An Everyday Hero
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 2:25-30
We are at a stage in our home where our boys have a lot of interest in superheroes. Little boys are fascinated by someone who can crush cars with his bare hands, fly faster than a bullet, and shoot lasers out of his eyeballs.
When I was a kid, I never really got into superheroes, but I was pretty obsessed with my athletic heroes. We had a tape of Super Bowl XX, and I would watch in awe as the Bears’ defense crushed the Patriots. They seemed like superheroes to me. I was also in awe of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen when the Bulls were winning NBA titles.
Probably all of us are fascinated by greatness in whatever areas interest us. And the first 2 chapters of Philippians have set before us a few heroes of the faith. In chapter 1, we got to see a window into Paul’s greatness. 2:6–11emphasized the glory of Christ. And last week we studied the character of Timothy. This morning, we are going to look at a final hero. Paul holds up a relatively insignificant man as a man as deserving a hero’s welcome (read). You may have noticed that this passage is filled with personal details, which can be confusing to piece together. Therefore, I’d like to begin by laying out chronologically…
I. The Story of Epaphroditus
The Philippians sent Epaphroditus to deliver a gift and to minister to Paul, probably through his trial. Remember that the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to deliver a gift for Paul in order to provide for Paul’s needs while he was in prison. And they intended for Epaphroditus to stay with Paul for an extended time in order to minister to Paul’s practical needs. However, our text says that…
Epaphroditus became severely ill, but pressed forward until he almost died. Verse 27 says that Epaphroditus became severely ill and almost died. We don’t know what kind of illness he had, but it was bad. And v. 30 indicates that Epaphroditus probably complicated his illness by not resting and caring for himself when he first got sick, because he was determined to complete his mission (read).
The statement that he did not “regard his life,” indicates that he probably became ill while traveling from Philippi to Rome. However, rather than stopping to rest or turning around, he continued on with a physically demanding trip. By the time he reached Paul, he was about dead.
The Philippians heard about Epaphroditus’s illness, and he assumed they were anxious about his health. Verse 26 says that the Philippians heard about Epaphroditus’s health. And even though Paul is awaiting trial, and Epaphroditus is fighting for his life, remarkably they are both “distressed” that the Philippians are worrying about Epaphroditus.
That tells you what kind of men they were. It’s like when you visit a godly saint who is severely ill. However, he just wants to know how you are doing and how he can encourage you. They end up encouraging you more than you encourage them. That was Paul and Epaphroditus. But thankfully…
God healed Epaphroditus. Verse 27 says that “God had mercy on him (i.e., Epaphroditus).” Apparently, Paul was sure Epaphroditus was going to die. That’s what typically happened in the ancient world when people became severely ill. But God healed Epaphroditus, and by the time Paul wrote Philippians he had fully recovered. That was great, but it left Paul with a difficult decision. Ultimately…
Paul decided to send Epaphroditus home early and to send Philippians with him. Again, the original plan was for Epaphroditus to stay with Paul for an extended time. However, Paul and Epaphroditus knew the Philippians probably thought Epaphroditus was dead, and they were grieving.
Paul could also see that Epaphroditus was burdened to share with his church family what God had done. So, Paul decided to send Epaphroditus home early, and he figured he should send along some kind of explanation. Specifically, he wanted them to know that Epaphroditus really was sick, that it was his decision to send Epaphroditus home early (v. 25), and that Epaphroditus hadn’t bailed early on Paul.
And Paul took the opportunity to write an extended letter addressing the issues the Philippians were facing. Of course, we hold in our hands that very letter that he penned.
It’s pretty remarkable to consider how God worked providentially through a whole series of events to provide us with Philippians. God used a difficult journey, a fatal illness, a miraculous recovery, deep sorrow, and troubles at Philippi to give the church for all ages this necessary piece of our Bibles. It’s hard to imagine the NT without it.
It’s a good reminder of God's incredible ability to use what appears to be random and terrible circumstances to accomplish his good and perfect purpose. Just because we can't see what God is doing, doesn't mean he is not working for his glory and our good. So, if you are weighed down today by bad things that you don’t understand, keep trusting the Lord. He has a good plan, even if you can’t see it. In sum…
Paul’s purpose in our text is to boast about Epaphroditus’s service and to explain why he sent him home early. So, Paul had a very practical goal with our text; however, in the process he provides us with an inspired example from which we should make 3 important applications for our lives. First…
II. We must work together (v. 25, 30).
We’ve talked about this theme a lot in these first 2 chapters, but the Spirit wants us to emphasize it one more time. Notice first…
The Philippians’ Service: I find it very interesting how Paul describes the ministry of the Philippians and of Epaphroditus. He doesn’t merely say that they did something “nice” or “thoughtful”. Instead, v. 25 says they “ministered to my need.” The word for ministry was often used in the OT for priestly service in the temple.
Here it emphasizes the Philippians’ obligation to care for Paul. Similarly v. 30 says they “supplied what was lacking in your service to me.” Paul needed the finances, since Rome didn’t feed prisoners, and Paul needed the fellowship. And the Philippians had a duty to care for their spiritual father.
And the Philippians stepped up to the plate. Even though they were a poor congregation, they put together a generous gift, and they sent a member of the church on an 800-mile journey for several months to serve Paul in his time of need.
In the process, they provide us with an important model, first of how we need to care for each other. We need to care well for the spiritual and practical needs of this body. We need to lean on each other.
As well, the Philippians challenge us about our need to serve well our fellow-ministers. Paul is clear, that our missionaries have needs, physically and spiritually, and we are obligated to care well for both. All us need to embrace this duty. We are obligated financially, and in our age, we can so easily send notes of encouragement. We can even visit a lot easier than Epaphroditus could. So, I’d challenge you to think about your service and embrace it.
Epaphroditus’s Sacrifice: It’s worth noting that Epaphroditus was probably not some famous highly-gifted leader. Instead, he was almost assuredly born into paganism. His name is derived from the Greek goddess of fertility, Aphrodite. He didn’t have Christian roots or “good stock.” As well, the only place he is mentioned in the NT is in Philippians. He was just a regular
But he was available for ministry. He sacrificed several months of work and life to make this trip. And he was committed. He was so determined to fulfill his duty that he about killed himself. Just imagine this man who is deathly ill limping to the finish line of an 800-mile journey. His church gave him a job, and he was determined to get that gift to Paul.
As a result, in v. 23 Paul calls him a “fellow soldier.” Paul knew he could count on Epaphroditus in the heat of battle. He would hold line, stay in the foxhole, and have Paul’s back, no matter the cost. What a testimony!
Of course, the point is not that you should run yourself into the ground. Paul never says that. We need to be wise, and set ourselves up for sustainable ministry, not burn out. But we should imitate Epaphroditus’s resolve to the ministry and his willingness to sacrifice
Are you committed to this church and our mission like Epaphroditus was to his church? Are you eager and ready to serve wherever you are able? The church needs people like Epaphroditus. They may not have a D., in theology or impressive gifts, but they are committed and faithful.
Paul’s Appreciation: Notice how Paul describes Epaphroditus in 25. First, he calls him “my brother.” This is the most basic description of relationship among Christians. It speaks to the fact that we all share the same grace and the same Father, and we love each other like family. Paul loved Epaphroditus. He was so thankful for the service he had rendered and for the fellowship they enjoyed. It meant everything.
Second, he calls Epaphroditus his “fellow worker.” From a normal, human perspective Paul and Epaphroditus were not equals. Paul was a preeminent apostle, and Epaphroditus was a humble messenger-boy. But that’s not how Paul saw it. He saw Epaphroditus as an equal, a co-worker in the service of the Lord. Paul knew that he needed people like Epaphroditus.
In sum, the Philippians, Epaphroditus, and Paul all set an important example in this passage of mutual support in the work of the ministry. They remind us that we all need each other. The Christian life and the Great Commission are too hard for you to go it alone. We need to lean on each other to reach our community, to make disciples, and to grow into disciples.
And they also remind us that each of us are obligated to care well for fellow ministers. There’s an obvious financial side to this. In the words of v. 25, you have a priestly duty to contribute to the work of the ministry. But more than that, we need to care well for the souls of fellow ministers. Pray for them, encourage them, and visit them. This passage has got me thinking of how we can work together to send our own messengers to our missionaries. The 2nd major application we need to make is…
III. We must love each other (vv. 26–28).
Mutual love dominates this entire paragraph. But love especially dominates vv. 26–28. Notice first how…
Paul and the Philippians’ grieved for Epaphroditus. Verse 27 describes the depth of Paul’s concern for Epaphroditus during his illness and how significant it was to Paul when he recovered (read). Of course, Paul had plenty of his own problems while in prison, yet Paul was deeply troubled when he saw how sick Epaphroditus was. Paul says that the God spared Paul from “sorrow upon sorrow” by healing Epaphroditus.
Paul wasn’t an arrogant, aloof He cared, and he felt the pains of ministry very deeply. There’s nothing godly about being immune to pain. Instead, godly people care deeply.
And 28 indicates that the Philippian congregation shared Paul’s grief (read). Paul assumes, maybe because he had received reports, that they were deeply troubled when they heard that Epaphroditus was deathly ill. That’s what he means when he says “I may be less sorrowful.” The idea is that Paul knew the Philippians were grieving over Epaphroditus.
In fact, they probably thought he died. It pained Paul to know they were grieving like this, and Paul’s sorrow would only be relieved when they knew he had recovered. It indicates that he knew how this church loved its own.
I’m so thankful for how warm our church This church cares for its own. We weep with those who weep, and we rejoice with those who rejoice. I pray this never changes. God is clear that the church must be a place where we carry each other’s burdens, feel our pains, and glory in our joys. The church is family, not just a place we attend for a couple hours a week. We also see this in that…
Epaphroditus and Paul longed for the Philippians’ joy. We just talked about Paul’s concern for the Philippians in v. 28. Paul grieved that they were grieving over Epaphroditus. And v. 26 says that Epaphroditus shared their concern (read).
This verse expresses the thought process that led to Epaphroditus’s early return. Once he had fully recovered, Paul could see that Epaphroditus was “longing” for his church family. He missed them. And to make matters worse, he was “distressed” knowing that they were grieving over his illness.
This is a strong verb. In fact, the only other place it is used in the NT is in the Gospels where they describe the heaviness Jesus experienced in Gethsemane as he awaited his crucifixion. Epaphroditus hated the thought that his church was grieving unnecessarily. It weighed so heavily on both Paul and Epaphroditus, that Paul “considered it necessary” (v. 25) to send Epaphroditus home.
It just serves as another confirmation and illustration of the kind of care and investment we should have in the church. Church should be a family. It’s one reason why I’m not a big fan of a church having multiple services. How can a church be a family, if you can go months without even seeing a portion of the family?
It’s also why I’m not a big fan of a church building all of its fellowship around small groups. Yes, we all need a small group of close friends, but the church is one body, not 50, and all the body parts need all the body parts. We lose something when we only fellowship with a portion of the church.
No, God calls us share a deep bond among all of us. 1 Corinthians 12:26 states, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” Let’s give thanks for the love and community we enjoy here. It’s a gift that not all churches enjoy, and let’s never take it for granted. Instead, let’s work to make it even stronger. The 3rd major application in this passage is…
IV. We must honor each other (vv. 29–30).
Verse 29 gives the Philippians 2 commands about how they must handle Epaphroditus’s homecoming. First, Paul urges them to “receive him…in the Lord with all gladness.” The application for us is…
Fellowship as brothers. We would naturally assume that any group of people would happily welcome home someone who just returned from a 1600-mile roundtrip during which he almost died. We see communities do this sort of thing all the time when a soldier comes home from battle.
But Paul asks for something more. He specifically tells them to “receive him…in the Lord.” In other words, welcome him as a brother, as a family member. And offer to him all the joy, security, and comfort that comes with family.
We all know that it’s a real blessing to be in a context where there is absolute acceptance and security. They don’t turn a blind eye to your sin and faults. True love is willing to wound a friend for his good. But even through our sins and faults, true love remains faithful and dependable. You can count on those people no matter what happens. They will always be there, and they will always have your back.
That’s what Paul wanted Epaphroditus to experience. His return should feel like coming home for Christmas. No matter how long you’ve been gone and no matter what happens, there is a rest in coming home at the holidays to family, because you know there is love and security.
Let’s be a church like that. We have each other’s backs. We love each other. As a result, we can all rest here, because we are with family. And strive for that kind of rest in every other relationship. Make your home and your marriage a place of security. Love each other “in the Lord.” Be faithful, dependable, and loyal. And even if it’s not returned be a dependable friend like Epaphroditus at work and everywhere else.
The second command Paul gives in v. 29 regarding Epaphroditus’s homecoming is, “hold such men in esteem.” The application for us is…
Honor godly ministers. Again, Epaphroditus probably wasn’t big personality with impressive talents. I imagine that he was just a regular, unassuming guy. And yet Paul says that he deserves a hero’s welcome, and he needs to be held up before the church as a hero, because he faithfully fulfilled his duties to the point of risking his life.
And notice that Paul intends to establish a principle. He says “hold such men in high esteem.” So, we need to do the same today. As I said in my introduction, this is especially important in our context, where we are obsessed with heroes.
If you have kids, they probably get googly-eyed over some athlete, Hollywood star, musician, TV character, or jock at school. They desperately want to be like that person. You need to intentionally set people like Epaphroditus in front of them as people truly worthy of honor.
Read biographies with them about great heroes of the faith. When a missionary comes through, take the time to verbally honor him to your kids for the work he is doing. Let them know that he is a real hero worth emulating.
And then hold up ordinary heroes like Epaphroditus to them. When they come to Fall Festival dressed as Spiderman, remind them that the real hero is not Spiderman but that man over there serving kids for the sake of the gospel. Let them know that their Sunday School teacher or youth leader is a much bigger deal than LeBron James or the homecoming king at school.
Of course, that all begins with valuing those things yourself. Who do you want to be like? I hope you long to be like the godly servants in our church more than you long to decorate your house like Chip and Joanna or to drive James Bond’s hot rod.
But don’t just dream about being like them; become an everyday spiritual hero yourself. The great thing about Epaphroditus is that everyone of us can be like him. Grow selfless love, dependability, and commitment. Throw yourself into the ministry with both feet. You may never have someone write a book or even a blog post about your service, but you will make a difference, and the Lord will see and ultimately that’s what really matters.