Thursday, 12 April 2018


     In Paul’s letter to the saints at Philippi, after an extensive commendation of Timothy, he commends a brother named Epaphroditus:
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. (Phil. 2:25-30 ESV)
     The name “Epaphroditus” is of Greek origin, a combination of epí [“on,” “against”] + Aphrodítē [goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure]; a fairly common name, meaning “lovely” or “charming.”1 Apparently Epaphroditus is the letter carrier, and the apostle makes it clear that Epaphroditus’ return is not Epaphroditus’ idea. Rather, it was “necessary” for Paul to “send” him, giving him an even more elaborate commendation than he had given Timothy.
Connection to Paul
     Epaphroditus is described as Paul’s “brother,” an appellation that E. E. Ellis suggests refers to a more restricted group of workers in Pauline literature, especially the plural form (Prophecy and Hermeneutic 13-22; also “Coworkers” [1993] 183-85).2 But the same designation, particularly in Philippians, is applied to all who share the common faith (Phil. 1:12, 14; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21). Epaphroditus is also the apostle’s “fellow worker,” a description used frequently in Paul’s writings in reference to his own coworkers (Rom. 16:3, 9, 21; 2 Cor. 1:24; 8:23; Phil. 2:25; 4:3; Col. 4:11; 1 Thess. 3:2; Philem. 1, 24), as well as to God’s (1 Cor. 3:9; cf. 2 Cor. 6:1). Epaphroditus is also Paul’s “fellow soldier,” a term employed only twice in the NT, here and with reference to Archippus in Philem. 2. On Paul’s use of military metaphors, cf. also 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 6:10-17; 2 Tim. 2:1-4. These descriptions would apply either to their joint efforts in Rome (cf. 1:13-14) or perhaps to the time Paul had spent in Philippi (Acts 16:40; 20:1-3).  
Connection to Philippi
     Epaphroditus is then called “your messenger,” translated from the noun apóstolos (transliterated “apostle”), a term applied generically to anyone who is sent [vb. apostéllō = to “send out or away”] as a delegate or a messenger (cf. Acts 14:4, 14; 2 Cor. 8:23; 1 Thess. 2:6). He is also described as a “minister” [leitourgós], viz. one who renders spiritual service (cf. Rom. 13:6; 15:16; Phil. 2:25; Heb. 1:7; 8:2) “to my need.” Epaphroditus had delivered financial aid to Paul from the Philippi church (v. 30; 4:18) and may have assisted the apostle in other areas of ministry.
     Paul says Epaphroditus “has been longing [epipothōn] for you all,” using the present active participle conveying a persistent, ongoing desire (cf. Rom. 1:11; 1 Thess. 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:4). Further, he “has been distressed” [adēmonōn], the present active [persistent, ongoing] participial form of adēmonéō, elsewhere descriptive of the agony Jesus experienced in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:33). The reason for this heavy emotional strain is “because you heard that he was ill … near death” (cf. v. 30). Epaphroditus was apparently more concerned about their worries than his own health.
     Paul credits the merciful God for Epaphroditus’ recovery, which has provided much relief (“lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow”). It is of interest to note that even though at times Paul manifested the miraculous ability to heal (Acts 14:9-10; 19:11-12; 28:8), he appears to have been unable to heal Epaphroditus despite deep concern (cf. 2 Tim. 4:20). Evidently the “signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12) were not intended for personal use but to confirm God’s word in the presence of unbelievers (cf. Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4). The sending back of Epaphroditus serves a threefold purpose: (a) to boost the morale of Epaphroditus (v. 26), (b) to boost the morale of the Philippi congregation (v. 28b), and (c) to relieve Paul’s sorrow (v. 28c).
     The commendation comes to a climax with the words, “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men.” This may indicate Paul’s underlying suspicion about the brethren’s less-than-favorable attitude toward their messenger: “Why has he been gone so long?!” or “Why is he returning instead of continuing his ministry?!”3 Although most translations position the phrase “in the Lord” as a modifier of “receive,” I-J. Loh and E. A. Nida suggest that it is better connected to the phrase “with all joy,” i.e., “welcome him the way Christians should welcome fellow believers” (Translators Handbook 84).   
     The “honor” Epaphroditus deserves is due to the fact that “he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life …” In ministering to Paul in Rome, which is approximately 700-1,200 miles (1,127-1,931 km) from Philippi (depending on the route taken), he courageously exposed himself to danger, and his illness may have been due to “over-exertion” (J. B. Lightfoot, Philippians 125).
Further Thoughts
     In this chapter Paul has emphasized unity and its necessary prerequisite – humility. Epaphroditus is an exemplary role model for his brethren. In fact, he is listed among other great examples, like Jesus Christ (vv. 5-11), the apostle Paul (vv. 12-18), and Timothy (vv. 19-24).
     Later on in the letter Paul writes, “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18).
     The clause I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied” is lit., “but I have [in full] all things and abound; I am full.” The verb apéchō, according to J. J. Müller, “is a word generally used in connection with a receipt or settlement of payment. The obligation has been honored, the debt has been settled …” (Philippians 150 n. 8). T. L. Constable calls this Paul’s “written receipt for their donation, as well as a ‘thank-you note’” (Notes 85).    
     Epaphroditus, as the official messenger of the Philippi church (2:25-30), has delivered to Paul “the gifts” – the ESV translation of the plural article tá, lit. “the [things]” – inclusive of the monetary “gift” (v. 17) and perhaps other items. Generally the Roman government did not provide for their prisoners beyond basic needs, so help from family and friends was necessary.
     Paul considers the generosity of his brethren “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” The imagery here is drawn from the OT sacrificial system descriptive of what was pleasing to God.4 Under the new covenant, what pleases him are the consequences of his Son’s sacrifice and the offerings we give and the spiritual sacrifices we make (Eph. 5:2; Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15-16).
     Epaphroditus is mentioned by name only twice in the biblical record, and nowhere outside the Philippian correspondence. While there is no record of any sermon he may have preached or souls he may have led to Christ, he played a crucial role in the Lord’s church. He was a faithful brother, a loyal worker, a brave soldier, a dependable messenger, and a humble servant. We welcome Paul’s directive to “honor such men.”
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 The name Epaphras (Col. 1:7; 4:12; Philem. 23) is an abbreviated version of the same name but probably not worn by the same person.
     2 Cf. 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor 2:15; Rom. 16:23; 1 Thess. 3:2; 2 Cor. 8:18 f., 23; 9:3, 5; 11:9; 12:18; 1 Cor. 16:10 ff.; also 1 Cor. 16:19 f.; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 1:14; 4:21 f.; Col. 4:15; Gal. 1:2.
     3 H. C. G. Moule suggests, “Epaphroditus was perhaps a little undervalued at Philippi, in proportion to St Paul’s estimate of him” (Philippians 164).
     4 Gen. 8:21; Ex. 29:18, 25; Lev. 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2; Ezek. 20:41; cp. Lev. 26:31.

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