs the church to receive Epaphroditus with joy.
Likewise, Paul instructs them to “honor such men.” This passage teaches as much about Paul as it does Epaphroditus. Paul wrote it because he did not want Epaphroditus to be embarrassed when he returned home. Authentic Christianity protects reputations, not ruin them. Paul makes it clear that Epaphroditus has no reason to be ashamed. Sinclair B. Ferguson asks, “Could your church send you on spiritual service without embarrassment?” Epaphroditus deserved esteem, not embarrassment.
Philippians 3:17 says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Here, Paul says we should do more than note those who walk right. We should honor them. Some think we should be careful about honoring men, lest we feed their pride and develop a cult of personality. This is a legitimate concern. But more servants in the church suffer from lack of encouragement than too much encouragement. The church should honor the sacrificial servants of Christ.
What Epaphroditus did for the Philippians. In verse 30, Paul explains why the return of Epaphroditus should be marked by joy and honor: “for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” This is the second time Paul affirms that Epaphroditus almost died. He also gives further insight into what almost killed Epaphroditus: “He nearly died for the work of Christ.”
Epaphroditus delivered the church’s offering to Rome and gave Paul practical assistance on the Philippians’ behalf. Paul called this “the work of Christ.”Those who serve in upfront or obvious ways are not the only ones doing the work of Christ. Those who serve in quiet, practical, unnoticed ways are also doing the work of Christ.
Verse 30 says Epaphroditus was “risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service for me.”“Risking” describes a gambler throwing the dice. Epaphroditus gambled his life for the sake of Christ. Several centuries later, Christian workers ministered to the sick, imprisoned, and outcast. They also ensured martyrs received proper burials. The group was called the Parabolani, the “Gamblers.” Are you a gambler for Christ? Have you gone “all in” for Jesus? What have you risked for the Lord?
Christianity is worth living and dying for. Take a risk for Christ! To put yourself at risk for the sake of Christ is no gamble at all. Christ took a risk for you. Epaphroditus traveled from Philippi to Rome to serve Paul. Jesus came from heaven down to save us. Epaphroditus almost died in his service to others. Jesus actually died on the cross for us. Epaphroditus risked his life for others. Jesus gave his life for us.
- He gave his head to the crown.
- He gave his cheek to be slapped.
- He gave his shoulder to the cross.
- He gave his back to the whip.
- He gave his side to the spear.
- He gave his hands to the nails.
- He gave his feet to the spikes.
- He gave his blood for our redemption.
- He gave his life for our salvation.