Philippians 2:25-30 Devotional
Philippians 2:25-30. But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
Reflection. “Honour people like him” (2:29), like Epaphroditus. Why? “Because he almost died for the work of Christ” (2:30). But is this what we esteem? Are these the lives we honour? Is Epaphroditus’ example one that we seek to imitate? Sure we might commend his remarkable service, but we will find it harder to answer those questions in the affirmative. For starters, we don’t want to die. But, more than this, we don’t want to give up our lives in service of others.
We know little of Paul’s situation despite him being imprisoned (1:13). But from our text we learn that he needed to be taken care of (2:25)—he needed help (2:30). So Epaphroditus stepped in. However, this came at great personal cost. We read that Epaphroditus almost died (2:27, 30); he sorely missed his local church at Philippi (2:26, 28); and was greatly distressed that they would worry about his wellbeing (2:26). Only, as Paul says, his suffering was “for the work of Christ” (2:30). And as we saw last week, Paul doesn’t really distinguish between having interest in Christ and concern for the welfare of others (2:20-21).
What’s on display in these few verses for us is three instances of this radical other person centred, Christian concern. Firstly, the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to look after Paul, despite their great love for him. Secondly, Paul desires to send him back to the Philippians so that they cease worry, which was a cause of anxiety for him too. Thirdly, Epaphroditus himself. Because we have considered those first two points at length in previous devotionals, below we will focus on what we might learn from Epaphroditus specifically.
A few things set him apart, in addition to his really long name. First, though he was sent by the Philippians to care for Paul’s needs (2:25), he “longs for all of you” (2:26). To my shame, I rarely find that I long to be with my local church. This has been especially apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, most of us will have an elect few at church gatherings that we quickly gravitate towards. But Paul’s collective language concerning the Philippians indicates a tight-knit community, with shared feelings and worries. It is this kind of local church that breeds a longing to be together. Thus Epaphroditus’ eagerness to be with the Philippians is indicative of an increasingly rare local church life.
Second, following from the above point, Epaphroditus felt strong emotions about the local church in Philippi. These weren’t emotions like those most of us feel when the service runs over time or the elder preaches on giving—again. Rather, in addition to the longing he had to be with the Philippians, Epaphroditus was “distressed” about them (2:26). On the other hand, his return would bring the Philippians much gladness and joy (2:28-29). Both Epaphroditus’ anxiety and the Philippians’ delight at their reunion again points us towards a church where the members truly belong to one another. They love one another, know each other.
This is a corrective for most of us. The complaint is regularly heard, ‘Redeemer Church Muizenberg is so unfriendly and cold,’ and, ‘The only thing worse than the coffee is the time it takes to drink it while standing alone in the foyer.’ But such comments cut both ways because the church is made up of believers. So where this is true of your church, it may very well be true of you.
Third, returning to my opening paragraph, “Honour people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ” (2:29-30). Let us allow Ephaphroditus’ example to reconfigure what we esteem in others, what we desire from our lives and the ways in which we spend them. God honours the faithful servant—much like Paul does here. If we cast our minds back to the ‘Christ hymn’ we will remember that the Son of God took “the very nature of a servant” (2:7). “He humbled himself by becoming obedient” (2:8). Obedience. Service. Humility. Selflessness. Paul honoured Epaphroditus because in his own life it was evident that he esteemed and imitated the great servant, our God, Jesus Christ.