Almost dying for the work of Christ



[Philippians 2:25-30]



Tony Campolo, speaker, author, sociologist, pastor, social activist and passionate follower of Jesus, has published a study of the problem of the elderly (Internet).  He surveyed 50 elderly people over the age of 95, and asked, "How would you like to live if you were given life again?"  He asked them to answer in three ways.  The three common answers were: (1) First, they would reflect more.  They said they lived without thinking about why they were living.  So they wanted to live by reflecting more.  (2) Second, they would risk more.  They said they lived in compromise with injustice and kept on noticing others.  They wanted to live more boldly from now on.  (3) Third, they would do more things that would live on after they were dead.  They wanted to live as they think about death: ‘What would happen to me after I die?’  They regretted what they would leave after they were dead.  The common confession was that they regretted that they lived without thinking (Internet).


We have already meditated on Philippians 2:19-24, about Timothy, his faithful spiritual son, whom Paul wanted to send to the Philippian church quickly.  Prior to sending Timothy to the Philippian church, Paul introduced him to the Philippian church saints.  I summarized it again in five ways: (1) First, Timothy was likeminded with Paul (v. 20).  In other words, the spiritual son Timothy had the same mind as his spiritual father Apostle Paul.  (2) Second, Timothy was genuinely concerned for the Philippian church saints’ welfare (v. 20).  In other words, Timothy had a genuine concern for them.  (3) Third, Timothy sought the work of Christ Jesus (v. 21).  In other words, Timothy was interested in the work of Christ Jesus.  Like Paul, he was trying to do the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 16:10).  (4) Fourth, Timothy was a man of good character (Phil. 2:22).  His character was proven through tests or trials.  And his good character that was being acknowledged by the Philippian church saints was his genuineness (v. 20).  (5) Fifth, Timothy worked with Paul for the gospel (v. 22).  He served with Paul in the furtherance of the gospel like the child serving his father (v. 22).   So Paul wanted to send Timothy quickly to the church in Philippi because he wanted to be encouraged by knowing their condition (v. 19).  Therefore, Paul hoped to send him immediately, as soon as he saw how things go with him (v. 23).  And he trusted in the Lord that he himself also would be coming shortly (v. 24).  After saying these, Paul told the Philippian church saints about another person in Philippians 2:25-30.  And that person is “Epaphroditus.”  Who is this Epaphroditus?  Thinking about this person in three ways, we would like to receive the lessons that God gives us:


First, Epaphroditus was Paul's brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier and the Philippian church’s messenger and minister to his need.


                Look at Philippians 2:25 – “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.”  Epaphroditus was Paul's "brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” who was also the Philippian church’s messenger and minister to Paul’s need.  Here the word "messenger" is "ἀπόστολος" in Greek and it means “apostle”.  Therefore, the meaning of the word "messenger" or "apostle" means "the one who has been sent".  The apostles of Jesus were those who had been sent to this world by the Lord Jesus in order to fulfill the Lord’s will.  So, the twelve apostles of Jesus were the ones who went and made the disciples of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20).  Then, in Philippians 2:25, when Paul said that Epaphroditus was “your messenger” it means that Epaphroditus was the one the Philippian church sent to Paul and not Paul sent him to the Philippian church saints.  In fact, Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippian church.  That was why Paul said “your messenger” and not “my messenger”.


Why then did the Philippian church saints send Epaphroditus to Paul?  What was the purpose?  The purpose was to minister Paul’s need (v. 25).  Here the word “minister” is “λειτουργὸν” in Greek and it means “one who engaged in personal service,” “aide,” and “assistant” (Arndt).  In other words, the messenger of the Philippian church, Epaphroditus, was Paul's assistant and aide who served Paul.  When I think of the fact that Epaphroditus was a servant to Paul, I think the Philippian church served Paul better than any other churches.  The reason I think so is in Philippians 2:17 – “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.”  In this passage Paul mentioned about the Philippian church’s sacrifice and serving Paul by faith.  That was why Paul said he would rejoice and rejoice with the saints of the Philippian church, even if he would get martyred.  What a precious fellowship in the Lord.  The relationship between Paul and the Philippian church was a wonderful fellowship that was serving and to be served.


How then did the Philippian church serve Paul’s need?  Look at Philippians 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.”  At the first preaching of the gospel, after Paul left Macedonia, only the Philippian church participated in the gospel (1:5) and helped the Paul’s need.  In addition, the Philippian church sent a gift more than once for Paul’s needs (4:16).  The Philippian church did so through Epaphroditus.  So, in Philippians 4:18, Paul said to the saints of the Philippian church: “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.”  The church of Philippi supplied Paul’s need through their messenger Epaphroditus.  That was why Paul said he received everything in full and have abundance.  Also he said that what they sent was the fragrant aroma, the acceptable sacrifice.  Thus, the messenger of the Philippian church, Epaphroditus went to Paul when Paul was leaving Macedonia and when he was in Thessalonica with the necessary things for Paul, prepared by the Philippian church.  In addition to that, Epaphroditus was with Paul and co-worked with him after delivering the gift (2:25).  In other words, Epaphroditus didn’t just return Paul after delivering the gift but he also worked together with Paul for the gospel (v. 25).  In fact, Epaphroditus cooperated with Paul in evangelism (Park Yun-sun).  He also fight the good spiritual fight like a solder (v. 25) when he was cooperating with Paul in evangelism due to those who oppose them and the gospel.  That was why when Paul wrote this letter of Philippians to the saints of the Philippian church, he said that Epaphroditus was his brother, his fellow worker and fellow soldier, who was also their messenger and minister to his need (v. 25).


                When I think about Epaphroditus, our church needs more people like Epaphroditus who can be our church messengers to those missionaries whom our church is supporting.  In other words, we need more people to act as messengers in our churches in supporting those missionaries in the mission fields.  For example, now the Lord has been using our church to do the mission in Tijuana, Mexico.  Our church Mexico mission team is going down there every month with gifts.  In a sense, our church is sending the Mexico mission team to Tijuana, Mexico.  Of course, the most important gift to the souls in Tijuana, Mexico is Jesus Christ and His gospel.  And it is important that we provide food for them, give gifts and do medical missions.  However, I think it is also important to work together as a brother and sister with the Mexican pastor and workers who are serving there, and to help them with their needs.  These ministries are important not only Tijuana, Mexico, but also Ensenada Mexico, C-country, Philippines, India and Mongolia.  I believe that if our church can help the needs of the missionaries there or the local servants of the ministry who work there, and work together for the gospel and to expand the kingdom of God, I think that it is a precious ministry and the beautiful relationship of the co-workers in God's sight.  I hope and pray that the Lord continue to use our church to faithfully bear this precious and beautiful cooperative ministry for His glory.


Second, Epaphroditus was longing for the Philippian church saints and was distressed.


                Look at Philippians 2:26 – “because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.”  In the midst of sickness, Epaphroditus longed for the saints of the Philippian church.  We don’t know how long did he let the Philippian church and serve Paul and work together with him.  But one thing for sure was that Epaphroditus got sick and came close to death for the work of Christ (v. 30).  In such a situation, Epaphroditus longed for the saints of the Philippian church.


I think that Paul, who was writing the letter, would have sympathized and understood the heart of Epaphroditus.  In other words, Paul understood that Epaphroditus had longed for the Philippian church saints.  We can know this because when we look at the Paul's letters, he wrote to the saints of the churches that he too longed to see them when he was far away from the beloved saints.  For example, look at Romans 1:10-13: “always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.  For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.  I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”  When Paul wrote to the Roman church saints “I long to see you” (v. 11) and “often I have planned to come to you” (v. 13), we can see how much he wanted to see them.  Another example can be seen in the letter to the Thessalonica church.  Look at 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18: “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while--in person, not in spirit--were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.  For we wanted to come to you--I, Paul, more than once--and yet Satan hindered us.”  Apostle Paul worked very hard with enthusiasm to see the faces of the Thessalonian church saints.  Because he was in a situation where he couldn’t see the beloved church saints whom he wanted to see so deeply, he could have understood and sympathized with Epaphroditus who longed to see the Philippian church saints.  That was why Paul wrote to the Philippian church saints, “I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus” (Phil. 2:25) and “Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly” (v. 28).  


But Paul said to the saints of Philippian church that Epaphroditus was distressed because they have heard that he was sick (v. 26).  Think about it.  How would you react when you hear that a person whom you want to see eagerly is sick and nearly dead?  Won’t you be worried?  Don’t you think you will feel sad?  But Epaphroditus was distressed because his beloved Philippian church saints heard that he was sick.  Isn’t it strange that Epaphroditus worried more about the saints of the Philippian church than worrying about himself since he was almost dying?  Can you imagine that when we are sick and almost dying, we worry about our family and church members who heard about my sickness instead of worrying about ourselves?  Does it make sense?  Here one thing we should think about is the fact that Epaphroditus “was distressed” (v. 26) because the word “distressed” in Greek “αδημονων” appears in Matthew 26:37 (Mk. 14:33) when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane: “And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.”  Just as Jesus was distress when he went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, Epaphroditus was distressed because he knew that his beloved Philippian church saints knew that he was sick.  This shows that Epaphroditus loved and longed for the Philippian church saints with Jesus’ sacrificial love.  Pastor Park Yun-sun said: ‘Epaphroditus was distressed in his side because for his own personal circumstance the Philippian church saints might be distressed.  This was how much he cared for them in such a sacrificial spirit.’


This is the principle of Philippians 2:3-4.  And Epaphroditus had already lived on this biblical principle: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Epaphroditus looked out for the Philippian church saints’ interests than his own personal interests.  He was more worried that they would be worried about him because of his sickness because he almost died for the work of Christ.  Isn’t this a sacrificial love?  This was how much Epaphroditus loved the Philippian church saints, more than they loved him.  Imagine a father, who is far away, is almost dying from his sickness, and he didn’t tell his children about his sickness.  But when the children found out about it, how would the father feel?  Don’t you think he would be in distress like Epaphroditus?  In this way, Ephphroditus longed for the Philippian church saints even though he came close to death.


                Who are we longing for?  Are we longing for our beloved church members who are far away?  I still remember clearly that when I left my home church and went to Korea and attended the pastoral retreat and how the Holy Spirit worked in my heart.  When He did so with the promise word of Jesus ‘I will build My church’ (Mt. 16:18), my heart longed for my home church.  And when I was singing the Korean hymn “I Love They Kingdom, Lord” I couldn’t help but crying in tears thinking about my church in Los Angeles then the church in Korea where I was serving.  That’s why I don’t agree with the Korean saying, "Out of sight out of mind".  Of course, it is our nature, but in the Lord we long to see our beloved church members who are far away.  Especially if we have been praying for those church member who are far away with the affection of Jesus Christ like Apostle Paul (Phil. 1:8), we will be more concerned about them than ourselves (2:26).  I hope and pray that we, like Ephphroditus, may long for and concern about our church members who are far away.


Third, Epaphroditus risked his life for the work of Christ.


                Look at Philippians 2:30 – “because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.”  When Ephphroditus was sick and almost died, he was distressed because he knew that the Philippian church saints, who he longed for, heard that he was ill (v. 26).  At that time, there was a man who was sorrow upon sorrow, watching Ephphroditus who was ill.  He was Paul.  Look at verse 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.”  Why did Paul have sorrow upon sorrow?  It was because not only that Ephphroditus was sick and almost died that Paul was in sorrow but also because of the Philippian church saints, whom he longed for with affection of Jesus Christ, who heard that Ephphroditus was ill and they would be in distress as well.  For example, when a young married couple gave birth to a baby, can you imagine what they may go though in their minds when the baby is dying?  I am sure they will be very sad.  But their parents (the baby’s grandparents) will be twice as sad because their grandkid died and their son or daughter will be very sad.  And I think this was Apostle Paul’s heart.  But God who knew the Paul’s sorrow, the Philippian church saints’ sorrow and Ephphroditus’ sorrow had mercy and saved Ephphroditus’ life.  That was why Paul said in verse 27 that God spared him sorrow upon sorrow.  Also, in verse 28, Paul was all the more eager to send Ephphroditus to the Philippian church.  This shows that Ephphroditus was healthy enough to go back the Philippian church.  Why did Paul want to send Ephphroditus to the Philippian church?  Look at verse 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.”  The reason why Paul wanted to hurry and send Ephphroditus back to the Philippian church was because the church saints could see him again and be glad and Paul could have less anxiety.


Therefore, as Paul was sending Ephphroditus back to the Philippian church, this is what he wrote to that church saints: “Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him.”  Paul wanted them to welcome Ephphroditus in the Lord with great joy and to honor men like him.  What was the reason?  Look at verse 30: “because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.”  The reason was because Ephphroditus risked his life for the work of Christ.  What is interesting here is that the Greek word for “risking his life” is "παραβουλευσαμενος" and this Greek work is derived from “parabolani”.  “Parabolani were the members of a Christian brotherhood who is the Early Church voluntarily undertook the care of the sick and the burial of the dead, knowing full well they could die” (Wikipedia).  It seems that in the early churches there were many Lord’s servants like Ephphroditus who did the Lord’s work voluntarily and served not only those who were sick but also the Lord’s servants like Paul even though they knew that they might lose their lives.  So Paul said to the Philippian church saints to honor such people like Ephphroditus (v. 29).


                Like Ephphroditus, we must do the work of the Lord voluntarily.  Not only that, but also we need to do the Lord’s work even risking our lives.  This means that in some ways we need to take risk in the Lord’s work even it requires from us more than what we can afford.  In short, we must offer our lives to the Lord and do His work voluntarily because God didn’t spare His begotten Son Jesus for our salvation (eternal life).  That was what Apostle Paul did.  Look at Acts 20:24 and 21:13: “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, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (21:13).  We must honor such people like Paul and Ephphroditus (Phil 2:29).

As I was meditating about a person named “Ephphroditus”, I thought about two things conclusively:


(1)   My first thought is that I want to pray with you in prayer, thinking of the meaning of his name Ephphroditus.


The name “Ephphroditus” means "lovely, charming".  So I want to pray to the Lord, ‘Lord, may You raise Your servant like Ephphroditus who is lovely and charming in Your sight.’  Let us pray together for the Lord to raise such servants among us who work together with the Lord’s servants for His gospel and help the Lord’s servants regarding their needs.  Let us pray that His servants love and long for His flocks with the affection of Jesus Christ.  May we all be His servants who are willing to risk our lives for the work of Christ.


(2)   The second and last thought is that even though God had mercy on Ephphroditus who was almost dying and saved his life, He didn’t spare His begotten Son Jesus’ life, but gave Him on the cross for us.


Look at Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”   God who didn’t spare His only Son Jesus, loves us.  And to fulfill the will of Heavenly Father, Jesus was crucified and died on the cross to save us.  We who receive His great love and His grace of salvation, what must we do?  May this hymn “Take My Life, and Let It Be” be our devotion to the Lord:


1.       Take my life, and let it be Con-se-crat-ed, Lord, to Thee.  

Take my mo-ments and my days; Let them flow in cease-less praise.

2.       Take my hands, and let them move At the im-pulse of Thy love.

Take my feet, and let them be Swift and beau-ti-ful for Thee.

3.       Take my voice, and let me sing, Al-ways, on-ly, for my King.

Take my lips, and let them be Filled with mes-sa-ges from Thee.

4.       Take my sil-ver and my gold Not a mite would I with-hold.

Take my in-tel-lect, and use Ev-ery pow'r as Thou shalt choose.

5.       Take my mo-ments and my days.  Let them flow in end-less praise.

Take my-self, and I will be  Ev-er, on-ly, all for Thee.