If we listed our favorite Bible characters, I imagine none of us
would list Epaphroditus. In fact, some probably just said
“Who?” Epaphroditus doesn’t get much screen time in the
Bible. He’s a supporting character, not a headliner. Yet, what
an amazing man he must have been. He is mentioned in only two
2:25-30; 4:18. He was sent by the Philippian church to
minister a gift to Paul and then sent back by Paul to provide
encouragement to the brethren. Notice how Paul and the Philippian
brethren felt about him. The Philippians were distressed to hear
he had been ill. Paul said God spared Epaphroditus because if he
had died, Paul would have had sorrow upon sorrow. Paul commanded
the Philippians to honor men like Epaphroditus. What made this man
Epaphroditus was a brother.
Paul’s first description of Epaphroditus was of
brotherhood. There is no doubt the two men were brothers in
Christ. However, I do not believe that is Paul’s point. The
first term Paul used to describe Epaphroditus demonstrated not
their technical relationship, but the affection they had for one
another. They were brothers, tied together by the bonds of
If we want to make a difference in other’s lives… If we
want to be the kind of people others are concerned about, then we
need to be brothers (or sisters) to them. We need to have that
affection for them. Peter claimed we purified our souls in order
to love our brethren (I
How would we behave if we treated each other with brotherly
love and affection? We would put away any malice or bitterness and
clothe ourselves with kindness, compassion and forgiveness (Ephesians
4:31-32). We would put others before ourselves (Philippians
17:17 says a friend loves at all times and a brother is
born for adversity. If we are brotherly, when times are tough, we
would bear there to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians
6:2). If we will be like Epaphroditus, we must not be
fair-weather friends, but burden bearing brothers.
Epaphroditus was a fellow worker.
Anybody who is a student of modern teamwork and leadership
literature will find this descriptive term very interesting. The
word translated by “fellow worker” is “sunergos.” The
modern word “synergy” derives from this term. Synergy refers
to the exponential amount of work we accomplish working together.
4:9-12 says, two are better than one, getting more return
for their labor. That is, working together they get more done than
working separately. Synergy is adding 1+1 but getting 3 or more. I
heard the story once of a horse-pulling competition. In the end
the first place winner had pulled 5,000 lbs and the second 4,000.
For kicks, they hooked the two together to see what they could
pull. We might expect 9,000 lbs. Instead, they pulled 12,000. That
is what Epaphroditus was. He was a worker whose teamwork caused
the total to be more than the sum of the parts.
There are two points in this term.
was a worker,
not a pew-warmer, not an attender. He did not expect others to
work so he could reap the benefits. He worked. If we want to be
like Epaphroditus, we must work. That means sacrificing time and
relaxation. That means not being focused on recreation. That means
putting our shoulder to the grindstone.
was a team player.
Paul didn’t just call him a worker, but a fellow worker.
Epaphroditus didn’t try to go it alone. He didn’t try to stand
out and shine above all others. He was a joint worker. He didn’t
mind putting on the yoke and pulling with someone else. There is a
sense of unity here that Paul described in Philippians
If we want to be like Epaphroditus, we have to work. But we
have to do it with others, not seeking to be the lead dog, but
just working alongside our brethren so we can accomplish more.
Epaphroditus was a fellow soldier.
This description takes the last to a higher level. Not only
was Epaphroditus a fellow worker, he was a fellow soldier. Working
demonstrates discipline and commitment. Soldiering demonstrates
doing so in the face of enemy fire.
I can’t help but think of the story of Nehemiah’s wall
builders in Nehemiah
4:17-18. When they started building the wall, they were
fellow workers. They each did their part to rebuild the city wall.
But then the enemies threatened attack. The fellow workers became
fellow soldiers. Not only carrying out the work with one hand but
holding their weapons with the other.
Many Christians work until they find out folks in the world
and false religion don’t like what we are doing. When opposition
starts, some Christians want to back off and blend in. We can’t
do that. We have to be workers and soldiers. We have to fight the
good fight, keeping the faith in the presence of opposition (cf. I
Timothy 1:18; 6:12). We need to put on the armor of God (Ephesians
6:14-18) and step into the battle.
But we must notice Epaphroditus was not just any soldier.
He was a fellow soldier. Sadly, it sometimes seems out of our list
of positive attributes for Epaphroditus, the one we Christians
most have down is fighting. Sadly, we too often fight each other.
5:15. Instead of fighting each other, we need to be fellow
soldiers fighting against our common enemy.
Epaphroditus was a messenger.
Interestingly, the word translated messenger is “apostolos,”
or apostle, meaning one who is sent. Proverbs
26:6 gets to the heart of why this is a great
characteristic. It is folly to send a message by the hand of a
fool. Instead, you want to make sure your messenger is
Epaphroditus was so important to Paul and the Philippians
because he stood out as trustworthy. They knew they could entrust
him with their messages and their gifts (Philippians
4:18). How easy it would have been for Epaphroditus to
skip town with the material goods and monetary gift the Philippian
congregation had sent. But Epaphroditus was trustworthy.
If we want to be like Epaphroditus we need to be people who
can be trusted. We need to be people who keep our word. Our yes
should be yes and our no, no (Matthew
5:37). If we commit to an action, we must follow through.
If we say something is just so, then it should be just so. We must
be trustworthy as messengers.
Epaphroditus was a minister.
The word minister does not mean preacher. Sadly, we have
made the word “minister” a title even though it was never
intended to be so. It is a description. Ministering means serving.
However, the word translated here is not the one we more commonly
think of for minister or servant (diakonos). It is “leitourgos.”
The family of words to which this one belongs, initially referred
to public servants who carried out their duties at personal
expense. Thus, this term highlights not only service, but the
personally sacrificial nature of service.
Many Christians are ready to serve, as long as it doesn’t
get in the way of our favorite tv show. We are ready to serve, as
long as we get to take care of our own house first. We are ready
to serve, as long as we don’t miss the football game. We are
ready to serve as long as we have time after we take Jr. to his
football game and Sally to her piano recital. Epaphroditus was not
merely a servant. He was a sacrificing servant.
If we want to be like Epaphroditus, we have to be prepared
to sacrifice. Hebrews
13:16 tells us we must learn to do good and share. God is
pleased with these kinds of sacrifices. But rest assured. They are
sacrifices. They will cost us. We will lose something else that we
wanted. This is a matter of priority. We can do anything we want.
But we can’t do everything we want. We have to make serving the
Lord and His people a priority and sacrifice some of our other
desires. Then we will be like Epaphroditus.
We have not examined Epaphroditus so we might learn how to
be honored by men. We have not done so merely because we want
people to mourn us when we are gone. Rather, we have done so
because we know this is the kind of person we want to be. We want
to be a person who impacts others positively. We want to be a
person that stands up in God’s kingdom and does good. We want to
be like Epaphroditus. If we would be like him, we must love as
brothers, we must work as a team, we must stand up in the face of
the enemy as soldiers, we must be trustworthy in our work and we
must sacrifice as servants. This is a noble calling, yet so few
actually pursue this course. May each of us be part of the few who
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ