In previous studies in the second chapter of Philippians we’ve learned that if we are Christians we are to be bright lights that shine in the darkness of the world around us and we are to do so without complaining and arguing—we are to work out our salvation—that is we are to live out our faith and the only way we are able to live this way is because a follower of Christ—a person who has trusted Christ as Savior—has God’s strength, the work of the Holy Sprit, at work in them giving them the desire to do His will and the strength to do His will.
If you are a follower of Christ that is a description of what your life should be like with the work of God in you and you are to do all of this for God’s Glory not your own.
As we continue in our study of Philippians this morning we arrive at Paul’s third real life example. Remember we’ve been taught here in Philippians that we are to humbly live out our salvation with God’s power in us, without complaining and arguing—that’s the instruction—that’s what we’re to do and Paul and Timothy have been our real life examples so far and Epaphroditus is the third real life example that Paul shows us.
Today we’ll see in the example of Epaphroditus one who was more concerned with how much he could give than how much he could get. We’ll see how he was a living example of sacrificial service.
The name Epaphroditus actually means lovely or charming and as we look at Philippians 2:25-30 this morning, we’ll see how well he lived up to his name.
Philippians 2:25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. 29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; v30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.
Epaphroditus Described (25)
Notice how Paul describes Epaphroditus for us in verse 25. Paul calls Epaphroditus my brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier and to the Philippians he says he is your messenger and minister to my need.
First note how Paul identifies Epaphroditus as a brother—they were brothers spiritually. They both knew Christ so God was their Father and they were brothers in the Lord. By using the word my in the little phrase my brother we see the warm and loving relationship that Paul and Epaphroditus had. They could enjoy sweet fellowship because of the common bond they had in Christ.
But beyond that, Paul described him as a fellow worker. They were working together for the cause of Christ. Paul uses that same term, fellow worker in 1 Corinthians 3:9 where he says, For we are God’s fellow workers…
Epaphroditus was committed to furthering the gospel and the work that is involved in that. He was a laborer in the harvest.
Paul also describes him as a fellow soldier. He was engaged in spiritual battle. He was willing to face the danger of standing firm for Christ. John MacArthur says of this descriptive title fellow soldier,
This is to say not particularly looking at his relation to Paul or his relation to the task at hand, but that he is commendable in relationship to the enemies which fight against the ministry. The title “fellow soldier,” by the way, is a very, very honorable title. I did a little research into that Greek word which is also used in the second verse of Philemon and I found that outside of biblical record that word was used on some special occasion to honor a soldier, usually a common soldier was honored with that title. And the goal was to make the soldier equal to the commander-in-chief. In one case to make a warrior equal to a king. To say you are a fellow soldier, in the very heart of that Greek word from which we get strategist, was to say that you ranked with those who are the strategic people in the forces, the strategists, the great leaders…a great term of honor. And Paul is pulling Epaphroditus up, my fellow strategist, my fellow commander-in-chief, my fellow…as it were…leader in the matter of spiritual warfare.
In these first three descriptive titles Paul uses for Epaphroditus—brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier—we see a real balance in his life. Warren Wiersbe says this about Epaphroditus…
Epaphroditus was a balanced Christian!
Balance is important in the Christian life. Some people emphasize “fellowship” so much that they forget the furtherance of the Gospel. Others are so involved in defending the “faith of the Gospel” that they neglect building fellowship with other believers. Epaphroditus did not fall into either of these traps. He was like Nehemiah, the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with his sword in one hand and his trowel in the other (Neh. 4:17). You cannot build with a sword nor battle with a trowel! It takes both to get the Lord’s work accomplished.
Dr. H.A. Ironside used to tell about a group of believers who thought only of “fellowship.” They had little concern for reaching the lost or for defending the faith against its enemies. In front of their meeting place they hung a sign: JESUS ONLY. But the wind blew away some of the letters, and the sign read—US ONLY. It was a perfect description of a group of people who were not balanced Christians. 1
Epaphroditus was Paul’s brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier. Paul also describes him as your messenger. He had been sent to Paul in Rome by the church at Philippi. Apparently he was sent to deliver a financial gift to Paul. We see this in Philippians 4:18. Paul Says,
Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
He was also a minister. He ministered to Paul. He took care of his needs. This was a man who was a servant. He was serving the Lord and serving Paul. He was there to meet Paul’s needs. He definitely was more concerned with how much he could give than how much he could get.
Epaphroditus was a brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier, messenger and minister. What an encouragement he must have been to Paul. Yet we see in the first part of verse 25 that Paul considers it necessary to send him back to the Philippians. Why would Paul send such a great guy back home? Let’s look at his reasons in verses 26-28.
Reasons for His Return (26-28)
We see the first reason for the return of Epaphroditus given in verse 26.
26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.
Epaphroditus longs for the Philippians and he is distressed by the fact that they’ve heard about his sickness. They were probably concerned about his health and by returning to them he could set their minds at ease. His longing for them indicates his love for them and how he missed their fellowship.
We see in verse 27 that Epaphroditus had been so sick he had almost died. It was God in His mercy that healed Epaphroditus. God had mercy on him and spared his life and God also had mercy on Paul who would have had to bear the sorrow if Epaphroditus had died.
In verse 28 we see another reason for his return. Paul says, “I’m sending him so that you can rejoice.” The Philippians will be happy to see this faithful servant. They will rejoice to see his health restored and to once again have him in their presence.
Another reason for his return is so Paul will be less sorrowful. Listen to verse 28 from the NASB.
28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly in order that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. (NASB)
Paul was concerned about the Philippians and by returning Epaphroditus to them he would be less concerned about them. His return would be for the best for Paul, the Philippians and for Epaphroditus himself. Paul cared about the welfare of others and was eager to send Epaphroditus back home. Instead of being selfish and keeping Epaphroditus to continue serving him, Paul was looking out for the interests of others and that ended up being in his best interest as well since he would be less sorrowful or less concerned about the Philippians.
After making clear the reasons for his return, Paul goes on to instruct the Philippians in how they should receive Epaphroditus.
How He Should Be Received (29-30)
Paul tells them to receive him in the Lord with all gladness. They were to receive him with great joy. They were to give him a hearty welcome home.
Not only should they receive him gladly but Paul says he is the type of man to hold in esteem. The NASB says, hold men like him in high regard.
Paul makes a similar point about honoring those who labor for the Gospel in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.
12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
We are to honor and esteem faithful servants. Paul wants to be clear that Epaphroditus is worthy of their esteem and honor. The Philippians might have been inclined to be critical of Epaphroditus. They might have said things like, “what a loser! We sent him to Paul and he failed in his mission. He just didn’t have what it takes.”
It’s so easy to be critical of others. So Paul goes on to make it very clear in verse 30 that Epaphroditus was worthy of their honor.
30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.
What Epaphroditus did in being a messenger and minister to Paul was put his own life at great risk. It was clear how the Roman government felt about Paul—they had him chained to a guard 24 hours a day. It was possible that Paul could lose his life since they didn’t take lightly that Paul was bringing, what to them was this heresy of Christianity into the Roman world. And if Paul’s life was taken it was likely that they would also take the lives of anyone serving with him. Epaphroditus knew the risk involved in going to minister to Paul.
We see here the sacrificial service of Epaphroditus. He came close to death even risking his very life to serve the Lord by ministering to Paul. The word translated, not regarding “speaks of voluntarily hazarding one’s welfare and thereby exposing oneself to danger.” 2
Paul makes it very clear that Epaphroditus had served faithfully and had served sacrificially. He was worthy of their esteem not attack or scorn. The Philippians should be glad at his return and give him the honor that was due him as a faithful, sacrificial servant.
George Sweeting the former president of Moody Bible Institute once said…
When we come to the end of life, the question will be, “How much have you given?” not “How much have you gotten?” 3
The picture that Paul gives us of Epaphroditus is of a man who set a worthy example for us to follow. He was a man who was willing to roll up his sleeves and work for the cause of Christ. He was a man who was willing to risk even his life in service for Christ. Clearly he was a man who was more concerned about what he could give than what he could get.
Which question are you asking yourself this morning? Are you asking yourself “how much can I give” or “how much can I get?”
Let me put things into perspective a bit. I was reading this week of a recent martyr for the cause of Christ. Recent meaning June 18, 2004. On June 18, 2004 in the Guizhou province of China while in police custody a healthy, young, 34 year old Christian woman was beaten to death while being interrogated. The police report stated that she died as a result of a “sudden disease”. But during a break from interrogation this young Chinese woman had told another prisoner that she had been “kicked a lot, her shoes were torn off and her hair was pulled out”. When the family was allowed to see the body they found “much blood on her body and scars from beatings on her legs and neck.” One policeman at the funeral home said that, “it was very obvious that she had been beaten to death”.
You might be wondering what terrible crime this young Chinese woman had committed. The police report stated that she and her mother-in-law had been arrested the day before for “suspected spreading of rumor and disturbing the social order” and “had seriously disturbed the social order by distributing Christian literature to the masses in the market.” Indeed, this young woman and her mother-in-law had been handing out Christian tracts and Bibles in the market place. For this serious crime this young Chinese woman, a follower of Christ, was beaten to death. 4
I wonder if any of us could be accused of seriously disturbing the social order of our society by telling others of Christ?
Can I ask you today, how much are you giving of yourself for the cause of Christ—to make Him known? How would others describe you? Are you a worker and soldier for the cause of Christ? Are you giving Him your all? And are you doing everything for God’s glory, to make Him known, without complaining or arguing shinning as bright lights in the darkness?
Kevin A. Pierpont