Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 15, 2015.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 2:25-29. Today we continue our journey through the book of Philippians and we find ourselves at a section that, oddly enough has played a substantial part of my life now for the last four years, for today we will be looking at a man by the name of Epaphroditus. With that said, let us read our text, pray and get into the Word.
Today, we are now going to examine another person within the Body of Christ, Epaphroditus. This man, Epaphroditus, is only mentioned in the book of Philippians. Some argue that Epaphras mentioned in Colossians is the same person, but there is nothing to support that conclusion except the similarity of their names. Because of this, not a lot is known about Epaphroditus. However, here are some things we do know. First, his name is Greek and it comes from the worship of Aphrodite, a Greek god. His name literally means “Devoted to Aphrodite.” From this we can assume that his parents, when Epaphroditus was born were pagans, worshipers of false god’s. He was therefore most likely a first generation Christian. The second thing we know about Epaphroditus is that he lived in Philippi. He was a true Philippian. Philippi was a city, or Roman colony, in Macedonia, which is modern day Greece. There is not a lot that is known about Philippi, except that it had a very small Jewish contingent. The reason we know this is because when Paul first visited there, there was no Synagogue. A Synagogue was needed when there were 10 Jewish men in the town. This is important because we can get an understanding that Philippi was Biblically illiterate, meaning that they wouldn’t have had a lot of knowledge about the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc. They wouldn’t have been exposed to the foreshadowing of the coming Messiah.
Having said that, this was not an obstacle for God. Remember the background story of the Philippians. God gave Paul a vision to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel. Paul went there and preached the Gospel to Lydia, then to the Philippian jailer, and from that point the Church was born in the midst of this pagan, unreached Roman colony.
Somewhere in-between Paul’s first arrival in Philippi around 50 AD and the writing of this letter around 62 AD, Epaphroditus hears the message of Jesus Christ and repents and places his faith in Jesus and follows Him. When Epaphroditus becomes a disciple of Jesus, he does what all Christians should do. He begins fellowship with other believers. Epaphroditus is a member of the local Church in Philippi. We can see this in verse 25 when Paul says, “your messenger and minister to my need.” Whose messenger? The Saints in Philippi. Epaphroditus was a representative of the Philippian church. Used by the local Church to minister to Paul.
The next thing we see is the Epaphroditus not only had a local church Body, but he had great affections for his local Church. Look at verse 26, “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. “ The word in Greek is epipotheó, which means to yearn, desire, or have great affection for. We see Paul use this word in 2 Corinthians 5:2 to talk about an inward groaning to dwell in heaven. Epaphroditus was not home-sick as much as he was Church-sick. Now I want us to recognize something. This yearning for them is a yearning to be physically with them. Epaphroditus wanted to see them, hear them, touch them, and smell them. He wanted to be in their physical presence. This is a real love, a love that is dormant in some Christian’s today. A number of Christians would rather stay at home Sunday morning then see their spiritual family. This is not good. This is not how God designed his Church, to live independent of each other. He designed his church to be interdependent. Listen to what Jesus says in John 13:34-35.
We must remember the core of the gospel. God sent Jesus to die, so that we can be reconciled to him, so that we could be in his presence forever. The heart of God is epipotheó, a yearning to be together. If we truly have the Spirit of Christ in us, we should likewise have this same yearning, just like God, and just like Epaphroditus.
So why is Paul writing about Epaphroditus? As I said earlier, Epaphroditus is a messenger and minister to Paul. What does that mean? If you look ahead to Philippians 4:14 you see what Paul is talking about.
The Church in Philippi decides to provide aid to Paul, to support him in his ministry, not just once but ongoing support. Most likely this support would have been monetary gifts, but we can't be for sure. The next issue becomes who, who will take this aid to the front lines where Paul is located? Who will be the bridge between the Church and the unreached?
Once again, we don't know how it came about, but we do know that it was Epaphroditus who accepted the task. Now what I am about to say is completely outside the Biblical text, but I would like to imagine that Epaphroditus volunteered for this mission. In fact, I like to imagine the Church gathering and discussing the monetary collection being made, and the long journey between Philippi and Rome, a distance of 800 miles. I like to imagine that they would have discussed the reality of being away from family and friends. I like to imagine that they would have discussed the physical demand of such journey. I like to imagine they discussed the risk of persecution. And I like to imagine that when they asked for volunteers, the Church was silent. That is until the silence was broken by a man's voice saying, “I will go.” At this moment, I picture the entire congregation turning and looking at this simple, yet humble Christian, Epaphroditus, as he steps forward again, and says, “I will deliver this gift to my brother Paul”.
At this point, if the Philippians Church is like the others Churches that we see in the book of Acts, most likely the Church would have brought him forward and they would have prayed for him and they would have laid hands on him, and then the Church body would have sent him.
Like I said, this is what I imagine it to be like, perhaps it wasn't like this at all, but make no mistake, Epaphroditus willingly accepted the task to be a vessel of aid. He filled a very important role within the Church, delivering aid to their beloved Paul, and most likely he was also the one who returned with the original draft of the book of Philippians in his hands.
The effect that this act of risk taking love had on Paul was strong. For Paul calls Epaphroditus his brother, fellow worker, and fellow soilder. I want to spend the rest of my time, briefly talking about these three descriptions.
There is perhaps no greater expression of intimacy between two men, then to call another man your brother. This expression is one that does not come from the head, but from the heart. It is description of togetherness that is not surface level, but one that is soulful. Every time I think of brotherly affection, I think of David and Jonathan, King Saul's Son. They had a strong bond between the two of them, that was forged by God.
I worry, however, that for many of you would not volunteer. Your life is too precious to you. You like your comforts. You like your picket fence, American Dream. Helping people is just too messy, it is too dangerous. Listen to what John says in 1 John 3:17-18.
Which leads me to Paul's next description of Epaphroditus, fellow worker. This is a common description of certain men in Paul's life. He uses this phrase “fellow worker” in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, and Thessalonians. The sad part is that it was commonly used by Paul, but it is not commonly practiced today. Very few Christians in American could be rightly called a fellow worker. American Christianity has become consumer oriented. We have become fat and lazy. We barely lift a finger in the spread of the Gospel. Instead of obeying the Great Commission, we leave that in the hands of pastors. Shame on us! Let us heed to the words of Jesus who in his parable of the talents said this to the servant who failed to use what the Master had given him.
Lastly, Paul's final description of Epaphrodits is fellow solider. I truly believe this is a primary way that we must understand our lives as followers of Christ. Too often we live our life as if everything is ok. Everything is not ok! We are at war! Satan hates you. He has declared war on Christ and war on God's creation. When you chose to follow Jesus, you didn't just sign up for heaven, you enlisted in God's army. An army sent behind enemy lines to rescue POWs held captive by the power of Satan. We are to be using all of our resources to battle the enemy. In Philippians, we see Paul leading the attack, Timohty watching his back, Epaphroditus feeding the front lines, and the people back home leveraging all their resources to provide aid. Each person was playing a crucial role in pushing back the forces of darkness.
Once again, is this how you live? Are you living with a war time mentality, or are you living as if this world is at peace and everything is going to be just fine. Folks, we need to wake up. We need to recognize that Hell is real. Satan is real. And that God has left us, His Church, to set captives free. We must be about His work and fight the fight of faith and partner with our brothers and siters in the spread of the Gospel, just like our brother Epaphroditus.