Honor Those Who Give Their All for Christ
After giving the Philippians a further incentive to persevere in their faith by promising to send Timothy to them, Paul then mentions a second Christian who exemplifies how Christians should live: Epaphroditus. Paul plans to send Timothy in the near future, but presently he sends Epaphroditus with this letter back to the Philippians. Paul’s instruction to the Philippians concerning Epaphroditus is to receive him with joy, honoring him and others who give their all for Christ.
Verse 25 tells us that Epaphroditus is a trusted friend of Paul: Epaphroditus is Paul’s “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.” That he is Paul’s brother identifies Epaphroditus as a fellow Christian. That Epaphroditus is Paul’s fellow worker identifies him as someone who works to advance the gospel. (The designation”fellow worker” places Epaphroditus on the same level as Timothy [1 Thess. 3:2], Mark, Luke [Philem. 24], and others.) That Epaphroditus is Paul’s fellow soldier indicates that Epaphroditus has suffered for the gospel.
Specifically, Epaphroditus has suffered by being “ill, near to death” (v. 27). Epaphroditus was the Philippians’ “messenger and minister” to Paul. He was the one who had delivered the Philippians’ “gifts” to Paul (4:18). And along the way, Epaphroditus had “nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life” to get the Philippians’ gift to Paul (2:30).
The reasons to send Epaphroditus now
There are three reasons to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians immediately. The first is because “he [Epaphroditus] has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (v. 26). Epaphroditus wants to be back home with his fellow church members, those brothers and sisters in Christ to whom he was closest. He doesn’t want them to continue to be “distressed” on account of his illness: “God had mercy on him,” and he is better (v. 27)! Epaphroditus loves his fellow believers and wants to be reunited with them.
The second reason to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians is so that they “may rejoice at seeing him again” (v. 28). Since the Philippians are concerned for Epaphroditus’s wellbeing, seeing him alive and well would certainly give them great joy!
The final reason to send Epaphroditus back is so that Paul “may be less anxious” (v. 28). Don’t forget that when God had mercy on Epaphroditus, he had mercy “not only on him but on me [Paul] also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27). Paul is glad that Epaphroditus is better, and he wants to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians so that he “may be less anxious” (v. 28). What is Paul anxious about? He is anxious about the Philippians’ growth in holiness, Christlikeness. Remember that one of the reasons why Paul wanted the Philippians to work out what God was working in them was “so that in the day of Christ I [Paul] may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (2:16). Paul is concerned with the Philippians’ holiness, and that is also why he was sending Timothy later: after Epaphroditus delivers this letter back to the Philippians, Paul was sure that he would be “cheered by news of you [Philippians],” news of their obedience to Paul’s letter, upon Timothy’s return to him (v. 19). So the final (perhaps ultimate) reason for sending Epaphroditus now was for Paul’s letter to reach the Philippians so as to help them grow in the faith.
The appropriate response to Epaphroditus’s return
Concerning Epaphroditus’s return to Philippi, Paul instructs the Philippians to “rejoice at seeing him” (v. 28). They are to “receive him in the Lord with all joy” (v. 29). Because the Philippians love Epaphroditus as a brother in the Lord Jesus, they are to “receive him in the Lord with all joy and honor such men.”
And therein lies the application for us today: there are Epaphroditus-es among us. We all know someone in our church who gives their all for Christ. Maybe, like Epaphroditus, they push themselves so hard that they are ill. Not many people today, at least in American churches, “nearly die for the work of Christ,” but do believers not still “risk their lives” (at least insofar as their reputations) today to serve fellow Christians, as Epaphroditus risked it all to serve Paul? Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40; whatever we do to any “of the least of these [Jesus’] brothers,” we do to Jesus himself. To humble ourselves before other believers and serve them, to unite with fellow Christians in the church even when we don’t have a perfect relationship with them, that is the “giving your all” for Christ that Paul is talking about. This is what denying yourself and taking up the cross daily looks like. And Paul tells us, today, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit who indwells us Christians, today, to honor those Christians who give their all for Christ by receiving them with joy and thus loving them in the Lord.
I first preached these verses in a sermon along with Philippians 2:19-24. You can listen to the sermon here.