By Larry Ray Hafley
Yet I supposed It necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother, and companion In labor, and fellow soldier, but your messenger, and be that ministered to my wants. For be longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that be had been sick. 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. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me (Phil 2:25-30).
In all the annals of sacred or secular writing, one could find no man, save the Savior Himself, who was more self-sacrificing than the character the compassionate apostle describes. Epaphroditus abandoned personal considerations and surrendered himself in ministry unto Paul and “the work of Christ.” Let us survey the description of this esteemed man.
First, the threefold tribute — “my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow soldier” — is especially revealing.
One of the great sources of strength in the family is the love of brothers for one another. How true it is in the family of God! Sympathy and support are provided by brethren who have love for one another. Paul needed both. As a prisoner on “death row,” he required the comfort of Epaphroditus. Perhaps more than “the things” which he brought (Phil. 4:8), Paul needed the soothing succor of brotherly communion, for it is as Job said in the long ago, “a brother is born for adversity” (Job 11:17).
Work performed alone can become tedious and mentally depressing. However, one who shares the burden and lends a shoulder of assistance can make even the most toilsome work easier to bear. The Philippians knew Paul’s penchant for tireless, relentless, ceaseless labor (cf. 1 Tbess. 2:9). Thus, when he wrote that Epaphroditus was a “companion in labor, ” they knew the strain he had been under. Epaphroditus did not shrink from the demands of duty. He relished it to the point that he nearly ruined his health and lost his life.
We would do well to emulate and imitate such behavior. Of course, God expects us to use moderation and temperance in all things, but for the sake of Christ, for His name’s sake, we should do no less, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints and do minister” (Heb. 6:10).
For the apostle Paul, the world was a battlefield. The enemy was the reasonings of men and every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5; Eph. 6:12). Though Paul was a general in the army of God, he fought on the front lines as a private. With him stood the brave Epaphroditus. With fears within and fightings without, Epaphroditus, stood facing all the fiery darts of that wicked one.
Rome, the imperial city of soldiery, led its legions against only one invincible foe — the faith of the Faith. In dark, dank, damp dungeons, in synagogues, and in the light of the agora or marketplace, the warfare for the souls of men raged and Epaphroditus, weak, sick, nigh unto death, stood strong in faith, giving glory to God.” As a man of mercy, he ministered to Paul. As a man of. mission, a soldier of Christ, he fought a “good fight,” and thereby laid hold on eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12).
Secondly, we glimpse the beauty of Epaphroditus’ spirit in the words used to describe him. He was a:
Apostolos, apostle, is the word used. It means “one sent” on an errand. It is used to describe the office of Paul (Gal. 1:1). What the Philippians could not do for Paul, they sent a messenger to perform. He did not disappoint them. They honored Paul the apostolos of Christ. So, Paul honored Epaphroditus as the apostle of the Philippian church, and said, “Receive himtherefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation.”
Epaphroditus was a minister or servant to the needs of Paul. Note the words of the scholarly Barclay. “The word he uses for servant is the word leitourgos. In secular Greek this was a magnificent word. In the ancient days in the Greek cities there were men who, because they loved their city so much, out of their own resources and at their own expense undertook certain great civic duties. It might be to defray the expenses of an embassy or the cost of putting on one of the great dramas of the great poets, or of training the athletes who would represent the city in the games, or of fitting out a warship and paying a crew to serve in the navy of the state . . . . such men were supreme benefactors of the state; and such men were known as leitourgoi. Here is the word which Paul applies to Epaphroditus.”
Heaven would be a wonderful place if one were alone with God and the angels, but it will be immeasurably enriched by the “spirits of just men (like Epaphroditus) made perfect.” Let us resolve to live, love, and labor as he did in order that we may bask with him in the glory of God forever and ever.”
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 12, pp. 356-357
June 20, 1985