Gospel-Driven Ministers: Epaphroditus (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 2:25-30   |   Sunday, August 18, 2013   |   Code: 2013-08-18-MR

Well we return once again to our study of the Book of Philippians. And we find ourselves in the final verses of chapter 2, now at the tail end of a bit of a three-part series that we’ve entitled, “Three Gospel-Driven Ministers.” We have been asking the question, “What does it look like to lay our lives down in the joyful service of Christ and His people in a manner that is worthy of the great Gospel by which we have been saved?” (cf. 1:27).


And we’ve taken our answers to that question from the Apostle Paul himself in Philippians 2 verses 17 to 30. And in listening to his answers, we have been confronted with the immense importance of having a godly example to follow in the Christian life. We’ve quoted him in our two previous studies in this mini-series, so we might as well go ahead and quote him this last time. But it was the great Puritan Thomas Brooks who said, “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.” In other words, you can lay out principles and inform men and women of their duty, and you can use all the finest tools of rhetoric, and oratory, and persuasion as you do it. But the most powerful rhetoric—the most powerful form of persuasion and the most effective form of discipleship—is that of example. See, we know the principles laid out in Scripture well enough. But in order to get those principles from our heads to our hands we seem to need to see how those principles translate into action in the theater of a real, tangible, godly example lived out right in front of us. We benefit so much more when we move from, “Tell me what,” to “Show me how.”


And the writers of Scripture certainly understand that principle. In the fifth chapter of the Book of James, the Apostle James exhorts those whom he’s writing to to endure hardship and suffering with patience. And in James chapter 5 verse 10 he says, “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” And then again, just a few verses later, as he exhorts them to diligent prayer, he says in verse 17: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.” You see? James understands the power of example. He could just say, “Be patient in suffering. Be diligent in prayer.” But instead he calls to mind the patient endurance of the prophets, and of Job; and the diligent prayer of Elijah, who, he says, was a man with a nature like ours. “A man like us has done this faithfully. Our task is not impossible.”


And the Apostle Paul understands that very same principle. He has been expounding to the Philippians what it means, according to chapter 1 verse 27, to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. And in doing so, he lays upon them the extraordinarily high standard of Christian living. We are called to be unified, chapter 2 verses 1 and 2. We are called to exercise humility in all our dealings with one another, verses 3 and 4. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, verse 12. We are to do all things without complaining at all, verse 14. And in verse 15 we are called to be (a) blameless in our external behavior, (b) pure and unmixed in our internal character, and (c) above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.


Now even we, as the people of God, who know what it is to have the divine life implanted within us through the miracle of regeneration—even we who have a renewed nature—we hear that standard, and we survey own lives and the weakness of our flesh, and living up to that standard just seems impossible. And we can even begin to lose hope and become discouraged in our fight for holiness.


Series Proposition


But like James, Paul understands the power of example. He understands that simply announcing precepts and principles and duties can only go so far in helping the people of God live a life of holiness. And so after telling the Philippians what to do, Paul shows them how to do it. To show the people of God that this kind of life of obedient holiness is possible, he gives us three real-life, flesh-and-blood examples of this Gospel-driven lifethree Gospel-driven ministers, as we’ve said, who show us what it looks like for human beings—with a nature like ours—to put into practice these principles and precepts he has been calling them to throughout his letter.


We looked first at the example of Paul himself, in verses 17 and 18. As Paul sits imprisoned in Rome, facing what may potentially be his own martyrdom, he says that if indeed his sacrificial ministry will end in his death here in Rome, he won’t be discouraged. He’ll rejoice; because his death in the service of Christ and for the sake of the Philippians’ progress in holiness will be to him like the drink offering—the fitting climax—that completes the sacrificial offering of his ministry. And so we were instructed to follow his example—not in the sense of going out and seeking to be killed for the cause of Christ, but by dying to ourselves daily—each day, joyfully pouring our lives out as a drink offering upon the altar of service to the people of God—because we know, like Paul knew, that the greatest sacrifice for Christ brings the greatest fellowship with Christ.


And then, last time, we observed the example of Timothy in verses 19 to 24. And we saw six characteristics of Timothy that were worthy of our imitation. And I won’t rehearse those here; you can get the recording if you missed it or if you’d like to review. But suffice it to say that we observed in Timothy’s example the great importance of life-on-life discipleship, and of being the kind of selfless, single-mindedly devoted disciple that our leaders and shepherds can depend on—not being a dabbler in Christianity, simply seeking to remain in my own little bubble in my comfort zone; but being the kind of man or woman who, when a need in the congregation arises, your leaders run their eyes across the room and see you and think, as Paul thought of Timothy, “There is a man of the same soul as myself! There is a woman who will be genuinely concerned for the spiritual well-being of these dear people! There is a family that does not merely look out for their own personal interests, but seeks their joy in the interests of others!”


And now, this week, we come to the example of Epaphroditus in verses 25 to 30. And it’s very likely that of these three Gospel-driven ministers Epaphroditus proves to be the most precious example to us. See, some of us have this mistaken idea that the kind of holy living that the Apostle Paul is calling us to is only available to a special class of Christians. We have the example of Christ Himself in chapter 2 verses 5 to 11, but you say, “Well, He’s the God-man!” And then you get the human example of Paul, but you say, “Well Paul is probably the greatest, most extraordinary Christian who ever lived! He wrote half the New Testament! He’s my example?” And then he gives you the example of Timothy, but you say, “But Timothy was discipled by Paul himself! He was a gifted young pastor! He’s got books of the Bible named after him!”


But now here you have the example of Epaphroditus. Everything we know about this dear man we know from these five verses, save another brief reference to him later in chapter 4. But that’s it! He’s not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. We have no evidence of his prominence; no evidence of noteworthy recognition outside of this passage; we don’t even have any explicit indication that he held the office of elder or deacon in the church! He was just a dedicated layman, with a nature, and even with a résumé, just like ours. And so it just might be that we find particular help in the example of Epaphroditus, who seems a bit more apt to meet us where we’re all at.


Historical Context


Just a little about Epaphroditus himself, before we jump right in. As I said, he’s mentioned only here in this passage and again chapter 4 verse 18. The name “Epaphroditus” is derived from the name “Aphrodite,” who was the Greek goddess of love and beauty (the Romans called her Venus). And so Epaphroditus means “loved of, belonging to, or favored by Aphrodite.” Now if his parents had chosen this name for him, that means he was a Gentile who was very likely converted out of pagan worship. And you’ll understand why that’s significant just a bit later.


But whatever the specifics of his background, this dear brother had been saved and became a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he was a part of the church in Philippi. And we learn from this text that, as the Philippians became aware of Paul’s circumstances in Rome, they desired to send him someone from that congregation which he loved so dearly to minister to whatever needs he might have, and also to bring him a financial gift. And we learn from this text that Epaphroditus was chosen to accomplish that mission. And that tells you something about the Philippians’ estimation of this brother; you don’t send just anyone on a 40-days’ journey with a financial gift to minister to the Apostle Paul. He had obviously earned their trust and their confidence as a dedicated servant of Christ who sought the interests of others above his own.


But now that Epaphroditus has arrived and delivered the gift to Paul and has served him in any number of ways, Paul sends him back to Philippi with this letter in hand. And verses 25 to 30 serve as Paul’s commendation of Epaphroditus back to the Philippians. Let’s read that text together. Philippians 2, verses 25-30: “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; 26because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27For 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. 28Therefore 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. 29Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.”


Sermon Proposition


And the exposition of the text itself unfolds across three main units of thought: (1) In verse 25, we have Paul’s description of Epaphroditus himself; (2) Then, in verses 26 to 28, Paul gives two categories of reasons why he has determined to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi; (3) And finally, in verses 29 and 30, Paul exhorts the Philippians to welcome Epaphroditus when he returns to them—to receive him as a brother, with joy and in honor. Paul’s description, Paul’s reasons, and Paul’s exhortation—all concerning Epaphroditus. And as we follow Paul’s argument and seek to expound the meaning of the text, we’ll be able to observe the exemplary patterns of life—both of Epaphroditus and of the Apostle Paul—and in that way also make some applications to our own lives about what it means to be a Gospel-driven minister.


I. Paul’s Description of Epaphroditus (v. 25)


Well, number one, then: Paul’s description of Epaphroditus. In this warm and loving commendation of Epaphroditus, Paul uses five terms to express his deep affection and high regard for this dear brother. And we see that these five terms come in two categories: three in relation to Paul, and two in relation to the Philippians—my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier; and your messenger and minister to my need.


First, Paul calls Epaphroditus his brother. Now if you look at that first designation through the eyes of a man or woman in the first century—especially of a Jewish man or woman, familiar with the cultural sensitivities of the people of that time—even this is a bit shocking. As we’ve mentioned already, it’s plain from Epaphroditus’ own name that he had been raised in paganism—born to parents who had at least some regard to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. And of course, Paul had spent his entire life as a young man as the most zealous of Pharisees, single-mindedly bent on keeping the Judaistic religion pure. If he had ever even had contact with a Gentile in his life as a Pharisee, if he called him anything he would have called him a dog, and probably would have spat at the mere mention of his pagan name. And yet because of the marvelous work accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross—because of the sovereign work of God in snatching Paul from the blindness of his Judaism and snatching Epaphroditus from the blindness his paganism—and opening their eyes to the ugliness of their sin and the unspeakable glory of Jesus, granting to them a common faith in this crucified and risen Lord—they are now brothers in Christ. “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek…” (Gal 3:28). And you’ll notice that Paul does not just call him a brother, but “my brother.” Paul commends Epaphroditus not merely as another believer, which would be enough. But he calls him “my brother,” indicating the kind of personal affection and friendship that develops as men serve the Lord Jesus Christ together.


And that is the second term that Paul uses: my fellow worker. And where “brother” could be confused as simply another name for a fellow believer, “fellow worker” could not. Paul reserved this term for those who had partnered with him in ministry. It’s used of such eminent servants as Timothy (Rom 16:21), of Titus (2 Cor 8:23), of Philemon (Phm 1:1), of Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16:3), of Mark and Aristarchus and Luke (Phm 1:24), and only a handful of others. Now all of you who read your Bibles are familiar with those names, and the Philippians would have been familiar with them too. So when Paul calls Epaphroditus his fellow worker, he is including him in his inner circle, as it were. He’s regarding him as having a place on his ministry team—one who has labored alongside him, just as the Philippians had, in the cause of the Gospel (cf. Hansen, 202). And finally, Epaphroditus is Paul’s fellow soldier, a sharer in the conflicts, and the dangers, and the sufferings that inevitably befall a true servant of Christ who seeks to be faithful in his work. Epaphroditus has not only labored with Paul for the sake of the Gospel. He has also suffered with Paul, side-by-side, in the persecutions that result from that labor.


Then, Paul describes Epaphroditus in his relationship to the Philippians. Look again at verse 25: he is “also your messenger and minister to my need.” As Paul plans to send Epaphroditus back to the church in Philippi, he calls their attention to the service Epaphroditus had accomplished on their behalf. The Philippians themselves, after learning of Paul’s circumstances as a prisoner in Rome, had sent Epaphroditus on that 40-days’ journey to bring Paul a financial gift. Paul refers to that in chapter 4 verse 18 when, in the context of financial giving and receiving (cf. 4:15–17), he tells them, “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”


And he wasn’t just a delivery boy. He wasn’t only to bring a gift to Paul; he was also to be a gift for Paul (cf. Hendriksen, 140). As Paul sat chained to a Roman soldier every waking moment of his life, awaiting the verdict from Nero regarding whether he would live or die, and having no one else of kindred spirit with him except for Timothy (Phil 2:20), the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to minister to whatever needs he might have—to provide fellowship and encouragement, to minister to the believers in Rome in ways that Paul couldn’t because of his imprisonment, to continue preaching the Gospel in that capital city of ancient paganism—whatever Paul needed, Epaphroditus was there to serve. He was the Philippians’ messenger and minister to Paul’s need.


There is much that we can glean about the nature of the Christian life from this five-fold description of Epaphroditus. The first lesson is that it is a life of brotherhood. There are plenty of cultural groups and political organizations and clubs formed around this or that particular hobby, which draw people of diverse backgrounds and experiences together for a common cause. But no club or organization can take a racist religious zealot and a lawless pluralistic pagan and change their hearts so that from the very depths of their being they regard one another as brothers—as being part of the same family. At the end of a club meeting, the members separate and return to their individual lives. But Christians are brothers and sisters. We are involved in each other’s lives on the level our very own families. And families don’t just go around calling each other “brother” and “sister” in some sort of mechanical way. No, the brotherly relationship is manifested in action. It’s proven in the ways that a family cares for one another, by what we actually do in serving one another.


And that’s a second lesson we can glean. The Christian life is a life of ministry. We are fellow-workers, fellow-laborers together in this work of serving the Lord and ministering to one another in our needs. It’s often been said that Christianity is not a spectator sport—it’s not a weekend hobby where we just add a little Jesus to our comfortable and convenient lives as we pursue the American Dream. It’s a life of selfless sacrifice and labor on behalf of our brothers and sisters, following in the path of the Lord Jesus who told us, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).


And that brings us a third lesson: The Christian life is a life of trouble. We are fellow-soldiers, battling alongside one another in spiritual army of our King. We are at war with the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12), and we’ve been told that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12)—that it is “through many tribulations [that] we must enter the kingdom of God” (Ac 14:22). Paul has told us as recently as Philippians chapter 1 verse 29 that it is been granted to us for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. And so if any of you hear have any false notions of what the Christian life is, let them be corrected by Paul’s description of this Gospel-driven minister, Epaphroditus.


II. Paul’s Reasons for Sending Epaphroditus (vv. 26–28)


Now, it’s clear from Paul’s description of Epaphroditus that he thought highly of this man. It’s clear that he was useful to him in ministry and that he loved him with the depth of affection that is forged in the furnace of affliction-for-Christ’s-sake. And though the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to stay with Paul and minister to his needs, Paul sends this dear brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier back to Philippi. And the obvious question is: Why in the world would he do that?


Well, that brings us to the second unit of thought in this text. Number one: Paul’s description of Epaphroditus. And now, number two: Paul’s reasons for sending Epaphroditus. Look with me again at verse 25: “I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus,” and now skip to verse 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—”
and the proper rendering there is “and I may be less sorrowful.” And so verses 26 to 28 give the reasons why Paul is sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi. And they break down into two broad categories of rationale: (a) the first has to do with Epaphroditus’ condition; and (b) the second has to do with the expected outcomes of his return.


The Apostle says, first, that he is going to send Epaphroditus to the Philippians “because he was longing for you all.” This is a word that speaks of intense longing or yearning, of sincere affection. It’s the word used in James chapter 4 verse 5, where we’re told that the Spirit of God jealously yearns for the total allegiance of man’s heart (Kent, 135). Peter uses this word in 1 Peter 2:2 to speak of a Christian’s longing for the pure milk of the Word of God like a newborn baby longs for the milk of nourishment from his mother’s breast. In the same way that an infant child cries out from the pangs of hunger, Epaphroditus was longing for his dear friends at Philippi.


And not only was he longing for them, he was also distressed over them. This is a word that refers to deep anguish, anxiety, and emotional turmoil (MacArthur, 205). One commentator says it “draws attention to great mental and spiritual anguish” (O’Brien, 334). It’s word used only two other times in the New Testament, and in both cases it’s used to describe the experience of the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, where we are told that He “began to be grieved and distressed” and said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death” (Matt 26:37–38). Such was the condition of Epaphroditus.


And some, at this point, throw their hands up in disgust. “Ugh! Epaphroditus! What a girly man! So overcome with emotion! Get a hold of yourself!” But this misses the point entirely! You should hear what some commentators say about this. One asks, “Was Epaphroditus so emotionally immature that he was overwhelmed by ‘homesickness’?” (Hawthorne, 117). Another asks, “Isn’t such an emotional reaction strange for the behavior of a grown man?” (Barth, 88). Some supposed that he had a nervous disorder (Martin, 130), that he was emotionally unstable, battled with depression, had a psychosomatic condition, and was even suicidal (Martin & Hawthorne, 165). But these men couldn’t be more mistaken. Epaphroditus was not a mass of unbridled emotions! This was Paul’s fellow-worker in the cause of the Gospel—his fellow-soldier in the spiritual battle of the Christian life! This was the man, as we’ll learn later on in the passage, who risked his very life for the sake of the work of Christ!


You say, “Well why was he so distressed?” Look again at verse 26: “He was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.” This was no mere homesickness! This was no maudlin sentimentalism! Epaphroditus wasn’t concerned at all about his own condition. He was distressed because the Philippians heard he was sick! At some point, most likely on the 700-mile trip to Rome from Philippi, Epaphroditus fell ill. And he either sent back some traveling companions, or sent word with someone traveling in the opposite direction, to inform the Philippians of his condition. Well, there had been no word back to Philippi since Epaphroditus completed his journey, but word had come from Philippi to Rome that the congregation was worried about their dear brother. And now that Epaphroditus is better and the Philippians don’t know it, he’s worried that they’re too worried when they don’t need to be. And Paul’s worried that Epaphroditus is worried. Everybody’s worried! So he says, “You’ve got to go back and get this all cleared up!”


And so Paul doesn’t chastise Epaphroditus for his longing and distress on behalf of the Philippians. Paul himself says that he longs for the Philippians, both in chapter 1 verse 8 and chapter 4 verse 1. No, so far from rebuking Epaphroditus as if he was just overly emotional, it is in part on the very basis of these emotions that Paul thinks it necessary to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi.


And then he elaborates a bit on Epaphroditus’ condition in verse 27. The Philippians had heard that he was sick, but Paul explains that he was so sick that he had almost died! “But,” he informs the Philippians, “God had mercy on him.” God spared him. “And,” he goes on, verse 27, “not only did God have mercy on him, but God had mercy on me too! Because if Epaphroditus had died I would have had sorrow upon sorrow.” And here we gain precious insight into the heart of the Apostle Paul. One writer says, “The apostle’s human sensitivity shines through clearly in these words. Later in the letter he refers to the peace of God (4:7) and divine strength for all things (4:13); yet he is no Stoic or man of iron without human feelings” (O’Brien, 338). And I love the way Calvin puts it: “[Paul] does not, therefore, make it his boast that he has the apathy of the Stoics, as if he were a man of iron, and exempt from human affections. ‘What then!’ some one will say, ‘where is that unconquerable magnanimity?—where is that indefatigable perseverance?’ I answer, that Christian patience differs widely from philosophical obstinacy, and still more from the stubborn fierceness of the Stoics” (82).


And we see that even further as we read on in verse 28. Paul will send Epaphroditus back to Philippi, not only because of the condition of Epaphroditus, but also because of the expected outcomes of his return, of which there are two. Verse 28: “Therefore I have sent him to you more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice.” This is just beautiful. Paul knows of the Philippians’ distress. He knows they are anxiously longing to hear news about their dear messenger, running back and forth to the mailbox as it were, to see if there had been any report. Paul knows that in seeing Epaphroditus safe and sound, back in Philippi, and in good health would be cause for the kind of celebration of receiving a son back from the dead. And as much as Paul dearly loved Epaphroditus, and as much as he would have benefited from his service to him there in that Roman prison, he says that he himself will be “less sorrowful” when he thinks of the joy and the gladness of both the Philippians and Epaphroditus.


Martyn Lloyd-Jones paraphrases it this way: “‘You know,’ says Paul in effect, ‘I am sending Epaphroditus back to you, because I know that when he arrives back in Philippi, and when you see him, you are all going to be so happy. And the fact that you are going to be so happy is also going to make me less sorrowful; as I think of you and your happiness when you look into the face of Epaphroditus, it will make me forget everything, and I shall rejoice as a man who rejoices in the Lord’” (Life of Joy, 230). What a beautiful picture of the selfless love and large-hearted magnanimity that Paul himself commended to the Philippians in chapter 2 verses 3 and 4, where he says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Here Paul was, modeling that very piece of instruction to the Philippians in the way that he dealt with Epaphroditus. He found his joy in the joy of his fellow-believers.


And, oh, I pray that this spirit inhabits us, GraceLife! That we as a fellowship group, and as members of Grace Church as a whole, would be so marked by this spirit of affectionate tenderness! That we would long and yearn for one another with intense affection! That we would have the kind of godly concern for one another that stirs us up to action when one of us is so much as unduly distressed! Oh, that we would dispense with all manner of Stoicism in the Christian life! That we would repudiate the lie that to be Christian is to feel and to show no emotion! Emotions, in and of themselves, dear friends, are not sinful! They can surely be twisted and distorted and employed in sinful ways, but the Lord Jesus Christ has experienced the full range of human emotion, including anger, mourning, sorrow to the point of weeping, pain, joy, gladness of heart—He has sanctified them all! You can feel all things to the glory of God (cf. 1 Cor 10:31)!


Now, I’m not saying that we ought to be saccharine, and maudlin, and driven by our feelings. But dear people we cannot stifle the natural expression of human emotion and expect to be worshipers of God and lovers of His people. What’s the first thing we do when we begin to cry in front of someone? We get embarrassed and we apologize. But if the Lord has worked in our lives in such a way as to bring tears of joy—or if our hearts are broken over the reign that sin and death exercises over God’s good creation—there’s no need to be ashamed of those emotions. Those emotions are right at home among the people of God. If we stifle those, we have no hope of experiencing the same depth of fellowship that Paul and Epaphroditus and the Philippians experienced. They longed for each other. They were distressed over one another’s distress—so much so that it drove Epaphroditus to undertake a 700-mile journey across land and sea, across a country-and-a-half, without the benefit of an automobile or a train or an airplane, while sick to the point of death in order to minister to the body of Christ on behalf of the body of Christ. Oh, what our affections can accomplish when they are submitted to the Word of God!


III. Paul’s Exhortation Concerning the Reception of Epaphroditus (vv. 29–30)


Well then, we have observed Paul’s description of Epaphroditus in verse 25, and just now in verses 26 to 28 Paul’s reasons for sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi. We come, then, to the third unit of thought in this text: Paul’s exhortation concerning the reception of Epaphroditus. Look at verses 29 and 30: “Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.”


The Philippians are to “receive” Epaphroditus. They are to give him an enduring welcome as a fellow member of the community of the saints in Philippi (cf. O’Brien, 340–41). This is the same word the Pharisees used to level an accusation against the Lord Jesus in Luke chapter 15 verse 2. It says they began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” “This man welcomes and enters into an intimate relationship with sinners.” And Paul uses this word here. “You are to receive Epaphroditus. You are to welcome him and re-enter into that intimate relationship with him that you had previously.”


And how? In what manner are they to receive him? Verse 29: “Receive him then in the Lord.” Receive him as is befitting of one who is united to Christ just as you are. Receive him in the full consciousness of the glorious reality that you share with this dear brother the common bond of spiritual union to the Lord Jesus Christ. Another way of saying this would be, “Receive him back as a member in good standing of the Church of Philippi.” And how is that to be done? Look again: “Receive him then in the Lord with all joy.” With all joy. This is not to be a begrudging reception. This is not to be a hesitant, resentful reception, like, “Oh all right. If I have to.” They are to receive Epaphroditus with fullness of joy—with “favorable and glad acceptance” (MacArthur, 206). And Paul goes on: They are not merely to receive him in the Lord with all joy. Paul also commands them, verse 29, to “hold men like him in high regard.” They are to honor him as one to whom honor is due (cf. Rom 13:7). As one writer put it, the people of God are to give men like Epaphroditus “a place in your estimation, affection, and attitude commensurate with their proven worth and stature.”


And what is the reason Paul gives for this? Verse 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.” As we mentioned before, as Epaphroditus was carrying out his mission from the Philippians, traveling that 40-days and 700-mile journey on foot from Philippi to Rome, somewhere along the way he became ill. And his sickness was of such severity that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that he “came close to death”—literally, “a near neighbor to death.” In English, we would use the idiom, “He was at death’s door.” But even though he was sick to the point of death, he did not abandon his mission in the cause of Christ. He didn’t turn around and head back to Philippi. He didn’t stop somewhere along the way to rest and recover; if he did that, perhaps by the time he would have gotten to Paul Nero may have rendered his judgment for execution, and then it would’ve been too late.


No. With a sort of holy recklessness, Epaphroditus “risked his life to complete what was deficient in the Philippians’ service to him.” Now, that doesn’t imply anything negative on the part of the Philippians. The entire congregation would have loved to bring the financial gift to him themselves, and they would have loved to all go to minister to the needs of the Apostle while he was in prison awaiting trial. But of course the distance separated them. And so Paul is saying, “Don’t think that because I’ve sent Epaphroditus back to you that he has somehow failed in his mission. Not at all. He has completed the ministry of service that you all would have done yourselves, but couldn’t because of the distance that separates us. And not only has he completed this service, but he risked his very life to do it, and came close to death in carrying out the work of Christ. And so you should receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold all those who follow his example in high regard.”


Epaphroditus was following in footsteps of the Lord Jesus Himself. In chapter 2 verse 8, Paul tells us that Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” And in the same manner, “with total disregard for his own welfare, [Epaphroditus] put his life on the line for the work of Christ” (MacArthur, 207). There was a holy recklessness about him! He could say with Paul in chapter 2 verse 17, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice.” “My life couldn’t be better spent!” And with Paul again, in Acts 20:24, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus!” Epaphroditus had learned what Paul meant when he said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)! He knew what it was to say, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—even my health, even life itself—so that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8)!


And GraceLife, I want to know if that spirit of holy recklessness dwells in you! Is there a willingness—even an eagerness—in your own soul to risk your life if necessary for the work that Christ has called you to do—to lay down your life for the progress and joy of the faith of your fellow believers? Are you willing to be poured out like a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of the faith of your brothers and sisters? And are you willing to die daily, even in the little ways—even in the ordinary, non-romanticized, behind-the-scenes ways that no one but the Lord will see.


Your life is given to you by God for you to live it in such a way that it is plain to everyone who sees you that your life is not what you treasure most deeply, but that Christ is what you treasure most deeply! Your life is given to you—not so that you can slavishly cling to it at all costs and gratify the desires of your flesh. Your life is given to you so that you can lay it down in such a way that makes it plain to the world that Christ is more satisfying than all that life can offer and all that death can take! That is why life is given to you. Don’t waste it.


And if you’re here with us this morning and you’re not a Christian, I tell you with all the authority of the Word of God itself that you are wasting your life. It’s a privilege for me to be able to show you, from this text, a small part of what life is really about. But if you are still clinging to your sin—if you have not surrendered every aspect of your life the Lordship of Christ and the absolute authority of God’s Word—you are wasting your life. And my exhortation to you is not that you should lay your life down in service to others. If you are outside of Christ and are a stranger to God’s grace and forgiveness, exhorting you to selfless, sacrificial service after the pattern of Epaphroditus and Timothy and Paul, and even the Lord Jesus—all of that would only perpetuate the lie in your own mind that your good works could do something to commend you to God! No, before you would start down the path of sacrificial service to Christ and to His Church, you need to become part of the Church. You need to come to Christ.


And that requires that you own the fact that you are a sinner—that you have broken God’s law and have fallen short of His glorious moral standard of perfect holiness, of perfection. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, and no matter what you’ve done in your life, you stand guilty before the holy God of the universe who created you. And because God is a God of unwavering justice—because He is a good God—your penalty must be paid. But because you are so sinful, and because God is so holy, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to adequately pay this penalty!


But it was precisely for this reason that God demonstrated His love for the world by sending His only Son to earth—to add to His eternal divine nature the weakness and the frailty of a human nature. And so Jesus of Nazareth was born as the God-man—fully God, and fully man. And throughout the entirety of His life He lived perfectly before the holy standard of His Father. He never sinned in any of the ways that you and I have. He lived the life you were commanded to live but couldn’t live. And not only did He live His life on behalf of sinners, but at the fullness of time He died on the cross to pay the full penalty of our sin. And it was a death penalty, not only of physical death but also of spiritual death, as on that cross He absorbed the full measure of the wrath of God—wrath that you deserved and that He never deserved. And on the third day He rose from the grave where they had laid Him, showing that the Father was satisfied with His sacrifice and that He had conquered death.


And the promise is that if you turn from your sin and self-righteousness, and put your faith entirely in His death to pay sin’s penalty, and His life to provide your righteousness before God, then His death will be counted as your death, and His life will be counted as your life, and you will finally know the God who created you. Dear friend, come to Christ.