by Roger Alcaraz
Not a lot is known about Epaphroditus. Even as you read his name, you might have thought, “Who?” I’m talking about the man who was sent to Paul’s imprisonment and then later was sent back to the Philippians. We read a little bit about him in Philippians 3:25 where Paul writes, “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need.”
While we don’t know many details about him, we do know some things. We know that while Paul was in prison, the Philippian church heard of his situation and sought to help by sending money to support his ministry. The man who delivered the money was Epaphroditus (c.f. Phil 4:18) But the Philippian church instructed him not only to deliver the money but to stay and serve Paul however he needed. So he was a messenger and minister representing the church. And you can be sure that the church would have chosen a man of good character and faith to represent them.
And over time, Paul saw him not just as a messenger, but as his “brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier” (Phil 2:25). He partook the the same work as Paul, labored by his side, and endured trials together. Thus, he carried a good reputation in the church for his godliness. He had a servant mindset, and he was brave, even risking his life.
But he was also desperate–desperate to go back and see his church family. Paul writes, “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (Phil 2:26). Because of his illness, Paul actually decides for him to go back. If it were up to Epaphroditus, he probably would have stayed with Paul as long as he could, because that was the nature of his commitment and servitude.
But Paul could clearly see how his being separated from his church family was affecting him and so he decides to send him back, but look closely at the wording for the reason he wants to go back so badly. It reads, “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death.”
It’s not because he was sick that he wants to go back, but because the church heard that he was sick. That is quite a selfless love–that in his pain, he would be focused on how his pain is affecting others rather than himself.
I think most of us are the opposite. The more natural thing to do when we’re suffering is to focus on how our suffering is affecting us and how others ought to be serving us. Now granted, our suffering will primarily affect ourselves, but that doesn’t mean it has to be our primary concern.
For Epaphroditus, he missed his church very much. But what he missed more than the blessings he would receive from them were the blessing he could offer to them.
That was why he wanted to go back. He couldn’t bear the fact that he had been the cause of pain and worry in the church, and he so desperately wanted to go back to comfort and encourage them with the news that he’s okay.
How about you? When you’re sick for a while, are you more upset by the fact that you’re unable to minister the way you would if you were healthy, or are you upset by the thought that people should be ministering to you?
Now you might be wondering, “Wait, shouldn’t others be caring for me when I get sick?” And yes, they should. But that’s their priority; it shouldn’t be yours. And we see a perfect picture of what it looks like from both sides.
Epaphroditus fell ill, almost to the point of death, even. And yet his desire was to not cause pain by the news to his church. That was his desire. But the church said “Too bad! We’re gonna hurt along with you, and so long as you’re suffering, we’re suffering.” Each side is more concerned about the other. And this is God’s design for how we ache and suffer for one another.
Epaphroditus sets for us, a true display of love in that no matter how much he suffered, he always thought of others. And the church also displays true love in that no matter how little the person wanted them to carry his burden, they carried it. You might talk to someone who tells you of a trial in their life and they tell you not to worry about it. That is no licence for you to say, “Okay, I won’t worry about it.” Fortunately for everyone involved, God had mercy on him and on Paul who would also have experienced great sorrow if he died.
My point in all this is simple. Epaphroditus as a great man of faith and love. So much so that the church decided to send him to Paul as part of their gift to him. But his love for the church was so great that it brought anguish upon him and eventually, he had to go back to see and comfort them. He didn’t write Scripture. He didn’t perform outstanding miracles. But he serves as an example of great faith and love found in an ordinary man. And while he has mostly been forgotten throughout history, he undoubtedly received great honor from the one who matters the most. Let us follow in his footsteps and receive the same honor from Christ.