THE FELLOWSHIP OF FRIENDS
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.
For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.
Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you.
Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. (Philippians 2:25-30).
Paul opens up this chapter with a command to have the same mind in us which was in Christ Jesus - that mind of placing others as more important than ourselves - that mind which taught Him the submission of the cross. To have such a mind is what in involved in working out your salvation in fear and trembling (2:12).
And then, Paul illustrates what it is to have such a mind in three ways. After all, it is easy to say have the mind of Jesus, but how can anyone ever live up to the perfect standard of Jesus? And so, he uses three other examples. They are three object lessons of what it means to have the mind of Christ.
(1) Paul's first object lesson is himself (2:17-18).
He is in prison for the cause of Christ. And he has been in prison for a long time. So long that he now has come to view his life as a drink offering which is being poured out.
(2) Paul's second object lesson is Timothy - the close associate and fellow minister of Paul (2:19-24).
(3) Paul's third object lesson is someone who is behind the scenes.
He is someone who is never mentioned in the book of Acts. He is someone about whom we know very little. His name is Epaphroditus.
The name "Epaphroditus" is a Greek name meaning "beautiful." It is an adaptation of the name of the Greek goddess Aphrodite (the Romans knew her as "Venus"). It was a fairly common name among the Greeks. There was an Epaphroditus who served as the personal secretary of the Emperor Nero. There was an Epaphras (that is merely a shortened form of the same name) mentioned in Colossians 4:12 who worked with Paul.
The Epaphroditus of this passage would have been completely unknown from the annals of church history were it not for this single reference to him found in this passage.
He held no public office. He was not a pastor or a teacher. He planted no churches. He preached no sermons. He wrote no epistles and taught no Bible studies. He was not in the limelight. He was simply - A SERVANT. He was sent by the church of Philippi to look after Paul's physical needs.
Paul was in prison. And the Roman prisons were nothing like today's modern prisons. No cable TV or air conditioning. No mail service. No regular meals. No change of clothes. The most unsanitary conditions. But it was permitted for a prisoner to be attended by a servant or a friend. And Epaphroditus had come to serve in both of these capacities. He was doing the work of a deacon. The word "deacon" simply means "servant." The deacons in our church have a ministry of service to this church. And so, perhaps we could entitle today's sermon: "In Praise of Deacons."
It had been Paul's practice in the past to subsidize his own ministry when necessary by working in secular employment. He was a tentmaker by trade. But when Paul had first come to Philippi during his Second Missionary Journey and had planted a church there, the infant church in that town had undertaken his support, not only while he was ministering among them, but also continuing that finincial support as he traveled on to Berea and Thessalonica and Corinth. He says elsewhere how he had "robbed other churches, taking wages from them" and then goes on to describe how the believers from the areas around Philippi had put themselves out to take care of the needs of Paul. (2 Corinthians 11:8-9).
Ten years have now passed. And word had come to the Philippian church that Paul was in prison and in need. He was not able to subsidize himself in prison. There were no tents to be bought or sold in the Mamertine Dungeon. And so, as they had done 10 years earlier, the church at Philippi took up a collection.
However, they now found themselves in a quandry. The money was in Philippi and Paul was in Rome. And so, they selected a man who would be their authorized messenger and they sent him with the finincial gift for Paul. They selected Epaphroditus.
Just as the church at Antioch had originally sent out Paul and Barnabas, so now the church at Philippi sent out Epaphroditus. It is for this reason that Paul will refer to Epaphroditus in verse 25 as "your messenger" - the Greek text says, "Your APOSTLE."
Epaphroditus had come to serve Paul in Rome. And in the work of that service, the two men had become friends. You have many aquaintances.
But how many real FRIENDS do you have? Someone to whom you can tell your greatest fears? Someone with whom you can share your greatest failures? Someone who knows all of your fears and your failings and who accepts you anyway?
Who is there that you can call at 2 in the morning with a problem without any thought of impropriety? To whom you can turn in any crisis? Who, when necessary, won't offer advice, but will just listen and be there and hurt when you hurt and laugh when you laugh and cry when you cry?
REAL CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP INVOLVES...
1. THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD.
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother... (Philippians 2:25).
Paul and Epaphroditus had gone far beyond the realm of master-servant relationship. We do not get any sense of superiority on the part of Paul. He does NOT write, "My servant Epaphroditus has done a commendable job of service and might someday aspire to a higher position." He views this man as he would view a brother.
Here is the principle. We are FAMILY. What do you do when you have visitors to your home? You clean up your house and pretend that it is always like that. But if it's family, you relax. You don't put on airs for family. They know how you really are. And that is how Paul could be with Epaphroditus.
When I was just a kid, my older brother David (who now serves as a missionary pastor in Germany) was given for his birthday a brand new rod and reel. David loved that rod and reel and wouldn't allow any of his friends to use it. But one day he took me along fishing with him and took his prized rod and reel and allowed me to use it. A friend of his spotted me holding that rod and reel and in surprise, asked David, "Why are you letting HIM fish your rod and reel? He's only a little kid." And David replied with words that filled me with pride, "Because he's my brother!"
Brotherhood brings with it special privilege and special responsibility. Why did Paul call Epaphroditus his brother? Because we all have been called brother by our elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I imagine the angels looking down upon the earth and asking, "Why do you let him become the special recipients of your divine truths? Why do you have her involved in your process of discipleship? Why do you allow him to be your representative on earth?" And Jesus replies in each case, "Because he's my brother."
2. THE FELLOWSHIP OF COMMITED WORK.
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier... (Philippians 2:25).
Paul was an apostle. And not just an apostle, but a church-planter and evangelist and teacher and preacher. And then there was Epaphroditus - the fellow who ministered to Paul's physical needs. The "go-fer." The handyman. The guy who...
operates the sound system
serves in the kitchen
cleans up the restroom
takes out the garbage.
Everyone has heard of the apostle Paul. We study his epistles. We marvel at the strength of his intellectual prowess. We delight in his boldness as he thunders the gospel to the nations. But when we say the name, Epaphroditus, everyone says, "Who?"
And yet, Paul describes Epaphroditus as his "fellow worker." There is something delightful here. It is the fellowship of the co-worker.
Somewhere along the line, we got the idea of a division between clergy and laity. We decided that the preacher is paid to be good and the rest of us are good for nothing. We became more impressed with the man who stands behind the pulpit than with the God who stands behind the man. And when we did that, we relegated Epaphroditus to the position of a second-class citizen.
We were wrong. And I want to tell you a kingdom secret. Those who serve "behind the scenes" are perhaps the most faithful of all, for they are serving even when no one is looking.
A famous 19th century organist was playing a concert. It was an old pump organ and required a little boy to be down below, pumping at the bellows while the organist played. When the intermission came, the little boy who had been pumping the organ came up and said to the organist, "We did good, didn't we?"
The organist looked down his nose at the scruffy lad and retorted, "What do you mean, we did good? I was the one who was playing!"
After the intermission, the organist sat down and the audience sat down and there was a hush that filled the hall and then the organist hit the keys and nothing happened. In the pregnant silence, a little boy's voice came up from below, "Are WE ready to begin?"
We are a part of the body of Christ. Not everyone has the same gifts. Not everyone plays the keyboard. But your part is no less important. Paul realized that truth as he called Epaphroditus his "fellow-worker."
3. THE FELLOWSHIP OF CELEBRATED NEED.
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need... (Philippians 2:25).
When Paul speaks of Epaphroditus as a "messenger," the word he uses is not the one you would expect. The normal word for "messenger" is aggelsos (from which we get "angel").
But this word is apostlos - normally translated "apostle."
Paul had an apostleship which sent him out to take the gospel to the world. Epaphroditus had an apostleship, too. His apostleship sent him as an official extention of the church of Philippi. Paul was sent to preach. Epaphroditus was sent to serve. And in that regard, the two men were not really all that different.
To what has God called you? What is your ministry within God's kingdom? Is it to teach a class of 2nd graders? Is it to change diapers in the nursery? Is it to come and work with the Property Team on Tuesday morning? Is it to pray for our church family?
Perhaps it is to care for one who is sick. Or to encourage the down-hearted with a kind word? To visit the sick and the prisoner? To tell your co-worker or your neighbor about Jesus.
To make your home a beacon of light for the gospel of Christ?
You have a ministry. You have been called to be a servant. It is a holy calling from the Almighty God. And I charge you this day to fulfill your ministry! And if you haven't yet seen what is your ministry, then you go to the Lord and ask Him to show it to you. And then come and seek out the elders of the church and ask that they might help you to find out what that ministry is.
4. THE FELLOWSHIP OF COMPASSIONATE CARE.
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. (Philippians 2:25-26).
Epaphroditus had come to Rome to serve the needs of Paul. To do that, he had to go where Paul was. Paul was in prison. And Epaphroditus went to prison, too. And as he served Paul, he became sick. In fact, he became deathly ill. And this turned into a long-term illness. He was sick for such a long time that news of his sickness reach Philippi. News didn't travel all that fast in those days. For news to go from Rome to Philippi would take a period of months. But the news had gone from Rome all the way to Philippi that Epaphroditus was sick and now it had come all the way back from Philippi to Rome that the Philippians now were aware that Epaphroditus had been sick.
As Paul writes this epistle, Epaphroditus is better. But he is worried that the Philippians might be worried about him. And he is concerned about their concern. And all of this mutual concern has made Epaphroditus homesick for his home church.
One of the marks of a Christian is that they get homesick for the body of Christ. When you are a Christian, you naturally like to be with other Christians. There is an affinity which we share. And that is why the concept of a Christian who is cut off from the body of Christ is a foreign concept to the Scriptures.
What do you call a professing Christian who has cut himself off from the local church?
After all, what would you call me if I were to leave my wife and my daughter and abandon them and never see them, never talk to them, never show a care for their needs?
Certainly not a husband or a father.
Did you hear about the woman who placed a message on her answering machine: "Hi there! Today I've decided only to talk to people I like. Leave a message and, if I like you, I'll call you back. If I don't get back with you, then you can draw your own conclusions."
Here is the principle. People who love Jesus love to be around other people who love Jesus. When we are in fellowship with Him, then we have a fellowship of compassionate care with one another.
5. THE FELLOWSHIP OF COMMUNICATED REGARD.
Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard (Philippians 2:29).
Paul wants the Philippians to hold a party for Epaphroditus. He calls for them to give Epaphroditus the red carpet treatment. "Hold him in high regard!"
There is a lesson here. It is that we are to be liberal with our praises. That is what Paul has been doing on behalf of Epaphroditus. And that is what we ought to do within the church.
Can I tell you about my wife? She is the most loving person I know. Caring and praying and giving to her family. She is my lover and my confidante, my closest friend, my soul-mate. The sweatheart of my youth and my partner in ministry. And I have watched her minister to the kids in our church. Her heart opens up and she pulls them in close. She's not often in the limelight.
More often than not, she is serving behind the scenes. She is my Aphrodite - my beauty. And I hold her in the highest regard.
Husbands, praise your wives, both to their faces as well as in the "gates of the city.". Wives, speak well of your husbands. Parents, hold your children in high regard.
That is how Paul opened this chapter. Do you remember? He said, "Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself" (2:3). That isn't a call to look at yourself in a lowly manner. It is a call to look at others and deem their greater significance. It is not said to bring you DOWN. It is said that you might lift others UP.
6. THE FELLOWSHIP OF COGNIZANT RISK.
Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. (Philippians 2:29-30).
The service which Epaphroditus took involved a risk. It was risky being a friend of Paul. Paul was in prison. And he was awaiting trial. The charge was one of sedition against the emperor. You know what they did to rebels against the emperor. They were summarily executed. And so were their friends and associates.
Epaphroditus was taking a risk in associating himself with Paul. When he came into the prison to serve Paul, there was no guarantee that he would get out again.
And that is not all. Prisons were not very healthy places to be. If the guards didn't get you, then there was also disease with which to contend. Epaphroditus had gotten sick to the point of coming close to death. And this had happened "for the work of Christ" (verse 30).
Real friendship involves RISK. The word which Paul uses in verse 30 as he describes Epaphroditus "risking his life" is a gambling word. The Greek verb comes from the root parabolos - "to throw alongside." When used as a noun, it described a "parable" - a story thrown along side a truth in order to illustrate it. But when used as a verb (as it is here), it carries the original idea of casting lots or rolling the dice.
Real Christian friendship - the kind of friendship that involves servanthood - is risky. There is the risk that someone might take advantage of you.
You heard about the man who prayed, "Use me, O Lord. I ask that you might use me!" A week later, he prayed again, "Lord, you have to stop this. All of those people are just using me!"
Epaphroditus came to be used. He put his own life at risk to be of service to his Christian brother and to his friend.
Did you know that early Christians were described as gamblers? In the 3rd century, when there was a great plague in the city of Carthage, the pastor of the church called his congregation together for action. There were dead bodies everywhere and this was adding to the plague. Cyprian asked his congregation to go out and bury the dead, gambling their lives to save the city. In risking themselves for others, they saved the city.
Are you willing to take that kind of risk? The risk of hurt? The risk of rejection?
There is a risk to Christian friendship. My enemies can't hurt me because I'm not open and vulnerable with my enemies. My enemies don't know my weaknesses. But my friends do. And they have the power to eat me alive.
There is a price to Christian fellowship. Indeed, there is a price to being a Christian. No, I don't mean to say that you can earn or deserve a relationship with God. Salvation is a gift of God. He freely gives it to you through faith in Christ.
But it is true that such a relationship has its cost. It cost Christ everything. And it will cost you everything, too. Relationship with Christ involves an exchange. Christ says, "You turn over to Me every area of your life." He takes everything that you have and everything that you are. And then He gives to you everything that He has and everything that He is. He says, "You bet on Me, and you won't go wrong."