“I deem it mandatory to send Epaphroditus back to you now. He is my brother, companion, fellow worker and fellow-soldier and your apostle and messenger. For he longed to be with you and was distressed when he learned how concerned you were about his illness. Indeed he was so sick he was near death’s door, but God had mercy on him. He also showed me mercy in this, for the sorrow of his death would have added greatly to my present sufferings. Therefore, I am sending him all the more promptly, for your joy in seeing him will relieve my anxiety. Receive him with heartfelt joy and a royal welcome, for such rare men are to be honored. Please realize that his illness was due to his devotion to the ministry, risking his own life in order to make up for your lack of opportunity, due to my incarceration, to minister to me yourselves.” (paraphrased)
The Bible provides little information concerning the person and work of Epaphroditus. He is mentioned only in Philippians 2:25 and 4:18. It seems the church at Philippi sends him to Rome as their ambassador to help Paul any way he can during his imprisonment. Paul holds this man in high esteem and refers to him as a brother, companion, fellow soldier, messenger and minister (v. 25). This type of individual will risk anything for the cause of Christ (v. 30). Although Paul’s greetings and commendations are usually at the end of his epistles, the wonderful characteristics of both Timothy and Epaphroditus are placed within the body of this letter. The lives of such individuals illustrate the selfless life of Christ.
Although Epaphroditus’ illness is not specified, he apparently has a life-threatening sickness that causes Paul and the Philippians grave concern (vv. 26-27). He almost dies in his zealousness to serve God (v. 27). Due to God’s mercy, he recovers and is sent home with Paul’s highest commendation. It is possible the illness Paul refers to is due to ministerial stress (v. 30). Paul has few co-workers on which he can depend. It is understandable if Epaphroditus’ health is impacted by overwork.
Epaphroditus is further burdened because he realizes the Philippians are concerned about his health (v. 26). Paul wants the church to know Epaphroditus faithfully attended to his needs and that returning him to Philippi is Paul’s own idea. Epaphroditus can now fully recover after his strenuous ministry in Rome. Without realizing it, Epaphroditus could have been expending himself by extending himself. Had Paul not released him, Epaphroditus might have literally worked himself to death.
In this passage, reference is made regarding the mercy God extends to both Paul and Epaphroditus. The Greek verb “mercy” (eleeo) means “to feel empathy with the misery of another; to have active compassion upon one who is undeserving of it.” Mercy is an intimate aspect of God’s condescending love, reaching out to meet the needs of human beings. Mercy assumes there is a need on the part of the recipient. It further assumes the one asked to extend the mercy has the resources adequate to meet the need. To the Ephesians, Paul declares God to be rich in mercy (2:4). Jesus instructs us to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Mercy is not simply a quality God demonstrates to us, it is a quality God expects us to reflect in the world as Believers.
Paul sends Epaphroditus back to his friends at Philippi, carrying this letter we know as the Epistle to the Philippians. Paul is happy knowing the church will rejoice at his arrival (v. 29). His homecoming is sure to be a joyous event.
Epaphroditus is a noble and brave individual who risks his health in order to minister effectively. But God calls for equilibrium in our ministerial endeavors and is pleased when our spiritual lives are balanced (Prov. 16:11). In our new century, stress due to the juggling of heavy schedules is reaching epidemic proportions. Satan loves to see Christians have nervous breakdowns, thereby minimizing their effectiveness for God. While it is true that walking with Jesus demands sacrifice and privation, we must protect our emotional and physical health in order to serve Him effectively.
COMMENDATION – STUDY QUESTIONS
1. Read Ephesians 6:21 and name the friend Paul calls faithful and beloved:
2. According to II Timothy 2:2 and I Corinthians 4:2, what godly characteristic does Paul demand of his co-workers?
3. Epaphroditus is presented in Paul’s letter as an example of:
E. all of the above
COMMENDATION – REFLECTION
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR COUPLES
1. All Christians should have a few close friends—people on whom they can absolutely depend. List several specific ways in which you depend upon your spouse.
2. Epaphroditus is a great example of faithfulness and loyalty. Discuss the importance of faithfulness is in your marriage.
3. Epaphroditus seems to have nearly killed himself working for the Lord. What safeguards have you built into your marriage and family that can help prevent “burnout?” What are some danger signs that alert you to increasing stress?
ESSAY QUESTIONS FOR INDIVIDUALS:
1. All Christians should have a few close friends—people on whom they can absolutely depend. List several specific ways in which you depend upon your friends.
2. Epaphroditus is a great example of faithfulness and loyalty. Write a paragraph concerning how highly you value these attributes in your friends.
3. Epaphroditus seems to have nearly killed himself working for the Lord. What safeguards have you built into your life that can help to prevent “burnout?” What are some danger signs that alert you to increasing stress?