Calvary Road Baptist Church

“EPAPRHODITUS, HONORED SOLDIER” Part 2

Philippians 2.28-30

To refresh your memory from several weeks ago when we last considered this servant of God named Epaphroditus; allow me to reconstruct my take on the scenario that is related to the Apostle Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus in the city of Rome. The Philippian church, which was the first church founded by the Apostle Paul in what we would now call Europe, had always had a wonderful love affair with Paul. They loved him beyond description, and he loved them more obviously than any other of the congregations he had planted. A demonstration of their love for Paul, and the Savior that Paul served, was their continual involvement in his ministry by prayer and financial support whenever they had the means to do so, despite their deep poverty.

Apparently, the Philippian church members were able, by some means or another, to send a wonderful Christian named Epaphroditus to Rome, not only to take money to Paul so he could pay his own way for food and raiment, but also so he could defray some of the expenses of getting the gospel out. It is amazing that some people recognize that it takes money to make everything else in the world available to people, but they seem oblivious to the fact that it also takes money to spread the gospel. At any rate, it was also the design of Epaphroditus and the Philippian church for him to remain in Rome and help Paul in whatever way he could, by both tending to his personal physical needs as well as aiding in the work of the ministry. This would enable Paul, they had hoped, to send Timothy to help them tend to some spiritual problems he seemed particularly suited to dealing with that they were facing and needed help resolving.

However, something went wrong with their good intentions. Probably traveling with several other men from Philippi, Epaphroditus took sick and almost died. Having to return to Philippi, the traveling companions left the dreadfully ill Epaphroditus in Rome with Paul and went on their way. In addition to Epaphroditus being in no physical condition to help Paul out, it turned out that Paul’s trial before Caesar was on the docket and Timothy, who was as familiar with Paul’s case as anyone in the world, and who had no doubt done a great deal of footwork for Paul, simply could not be spared at that time to travel to Philippi. Therefore, Paul had no choice but to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi. Thus, by solving the problem of getting Epaphroditus off his back and returning him to Philippi, and retaining the services of Timothy for the impending appeal to Caesar, Paul had solved his most immediate problem. However, as every experienced leader and problem solver must come to understand quickly (or be doomed to repeated failures), what new problem had Paul created by solving the problem of keeping Timothy in Rome to help him with his trial? Apparently, Paul anticipated that by sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi he might have been creating two problems, one for Epaphroditus and one for the church people in Philippi.

Our text shows us how the Apostle Paul sought to solve two problems that he anticipated being created by addressing his most immediate and more important problem of preparing for his appeal to Caesar. Stand and read Philippians 2.25-30 together. As we read this passage, I want you to notice how Paul solves Epaphroditus’ potential problem in verses 25-27, and how he solves the Philippian’s potential problem in verses 28-30:

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.

Sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi could have created the appearance of failure on his part. However, Epaphroditus was guilty of no failure. He had performed admirably. To convince Epaphroditus that he had not failed Paul wrote verses 25-27, explaining the return of Epaphroditus from Epaphroditus’ point of view. We have already carefully examined those three verses. But what about the Philippians? They were experiencing some degree of difficulty that promised to elevate to strife and disunity if not dealt with properly. They sent Epaphroditus so they could get Timothy. How do they now respond when Epaphroditus comes back? They love and cherish him, but had they thought he was the man to solve their problem they would not have sent for Timothy. Was Epaphroditus not good enough to stay with Paul? Was there something wrong with him? Such questions could have haunted Epaphroditus had not Paul written verses 28-30, which explains the man’s return considering the Philippian perspective.

Stay with me, now, as we see how the Apostle Paul goes about showing the Philippians that their mission of sending Epaphroditus accomplished more than they had intended, even though it did not turn out the way they had originally designed. Three considerations for the Philippians (and for you and me) to ponder when evaluating the success of a spiritual venture that seems to go sour:

First, PAUL’S MOTIVES ARE DESCRIBED

In verse 28, Paul shows the Philippians what his desire was regarding them. Did those people love Paul? Of course, they did. That being the case, the reasons why he was doing what he did were important to them:

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

First, Paul states, for their benefit, his motives toward them: “I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice.” The word “carefully” translates a word that refers to doing something with haste, to doing something expeditiously, to doing something diligently.[1] In other words, Paul wasted no time at all in sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi. Just as soon as the man was able to travel he was sent on his way, along with this letter to the Philippian church. The haste with which Paul sent Epaphroditus, therefore, needs to be carefully explained. They might have thought, “Was Paul eager to get rid of Epaphroditus?” The answer, of course, was “Yes,” he was eager to get rid of the man. The question is why was he eager to get rid of him? There are several likely reasons: For one, he did not want to spend valuable time during his trial taking care of a sick man. Remember, Paul is fighting for his life, here. But that’s of no direct concern to the Philippians. His honest motive regarding them was their rejoicing. Remember, the last thing they had heard about Epaphroditus was that he was at death’s door. How they must have ached and sorrowed. And why were they so sorrowful? Because, loving Paul as they did, they sent to him the best man they had, the most beloved man they had, the most dedicated man they had. So, naturally, they would grieve over the possibility of him dying. Paul, being as compassionate and tender of heart as he was, would have taken that personally very hard. A man who had suffered as much as he had had no desire to see others suffer, if he could prevent it. And he could prevent their needless suffering, by sending Epaphroditus back, so he did.

Second, Paul states for their benefit his motive for himself. “. . . and that I may be the less sorrowful.” I already touched on this a bit, but let me get specific. Paul sent Epaphroditus back because in sending him back it relieved Paul of a great emotional burden. Understand that there is nothing wrong with lightening your own load, emotionally, if the cause of Christ is helped thereby. And this is exactly what Paul’s decision did for him. With Epaphroditus back in Philippi, Paul would not be distracted from his trial, Paul would not be responsible for the welfare of Epaphroditus, and Paul would not have to worry about the Philippians worrying. It is a win, win, win.

Next, THE PHILIPPIAN’S MANNER IS PRESCRIBED

Have you ever been in a situation that was totally unexpected and you didn’t know how to act? Have you ever been dumbfounded? I suspect Paul might have anticipated that reaction from the Philippians. They wouldn’t know what to say. They wouldn’t know what to do. How do we treat Epaphroditus? Is he a returning hero or is he returning as a failure? Is the best man we have not good enough for Paul? How should we act toward this fellow? In case the Philippians didn’t know, Paul tells them. “Act this way.”

First, act this way presently, and immediately: Verse 29 begins, “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness.” In other words, treat this guy like a hero. Show him your absolute delight that he is alive and not dead, that he is healthy and not sick any longer. The imperative form of the verb shows Paul is directing their appropriate conduct toward Epaphroditus.[2]

And also, act this way permanently: “. . . and hold such in reputation.” The word “reputation” translates the Greek word that is usually translated into our English word “honor.”[3] Paul is telling those folks, then, to act delighted and joyful when you greet him, and make sure that you treat him with honor over time. In other words, do not give him a warm welcome today and then treat him with suspicion and aloofness tomorrow and all next week. Epaphroditus should hereafter be treated with courtesy and respect. I ask you, would Paul prescribe such treatment for a man who had failed? No. Epaphroditus, you see, did not fail when he could not complete his task. God’s plan all along was for him to try and not apparently succeed in the eyes of the pragmatists. The unsaved and the spiritually immature are blind to the reality that Christian victory is in the effort, in the striving. That is a principle we would do well to apply to our own lives and ministries.

PAUL’S DESCRIPTION TO THEM OF EPAPHRODITUS’ MINISTRY REMOVES ALL DOUBT

Look at the effort described in verse 30. Epaphroditus strove “to supply your lack of service toward me.” This man’s effort was to do for Paul what the Philippians themselves could not do for Paul. They sent him on their behalf to make up for their lack of service to Paul. This is an example that we at Calvary Road Baptist Church have sought to follow over the years, as I will explain in private to anyone curious to know. Back to our text. Did Epaphroditus actually make up for the Philippian’s lack of service? No. He brought money from them, but he was never able to stay and minister to Paul personally. However, does Paul bring attention to that? No. For Paul the commendation was for the effort.

What, then, did Epaphroditus achieve in his apparently “failed” mission? Verse 30 begins, “Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life.” Surprisingly to some, Epaphroditus did achieve two things that Paul finds noteworthy: First, the man almost forfeited his life for the work of Christ. Paul does not criticize him for this, but rather commends him. It is almost as if Paul thinks that the work of Christ is the most important thing a man can involve himself in. More important than career. More important than college. More important than hobbies. However, that is not all. The man was also able, surely by God’s grace, to set aside regard for his own life. Recognize, Paul isn’t so much bragging on the man almost dying in service to Christ as he is bragging on the man not regarding his own life. How amazingly Christ-like was this Epaphroditus.

We send a man out to do a job. He comes back and the specific task we assigned to him for some reason turns out to not have been accomplished. We investigate and find out that during the course of the performance of his duties the man displayed no obvious signs of foolishness or stupidity, but seems in all respects to have been selfless, humble, and Christ-like. Still, for reasons of failing health, or due to circumstances entirely beyond his control, his objective was not achieved. Guess what, people? The man succeeded. He is to be received with joy and gladness and honored when he returns. Why? Because he failed in the task assigned to him? No. Because, in the overarching task assigned to each and every one of us, he succeeded. Through the battle the man stayed on course and was Christ like.

That, you see, is our prime directive. Are you saved? Then be a Christian. Be Christ-like. Epaphroditus was the embodiment of what the Apostle Paul had earlier written to the Corinthians, in First Corinthians 4.2: “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” The man was faithful. He was faithful to Christ. He was faithful to serve God in and through and as he was dispatched by his church. As well, he did what he did with a sterling testimony of faithful devotion to the Savior that wonderfully impressed the greatest Christian who ever lived. In my book, no matter what you do, if it is not fulfilling Christ’s insistence upon faithfulness it is not successful. On the other hand, no matter how much it superficially appears you have failed, if you have obeyed God and were faithful to Christ, no matter how things turned out . . . you have succeeded.

Where other than the Christian faith is this principle true? Isn’t God wonderful? Is not our Savior satisfying? Bless be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. By God’s grace, do what you can, as diligently as you can, and prayerfully leave the outcome to God. That is what Paul did, and what he wrote inspired scripture to lead the Philippians to do, as well.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 554.

[2] Ibid., page 555.

[3] Ibid.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org