Risk for Greater Joy
But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him – and not to him only, but also to me – so that I would not have grief on top of grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me. – Philippians 2:25-30
But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you.
After his commendation of Timothy and expression of desire to send him soon(Philippians 2:19-24), Paul deemed it necessary to send Epaphroditus instead. The necessity is highlighted by the use of the greek conjunction “δὲ” translated “but” in verse 25. By giving them all the reasons to want a caliber like that of Timothy, who sitted under the tutelage of Paul, to visit the Philippian church that he founded himself, he’s telling them that it is still more necessary to send Epaphroditus.
Oh how we all want to sit under the teachings of such men. Men faithful to the gospel like Timothy. We admire the Pipers, the MacArthurs and the Sprouls of the world and want to learn from them, but sometimes it is more necessary to learn from an unknown pastor, servant, and perhaps not even an elder or preacher in a church, like that of Epaphroditus. People ordained by God for us to be with, rub elbows with, and to work side by side with for the progress of our joy in faith.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love those guys I mentioned earlier. I learned and still is learning a lot from them. But they don’t know me, nor my wife, my daughter, my family, let alone how I live. No amount of their memes, sound bites, podcasts, and sermons on social media can nurture me if I can’t even learn from someone that I’m with.
Just recently, someone posted a question on facebook asking who among these theologians are more influential. The comment section is full of tirades not only against each other’s champions but also against their patrons. The question should’ve been are you so influenced by the teachings of your less known, yet bible saturated pastor that you would not concern yourself with such questions that only breed strife, conceit, contempt and division among the people of God. I’m talking about questions that promote one upmanship. Paul here will not allow that kind of mindset. He taught us that in humility we should treat others more significant than ourselves(Philippians 2:3-4). Not counting Jesus, Paul probably is the best model of such humility. He put Epaphroditus in equal footing with himself and Timothy by calling him his brother, coworker and fellow soldier. So I can just imagine Paul’s reaction if someone would ask who’s more influential, Timothy or Epaphroditus. I hate this culture of celebritism!
God ordained that we should learn primarily from other bible saturated people, most specially under the care of a biblical, faithful loving pastors that you’re with, in the context of a local church. Not celebrity pastors and theologians!
Others even think that if you want to have an influence in their lives you must have a degree, credentials, prestige, and enough following. That’s why pride driven pastors aspire to attain such. No longer because of deep and selfless concern for their people.
Todd Wilson said;
“To possess a degree does not make one a pastor theologian; it doesn’t even make one a theologian, much less a pastor. But we live in a credential-obsessed society, where unless you’ve got a dozen letters behind your name, you’re a nobody, certainly not a pastor theologian.”
That came from someone who had his PhD from Cambridge University. Others have their great educational backgrounds but with zero concern for the interest of the flock. Epaphroditus however, had pastoral care hundreds more than some pastors with M.divs or PhDs. Again, Timothy was beneficial for the Philippians, and he’s selfless too, yet Epaphroditus was more necessary.
Who was Epaphroditus and why Paul considered it necessary to send him then?
Who was Epaphroditus?
Epaphroditus (̓Επαφρόδιτος, later come to mean “handsome, charming”). He’s a member of the church at Philippi who brought an offering to Paul when the apostle was imprisoned in Rome (Phil. 2:25–30; 4:18). His Greek name (A compound noun, from the preposition “Epi” + the greek Goddess’ name “Aphrodite”, which means a devotee of Aphrodite, or favoured by Aphrodite or belonging to Aphrodite) was common and indicates a non-Jewish or pagan origin. It was also common in a contracted form, Epaphras, but there is no reason to identify Epaphroditus with the Epaphras from Colosse (Col. 1:7; 4:12). It was not certain if he was an officer or not. One thing is certain though, he was commissioned to deliver the church’s offering to Paul (Phil. 4:18) and to stay and help him (2:25, 30).
Epaphroditus is someone we can easily identify with. He is the layman’s hero so to speak. He’s not an Apostle like Paul and unlike Timothy, he didn’t train under Paul. He’s just a common man. In fact his name was so common that you can easily confuse him with someone else.
You might say that the command to look for the interest of others is so unrealistic. Only the likes of Jesus, Paul and Timothy can obey this command. But here Paul gave us Epaphroditus as an example of someone whom we can imitate. We don’t have to look somewhere to find someone worth imitating.
Epaphroditus’ Unheard of Credentials
For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need.
Paul didn’t start with “you know his proven worth” like that of Timothy(Philippians 2:22), instead Paul was appealing first from his personal relations with the man, and second with how Epaphroditus’ service to Paul relates with the Philippians. Take note that mou (my) and humon (your) come together in sharp contrast.
In relation to Paul
The threefold description of Epaphroditus as Paul’s “brother,” “fellow worker,” and “fellow soldier” uses figures of speech relating to family, labor, and battle.
According to James Montgomery Boice;
“These phrases are arranged to make a crescendo climaxing in the last phrase, the phrase dealing with Epaphroditus’s ministry on behalf of the Philippian Christians. It is as if a nominating speech were being given at a political convention and the person making it were to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a man who is prominent in the affairs of his city, a successful lawyer, a distinguished civil servant, former governor of the state, the distinguished vice president of the United States, and the next president of the United States.” The eulogy builds towards that climax.”
Note one article ton (the) with the three titles given in an ascending scale (Lightfoot). Epaphroditus was not just a brother, a coworker, and a fellow soldier. He’s the brother of mine, the coworker of mine, and the fellow soldier of mine.
His brother (adelphon, common love). He may not be a brother of Paul in the physical sense, but he’s a brother born from above by the Spirit. The bond between believers is more precious than that of our physical families.
His fellow-worker (sunergon, common work). The greek prefix “sun” or “syn” means together(i.e. synchronize or timed together), and “energon” means work. Epaphroditus works with and for Paul. Take note that the word work is the same greek word used for God’s work in us (Philippians 2:12-13). Epaphroditus is energizing Paul for God’s work.
His fellow-soldier (sunstratioten, common danger as in Phm 1:2). The title is no ordinary title. It is given only to those who fought valiantly side by side with their comrades in the frontlines. When Epaphroditus attend to Paul’s needs, he was also at risk in the battle against not only persecutions from people but also the forces of darkness. Specially his inner demons reminding him of the comfort of his home. He should’ve been at home and not risking his life.But when Jesus our commander-in-chief ushered in his kingdom through his death, Epaphroditus will go to the frontlines if summoned.
In relation to the Philippians
Now with all of these commendations and praise from Paul himself, that same man is a lowly man. He was their messenger and servant and yet Paul used highly exalted word to describe this man’s service.
Their Messenger (apostolon). See 2Co 8:23 for this use of apostolos as messenger (missionary). Epaphroditus was a messenger from the Philippians and he will return as an emissary of the Apostle. Yes he was not an apostle in the same sense as Paul. The distinction lies on who sent the apostle. Epaphroditus was sent by the church, Paul was sent by Christ. However when Epaphroditus returns, he returns as an emissary of the Apostle. In so far as he’s carrying Paul’s message, he was speaking on behalf of Paul. No matter what educational background you have, in so far as you’re speaking faithfully on behalf of the King, you are his emissary. A threat to you is a threat to the King, disobedience to you is a disobedience to the King. You show goodness to his emissary you did it to the King.
Their Minister (leitourgon). See on Ro 13:6; 15:16 for this ritualistic term. Epaphroditus is also a minister. The word leitourgon have this priestly connotation in terms of service. He was their priest unto Paul. A priest who brought their sacrificial offering. Here’s a nobody, with a very common name, without mention of any educational achievements, was commended by Paul by giving him titles that most of us would shrink back upon hearing the responsibilities they require. Oh how I want to be like Epaphroditus, and long to see more Epaphrodituses in the church.
Concern for the Joy of Others
Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died.
One might think that Epaphroditus already succumbed to homesickness, that’s why he was sent back by Paul. He said so in verse 26 right? Ah Paul, enough of the pleasantries, you just want to send him back because he’s proven to be useless for you right?
No. On the contrary, Epaphroditus wants to go home in order to prove to them that he’s fine. He wants to ease their sadness because they heard that he had been ill. He was distressed(same with Matthew 26:37) because of their sadness. Paul confirmed it and even stressed that this guy nearly died because of the work of Christ.
So, far from being useless, this kind of Christian is what we really need in the ministry.
Occasion to Cause Joy for Others
God showed mercy to him – not to him only, but also to me, so that I would not have grief upon grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety.
Notice why God healed Epaphroditus. God healed him so that Paul would not have sorrow upon sorrow. That’s how deeply affected Paul was by Epaphroditus’ near death experience. Therefore Paul is so eager, now that Epaphroditus is well, to send him back so that they too can rejoice and as a result Paul will be freed from anxiety.
So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him
The ultimate reason why it is necessary for Paul to send Epaphroditus, is so that the Philippians can join in this cycle of Joy. It would be an occasion for them to imitate Epaphroditus and be the cause of joy for such sorrow stricken man. Paul said “welcome him in the Lord”. Meaning welcome him as if he’s the Lord. I believe true Christians will leap for joy because of seeing their master. With joy, we should welcome men like Epaphroditus. We should honor them.
Fullness of Joy through Risk
since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.
The word “risked” in verse 30 is a very strange word. It was often used as a gambling term, and some scholars have noted that gamblers would invoked Aphrodite, also a goddess of luck, with the term epaphroditus; Paul could be making a wordplay with Epaphroditus’ name. Because of the joy of serving for the cause of the gospel, knowing that if he follows Christ he must leave everything behind, he risked it all, including his life. Therefore have you, with joy gave your life for others? When was the last time you took some risks for greater and lasting Joy? We need more Epaphrodituses in our churches today just as we need Timothys and Pauls.