Devotional # 128. 3/14/15. Philippians 2:25-30.
Intro. Last week we read how Paul cared for the Christians in Philippi. He wasn’t able to visit them (due to being imprisoned) so he sent Timothy. Paul didn’t have many people that were unselfish and would really represent Jesus to others in a good way. This week we’ll learn about another guy who was able to help Paul. Again we ask ourselves ‘do I have a genuine heart for others?’ ‘Have I made myself available to pastors or leaders who desperately need help?’
vv. 25-26. “Epaphroditus” was actually part of the church in Philippi. He was “charged with the supplies which that church contributed for the relief of Paul while imprisoned at Rome. This labor of love brought on him a serious illness at Rome, on which occasion we see how much he was esteemed and beloved both by Paul and the Philippians (Philippians 2:25-30).” When he came back to Philippi he actually got to take this letter from Paul (now called the book of “Philippians”) with him (Source 1).
Paul calls Epaphroditus three personal things: “my brother”, “fellow worker” and “fellow soldier.” Paul sees men like Epaphroditus as “brothers” in the family of faith. This means we should be building relationships with brothers and sisters that will last a lifetime (since the lifetime will be in heaven together!) Paul also calls him a “fellow worker” which speaks to the fact that there is a job to be done (Source 2). For the lukewarm, couch-potato Christians, not only are they missing out on this life but they are sitting on the bench when the team really needs them. Do you attend a church where you’re feeding the homeless and evangelizing? What about going on short (or long) term missions trips? Regarding “fellow soldier”, this is being a warrior in the “good fight” of faith (Phl 1:27, 30 2Ti 2:3 4:7)” (Source 3). Remember Paul gave us the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:11-18? Use it!
Beyond that he calls Epaphroditus “your messenger.” The word “messenger” here is literally “apostle”, in the general sense as messengers to the churches, as opposed to the unique verbal calling of Jesus (Source 3, Source 4). So Philippi had their own apostle who was courier from the Lord to the people. As I mentioned above it was Epaphroditus who had the honor of bringing this very book to be read for the first time in Ephesus.
v. 27. Here we really see Paul’s heart towards the Christians that helped him. He first acknowledges that it is God who choses whether someone will die or be healed (“God had mercy on him”) but Paul was also really thankful that God had spared Epaphroditus otherwise Paul would have been brokenhearted by Epaphroditus death (“on me also”). But what does Paul mean when he says “sorrow upon sorrow”? We know that the second “sorrow” would have been Epaphroditus death, but what was the first “sorrow”? Paul already felt bad that Epaphroditus had specifically come to help Paul physically and spiritually and in the course of helping Paul he had gotten really sick (Source 2). Paul blamed himself for needing Epaphroditus in the first place. I know what it’s like to be on a mission trip and to get sick. Last summer when my family went to Hungary the last week we were there we all got the flu. On top of that I got walking pneumonia. It can be rough to be far from home and feel like a burden on others. But the important things is that you continue on steadfastly. This section is neat because there is no hint of miraculous healing but Paul knew that it was God who had allowed his friend to get sick and it would be up to God to heal him.
Not only that but we see that “Epaphroditus” had a good attitude regarding the fatal illness he faced. He may not have been excited about facing a painful death but he certainly handled it well. In fact, he wasn’t self-consumed and eager for attention – instead he worried that his brothers and sisters back in Philippi would worry about him!
vv. 28-29. Because the people in Philippi were so anxious about how Epaphroditus was doing Paul was eager to send him back. Paul was “eager” for the people’s fears to be alleviated which in turn would make him (Paul) “less sorrowful“. So if the people loved Epaphroditus so much why did Paul have to tell them to receive him with “all gladness“? Because Paul wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a fleeting emotion. We all know what it’s like when someone gets really sick or almost dies, we treat them special, we don’t get mad at them but that can’t last forever. Eventually the feeling passes and we basically treat them the same way that we used to.
But Paul is calling upon something more important, more precious, it’s spiritual. They aren’t just supposed to hug him, they are supposed to receive him “in the Lord“. In the same way as when we studied how kids are supposed to obey their parents “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1) the people in Philippi were supposed to receive Epaphroditus as if he was Jesus Himself. In both cases, parents and Epaphroditus, are representatives of the Lord and the Lord has designed this kind of honor. It wasn’t that Epaphroditus was better than anyone else but he had stayed committed. He, like Timothy, had a “proven character” (v. 22) which we discussed last week. If you remember, this “character” is something that can only come out of going through trials for the Lord.
Men like Epaphroditus are to be held “in esteem“. This is a blanket statement by Paul which applies to us today. As I’m sure most of you realize this doesn’t mean that we put them on a pedestal or worship them it just means that they’re “worthy of honor” (Source 4). So Christians aren’t supposed to love their pastors because of their charm or wit or personality but because they serve the Lord. They have tough jobs and it’s important that the congregation respects and encourages them.
v. 30. Without causing confusion or division it should be noted that Paul explains that he is talking about respecting those who give their lives to Christ, even to death. You should not honor a pastor just because of his title, if he preaches heresy or is selfish or egotistical you’re not responsible to respect him. But it should be pretty obvious when a pastor holds to his convictions and lives his beliefs and if you’re unsure, give him the benefit of the doubt.
I must note that when Paul tells that they were lacking “in your service towards me” he didn’t mean lacking the willingness to help him but the opportunity (Source 3).
Conclusion. Reading through this short section shows us a lot. Through the relationship between Paul and Epaphroditus we’ve learned about being siblings, “workers” and “soldiers”. We’ve been given a model, by both men, on how to serve the Lord and live the Christian life. And we’ve been told to honor those who God has placed in a position of being a servant leader. Let’s apply these things to our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Church!
Source 1: ATS Bible Dictionary, http://biblehub.com/topical/e/epaphroditus.htm
Source 3: Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Phl/Phl_002.cfm?a=1105001
Source 4: John MacArthur, John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1825.