Philippians Day Twelve
October 9, 2020, 4:00 AM

The Meaning of Epaphroditus
Philippians 2:25-30

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,
for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.
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.
So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,
for he nearly died for the work of Christ,
risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Epaphroditus was a Gentile of Philippi. Nothing is known about him outside of what Paul writes in this letter. Perhaps he was a Roman military veteran, taking advantage of a land grant in Philippi – Paul does call him a “fellow soldier.” We don’t know.

His name is derived from Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Archeologically speaking, there was a temple to the goddess in Philippi. Again, speculation. The mosaic to the left is a representation of Epaphroditus found in the ruins of one of the fourth century church ruins of Philippi. He is known as St. Epaphroditus to the Eastern Church— the Patron Saint of Travel.

But we will focus on what we might know from Scripture. Obviously, a Gentile local redeemed through Paul’s ministry during the second missionary journey, he became an indispensable “deacon” for Paul. Philippians 4:18 mentions a generous financial donation made by the Philippians, hand delivered by none other than our Epaphroditus. Apparently, his mission was twofold: Deliver the gift; and then stay with Paul to minister to his needs.

The picture below is of the Via Egnatia leading from the port city of Neapolis (the present city of Kavala) on the Aegean Sea. This is the original road Paul walked to Philippi. The Egnatian Way is a 2nd century BC, 700-mile Roman Road, connecting the Adriatic Sea to the west, eastward to Byzantium [Constantinople/Istanbul]. Our Epaphroditus would have traveled this “Interstate” road westward to Rome, …if Rome is the location of Paul’s imprisonment.

There were complications to this mercy mission. Epaphroditus got sick and almost died. He had to cut the mission short – Returning to Philippi, letter in hand, before he was supposed to come home. Herein lies the speculation seedbed of the so-called failed ministry. Paul writes, “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…” (2:25). Paul even says, honor such men, like Epaphroditus. Why does Paul say this?

The theory goes, Epaphroditus brought shame to the community, having to pull up short. Paul doesn’t want Epaphroditus to suffer such ignominy, so he appends this note of commendation and explanation to save the man from such unjust backlash. Remember, honor was a signature value in Roman–Greek culture. Epaphroditus “has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 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.” (2:26-28). He served you well. He served me well. So, receive him as you would receive me.

That’s what I was taught, once-upon-a-time. But I must tell you, I don’t see it! That is some wild speculation to read a scenario of shame into the epistle. There is nothing here to even mildly suggest that Epaphroditus failed in his mission. As I suggested on Sunday, this personal aside follows the example of Christ’s selflessness and emptying humility in saving us. Paul has moved same-minded-ness, humility and love of neighbor as the fulfilment of Christ-mindedness. This is what real honor looks like! This teaching follows appropriately with two prime examples of Biblical honor to emulate in Timothy and Epaphroditus. I don’t think it’s a stream-of-consciousness thought. It is intentional; and it is powerful.

I have little doubt that Epaphroditus served out his days there in the church at Philippi. Serving quietly. Serving faithfully. No flash. No pizzazz. No fame. Just pleasing in the sight of his God. This is a good note on which to end the week. May your name be Epaphroditus.


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