A Charming Christian
In his tragedy entitled, Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare through the person of Juliet asks the question so often cited: “What is in a name?” In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament Scriptures, names generally bear a spiritually significant meaning. Sometimes Bible personalities live up to the meaning of their names, and sometimes they do not. Incidentally, if you have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour, you bear the name Christian, which literally means, a follower of Christ. Are you living up to your name?
The complete Bible biography of Epaphroditus is recorded in Paul’s “Letter to the Philippians” (2:24-30; 4:18) and, other than what the beloved Apostle says about him, we have no details of his fragrant and fruitful life in Christ. His name means “charming,” and he lives up to it!
In our study of Epaphroditus, we want to centre our attention on three prominent features of his biography which serve as a summary of his career in Christ.
His Spiritual Standing
The early history of the church at Philippi is recorded in Acts 16. In that action-filled chapter, we note the planting of the seeds of the assembly which eventually flourished in that Roman colony. Some years had passed and Paul was again in prison, only this time at Rome. That he was familiar with the inside of the prison at Philippi is well known. Like many another local testimony, the Philippian church was born out of suffering and persecution for the Name’s sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The saints at Philippi, who dearly loved the Apostle Paul, had in the summer sent him a gift through their messenger, Epaphroditus. According to the scholar David Smith, it was now the month of November and Paul was soon to send Epaphroditus home, having been unable to acknowledge their gift up to that time.
Somehow, word had reached Philippi that Epaphroditus was seriously ill, and Paul was anxious to relate to them that while their faithful messenger had been “nigh unto death” (2:27-30), the Lord had graciously spared his life. Seeing Epaphroditus again would relieve their anxiety and at the same time Paul could acknowledge their gift.
With these pertinent facts in mind, let us direct our careful attention to Paul’s simple yet sterling commendation of Epaphroditus regarding his relationship and spiritual standing with the beloved Apostle.
In the family of God: Paul calls him “my brother.” The term “brother” was assuredly endeared to the heart of the Apostle from the very beginning of his Christian experience when, in the house of Judas on the street called Straight in the city of Damascus, Ananias put his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul …” (Acts 9:17). When he called Epaphroditus “my brother,” he did so with a full sense and realization of the affection and intimacy of such a blessed and personal relationship as this which existed between them because they were both in the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
In the field of service: Paul refers to him as his “companion in labour.” Here was another vital link of identification and relationship between these two servants of Christ. To be called and be classed by the Apostle “a companion in labour” was undoubtedly esteemed a great privilege on the part of Epaphroditus. Both men were in the field of service, working at the same task, serving the same Lord, that God might be glorified in them. How good it is to realize that we are not only linked together in service, but to realize that with all true believers, “we are labourers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9).
In the fight of faith: The beloved Apostle refers to him as his “fellow-soldier.” Both were fighting “the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7), facing the same foes, sharing the same hardships, and securing their supplies from the same source.
Although Paul had the position and authority of an apostle, it is to be observed that he did not place himself above his brother in Christ.
His Selfless Sympathy
When Epaphroditus learned that the Philippian Christians had heard of his illness, his selfless sympathy was revealed in the words of Paul, “For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick” (2:26).
That Epaphroditus became deeply depressed in spirit was not because of his own trial. On the contrary, this was because the news of his illness had reached Philippi and had caused anxiety among the Christians there. The anguish of Epaphroditus was caused by his knowledge of the Philippian Christians’ anxiety on his behalf.
The keen love of all these Christians: Paul, Epaphroditus, the Philippian saints, and Timothy also (2:19-23), for one another, each for all and all for each, is plainly indicated. Would that more of this same divine love that “seeketh not her own” abounded among the believers today as it did then.
Epaphroditus is a splendid example of a man whose life was devoted to helping and serving others. This is what made him so much like the Lord Jesus Christ Whom he loved, for His was a life lived and given in spotless purity on behalf of others.
A quaint incident is told regarding the return of Sir Bartle Ferere from India. The carriage was sent to the village station to fetch him to his home, but the newly acquired footman was at a loss to know how he would recognize him. His aged mother instructed him, “Look out for somebody helping someone else.” True to form, when the London train had eased its way in, the footman observed a gentleman assisting an old lady to the platform. As the servant watched, back went the gentleman to the carriage to get the lady’s luggage. Going directly to him, the footman confidently asked “Sir Bartle?” Yes, it was he. What a noble reputation to have!
Over the life of Epaphroditus it could be written: “Not I, but Christ.”
His Sacrificial Service
As for the sacrificial service of Epaphroditus, let Paul’s concise record speak for itself: “Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me” (2:30). The expression, “not regarding,” is actually one Greek word which means “one who rashly exposes himself to danger,” “to be venturesome” or “reckless.” Used in regard to one’s life, as was the case with Epaphroditus, it means “to expose one’s life boldly,” “jeopard life” or “hazard life.” This man of God, Epaphroditus, worked so hard and fervently in the service of Christ, literally hazarding his life for the gospel’s sake, that “he was sick nigh unto death” (Phil. 2:27-30). Like Paul and Timothy, his life was wholly dedicated to the Lord as “a living sacrifice,” and in seeking to diligently follow God’s appointed path, no risk was too great, no venture too costly, no hazard too dangerous. W. Graham Scroggie has aptly remarked: “It cannot be said, with this passage before us, that to overwork in Christ’s service is a sin, though I would be inclined to say that to take it easy is a sin.”
In a chapter which presents the Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect pattern of lowliness, Epaphroditus is a shining example of one in whom was the mind of Christ. Like the Lord Jesus Who “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant” (2:7), he sought not the things concerning himself, but the things concerning Christ and others, serving the Lord sacrificially.
How Paul must have thanked God for Epaphroditus, and others like him, who served faithfully and fervently with him in the work of Christ as well as ministering to his needs from time to time (2:25)! Surely, every devoted child of God shares the same thankful attitude as the fragrance of this godly man’s life and testimony comes before him. Through the long centuries since Pentecost, the Church of Jesus Christ has been blessed and benefited by hundreds, even thousands, of dedicated men and women who have carried on a “labour of love” for the glory of God, many of them unsung and unheralded in this life, yet working for Christ even to the point of death. Praise God for every, Epaphroditus in the service of the Saviour!
What about you and me? Are we willing to hazard our lives in the service of Christ in an age when opportunities abound as never before to practise and proclaim the glorious verities of the gospel of Christ? The life of this zealous man of God serves as a rebuke as well as a challenge to any of us who, in the service of Christ, may be shirking instead of working, holding back instead of holding forth, and letting up instead of letting God have complete command of our wills, our minds, our hearts, our lips, our hands, our feet, our bodies, our all.
Whatever our failures may be, certainly the outstanding character and example of this ardent servant of Jesus Christ should cause us to blush with shame if we have merely been working at Christianity instead of truly living Christ. Many today are diligently working to proclaim and further a sinister and evil doctrine called Communism, both hazarding and giving their lives for such a satanic ideology, while many professed Christians settle down in a complacent, self-satisfied, lethargic, lukewarm attitude. It is a sad and shocking commentary that today there are professing believers who are not willing to put themselves out, let alone hazard their lives, for the Lord Jesus Christ, for other Christians, and for those who know not our wonderful Saviour.