“Epaphroditus” Philippians 2:25-30
We used to teach our children to sing: “Do you know, O Christian, you’re a sermon in shoes/ Do you know, O Christian, you’re a sermon in shoes/ Jesus calls upon you to spread the Gospel news/ so walk it and talk it/ A sermon in shoes.” Epaphroditus, the man we will meet in these verses, was a sermon in sandals.
We meet Epaphroditus for the first time here in Philippians 2:25-30. He is only mentioned one more time in 4:18. “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.” While this does not give us a lot of information, we do know some very important things about Epaphroditus we should emulate in our own lives. Let us get to know this dear saint of God through this paragraph in God’s Word.
Paul told the Philippians earlier how he would send Timothy, his own son in the faith, to them just as soon as he knew what would be the disposition of his case. In the meantime, he would send someone else to them, their own emissary, Epaphroditus. Because there was no email, snail mail, fax, or other way to send communications, they had to go by person. Epaphroditus was probably the messenger carrying this epistle to the church at Philippi. “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.” (Philippians 2:25).
Epaphroditus was no stranger to the Philippian church. We know that because of the way Paul described him. He was their “sent one” tasked with bringing their gifts and ministry to Paul in the Roman prison. As Paul sent Epaphroditus back to his local church, Paul added his own assessment of Epaphroditus’ character.
First, Epaphroditus was Paul’s brother in the faith. He knew the same Lord whom Paul knew. Epaphroditus was a member of God’s family. Paul used this kind of language in other places to denote special men who ministered with him. My favorite example is found in Colossians 4:7-9. Paul wrote to the Colossian church introducing two men who accompanied his letter to them. The men were Tychicus, a brother in the Lord who was a slave, and Onesimus, a slave who became a brother in the Lord. “Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.”
When the Apostle Paul wrote that Epaphroditus was his brother, he considered Epaphroditus to be on the same plane with him in the Lord. He was also saved by grace and the Lord’s servant.
Not only was Epaphroditus Paul’s special brother, he was a fellow worker. We do not know in what capacity Epaphroditus worked alongside Paul. It may have been in the birthing process of the Philippian church, or it may have been in the ministry that Paul had at Rome. Whenever I think of this phrase, I think of the list of folks in Nehemiah 3. Whenever the work of God goes forward in a mighty way, it is because the people have a mind to work. It takes more than great leaders to have God’s blessing. We must all roll up our sleeves and work together to get the job done. The second passage I think of is 1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” God blesses those who work together to do His will.
Finally, Epaphroditus was a fellow soldier. This does not mean Paul had enlisted in the Roman Army. It means, both Epaphroditus and Paul were soldiers of Jesus Christ. Too often, we forget that we are engaged in spiritual warfare here. The gist of what Paul wrote can be seen best in Paul’s last epistle written to Timothy his son in the faith. 2 Timothy 2:3-4 reads, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” The soldier is loyal to his commander and is willing to endure hardship to get the job done.
Phillipians 2:26-28 says, “Since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 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. Therefore, I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful.” Being a good minister for the Lord Jesus does not mean a person cannot have trouble along the way. Epaphroditus had been ill. Epaphroditus, like any good servant of God, had the people of Philippi on his heart and mind while he was away from them. He longed for them. Understandably, His concern increased even more when he understood the Philippians learned about his recent illness.
We do not know the full nature of Epaphroditus’ sickness. We do know from verse 30 that this illness was a result of his work for the Lord. His illness was serious. Paul wrote Epaphroditus was ill, right next door to death.
There are some who claim that illness is never a part of God’s plan for His children. They quote 3 John 2 out of context. The Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” From this verse these folks assert that if someone is ill, it is because he or she has sinned or he or she does not have enough faith. Actually, this verse implies Gaius did not enjoy physical health as strong as his spiritual health.
Please note in our test in Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul’s high praise for Epaphroditus and his suffering. Notice also there is not one word of criticism of Epaphroditus or his faith. Paul did not see this illness as something shameful, but a badge of spiritual commitment.
Interestingly, Paul could not heal Epaphroditus. Paul did heal others on other occasions. We read of these healings in the book of Acts. Yet, with Epaphroditus, God did not allow Paul to heal. Perhaps, healing was not a gift Paul could use whenever he desired. In Epaphroditus’ case, all Paul could do was pray and wait upon the Lord. God heard his prayer and spared Epaphroditus. Paul wrote God had mercy on Epaphroditus, and He also had mercy upon Paul. I am convinced God blesses our own efforts for Him. Other times He blesses us because He wants to bless those who pray for us. We need to pray for one another!
Finally, Paul wrote about how the Philippians should receive him and why. “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 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.” (Philippians 2:29-30).
The Philippians needed to receive Epaphroditus with gladness in the Lord. The Lord Jesus must always get the glory, but His faithful servants should be honored because of their faithfulness. They should do this because Epaphroditus almost gave his life to finish the work that God gave him to do.
As we think on this mini-biography of one of God’s choice servants, we should ask, how do we measure up? Are we willing to become an Epaphroditus? He was one who was a brother in the Lord, whose relationship to Christ was evident to all who saw him. He was a co-laborer in the work. He was not afraid to roll up his sleeves and put his back to the work of serving the Lord where he was. He was a fellow soldier of the cross. He was willing to put up with hardship if that is what it took to get the job done. May God help us to be like Epaphroditus.