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The Return of Epaphroditus

Posted On February 18, 2020

Philippians 2:25–26, “25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.

It is always fascinating to get a look at the personal relationships between members of the first-century church, and we are fortunate that Philippians 2:19–30 provides us such a glimpse. Thus far, we have been given a hint of the warm affection that Paul felt for Timothy and the genuine love that both the Apostle and his delegate felt for the Philippian congregation (vv. 19–24). Today we are introduced to another early church relationship with Paul’s reference to Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25–26.

When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he was planning to send not only Timothy but also Epaphroditus to the Philippians (vv. 19, 25). Scholars generally agree that Paul intended to send Epaphroditus immediately after writing the epistle, maybe even as the letter’s courier. The Apostle would then send Timothy sometime later, after gaining clarity on his legal status (v. 23). In any case, we should note the way Paul calls Epaphroditus the Philippians’ “messenger” and “minister” to his needs in prison (v. 25). This tells us that Epaphroditus brought the Philippians’ monetary gift to Paul in Rome, and this is confirmed in 4:18. You may recall that in the ancient world, the state did not take care of prisoners as it does in our modern penal system. Prisoners such as Paul depended on the care of family and friends to meet their needs, and since the money Epaphroditus brought would have been used for his care, the Apostle rightly saw him as a minister.

Epaphroditus, therefore, was one of the Philippian Christians whom Paul loved dearly, and this Philippian believer also had a great love for his fellow brethren in the city. As 2:26 tells us, Epaphroditus was longing for the Philippians because they had heard that he was sick. Evidently, he knew that his brothers and sisters in Christ were greatly concerned for him and worried about his condition; thus, he wanted to get back to them as soon as possible in order to reassure them that he was all right. Epaphroditus’ attentive care to calm his fretful brethren is certainly an example of looking to the interests of others (v. 4), and we should likewise be attentive to the feelings of our Christian brothers and sisters if we are to fulfill the Apostolic imperative to love one another (1 John 3:11).

The depth of Epaphroditus’ love for his brothers and sisters in Christ is seen in that his chief worry was not about his own health but that his fellow believers would not have to suffer too much emotional pain in their concern for him. This indicates a profoundly selfless orientation, and it is something that we should be praying daily for the Holy Spirit to develop in us. Let us, by this same Spirit, seek to cultivate the virtue of Christian selflessness.

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