In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul highlights the ministry of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus had earlier been sent to Paul from Philippi, and the apostle now praises him by saying, “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” (Phil 2: 25).
Paul goes out of his way to showcase Epaphroditus. What is a bit strange is why he would have to do that since Epaphroditus had come from Philippi. They would know him already.
But the reason Paul has to reassure the Philippians about Epaphroditus is because something had happened.
Epaphroditus caught an illness.
Paul explains to the Philippians:
Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. (Phil 2:27-28)
Epaphroditus had failed—sort of.
Yes, he delivered the money to Paul (see Phil 4:18). But when Epaphroditus got sick, he wasn’t able to assist Paul, and, instead, he needed to be assisted by Paul.
Here’s a sad truth: when people are shown to be weak—a health breakdown, a mental breakdown, a lack of skills, a lack of capacity—, then, in the cynicism of our flesh, we often look down on them, even if just a little bit.
When it comes to weakness in others, we often have a critical spirit.
Imagine the conversation near the back door of First Church of Philippi.
Oh yeah… Epaphroditus… We paid all his expenses and sent him on the big trip from Greece to Rome—I’d love to go to Rome—and then when he got there, he said he was sick and couldn’t come home. Wow… Rome would be a great place to be sick in…. I wonder how sick he really was? Sounds like a nice gig if you can get it. Why did we send him if he couldn’t even help Paul out. That was a waste of money. We should’ve sent someone else….
And on and on. You know how it goes.
The Philippians were a church that had a tendency to be proud of their strength. They needed to have the mind of Christ, in order to be humble (Phil 2:5). They needed to be reminded of the worth and value of godly servants in the church who were faithfully doing their jobs through great personal trial. The Philippians needed to be reminded to show some grace toward Epaphroditus.
In case the Philippians were missing the point, Paul makes it explicit in verse 29: “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men.”
The three takeaways are these:
- When we stop expecting leaders to be supermen, then we will stop being surprised and offended when they fail us.
- When we rejoice at leaders of proven worth and sacrificial service, we will be in a better position to distinguish who the faithful ministers are from all of the dogs and enemies of the cross.
- When we honor such men, even our honor is framed by grace. Which is just as it should be.