Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he 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. (vv. 25-30)
It was Epaphroditus who had brought the bounty of the Philippian saints to Paul, their father in Christ. Burning with love toward the Lord’s dear servant who was shut up in prison for the gospel’s sake, he took the long journey from Macedonia to Rome, the world’s metropolis (whether by land or sea we have now no means of knowing), in order to assure him of the love and esteem of the assembly, and relieve his necessities by their gift.
Having accomplished his purpose, he fell sick, possibly overcome by the Roman fever, so dangerous to strangers unacclimated. That his illness was a protracted one is evident, for, before he became convalescent, time enough had elapsed for word of his condition to reach the Philippians, and for a return message to get back to him, expressing their solicitude for his health and anxiety that he be restored to them again. It is touching to notice that Epaphroditus himself did not seem to be nearly so much concerned about his own illness as he was that it had been the cause of sorrow to them. He was one of those thoroughly self-denying men whose motto might well be expressed in the one word upon which we have already dwelt, “Others.”
Now that he was well again he was anxious to be on his way, in order that he might comfort the assembly by his presence among them again, and by bringing to them this Philippian epistle, though it must have been hard for him to leave the apostle still a prisoner. It is evident from verse 3 of chapter 4 that he acted as amanuensis in the writing of this letter, which precious parchment he carried to Philippi, and thus preserved it for us and for all saints to the end of time—yea, and we may say forever!
Of Epaphroditus we know nothing save what is here recorded, unless, as some think, he is to be identified with the Epaphras mentioned in the epistle to the Colossians. Epaphroditus means “favored of Aphrodite”—the Greek goddess of love and beauty, answering to the Roman Venus. This makes it manifest that he was of heathen parentage, but he had been brought to know Christ. Epaphras is said to be a diminutive of the same word with the name of the heathen goddess omitted and, therefore, simply meaning “graced” or “favored.”
Having been won to Christ, he was characterized by a godly zeal to make Him known to others, and to build up and lead on those already saved. He was the exemplification of the mind of Christ as set forth in the beginning of this chapter. He may not have been physically strong, but, at any rate, he was a man who did not spare himself, and for the work of Christ he was sick nigh unto death. It is evident that sickness is not always the result of sin, as some have taught. In the case of this devoted man of God, it was the result of his self-denying activity on behalf of those to whom he ministered. His illness was the cause of deep sorrow to Paul himself, and, no doubt, led to much prayer on his behalf, and God answered, showing mercy, and raised him up.
Let it be noted that the apostle did not consider he had any right to demand physical healing even for so faithful a laborer as Epaphroditus. Paul recognized it as simply the mercy of God, not as that to which saints have a right. This is true divine healing. And let it be remembered that sickness may be as really from God as health. It is clear that Paul never held or taught “healing in the atonement” and, therefore, the birthright privilege of all Christians. Nor do we ever read of him or his fellow laborers being miraculously healed. Paul himself, Trophimus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, all bear witness to the contrary. The apostle urges the saints to receive their messenger when he should return to them with all gladness, and commands them to hold such in reputation, because for the work of Christ he had been sick, nigh unto death, not regarding his life in order to serve Paul in their stead.
Such are the men whom God delights to honor. Like the Lord Jesus, Epaphroditus made himself of no reputation, and because of his very lowliness he is to be held in reputation. The man who holds himself as one worthy of honor and esteem is not the one whom God calls upon the saints thus to recognize. But he who is willing to take the lowly path, seeking not great things for himself, is the man whom the Lord will exalt in due time.
Salutary lessons are thus manifested in all these three devoted men of God upon whose self-denying ways we have meditated. May we have grace to follow them as they followed Christ!
Christ, the Believer’s Object, and the Steadfast Mind