25 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, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 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. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Paul sends Epaphroditus bearing the letter. Paul hopes to send Timothy soon and Epaphroditus will be sent ahead to deliver Paul’s message to the Philippians. Paul views Epaphroditus as a “brother,” “worker,” “soldier,” “messenger,” and “minister.”[i] There is a comradery in Paul’s relationship with Epaphroditus that is common to all Christians and these five descriptors display that fellowship in various facets.
First, Christians have a familial relationship. The Scripture is clear, those who believe in Jesus Christ are brought into a family. God is Father to Christians. Jesus is brother. Believers are “fellow heirs” (Rom. 8:17). Christians have been adopted into God’s family (Eph. 1:5). The first connection made between people who believe is that of a family. It is particularly important to recognize the implications of this relationship. Family is not something you choose or something that is decided upon by one’s volition. Family is assigned and prescribed by parentage. The parents either bear or adopt the child. So it is with faith: God has adopted those into His Kingdom by His own volition. The parentage of the Christian is not dependent on the will or work of the Christian (Rom. 9:16). Rather, it depends on God. This should give Christians great encouragement: Christians cannot lose their place in God’s family, precisely because they are members of His family. What great security!
Second, Christians share labor in the gospel. Epaphroditus has labored next to Paul working for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was faithful to deliver the gifts that the Philippians sent to Paul and he has successfully related the concern of the Philippian believers to Paul. Ephaphroditus has served the congregation at Philippi and is anxious to return to the brothers and sisters.[ii] He is truly united with Paul in labor and mission.
Third, Christians are united in the shared mission of God’s gospel advancement. Paul recognizes that there is a military-like mission in which Christians are engaged. Christians are in the midst of a battle. It is not a battle against flesh and blood or rulers on this earth. But a battle against sin and rulers of darkness in Spiritual realms (c.f. Eph. 6).
The fourth descriptor is quite simple: Epaphroditus bears the message that Paul has written to the Philippians. Therefore this title needs very little attention except to illuminate that all Christians bear the message of the Gospel to everyone they encounter.
Finally, Epaphroditus serves as a minister to the Philippians. He is faithful to be concerned with their needs and to serve them in the gospel. The title of minister ought to be consistently exemplified in all Christians. Christians are changed by the gospel and, as such, live changed lives in relation to those around them. When the Gospel demands that a brother or sister in Christ lay down comfort or even life itself for the sake of ministry, then the Christian submits to the Gospel in joy and surrender. Likewise, The faithful Philippian minister has surrendered his life in favor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When Epaphroditus came to Paul, he fell ill. In service to relate the love of Christian brotherhood, he almost surrendered his own life. Yet, the Lord was merciful to him. Paul expresses that this mercy is shared. The loss of a brother, even to heaven, is still a difficult ordeal to walk through. So God spared Paul sorrow and Epaphroditus recovered. In his act of self-sacrifice, Epaphroditus is a hero. Paul admonishes believer to treat men who sacrifice comfort, and well-being in the face of the gospel ministry as heroes. One who is willing to lay down his or her own life for the sake of the gospel is worthy of a hero’s honor.
Who do you know that deserves such honor? How can you honor them? Get to work figuring that out.
[ii] O’Brien, P. T. (1991). The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 329). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.