The Radical Bond of a Faithful Friend

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. 25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Philippians 2:19-30)

If you are joining us for the first time or if you have been out for a while, we have been going through Philippians 2, and as we have over the last several weeks, we are looking at examples of those who have been close spiritual Christian friends with others. We are seeing some great examples of those who have chosen to live their lives not just for themselves, but first of all for Christ, and also for each other. It has been refreshing to see their examples. In a world so caught up in self-pleasure, self-focus, it is refreshing to read of believers who have said, “I’m not going to live that way.”

Spiritual friends are important. Good Christian friends are a picture of God’s grace. God has sent them to us. We have seen just this last week the importance of having people close to us who understand the gospel and gospel truths, and are willing to share them with us. By that I mean the tragedy in Connecticut, the shooting there. I’m reminded that God is the one who comforts us. Apart from tragedy and evil in this world, I don’t know that we would understand His comfort at all. It is somewhat of an opportunity to embrace the comfort that God gives to us. As we read in 2 Corinthians 1:4, “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” God’s comfort to us most often comes through other believers. That’s in part what we’re here to do, to comfort one another, being in each other’s lives as true spiritual friends, to be ready to come alongside when evil happens, tragedy strikes, or illness sets in, in the way that God has so faithfully and diligently comforted us.

It is refreshing to see others in the Scripture as they chose to live differently than their culture and ours, that in this Christ-centered living they find their joy. We have read about Paul and Timothy and the Christians associated with the church in Philippi, those are the three parties we’ve looked at so far, and now today we will add to that list a man named Epaphroditus.

As we now look at this relatively unknown man, Epaphroditus, I would like for all of us to think about how we choose to live. If someone were to write a book about you, about me, about our church, how would we be portrayed? What would be said about us? Would we be written about as “typical,” typical men and women and children, typical in our world? Or would we be written about as extraordinary? Extraordinary not in that we were powerful, or influential in our world, or popular, I mean extraordinary in that we did not live for ourselves primarily but viewed our lives, individually, as belonging to Jesus Christ, so we lived extraordinarily as we lived for Him. Maybe a look at Epaphroditus will encourage us to live differently, or you could say live rightly before God in Christ with each other.

I want to begin by giving you sort of a biographical sketch of this man Epaphroditus. In fact I want to be really thorough as we talk about him. So for the sake of being comprehensive and complete I’m going to tell you all that we know about the man Epaphroditus, because I think it will help us in our study and in how we relate to him. Rarely do I do this, rarely will I try to give you everything we know about a man or woman we read about in our text, but I’m going to give all this information with you. This is what we know about him that is not explicitly in our text this morning, so all of his background not explicitly in this text. Here it is: he has a Greek name, so he is probably a Greek, not Jewish. And he lived for some unknown amount of time in Philippi. Both of these are implicitly true, although not stated emphatically anywhere in the Bible. That is it. That is all we know about him by way of background. In other words we know almost nothing about Epaphroditus. Almost nothing outside of what we will read about his character this morning, and his journey to visit Paul.

I love it when we read of people in the Bible where we just get a brief mention of faithfulness and nothing else. I think I like that because I can read of them and be reminded that we don’t have to be well-known, popular, well-liked, or powerful to just be faithful and do what is pleasing in God’s sight. We can go on quietly, consistently in our own space where God has put us, just being faithful. God doesn’t tell us to go out and be great, make a great name for ourselves, shake the world up, be impressive, be somebody, work for these things, do big things, He doesn’t say, “Go out and make me proud!” No, it’s not like that, it’s more like, “Just go out and be faithful, and quietly speak,” in our homes, in our workplace, in our realm of life, just be faithful where you are and worship. Aren’t you glad about that? Aren’t you glad we don’t have to build a big kingdom, corporately or individually? There’s no pressure to build a great empire, just live life trusting God and worshipping Him.

Who is Epaphroditus? I don’t really know who he is, and I guess it doesn’t matter much, but this unknown man, who maybe represents us as the relatively unknown, still did great things in God’s eyes, just faithfully and consistently living for Him.

The fact that Epaphroditus is a relatively unknown man reminds me of another man that Jesus mentions in Revelation 2:13. Another man who is just mentioned. We don’t know this guy except for a brief, very brief characterization that Jesus mentions of him.

I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. (Revelation 2:13)

This man Antipas, Jesus says, “my faithful witness.” That’s it. How would you like to get a mention like that out of the mouth of Jesus? That’s it, “my faithful witness!” I’ll take that one. Just that. We don’t know if he did anything noteworthy in history except that he was a faithful witness of Jesus Christ. Don’t you want to be known for that? I love the fact that people of little note in history are just mentioned simply because of their faithful walk with the Lord Jesus. And so it is with Epaphroditus. Who is this guy? I’m not really sure, but we do know some about his faithfulness to Christ and his faithfulness to his friends.

In verse 25 alone we see five distinct attributes of the man Epaphroditus. To Paul we see that he is a brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier. In relation to the Christians in Philippi he is their messenger and their minister to Paul’s needs.

And then in verse 26 we see this, I love this, we see that he was not like a hired servant or a man just interested in a task that had to be done, he was much more than that, and we get that from verse 26 which says: “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” He was not an uninterested third party, he was a man of emotion, of feeling, a man of great love for the brothers and sisters. He did his work, yes, but he did it as one who loved the people he served. We see that in verse 26. So let’s look at these attributes of Epaphroditus and then go on to link these descriptions of his work with the attitude toward those who willingly served.

First, to Paul he was a brother.

The great apostle Paul refers to this little-known man as his brother, “my brother.” As we have seen earlier in this chapter, Christians often refer to each other in terms of family. Paul was not first of all about titles or position of rank as he was about the brotherhood of believers. Epaphroditus was his brother in the faith.

We who are Christians are first of all siblings with one another, equals in the eyes of God. And none of us even have the distinction of being first-born, as was highly desired in the ancient culture. In Romans 8:29 we read that Christ Himself was the “first born among many brothers.” Meaning He was first in rank, in importance, in stature among those of us who are spoken of as his brothers. We are all equal. The apostle Paul and little known Epaphroditus. I think this is first of all how we are to understand our relationship with each other. We are brothers, sisters in Christ. Where there are titles, such as elder or deacon, they are titles of function and order, not of importance or standing before God. We get into big trouble, quickly into big trouble, if we get to a place where any of us thinks that we are above anyone else in importance. As brothers and sisters we share the same Father. I love that Paul so often, as one who could have asserted such authority over people, how he most often refers to himself as a brother.

Secondly, Paul calls Epaphroditus his fellow worker.

While brotherhood refers to family ties, in our case of election and redemption, adoption through Christ, kind of our new heritage in Christ, fellow worker gets more to the function of what we do together. Fellow worker gets to some of the action. How are these brothers functioning together? They are workers, fellow workers. They are brothers who are working together. Now right off the bat, you may be thinking, “I don’t get this. Brothers working together?” Yes, they were. I’ve never had a brother, but I’ve raised five brothers, and I realize that they don’t always work well together!

But you know what I have observed in my home with five boys? That when they were passionate about the same goal, really passionate about the same thing, there was no stopping them. Now that could be good or bad in the home. Some things they were passionate about doing I wasn’t so passionate about, and even didn’t know about until it was done. Like, building projects in the yard with my tools and my building materials or things not meant to be building materials. But also, when we had times of crisis: a fire in our pasture that could have been a disaster, near our house. There became a shared goal, a shared gaol of saving the house, with great passion brothers became fellow workers.

We talked about shared goals last week. About how important it is for Christians to have the shared goal of gospel ministry. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 Paul reminds his fellow Christians of this truth: “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

So Epaphroditus was Paul’s brother, fellow worker, and he was also a fellow soldier.

The New Testament if full of military speech. In 2 Timothy 2:3-4 Paul speaking to Timothy uses military examples: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

I’ve never been a soldier. Many of you have been. John MacArthur suggests that identifying Epaphroditus as a fellow soldier is calling attention to the fact that they struggled together against spiritual enemies. That’s what soldiers do, they work together to defeat a common enemy. They have been in the trenches together in spiritual warfare. They have fought side by side, perhaps not only defending the gospel of Christ in the midst of severe persecution, but also in looking out for each other.

Soldiers understand the cause, the goal, and soldiers understand their allegiance to their fellow soldiers. Paul was in a dangerous place, his life was at stake, it could be taken at any moment, he couldn’t afford to have people around him who were soft on the gospel or soft when it comes to standing closely with one another. It was a very serious situation where Paul was, and Epaphroditus was one who willingly walked into that situation. He wasn’t in jail, but he was willing to minister to one who was, and could have found himself facing the same thing that Paul was facing. Epaphroditus was a trusted fellow soldier.

It has been good, I think, that we have spent several weeks looking at attributes of faithful Christian friends. I know that I have over the last several weeks just sat and pondered many of these attributes. Even this week just sitting back and saying, “Yes, I want people like this in my life. I want true brothers, close Christian friends, fellow workers, dependable, always there, ready to labor together for Christ, and fellow soldiers, brave, self-sacrificing, ready to do battle, to deal with hard things like soldiers would expect to do.” I want that in my life, people around me who are like that.

We need friends like Epaphroditus in our lives. They help us, keep us balanced, keep us focused, give us strength and boldness. They keep us from falling down when we feel weak, they are strong when we are not. Don’t you want that? Do you long for that kind of friend in your life? I do, and I am thankful that I do have people, more than one, people like that in my life. God knows I need that. Be thankful if you have that. But there is another side to this.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)

The other side to this is that Christ calls us to be this kind of person. Not just that I want someone like that in my life, but that Christ has called me to be that person in other people’s lives.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2:3-5)

The command is always for us to give, for us to do, not for others to give to us. It is so easy to read the Scripture and see how Christian friends should relate to one another and just want that, personally, rather than being the one who wants to give that freely. Are we functioning, each one of us, individually functioning with people around us, as a brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier? Are we being to others what we hope they will be to us? Or are we just insistent that others treat us as we want to be treated?

What would it be like if each one of us were single-minded in saying, “I will be like a brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier in your life, that is what I will do and if you are that to me, that’s great, but that is not my focus. I will be that person in your life, to you, no matter how you choose to interact with me.” That is love, right? Doing what we can, what God has called us to do, no matter what anyone may choose to do to us, whether it’s reciprocal or not.

In relation to Paul, Epaphroditus was faithful as a brother, a fellow worker, and a fellow soldier. In relation to the Philippians he was a messenger, their messenger, and their minister to Paul’s needs.

As a messenger Epaphroditus left his fellow Christian brothers in Philippi and went to Paul on their behalf. Apparently Epaphroditus was chosen from among all those in the Philippian church to go to Paul in a special capacity. We don’t know too much about what that was, or what the message was. But as a messenger he was like a go-between. Everyone could not go, so they chose a representative, Epaphroditus. I’m sure there was news, updates, words of encouragement sent to Paul through this man. He was the sent one, representing a larger group.

But he wasn’t just a messenger, he was also a minister. A minister is a servant. He went to serve Paul. He was a minister for Christ, going to serve the apostle Paul. He didn’t go so much like a dignitary, he went as one who would roll up his sleeves as a brother, a worker, and a soldier, right? Ministry is rarely clean or predictable. I’m sure when Epaphroditus got there he found things he hadn’t expected. Ministry is most often like that, because it’s about people and relationships, all within the context of the gospel. Ministry like what Epaphroditus was engaged in would have been really hard I suppose. It would have been an adventure, a dangerous calling. I would guess it too would have taken him to places, situations, and circumstances that he could not have anticipated. That is how it is in Christian ministry, and how it is as we commit to be involved with each other as Christian friends. 

All of these attributes or characteristics of Epaphroditus are very relational. These are not cold, hard tasks that he would just do like a hired person, but they are all to be viewed within a framework of relationships. But even though that is true, they could still be done without much love or compassion. We can do that, we can serve someone with a smile and a kind word, and yet in our hearts we can be very selfish and uncaring. In other words the smile and kind words do not necessarily represent what’s going on in our hearts. But we get the idea that Epaphroditus not only did his work, but he did it properly motivated by love. And here is what I mean by that: Epaphroditus was as a brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, a faithful messenger and minister or servant to Paul, but along with those things we see something else about this man and the compassion he had toward those he served, and served with.

Look at verse 26: “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” He was anything but uncaring or unloving. Ephaphroditus had gotten sick. The Christians at Philippi knew of his sickness. He knew that his sickness was troubling to his friends in Philippi. They were genuinely concerned for him. They were distressed. And knowing they were distressed, Epaphroditus longed to get back to them, he longed to comfort them, he apparently longed to show them that he was okay. He wasn’t a man just buried in his work, buried in his tasks, he was a man who had strong emotional ties to the people back at home, to his church, and was very caring toward them. It was like he wanted to say, “Don’t worry about me, I’m okay. Be comforted to know that, don’t be distressed. I’m okay, the work continues.”

Aren’t you just drawn to a person like that? When you know that they genuinely care for you? They’re genuinely concerned? Are we like that for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

In Christ, through Christ, and for Christ we can be Epaphroditus in the lives of others. And we don’t have to wait for anything to happen to do that. We don’t have to wait for anything or anyone else to change. With the Spirit in us we can be like this man.

I really love this example that we have in this simple man, this relatively unknown man. This man who lived consistent with Jesus’ admonition from Matthew 16:24-28. “24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” For Epaphroditus that meant walking into what could have been a very dangerous situation. But it wasn’t his life, he had settled that. He belonged to Christ. “25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Epaphroditus could have stayed home and enjoyed whatever luxuries and comforts he had there, but Jesus says, “26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

We are all faced with choices, and certainly Epaphroditus was too. He chose to be a brother, a fellow worker, and a servant. He chose to be a messenger and a minister to the needs of Paul on behalf of the Philippian church. He chose to take up his cross and deny himself, following Christ in the missionary work that God gave him to do. He chose not to be comforted by the things at home, whatever they may have been, but chose to minister instead. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

I hope I don’t offend you when I say that I think we are all relatively unknown people. In the history of the world, I don’t know, maybe somebody here will do something great, something that’s recorded for all of history. But for now, we’re a lot like Epaphroditus and Antipas, and we can be even more like them as we choose to live life faithfully in what God has given us to do.

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. (Philippians 2:25-26)