“Epaphroditus: An Example of Sacrificial Service.”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Philippians 2.25-30
I invite you to Philippians 2. Sacrifice, a term of valour … sacrifice, a term of courage…that we’d rather see in other people. You know, we don’t sacrifice today like we should. In fact, today there is what is called the snowflake generation; the young adult generation of those born from 1980 to 2000 has an inflated sense of their own uniqueness…just like everyone else, I guess!
Those about my age and younger into their late teens and 20s are described as overly sensitive, without resilience, too easy to take offense, and “too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own.” They need trigger warnings…meaning, a warning that something could happen that would trigger negative emotions. It’s so bad that some managers are given special coaching on how to handle those born in the 80s and 90s since they tend to have a strong sense of entitlement …. they have a strong sense that they deserve some societal benefit simply because they exist.
According to a Time magazine article, people my age and younger today, the stats show, are 3 times more likely to be narcissistic…that is of having an exaggerated view of self-importance … they are 3 times more likely to be that way than those of the older generation when they were our age.
40% believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance. “They’re so convinced of their own greatness that the National Study of Youth and Religion found the guiding morality of 60% of [this generation] in any situation is that they’ll just be able to feel what’s right” rather than be guided by some standard of right and wrong.
And more people ages 18 to 29 live with their parents than with a spouse. The young adults of today are delaying growing older.
Why is this happening?
The author of the Time magazine article says, “[C]ell phones allow kids to socialize at every hour–they send and receive an average of 88 texts a day, according to Pew–they’re living under the constant influence of their friends. “Peer pressure is anti-intellectual. It is anti-historical. It is anti-eloquence,” says Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory [University], who wrote The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). “Never before in history have people been able to grow up and reach age 23 so dominated by peers. To develop intellectually you’ve got to relate to older people, older things: 17-year-olds never grow up if they’re just hanging around other 17-year-olds.” Of all the objections to Obamacare, not a lot of people argued against parents’ need to cover their kids’ health insurance until they’re 26.”
There are no doubt many factors, no doubt partly due to selfish parents who raise even more selfish children. So, my only point is, we are not living in a culture that teaches us to sacrifice. We are living in a culture that teaches us to be selfish. And we are constantly fighting against the world and the influence of the world and the world doesn’t teach us to sacrifice. A Christian who actually sacrifices for Christ, therefore, is rare.
The laymen we’re going to study this morning is no snowflake. Epaphroditus didn’t need a “safe space” and didn’t feel like the world owed him anything. He was willing to be made fun of, to be harassed, and to die for Christ. And because he found something to die for, he truly lived.
Let’s read Paul’s commendation of this man Epaphroditus.
Philippians 2:25–30 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; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 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. 28 Therefore 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. 29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 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.
I’d like to preach on Epaphroditus: an example of sacrificial service.
TRANS: There’s a story behind this passage as described in verses 26-28 and in this story we see a number of excellent principles about this man that we can pattern our life on. In verses 26-28, we see that Epaphroditus is man who carries burdens.
Epaphroditus is a Man Who Carries Burdens
Paul is writing the book of Philippians from prison in Rome as a thank you letter. Philippians 4:15-18 testify that the Philippians have given money to Paul. The Philippians sent Epaphroditus to Paul to deliver the gift. And it says in 2:25 that Epaphroditus was the Philippians messenger and minister to Paul’s need.
So the story goes like this. Paul had been in prison for about two years. The Philippian Christians were the only ones who regularly communicated with Paul. They knew he was in prison so they gathered money. They selected Epaphroditus to travel the 800 miles on land and water in order to bring the gift west to Paul in Rome. Epaphroditus is burdened for Paul; he’s burdened for the gospel! Because he’s sacrificial in his life, he carries burdens. He’s lived sacrificially and so he knows what it is to truly live! And so he is off to serve Christ in this way.
But either during the trip or at some point after the delivery of the gift and while ministering to Paul, Epaphroditus gets sick and not just some cold; he’s at death’s door. And then someone either saw or heard that Epaphroditus was sick and took word of his illness back to Philippi.
And you can imagine how that made the Philippians feel. They were deeply concerned for him! And then what happened was that somebody else took word from Philippi to Epaphroditus to tell him that the Philippians knew that he was sick.
And now Epaphroditus is troubled that the Philippians are troubled over his sickness. Because there is such love between the Philippians and Epaphroditus, Epaphroditus doesn’t like it that they are troubled over him…and that troubles him that they are troubled over him.
And on top of that … now Paul is troubled that Epaphroditus is troubled over the Philippians trouble about Epaphroditus’ sickness.
But what happened, Philippians 2:27, is that the Lord healed Epaphroditus. His death of course would have greatly troubled Paul.
So Paul feels bad because Epaphroditus feels bad that the Philippians feel bad about his sickness. So, to remedy the situation, Paul sends the now healed Epaphroditus back to the Philippians, presumably with this letter, to tell them he is all right and so is Paul. Paul sends Epaphroditus back to the Philippians… Philippians then will feel good, Epaphroditus will feel good which will make Paul feel good.
What love Epaphroditus, Paul, and the Philippians have for each other! Epaphroditus is burdened for Paul; but he’s also burdened for the Philippians. Because Epaphroditus is sacrificial, he is a man who carries burdens. When was the last time you felt bad over the fact that somebody else was concerned for you! We need to know people and actively express care for them that we might be more burdened for them and sacrifice for them, and so love them and fulfill the law of Christ.
Because Epaphroditus is sacrificial in his service, he is a burdened man; burdened for Paul…or he wouldn’t have taken the treacherous 800 mile journey to Rome … and he was burdened for those who sent him, the Philippians. And sometimes it takes an illness to bring out the best in people.
But also note this about Epaphroditus’s character: The Philippians chose Epaphroditus to take the gift to Paul. You don’t just send anyone to the apostle Paul. No doubt Epaphroditus was godly and sacrificial. He was asked by the leadership of that church to leave his family for some months in order to be used of Christ and his church. Thus it is likely that he was not an elder in the church but simply somebody who is sold out to Christ, who was already sacrificial, a man who was burdened for the gospel.
And you say, “Well, he probably had a great upbringing and his parents were devoted to Christ and I just could never measure up to him.”
On the contrary. The word “Epaphroditus” means one devoted to Aphrodite. Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Obviously then, Epaphroditus didn’t have Christian parents.
You can aspire to Epaphroditus’ godliness. Every Christian wants that godliness, but not all are willing to do what it takes to get there. Are you willing to sacrifice for the gospel and to carry others’ burdens?
TRANS: Secondly, I want to draw our attention to the 3 terms that describe Epaphroditus in verse 25: brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier.
3 Terms in verse 25 all relate Epaphroditus to Paul. Focus is the partnership.
Epaphroditus is a brother: [WARM, SMILE!] When you trust in Christ, you join a family. You might be a farmer, housewife, or a student, you might be rich or poor, you might have been born in Canada or some other prestigious country like the US, …or Korea, or the Philippines…ahem…., but in Christ, there are no distinctions that divide us like they do in the world. Gal. 3:28. Whether jew, slave or free, we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 23:8 8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
I don’t insist on being called anything in this church. Why? We are all siblings in Christ!
Are those who have trusted Christ your family? Are we precious to you?
1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, [how do we know if we’ve passed out of death into eternal life? …] because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
If you don’t show that care and concern, are you a part of the family of Christ?
If a person values the cross of Christ and upholds His resurrection as his hope, that person will be inseparable from others who sacrificed their life for Christ, too.
And if you repent of your sins and trust Jesus for who He is, you are born into the family of God and you are a brother…a sister in Christ. How precious you are!
Now, in your home, how do you treat your brother or sister? Ok…some of you don’t answer that…um…how should you treat your brother or sister? You’re close, you’re one, you care, you encourage, you look after, you go out of your way for him. And we need to be willing for Christians to go out of their way for us and us for them. You are my brothers and sisters in Christ!
ILL: And some of us are like my soon to be infant son….
When the Lord gives us our son, which I trust He will, my other children will have a new brother. There is tender compassion for him…unless you’re my youngest Pazli and you’ll probably want to stick your finger in his eye…but those who have at least some natural affection will have a deep abiding love for that little boy. … I’m sure Pazli will be fine.
But how much help he needs, how much care, how much love and affection? Lots of that! And for sure, he’ll go out of his way to make sure that we care for him. We expect him too! And as an infant, that’s not a bad thing! That’s good!
Some of us need special care like an infant needs care.
And we all need help…if someone is struggling with some sin, we shouldn’t be surprised or we shouldn’t look down our noses at them as if we don’t have sin, but we care for those who are in our family of Christ.
Care spiritually for each other: If someone is having a rough day and they hurt you, don’t discourage them more by being upset with them, forgive them and give ‘em a hug, ask them how they are doing, ask them what you could do to help.
We care spiritually and we care physically for each other. Someone may have some physical need…whether it’s money, food, time,…whatever, meet that need.
TRANS: Brother…that could be said of anyone who has taken up their cross to follow Jesus.
But this next quality in verse 25 can’t be said of every believer.
Epaphroditus is a fellow worker: Paul and Epaphroditus laboured together for the gospel, they are fellow workers. They actively served and that together. Epaphroditus travelled all that way to Paul, why? For the gospel. Paul embodies the good news of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection… he lives for it. To give a financial gift to Paul is to give money toward the gospel.
Paul calls many others “fellow workers.” Urbanus in Ro. 16:9, Timothy in Ro. 16:21 and 1 Thes. 3:2; Titus in 2 Co. 8:23; and Philemon in verse 1 of that brief letter. Paul can call Epaphroditus a “fellow worker” because Epaphroditus and Paul shared the same active service.
APP: When someone cares for our new building, or when you take on a task in the church, you are a fellow worker in the gospel. We’re talking about service as a fellow worker.
Are you a member of this church? Do you have a way of serving? Are you growing, are you being discipled, are you serving in our children’s church, being discipled, or helping as a greeter, or in some way helping to progress this, Christ’s very body?
APP: We’re in a new neighbourhood now and this neighbourhood is filled with kids; the school is right near by. I wonder if a member of our church wouldn’t want to start a Saturday morning bible club for those kids during the warm months? That would be a great way to get into the lives of those families and to influence them with the gospel.
APP: I also think that our members who are husbands and fathers who can teach our young people, should. I heard one preacher say that any particular child could go through the life of a church and never be exposed to a man apart from the pastor up front. But our boys are constantly exposed to women who teach them each week. Men, our boys need to know what it is to be a man. And you participating in children’s church is a great honour. I recommend that if you are a member of this church and a husband and father that you pray about participating in our children’s church ministry on a regular basis.
Or if you need help finding a place of service, you let us know.
If you are serving, praise God, keep going.
TRANS: Brother there are many of those in a church, fellow servant – there are some of those, and now Paul seems to escalate it even further in verse 25…there are few…
Fellow soldiers: the term “fellow soldier” is unusual. Soldiers in the ancient world sacrificed.
The only other occurrence of this term “fellow soldier” occurs in Philemon 1:2 to describe Archippus.
A fellow soldier is beyond that of simply two soldiers together. Some ancient Greek texts refer to a fellow soldier as a soldier equal to the commander-in-chief; it was a description of high honour. It is used figuratively here of course to refer to a Christian who is devoted to the gospel.
Soldiers are devoted and their life shows it. Christian soldier’s lives are devoted and they show it, too. And because Christian soldiers have found the truth to die for, Christian soldiers truly live.
Epaphroditus came to Rome to see Paul and got sick. He forsook his family and friends to risk his life for Paul and the gospel. When Epaphroditus arrives, Paul can basically dub him knight Epaphroditus, a fellow soldier. Epaphroditus has risked his life for the gospel.
Being a solider implies sacrifice, but it also implies opposition. Ephesians 6:12 says that Christians are soldiers and that we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.
Now, the concept of a soldier was quite common in the Roman world. Paul and Epaphroditus would have seen Roman soldiers everywhere. The Roman soldier was highly trained to fight fierce battles. But we are so far removed from that kind of warfare…modern warfare doesn’t give us a clue as to what Paul would have heard about.
Think of the differences between modern and ancient warfare. Today, you have tanks, planes, machine guns, and snipers and even drones … All this warfare from a distance. Push-button warfare behind a computer and watch and wait until the blip on the screen disappears. The brutality is rare, confined to just some aspects of warfare, like gun battles, and even then it is still mostly at a distance.
But in ancient times, warfare was much more personal and, well more deadly. You take your sword and plunge it into your enemy and you watch him either die in front of you or you watch him writhe in pain from the wound, and then you killed him.
ILL: In ancient warfare, one author calculated that up to 60% of the soldiers could die, compared to just 1% today. This author estimates that ancient warfare was 20 times more deadly than 20th-century warfare … that if 20th century warfare was fought like ancient warfare, 2 billion people would have died last century.
Fierce, upfront, in your face, with all the sights and sounds of intense warfare… you can hear the swords clashing, the horse hooves pounding, and the savage battle cries.
That intensity describes our spiritual warfare. We experience this warfare everyday. We experience opposition everyday, many Sunday’s during a message, every day when it’s time to read the Word of God and pray; every day when you have to choose whether to do such and such for yourself or to minister to someone else in need. When you don’t feel like witnessing for Christ at this moment, or you don’t feel like serving in such and such a way, you do it anyway. Whether to sin or to obey Christ.
And some of you today are wounded in the battle!
Soldiers serve hurt. If you’re unwilling to serve when you don’t feel like it, you’re no soldier. Soldiers serve even when they don’t feel like it. Epaphroditus served while deathly sick; he served when he didn’t feel like it.
Some of you need to step outside your comfort zones. Everybody looks at Epaphroditus with honour but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to get the point where Epaphroditus is.
It’s going to take prayer and Bible reading and obedience to God’s Word; it’s going to take personal challenges to commit yourself to God’s will. What is it you know you need to be doing but you’re so uncomfortable you’re not willing to make that step?
Will you be a soldier for Christ?
TRANS: A brother, a fellow worker, and a fellow soldier. A man like this deserves high honors among God’s people. Lastly this morning, the honour due to man like Epaphroditus.
The honour due him.
Philippians 2:29–30 29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 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. [or… risking his life to complete what you couldn’t do from far away… is the idea…] Because the Philippians couldn’t all go to Paul; so they sent Epaphroditus.
Paul has sent Epaphroditus back to the Philippians with this very letter. Epaphroditus no doubt read the letter on the way back to Philippi and gave it to them which tells the Philippians to honor him.
They are to receive him in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in high regard because of his sacrificial service.
Look what he did for Paul; and look what he did for the Philippians. They need to thank him!
Epaphroditus’ life was on the line. Verse 27…sick to the point of death; verse 30 came close to death for the work of Christ.
Epaphroditus isn’t a glory seeker, he doesn’t delight in taking the limelight; no, he simply wanted to serve Christ unnoticed by men. He risked his life, not for the glory that it would bring to him, but for the glory it would bring to Christ. Laying down his life for the sake of Christ and the gospel.
And Paul is highlighting this man’s life. Epaphroditus is in a category of people who work behind the scenes to serve Christ.
We need to be willing to praise men for their service to Christ. They sacrifice; we should thank them. Say thank you to those who serve you. There is nothing wrong with that, at all! There are plenty of people in this assembly that you can thank for their service to Christ. There is everything good about that. “Thank you for your service!” Let’s be a thankful people toward one another as we serve Christ by serving others.
If we do that, we’ll tie our assembly together; we’ll become closer and closer to each other. “Thank you for talking with me; that was encouraging.” Thank you for that meal…thank you…that’ll draw us near to each other.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Philippians 2.25-30
You may not feel like you have the internal fortitude of a Paul, or the giftedness of a Timothy, but by merely walking with Christ everyday and taking the next step of faith this week and next, you can grow to be a man of God… a woman of God who is used of God to do great things.
I know that at the end of your life you want to be able to look back and think, “God used me in great ways. I was a blessing to others.” Are you willing to do what it takes to get there.
Don’t waste your life; sacrifice it for Christ. You will only begin to live when you have found Christ and the gospel for which to die. Take up your cross and follow Christ daily; die daily.