The Expository Files

 Epaphroditus - Philippi’s Apostle and Minister

[ From The Editors: This article is the fourth in a series we will publish this year, calling attention to twelve people who though being dead, instruct us (Heb. 11:4). They speak to us through the testimony of their lives as written in Scripture. Over the next few months, we will develop a theme title. And, near the end of the year we are planning to publish these twelve articles in book form (Kindle, Nook and old fashioned print and ink). These passages and people can equip us and motivate us toward greater service to our Lord.]

Epaphroditus is a lesser known character of the Bible, yet what the Lord preserved for us about him can be a tremendous benefit. We only read of him briefly in the book of Philippians, but his example is priceless. If there were more people like Epaphroditus, congregations of the Lord would be more efficient and God would be glorified as they accomplish His good work together (Phil 4:18). As we consider this soldier of the cross, may we be encouraged to empty ourselves as he did in order to help complete the work God has given us to do. We need good men like
this who will be willing to step up, and empty themselves like Jesus first did (Philippians 2:5-8) and as Epaphroditus did in following Christ’s example.

Epaphroditus’ job was straightforward; take the monetary gift from Philippi and bring it to Paul to help support his preaching of the gospel. It wasn’t an easy job and certainly carried with it a number of risks as he would be transporting this financial gift a great distance. This responsibility suggests Epaphroditus’ had a high level of integrity and respect from the brethren and they knew he would take his job seriously (2 Corinthians 8:20-22). He completed this mission as Paul pointed out that he had received their gift and was amply supplied (Philippians 4:18).
There are probably numerous lessons we can consider just from the fact he was chosen to do this work and he faithfully completed it. Yet, Epaphroditus had such a great commitment to this endeavor in that he encountered some extremely difficult trials and still completed his mission. He could have easily given legitimate reasons for not finishing or following through to completion. During his journey he experienced sickness to “the point of death”. As bad as this undisclosed sickness was Epaphroditus’ steadfastly continued his journey “risking his life” in order
to complete the work the brethren there had determined to do. His example in this provides a powerful testimony of a selfless and dedicated attitude.

Epaphroditus had a commitment which mirrored the commitment Jesus had when He went to the cross. He viewed his mission as more than just a delivery, as he was fulfilling the Lord’s work. By completing this task which was entrusted to him the church at Philippi would glorify God. Considering that, nothing was going to stop him! Imagine what type of advice we might (perhaps rightly) give a person today who experienced a severe sickness like Epaphroditus did. We would likely tell him to “slow down” and “take care.” “Rest and get your strength back” or “You won’t do yourself any good by stubbornly continuing this mission.” After all “Paul will be fine” (Php 4:11) and “He will understand your situation." We may say “The work of God is bigger than any one of us just come back, get the proper help and let someone else do it.” or “you need to be back with your family” or “Back home getting the care that you need to get through this.” I can’t find good grounds to argue with the spirit of this advice, yet the dedication Epaphroditus had to his mission would not have any of it.

But he took his “apostleship” (2:25) seriously. He saw it as a privilege to serve and had a no excuse policy for himself. He was not going to allow any obstacle to stand between him and the work before him. What great commitment that put the work, even above his own physical comfort and well being! How quickly we find ourselves forgetting or shirking our responsibilities for far less reasons than Epaphroditus had. His commitment was like that of His Lord Jesus as He faced the cross in that he was less concerned about his physical safety and more concerned
about Paul’s need. What an incredible level of commitment! Epaphroditus’ selflessness shows clearly in these few verses as well. He is literally referred to as “their messenger” or apostle! An apostle is one sent to represent someone else and Epaphroditus was sent by that congregation to represent them and their gift to Paul. The term is not an honorable term, in fact to be an apostle of someone else is to give them honor as you are subservient to them. The one sent is always representing someone greater (John 13:16). To be an apostle is to empty yourself of
your plans and aspirations in order to fulfill the desires of the one you’re representing. The apostles of Jesus were called to be faithful stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) by carrying a message that wasn’t their own, but belonged to Jesus. As Epaphroditus took this role he was not going to allow the congregation to be deficient in their work. The selflessness is deeper when you consider his attitude regarding his sickness.

Epaphroditus hoped they wouldn’t find out about his sickness, because he knew it would be distressing to them. Most of us, when we’re sick tend to get self centered. We want attention and concern expressed to us and we expect to be served by those around us. However, Epaphroditus shows his selfless character in his concern for those hearing about his sickness. Just as Epaphroditus had a commitment that mirrored Jesus’ commitment, he demonstrated a humility of mind that also reflected the attitude Jesus had in going to the cross.

Paul tells the brethren to hold men like Epaphroditus in high regard. Too often, the people who get all the attention in congregations are the ones making poor choices. We need to take note of those who honor the Lord with their life and give an example worthy of being held up and followed. He had imitated Christ and the brethren could learn how practical and easy all of them could follow that same pattern (Phil 3:17). His dedication did not make him an extremist, it made him Christlike. Epahroditus may not have been someone we thought we could look to as
an example, but the Lord wanted us to learn from his dedicated service and selfless attitude.

By Nathan E. Quinn 
From Expository Files 19.4; April 2012