The apostle Paul enjoyed a special relationship with the church in Philippi. This was the first city he visited after responding to the invitation to “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Here he encounters two persons of peace (cf., Luke 10 & Acts 10). While it is not surprising that Lydia and her household come to faith in Jesus (Acts 16:15), the transformation of the jailer and his family stands in stark contrast (Acts 16:33). Lydia is known for her piety and as “a worshipper of God” (Acts 16:14).
Jailers were notoriously cruel and ruthless. When this man awakens to the doors thrown open by the earthquake, he moves to commit suicide. Though it takes a mighty work of God and an incredible experience of grace to get his attention, the jailer comes to faith.
Paul’s time in Philippi is brief and momentous, but God tightly knit their hearts together. One of the purposes of Philippians is Paul’s expression of gratitude for the support this church has given (Phil. 4:15-16, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”) He goes on to say, “I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18).
But this is not the first time one encounters the name of Ephaphroditus. He is first mentioned at the end of Philippians 2. That chapter contains the incredible hymn which holds up the humble servant nature of Jesus as the model for every believer. Paul urges these Jesus followers to exhibit this mind of Christ. They are to set aside their selfish wills and pursue what is best for others. If their union with Jesus has brought blessings into their lives they are strongly urged to humble themselves like Christ did in his incarnation.
I believe Epaphroditus provides a key to applying Paul’s teaching in the beginning of Philippians 2. When you examine all that is said about this brother in chapters 2 and 4, you find he was sent by the believers in Philippi to Rome, where Paul was under house arrest. He carried a financial gift that the church had gathered when they learned of Paul’s condition. Epaphroditus was actually supposed to remain with the apostle, for a season, but he became extremely ill. Word of this illness reached the believers in Philippi and this caused Epaphroditus grave concern (Phil. 2:26). Due to his illness, this brother “almost died” (Phil. 2:27).
How would your congregation respond if it sacrificed to send one of its own to assist a beloved missionary and your guy had to come home before he could complete his mission? Would there be great disappointment? Would there be members who questioned his faithfulness? Would people welcome him home or would they grumble and complain about his failures? How well do you deal with major disappointments? Are you able to see situations with Jesus’ eyes?
Paul uses an unusual word in Philippians 2:30 that is translated, “risking his life” (NIV). It only appears this one time in all of Scriptures, but is found in other writings. It carries the connotation of a gambler who places his whole life in as the wager for the game of chance. It is as if Paul says, “Epaphroditus was literally ‘all in’ for your sake.” He opened this section by writing, “I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs” (Phil. 2:25).
Though this group of believers would likely feel great disappointment that their messenger had been unable to complete the responsibility they had anticipated, they were to see him as Paul did. Epaphroditus was to be received as a brother. He was to be seen as a fellow-laborer. He was a fellow soldier who had laid it all on the line. Epaphroditus was to be received as a faithful messenger.
Having the mind of Christ will prevent them from grumbling about this brother’s perceived shortcomings. When they consider this situation from his perspective, they will treat him with love, dignity and respect. They get to act like Jesus toward a brother who risked it all.
How do you deal with disappointments in other believers? Do you treat them as Jesus would? Do you treat them as Jesus did when he laid aside his glory to come as a man? Are you willing to die to yourself over these matters?
It sounds strange to admit it, but for years I never saw the connection between the first section of Philippians 2 and the last one. I often preached about having the mind of Christ, but did not recognize that Epaphroditus was going to be the immediate case study for the believers in Philippi. Will they practice the principles to which Paul calls them? How will they receive this brother? Will they greet him warmly and calm his distress? Only if they exhibit the mind of Christ.