The Lowly Mind (Philippians 2:1-4)
The last word of Philippians 2:4 is the keynote of this section: “others.” The overpowering, dominating note in the life of our Lord on earth was “others,” and because of “others” He died. He “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for [others]” (Mark 10:45). He lived for others; He died for others. He did not know what selfishness was. Unselfish devotion for the good of others summed up His entire life, which was lived wholly in subjection to the Father’s will.
God the Father Himself lives, reverently be it said, for others. He finds His delight, His joy, in lavishing blessings on others. He pours His rain and sends His sunshine on the just and the unjust alike. He gave His Son for others. And having not withheld His own Son, but having “delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
We are included in the “others” for whom the Lord Jesus Christ endured so much. It is not surprising then that if we follow His steps, we will find ourselves called on to live for others and even to lay down our lives for them.
In Philippians 2:1 the word “if” does not imply that there might not be consolation in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit, and tender mercies. Rather, “if” has the intensive force of the word since. Paul was saying, “Since you know there are consolations and comforts in Christ…” How incongruous it is for believers to act as though these blessed realities are nonexistent! Drinking in the spirit of Christ, we exemplify the mind of Christ. And so the apostle exhorted the saints in Philippi to fill his cup of joy by being likeminded, of one accord, with equal love toward one another.
Christians will never see eye to eye on all points. We are so largely influenced by habits, environment, education, and our level of intellectual and spiritual understanding that we could never look at everything from the same standpoint. How then can we be of one mind? The apostle himself explained it elsewhere when he said, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). The “mind of Christ” is the lowly mind. If we are all of this mind, we will walk together in love, considering one another and seeking to help each other’s faith rather than to challenge each other’s convictions.
The lowly mind is emphasized in Philippians 2:3: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory.” It is possible, as Philippians 1:15-16 has already shown us, to be controlled by a competitive, boastful spirit even in connection with the holy things of the Lord. But Paul’s own attitude is a beautiful example of the lowliness of mind of which he spoke: he could rejoice even though Christ was preached “of contention.”
Nothing is less suited to a follower of the meek and lowly Son of man than a contentious spirit and vainglorious bearing. Boasting and bitter words ill-become one who has taken the place of death with Christ. If, in lowliness of mind, each esteems others better than himself, it is impossible for strife and contention to come in. Unfortunately it is much easier to speak or write of the lowly mind than to demonstrate it.
Natural man is not capable of following Paul’s advice here. The man after the flesh looks out for Number One and is fond of reminding himself and others that charity begins at home. But the Christian is exhorted to look not on his own things, but on the things of others. This is a heavenly principle and can only be followed by a heavenly person, one who walks in fellowship with Him who came from Heaven to show His love for others. It is characteristic of man’s deceitful natural heart to suppose that he will find his greatest pleasure in ministering to his own desires. But the truest happiness is the result of unselfish devotion to the things of others. If this fact were always kept in mind, many of God’s dear children would be spared numerous unhappy experiences, and their fellowship in Christ would become glad and joyous.
The Relinquishment of Prerogatives (Philippians 2:5-8)
We now consider one of the most sublime and wonderful mysteries in all Scripture. Theologians have called this mystery the doctrine of the “kenosis.” The title comes from the Greek expression that is translated “made himself of no reputation” in Philippians 2:7. The expression really means “emptied himself or “divested himself.”
Note that doctrines are never presented in Scripture merely as dogmas to be accepted by the faithful if they want to avoid expulsion from the Christian company. The most important doctrines are introduced by the Holy Spirit in an exceedingly natural way. I do not use the word natural here in contrast to the word spiritual, but rather in the sense of “sequence to the subject” or “without special emphasis.” The doctrine of our Lord’s self-emptying is presented simply as the supreme illustration of the lowliness of mind that should characterize all who profess to be followers of the Savior. The doctrine follows naturally after the exhortation of Philippians 2:4.
Paul introduced the subject in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “This mind” is the lowly mind, for it is written, “Even Christ pleased not himself (Romans 15:3).
Immediately after introducing the subject, Paul provided the example of Christ. He existed throughout eternity in the form of God. Philippians 2:6 is a declaration of His true deity, for no mere creature could exist in the form of God. Lucifer aspired to this and for his impiety was hurled down from the archangel’s throne. Our Lord Jesus Christ has claim to deity because He is the eternal Son. He thought of equality with God not as a thing to be grasped or held onto.
Equal with God He is, but Christ chose to take the place of subjection and lowliness. He chose to step down from the sublime height that belonged to Him, even the glory which He had with the Father before the world was (see John 17:5), and take the servant’s form to do the Father’s will.
The first man aspired to be as God and fell. The Second Man, the Lord from Heaven, came down from His eternal throne. As we sing, “From Godhead’s fullest glory / He came to bear our woe” (A. Stevenson). Christ did not retain the outward semblance of deity. He relinquished His rightful position to become the Savior of sinners. In order to do this He emptied Himself, or divested Himself, of His divine prerogatives.
Let there be no misunderstanding. While we reverently take off our shoes and draw near to behold this great sight, let us not fear to accept the declaration of Holy Scripture in all its fullness. He divested Himself of something—but of what? Not of His deity, for that could not be. He was always a divine person, the Son of the Father. He could unite manhood and deity, but He could not cease to be divine. Of what, then, did He divest Himself? He divested Himself of His rights as God the Son. He chose to come to earth to take a place of subjection. He took on Himself “the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).
Observe the distinction brought out in verses 6 and 7: He existed from all eternity in the form of God; He came here to take the form of a servant. Angels are servants, but “he took not on him the nature of angels” (Hebrews 2:16). He came in the likeness of men. His coming was all voluntary and as a man on earth He chose to be guided by the Holy Spirit. He received daily from the Father, through the Word of God, the instruction that a man should receive. His mighty works of power were not wrought by His own divine omnipotence alone. He chose that they should be wrought in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the precious and important doctrine of the kenosis as revealed in Scripture.
Men have added to this what Scripture does not say. They have declared that when He came to earth, Christ ceased to be God, that He became an ignorant Galilean peasant. Suppose this were the case. His knowledge of divine mysteries would have been no greater than what might have been expected of any other good man of His generation. His testimony as to the inspiration of Scripture would have had no real weight. He would not have known more than others of His day knew. He would have not been competent to speak about the authors of the Old Testament books.
Today’s wiseacres do not hesitate to declare that Jesus was wrong to think that Daniel wrote the book that bears his name and that Moses penned the Pentateuch. Their false declaration is based on a false interpretation of the kenosis. They say that Christ emptied Himself of His divine knowledge and therefore could not have spoken with authority.
The Exaltation of Christ (Philippians 2:9-11)
The exaltation of the man Christ Jesus is the glorious fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 110, a prophecy used by our Lord to confound His critics. They professed to be waiting for the promised Messiah, but rejected His deity. The Psalm begins, ‘The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” Christ is David’s Son, yet David called Him Lord because He is the Root of David. Jesus descended from Jesse’s son, yet the son of Jesse came into being through Him.
Christ’s exaltation as man to the throne of God is not only Jehovah’s attestation of perfect satisfaction in His work, but also the recognition of His equality with Himself. This man, who had humbled Himself to the extent of going to the death of the cross, is Jehovah’s “fellow,” as Zechariah 13:7 declares. Such language could be rightly used only in reference to a divine person.
It is interesting to notice that God never permitted one indignity to be put on the body of His Son after His work was finished—after the Roman soldier, having pierced His side, released the atoning blood. Thereafter no enemies’ hands touched His body. Loving disciples tenderly took it down from the cross, wrapped it in linen clothes, and reverently laid it in Joseph’s new tomb.
Then, when the appointed time had passed, He who had died came forth in resurrection life and God the Father received Him up into glory. He has “highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). Christ is the pre-eminent One in every sphere.
How appropriate that His glory should answer to His shame. “As many were astonished at Him.. .so shall He astonish many nations” (literal rendering of Isaiah 52:14-15). God has ordained it, and so it must be. At the name of Jesus—His personal name which means “Jehovah-the-Savior,” the name on the placard nailed above His head as He hung on the cross—every knee will bow. Every heavenly, earthly, and infernal being must own Him Lord of all.
Observe that in this passage where the authority of Christ is being recognized, the three spheres of Heaven, earth, and Hell are mentioned, indicating that all created intelligent beings will bow to Him. There will be no exceptions. All must confess His lordship to the glory of God the Father. All must bow in lowly submissiveness at the mention of the name of the crucified One.
Does this passage imply universal salvation and the final restoration of Satan and his hosts, as some have taught? Surely not. Subjugation is one thing; reconciliation is another. When the latter is in question, we have only two spheres mentioned, as in Colossians 1:20: “Having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Here there is no mention of the underworld. The lost will never be reconciled. Heaven and earth eventually will be filled with happy beings who have been redeemed to God by the precious blood of Christ. Then reconciliation will be complete.
But “under the earth” will be those who have their part in the outer darkness, the lake of fire (see Revelation 21:8). They flaunted Christ’s authority on earth, so they will have to acknowledge it in Hell. They refused to heed the call of grace and be reconciled to God in the day when they might have been saved. In the pit of woe no gospel message will ever be proclaimed, but the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ will be supremely enforced. There will be no disorder in Hell; no further rebellion will be permitted. All must bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue must confess Him Lord. Scripture depicts no wild pandemonium when it describes the abode of the lost.
How blessed it is to acknowledge His lordship now! As it is written, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). How fitting it is that only those who confess Him now will be eternally saved as a result of the work of the cross.
The Testimony of the Assembly (Philippians 2:12-16)
Having dealt with the self-abnegation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul went on, as guided by the Holy Spirit, to apply this truth in a practical way in the balance of the chapter. Verses 12-16 refer to assembly life and responsibility. Verses 17-30 bring three men before us; these were seeking to display in their lives the devotedness and self-denying concern for others that were seen in Christ as man on earth.
Philippians 2:12 has often perplexed those who thought they saw clearly from Scripture the simplicity of salvation by grace, apart from works. Here, in seeming contrast to that doctrine, the apostle told the saints to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, as though there were a possibility that salvation might be forfeited because of failure to work it out properly.
Notice first, however, that the apostle did not speak of working for salvation. He spoke of working it out, which is very different. I am reminded of a little girl who listened to a legalistic sermon preached on this text. The minister insisted that no one could be saved by grace alone; each person must work out his own salvation. At the close of the service she innocently asked, “Mother, how can you work it out if you haven’t got it in?”
If salvation of the individual were being contemplated here, it might be enough of an explanation to say, “It is your own; therefore manifest it—work it out.” But more than individual salvation is being contemplated. Taken in context, verse 12 refers to assembly salvation. That is, Paul was giving direction to an assembly of Christians. They were exposed to difficulties from without and from within; they were passing through a world totally opposed to the testimony committed to them. Paul was showing them how to continue in fellowship together in spite of the fact that each individual had within him a corrupt nature that could surface—to the detriment of the whole church—if given the opportunity.
We have already noticed that there was some difficulty in the Philippian assembly between two sisters of prominence, Euodias and Syntyche. This disagreement could easily cause distressing quarrels and even division if not judged in the presence of the Lord. Similar misunderstandings could arise from time to time and would need to be carefully watched for. When the apostle himself was with the Philippians, they could refer all such matters to him and he would, so to speak, work out their salvation from these perplexities. He would advise and guide as needed. But at the time he was writing to them, he was far away. He was a prisoner for the gospel’s sake and could not personally give the help he wanted to provide. Since he was absent, he directed them as obedient children to work out their own salvation in godly fear and with exercise of soul, so that they would not depart from the right path or stray out of the will of God.
How beneficial Paul’s words have been for generations of Christians! Sooner or later, all assemblies of saints on earth will probably have internal differences, and the advice or command the apostle gave to the Philippians will apply in all such cases. It is God’s way that churches should be put right from within, by self-judgment in His presence and submission to His Word.
How often saints take the very opposite approach! Questions arise to trouble and perplex; differences of judgment occur; bickerings and quarrels begin. Instead of coming together in the presence of God for humiliation and guidance, and seeking His mind from His own Word and acting accordingly, they appeal to an outsider for help. Often as a result matters only get more complicated. Perhaps the church appeals to someone engaged in a traveling ministry and requests him to adjudicate. Such an approach often disturbs the spirit of the visitor and cannot really save the local fellowship from the troubles that have arisen.
It is easy to see how the clerical system arose from such experiences. We see in the early church men such as Diotrephes, who loved to have the pre-eminence (see 3 John 9), and the Nicolaitanes (rulers of the people), who sought to bring the saints into bondage.
When such men caused problems, believers generally found it much easier to apply to noted preachers or teachers for help than to cast themselves directly on God and His Word. Thus gifted men became a sort of court of appeals and eventually were recognized as the clergy.
Dependence on others easily creeps in wherever saints look to men rather than to God and His Word. If you think a group of Christians are too ignorant to know how to settle their own differences, remember that they have God and the Word of His Grace. If they humble themselves, wait on Him, and refuse to move until they find direction in the Book, God can be depended on to help them work out their own salvation from whatever perplexing circumstances have arisen. He casts them not on their own resources, but on His Word and on Himself, who works in them the will to do His good pleasure. This does not mean that they should ignore or despise the advice and sound judgment of others, but they should not be dependent on it.
In Philippians 2:14-16 we see the working out of assembly salvation practically demonstrated. Murmurings and disputings must be judged in the presence of God. Instead of backbiting and gossiping, saints should come together before the Lord and deal with problems in the light of His revealed Word. Then they will indeed be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke.” They will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom they will shine as lights in this dark world. Having judged whatever was hindering fellowship within, the saints will be in a condition to be a testimony to the power of grace to those outside.
As the apostle emphasized in Philippians 1, nothing so delivers believers from self-occupation as occupation with Christ and the presentation of Christ to those still in their sins. Those who are busy presenting the word of life to others have no time for selfish quarreling among themselves.
Paul told the saints at Philippi that if they walked worthily, they would bring joy to his heart and he would be able to rejoice in the day of Christ. That is, at the judgment seat it would be evident that his labors in Philippi had not been in vain. Godly order and devoted gospel testimony would witness to the reality of the work of God in and among them.
Thus we see that working out our own salvation is simply submitting to the truth of God after we have been saved. Whether as individuals or as assemblies of saints in the place of testimony, we submit to the truth in order to glorify Him. We will work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” as we realize our liability to err, the faultiness of our understanding, and the holiness of the One whom we are called to serve.
The Example of Paul (Philippians 2:17-18)
The apostolic writer went on to cite, though in an apparently casual way, three examples of men who exemplified the spirit of Christ—men of like passions with their fellow believers. First he referred to himself. Later he referred to the lowly ways and devoted service of Timothy and Epaphroditus.
Possibly no other mortal man ever drank into the spirit of Christ so deeply as the great apostle to the Gentiles. Once he was a proud, haughty Pharisee, glorying in his own righteousness, burning with indignant bigotry against any who claimed to have received a higher revelation than what was found in Judaism. Then as he was hurrying to Damascus to apprehend any who confessed the name of Jesus, this religious persecutor was transformed by a vision of the glorified Christ. The sight of the once-crucified but now-enthroned Savior at God’s right hand, was the means of a conversion so radical and so sudden that probably no other experience since has been so intense.
From that moment, the one desire overpowering all else, the inmost yearning of his being, was to reveal Christ in all his ways. Paul was not an absolutely sinless man; neither was he without the infirmities common to the human race. But he was one who always sought to judge himself in the light of the cross of Christ and with the power of Christ resting on him. The apostle’s entire philosophy of life is summed up in his fervent words to the Galatians: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians6:14).
In this spirit Paul wrote to his beloved Philippians, “Yea, and if I be offered [poured out] upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17). He had just told them that his joy in the day of Christ would be to find them approved, having walked before God as unrebuked saints earnestly engaged in holding forth the word of life in a dark world. Paul would look on their abundant service and their reward as a reward to himself. He would feel that he had not run in vain or labored in vain. He was willing to count all his service as an adjunct of theirs—to have their labors and devotedness looked on as the completion of a work that he had merely begun.
In order to understand verse 17 properly, it is necessary to observe carefully what the apostle had in mind. When he said, “If I be poured out upon the sacrifice of your faith,” he was alluding to the drink offering. This was a cup of wine that was poured out on a burnt offering and was a type of the outpouring of our Lord Jesus Christ’s soul unto death. The drink offering symbolized the voluntary surrender of everything that might naturally be expected to contribute to his joys as a man, for wine is the symbol of gladness. What man ever deserved to be happier than the Lord Jesus Christ? To whom was gladness a righteous due, if not to Him? Yet in infinite grace He became “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
The burnt offering pictured Christ offering Himself without spot to God on our behalf. In the sacrificial service, the animal slain for a burnt offering was cut into pieces, washed with water, then laid in order on the fire of the altar and wholly consumed. The drink offering was poured on the burnt offering and in a moment was lost to sight.
With all this in mind, consider the beauty of the figure the apostle employed. Whatever service the Philippians might be able to render to the Lord would be rendered in fellowship with Christ. Thus their devotion could be viewed as an offering or a sacrifice to God. The sweet-smelling savor of their sacrifice was the result of lives surrendered to the Lord. Paul was willing to have his labor looked on as simply the drink offering poured on their burnt offering.
What sublime self-abnegation! What delight in the labors of others! We notice the absence of that which is so abhorrent in professedly Christian service today. Laborers sometimes are jealous of the ministry of others and envious of success in which they think they have not shared. There was no such spirit in the apostle Paul. He rejoiced in everything that the Lord did through others and his jealousy was only for the glory of God. In this he followed Christ, and so he could confidently appeal to the Philippians to follow him as he walked in His steps. He wanted them to rejoice with him in their mutual devotedness.
It is significant that Paul spoke of himself and his service in an incidental way and in just one verse. When he wrote about his fellow laborer Timothy and their messenger Epaphroditus, he had much more to say. He could dwell with delight on the labors and service of others, but when writing of himself, he felt as if he were speaking like a fool (see 2 Corinthians 11:23).
The Example of Timothy (Philippians 2:19-24)
Paul was not only a fervent evangelist; he was also the prince of teachers and, like his fellow-apostle Peter, a true pastor or shepherd of the flock of Christ. In this latter respect the young preacher Timothy was Paul’s ardent imitator.
Whatever other gifts Timothy may have had, one special gift was probably given to him at the laying on of hands when the elders sent him out to do the work of the Lord: the gift of pastor. This is perhaps one of the rarest and yet one of the most needed of all the gifts given by an ascended Christ for the edification of His church. The evangelist ministers to those without Christ. The teacher instructs those already saved. The pastor is more concerned about the state of the soul of the believer than the state of his knowledge of abstract truth. Of course pastors should recognize that saints are formed by the truth and that a right state of soul and a walk in the truth go together.
Paul was anxious to send Timothy to Philippi so that he could be a help and a means of blessing to the flock there. The apostle trusted that Timothy might be used by God to weld the hearts of the Philippian believers into one and to deliver them from the dissension that had resulted from the misunderstanding between Euodias and Syntyche. Paul felt that he could depend on Timothy’s judgment, and he counted on being comforted himself when he actually knew the state of the souls of his friends.
Our standing before God is one thing; our actual state is another. Paul was concerned about the latter. Other than Timothy, the apostle did not know of anyone with an unselfish shepherd-heart who would wholeheartedly care for the state of the Philippians. The word “naturally” in verse 20 does not adequately convey Paul’s thought. Timothy’s pastoral concern was not a gift of nature, but a spiritual gift. As a result of the exercise of his soul before God, his entire being was stirred with concern for the Lord’s people. Others may have been gifted in various ways, but of them the apostle could only sadly say, “All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Philippians 2:21).
It is quite possible to be an admired teacher on whose words thousands hang and yet be a vain self-seeker. It is possible to be an eloquent evangelist and yet be using the very gift that God has given for personal aggrandizement. Eager multitudes may flock to listen with delight to the messages of a man who professes to care little or nothing for money but is using his gift of evangelism to obtain wealth. However, the more marked the pastoral gift, the more unselfishly devoted the servant must be. The pastor’s great ambition will be to feed the flock and shield them from danger.
The patriarch Jacob is an apt illustration of the true shepherd. In spite of all his failures and the fact that he was under the discipline of God through the greater part of his life, Jacob was a lover of the flock and always considerate of their interests. As he looked back over his years of caring for the sheep, he could honestly say to his father-in-law Laban, “Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes” (Genesis 31:40). When Esau wanted Jacob and his host to hurry on, Jacob expostulated with his brother: “My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die” (Genesis 33:13). A Diotrephes might try to cajole or coerce the flock into submission to his own imperious will, but a God-appointed shepherd will seek to lead on safely, wearing himself out for the blessing of others. He will seek not to impose his own will, but to serve the Lord and exalt Him.
As a son with a father, Timothy had commended himself to the aged apostle by serving with him in the gospel in lowliness and humility. Youth is often exceedingly energetic and impatient of restraint, while age is inclined perhaps to be overcautious and slow in coming to conclusions. So it is often difficult for two people, so wide apart in years as Paul and Timothy were, to labor together happily. But when the younger man exhibits a humble spirit and the elder seeks only the glory of God and the blessing of His people, fellowship in service is possible and indeed is blessed.
Since Timothy had proven himself, Paul could trust him with a mission such as the apostle had in mind. Paul was waiting to learn the outcome of his appeal to caesar, and then he hoped to send Timothy to Philippi to be a healer of dissensions and thus a means of cheer and consolation to the fellowship.
Timothy followed Paul as Paul followed Christ. Thus Timothy became the second of the three servants who were worthy to be held up as examples of those who manifested the mind of Christ.
It was the apostle’s desire and hope to visit his beloved Philippians again later on. Whether this yearning was ever fulfilled we will not know until all is revealed at the judgment seat of Christ. Precious is the faith that can leave everything with Him, assured that His ways are always perfect and always best.
The Example of Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30)
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. We have no way now of knowing whether Epaphroditus journeyed by land or sea, but we know he traveled to the world’s metropolis in order to assure the prisoner of the love and esteem of the church at Philippi and to supply his needs with their gift.
Having accomplished his purpose, Epaphroditus became ill, possibly overcome by the Roman fever that was so dangerous for unacclimated strangers. That his illness was a protracted one is evident because before he recovered, word of his condition reached the Philippians and a return message got back to him. The message expressed their solicitude for his health and their anxiety that he be restored to them again. Notice that Epaphroditus did not seem to be as concerned about his illness as he was about their distress. He was one of those thoroughly self-denying men whose motto might well be “Others.”
He recovered from his sickness, and although it must have been difficult for him to leave the apostle in prison, Epaphroditus was anxious to be on his way. He wanted to comfort the Philippians by his presence and bring them Paul’s Epistle. Apparently acting as secretary, Epaphroditus wrote the apostle’s words down and then carried the precious parchment to Philippi. Thus he preserved the letter for us and for all saints to the end of time—and, we may say, forever.
We know nothing about Epaphroditus except what is recorded in this letter. Some, however, 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, also known in Rome as Venus. His name indicates that he had heathen parents, but he had come to know Christ. Epaphras—said to be a diminutive of Epaphroditus with the name of the heathen goddess omitted—means simply “graced” or “favored.”
Having been won to Christ, Epaphroditus was characterized by a godly zeal to make Him known to others and to build up and lead on those already saved. This devoted messenger was the exemplification of the mind of Christ, as described in the beginning of this chapter. He may not have been physically strong, but he was a man who did not spare himself. In the work of Christ he became sick and almost died.
Sickness is not always the result of sin, as some have taught. In the case of this man of God, sickness 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 and no doubt led to much prayer on his behalf. God answered, showing mercy, and raised him up.
The apostle did not think that he had any right to demand physical healing even for so faithful a laborer as Epaphroditus. Paul recognized healing as evidence of 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 as well as health may be from God. It is clear that Paul never believed or taught “healing in the atonement” as the birthright privilege of all Christians. Nor do we ever read of him or his fellow laborers being healed miraculously. Paul, Trophimus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus all bear witness to the contrary.
The apostle urged the saints in Philippi to receive their messenger with gladness when he returned to them and commanded them to hold him in high esteem because he had been deathly ill for the cause of Christ. Epaphroditus had risked his own life in order to serve Paul in their stead.
Men such as Epaphroditus are those 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 high regard. Those who believe themselves to be worthy of honor and esteem are not the ones whom God calls the saints to recognize. Rather, those who are willing to take the lowly path and not seek great things for themselves are the ones whom the Lord will exalt in due time.
Beneficial lessons can be learned from the lives of the three devoted men of God on whose self-denying ways we have meditated. May we have grace to follow the examples of Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus as they followed the example of Christ.