Calvary Road Baptist Church

“EPAPHRODITUS, HONORED SOLDIER” Part 1

Philippians 2.25-27

When the Apostle Paul left the church at Antioch to begin his apostolic church planting ministry, he set out with his close and beloved friend Barnabas.[1] The two of them traveled to what is today the eastern half of the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. John Mark, if you will remember, the nephew of Barnabas, had begun the mission with them, but abandoned them to return home when the going got tough.[2] After they had returned to Antioch and were preparing for a second missionary journey, Barnabas was set on giving John Mark another chance. Paul, who considered the work of the ministry far too important to risk on a proven loser, refused. The contention between them was so great that their wonderful partnership was split up and Barnabas is no more heard of in the Biblical record.[3] Paul was certainly right in his judgment about not giving a loser a second chance on an important mission, and forged ahead in his ministry for Christ and embarked on a second missionary journey, traveling the whole length of the Turkish peninsula (what was then Asia), and crossing over into Macedonia (what is now eastern Europe) to plant churches in Philippi and Thessalonica, before moving down the Greek peninsula to Athens and Corinth and then back to Antioch once again.

It was early on in his second missionary journey that Paul picked up Timothy, who became over time his right hand man.[4] He may also have met the main character in our text for today, Epaphroditus, when he planted the church in Philippi. If not on the second journey, then certainly Paul met Epaphroditus on the third missionary journey, during which time he raised money from the Gentile churches he had started to feed the starving Jewish Christians back in and around Jerusalem. At any rate, Paul’s third missionary journey concluded when, having brought to Jerusalem an offering to feed the Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ, he was arrested on trumped up charges.[5] Spending a couple of years imprisoned in Caesaria, Paul was then transferred to Rome so Caesar could hear the appeal that he, as a Roman citizen, was entitled to.[6] It was when Paul was in prison in Rome that the Philippians decided to help him as best they could. Their solution to the problem of how to help Paul was to send Epaphroditus with some money, and traveling companions for the dangerous passage. The plan was for Epaphroditus to give Paul the money and then to stay on to help him while the companions returned home. However, the best laid plans of men, even plans that have been carefully prayed over and weighed, often go awry. Somewhere along the way Epaphroditus took sick and almost died. Refusing to give up, refusing to stop and regain his health, Epaphroditus insisted on fulfilling his commitment and was delivered to Rome by his traveling companions, who themselves returned to Philippi.

How many times have you done all that you were supposed to do to serve the Lord, only to have it turn out to be a catastrophe? So it was with this man of God. Sent to be a servant to Paul, he ended up being taken care of by Paul. Sent to lighten Paul’s load, he ended up being a burden to Paul. Sent to accomplish something, he ended up being, in the eyes of some, a failure. However, was this dedicated servant of God really a failure? See what Paul says about him in Philippians 2.25-30. Stand and read that portion of God’s Word with me, would you please?

25     Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.

26     For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.

27     For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.

28     I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.

29     Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation:

30     Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.

I will limit our study to Philippians 2.25-27 and see, from Paul’s perspective, what we are to make of this man who would certainly by the world’s standard have been judged a failure in the performance of his task.

Three comments made by Paul relative to the man named Epaphroditus:

First, THE MAN IS DESCRIBED

Though this fellow was sent to deliver money to Paul and to tend to his physical needs (remember, in Roman prisons the prisoner had to provide for his own food), Paul’s trial was now on the slate and he had no time to take care of this Christian from Philippi. He had a case to formulate and present. So, it was needful for Timothy to stay and for Epaphroditus to return, contrary to what the Philippians had hoped. Did this mean Paul thought ill of Epaphroditus, that he had somehow let Paul down? Listen to Paul’s own words in describing the man.

In verse 25, we read, “Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother.” This man was a brother in Christ. This is the fundamental term that describes those of us who are spiritually related, who have trusted the Lord Jesus to the saving of our souls, and who have God as our Father. A brother, in this sense, is one with you in the family of God.

Paul continues with the words, “And companion in labour.” This is the phrase that convinces me that Paul had met and served with Epaphroditus during one of his visits to Philippi. It is one thing to be a brother. It is quite another thing to be a companion in labor. A companion in labor is someone who has actually worked with you in serving God.

Next, the phrase “and fellow soldier.” It seems that Paul just keeps escalating his accolades of this man. There is a difference between someone who labors with you and someone who is a fellow soldier. It’s one thing to knock on doors together. It’s quite another thing to stand shoulder to shoulder with someone in a spiritual fire fight. And since Paul was in a Roman prison, surrounded by Praetorian Guards, and since Philippi was a Roman fortress colony city full of Roman citizens, with a martial culture behind them, Paul is as much as telling the folks back in Philippi that he and Epaphroditus had served in the same unit. These two have seen action together in the spiritual trenches. That means there is a bond between these two that Paul wants the Philippians to appreciate to some degree.

However, beyond that he reminds his readers about Epaphroditus, “but your messenger.” There are two words for “messenger” in the New Testament. The word “angeloV” is the word we get angel from, and refers to someone who is sent to deliver a message. But the word “apostoloV” gives us the word apostle, as well as the word messenger, and refers to someone who is given the authority to undertake a mission, not just convey a message.[7] So, although Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, while Epaphroditus is an apostle sent by the Philippian church, and their various authorities are not really comparable in scope and latitude, Paul does show his esteem for the man by granting that he is an apostle sent by the Philippian church to be a blessing to him and to accomplish a task. Thus, there are apostles of Jesus Christ (Paul, Peter, John, etc.) and there are apostles of churches (such as Epaphroditus). Who would be considered apostles of Calvary Road Baptist Church?

Paul concludes his description by writing, “and he that ministered to my wants.” Again, Paul had two options in describing Epaphroditus’ efforts on his behalf. One word refers to serving someone as a servant, and was the usual word Paul liked to use to describe someone’s help of him, douleuw. But here Paul used a word that was also used to describe the ministry of priests serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, leitourgow, from which we get the word liturgy. Paul is acknowledging that this wonderful man performed a marvelous spiritual service to him in seeking to tend to his needs. Did Paul consider Epaphroditus a failure for getting sick and almost dying? Did Paul seem to be at all upset because things did not turn out the way he or the Philippians had intended? Not at all.

Second, THE MOTIVE IS DESCRIBED

Verse 26: “For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.”

Here Paul indicates his motive in sending Epaphroditus back to the Philippians. Notice that the man longed for them all, an important point when you remember that the church didn’t have the unity that they should have had. Paul was not sending back to them a man who was going to play favorites or get involved with cliques and such as that. The man also was full of heaviness for them. Some have thought that it was rather unmanly for Epaphroditus to have such feelings for the folks back home. They suggest that Epaphroditus was homesick or a sissy boy for being so sensitive. However, his reasons for feeling this way are stated. His concern was because the folks in Philippi had heard that he was sick, most probably from his returning traveling companions. And the last thing he wanted was for those folks to worry about him.

Was Epaphroditus acting like a weenie for being so concerned about those folks? When you consider that archaeologists have found a letter written by a wounded Roman soldier to his mother, who had found out he was wounded in battle, which says almost the identical same thing Epaphroditus felt, then you can rest assured that this man was no sissy. He was merely experiencing the same concerns other men felt who didn’t want loved ones to fret and worry about them. Again, does Paul have a problem with such feelings? Not at all.

Finally, THE MERCY OF GOD

Verse 27: “For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.”

You and I don’t oftentimes think of someone’s recovery from serious illness as a demonstration of God’s mercy. I say this because of how infrequently seriously sick Christians call for the elders of their church.[8] That’s because we have so much confidence in modern medicine and technology that we usually don’t think that most people who get seriously sick really can die. However, in Paul’s day it wasn’t unusual for someone to die from what began as a sore throat, or what began as a boil, or what began as an abscessed tooth. But it truly is God’s mercy, God’s compassion and pity for us, that enables our recovery from illnesses, even what we consider mild illnesses. And Paul clearly recognized that Epaphroditus recovered from his close call with death only because God was merciful. But it wasn’t mercy shown to Epaphroditus only. It was also mercy extended to Paul.

My friends, Paul was at heart a pastor. He cared for those under his watch care and felt a keen sense of responsibility for their welfare. So, when he saw Epaphroditus close to death, the man who had been sent to take care of him, he felt the burden of responsibility. “That man had almost died because he came to help me,” was his thought. You see, it’s quite easy for a pastor to see how Paul felt about this man. You love folks. You pray for them. You want God’s best for them. Then, when they experience personal tragedy, it’s almost too much to bear. God, truly, was merciful toward Epaphroditus and Paul when He healed him.

My early years as a Christian were in churches that set goals for the number of people who would be saved and baptized on a particular Sunday or during a particular year. Amazing, when you think about it, considering no one can come to Jesus Christ for salvation unless the Father draws him.[9] And He doesn’t tell folks in advance how many He will draw to His Son. He just commands us to go after ‘em. Thus, many false professions are produced in an effort to meet an absolutely unattainable goal. What foolishness.

I mention that to emphasize the point that any child of God can establish goals he would like to accomplish in service to Christ. Some goals are foolish and presumptuous, like presuming to get so many people saved on a special Sunday. Other goals are honorable and appropriate, such as Epaphroditus’ goal of reaching Paul with the money he needed and staying on to be a help and a blessing to him. However, though Epaphroditus did not achieve his personal goal relative to Paul, and though he may have experienced some disappointment at coming down sick and having to return home, it is obvious from Paul’s comments about him that the man did not fail. From his example alone he accomplished more in what some might think to be his failure than what he might ever have achieved had he arrived in Rome in full health and vigor.

How, then, do we apply this example of godliness to you and me? Do your best. Just do your best. As a brother or sister, serving God as a companion in labor with the rest of us, and, more than that, serving alongside us as a fellowsoldier in the heat of spiritual battle. Do these things in obedience to and in service to Christ, and God will be pleased with your life. What more can any Christian ask for than for God’s grace to leave a legacy like the one Epaphroditus had. He was a brother. He was a companion in labor. He was a fellowsoldier. To have the Savior in common with me, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard with me, and to stand with me in the heat of battle. What more could I ask of you, and what more could you ask of me?



[1] Acts 13.1-5

[2] Acts 13.13

[3] Acts 15.36-41

[4] Acts 16.1-5

[5] Acts 21.15-40

[6] Acts 26.32

[7] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 122.

[8] James 5.14

[9] John 6.44



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org