Our Duty to the Servants of Christ
Text: Philippians 2:28-30
There’s something magnetic about sacrificial people. About those who very clearly live for a cause greater than themselves. Men like David Livingston, the Christian Explorer and Missionary to Africa. Or William Carrey the “father of modern missions” who went to India and spent 41 years out there until he died. Or Hudson Taylor, the missionary to China. These men and many more capture the imaginations of multitudes, because while they had their flaws, there’s a level of sacrifice they made that make them magnetic. And we should learn from them, beloved, and remember their service, “The memory of the just is blessed” Prov 10:7.
One of the things I wish we could have here would be regular visits from like-minded foreign missionaries and ministers. The first 3-4 years of my Christian life we had in our church, the late Jacob Chelli of India, Paul Choo from Singapore, Edgard Traboulsi from Lebanon, Fred Orr from Brazil, Bill Woods from Brazil, Gillian Gillespie and Noreen McAfee from Kenya, John Hanna from Spain, Lyle Boyd from Spain, Joy Gillespie from Spain, the Martin family in Papua New Guinea, Eugen Groza from Romania, Angel Alvarez from Spain, and many others. Some of these people are extraordinary. Others are remarkable. And some of them ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.
Very few people are as gifted as Timothy, and even fewer like Paul, but Epaphroditus is someone all Christians can identify with. He is not portrayed as having ANY gift. We’re not even 100% sure he had any position (although I doubt he would have been sent if he wasn’t at least a deacon). He may have been a minister, or an elder, but he may not have been.
Nevertheless, as we saw last week, he exemplifies the spirit taught in Phil 2:3-4. He is a grafter more than gifted. He is earnest more than eloquent. And that’s the duty for every Christian, regardless of calling. If Paul was to commend the vast majority of us, he wouldn’t be able to highlight our extraordinary gifts, but he may be able to highlight our diligence to serve others at every opportunity.
This man did not have the privilege of a Jewish background. He had a pagan childhood. His name indicates that his parents were probably devoted to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. He was spiritually mature enough to be given the responsibility to journey from Philippi to Rome with a large gift, yet young enough and strong enough to make the 7-800 mile journey by land and sea.
Since historians have no record of worship to Aphrodite in Philippi, Epaphroditus may have been an outsider. If you remember back in our first message, we mentioned that Philippi was a Roman colony, and that veteran soldiers retired in places like Philippi.
Epaphroditus may have been such a one, which would make him even more qualified for such a journey since he could defend himself and held status in the Roman Empire that would help prevent him getting mistreated by Roman authorities.
Now last time we looked at the words of v25-27 to see the application of his life toward us in what we considered, ‘Serving God Outside Your Comfort Zone’. We saw the CHARACTERISTICS v25, CONCERNS v26, and CONDITION v27 of such a person that serves God outside their comfort zone.
Our duty to the servants of Christ is no different than to the servant called Christ.
I. WE NEED TO RECEIVE THEM v28-29
“receive him” – an imperative. Used in Luke 15:2 “this man receiveth sinners” i.e. He welcomes and embraces sinners. Not put up with him, but receive him. “carefully” i.e. ‘with haste/sooner than expected’. Was it because he didn’t like him? Clearly not. Because he felt he needed or necessary (v25) to send him back sooner than expected due to Epaphroditus being very sick and how that affected him and the Philippians.
Let me try to paint the scene here. Epaphroditus is sent as a delegate from Philippi from the church there to Paul in Rome. Either on the way or after he arrives, it appears the journey almost killed (v30 seems to tie his sickness to the journey he made). Someone on their way to Philippi carries the news to the church that Epaphroditus is sick and dying. We’re told that this news of the Philippians knowing of his sickness really bothered Epaphroditus (v26). Now as I thought more about this, here’s what I THINK bothered Epaphroditus. The news carried to the church about him is not good. Weeks pass and Epaphroditus hears that they’ve been told he was very sick or dying. But by this time he has recovered, and so he knows his brethren are anxious about him and praying for him when God has already answered prayer and delivered him.
His strong heaviness then makes more sense when we paint the scene this way. He’s in Rome with Paul and back to normal, but those in Philippi are deeply concerned without an update of God’s deliverance. Now here’s the exhortation… “when ye see him again ye may rejoice…receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness”
i) The Spiritual Truth that should govern how we receive servants
“in the Lord” – He calls them to recognize their union with Christ in this reception. It’s not just a command to receive him, but to receive him as one with whom they had a spiritual bond. And while it would be wrong to separate this from the surrounding context, this is perhaps the most important little phrase to keep in mind. When we keep in mind the spiritual union we have with one another, that in itself dictates how we treat each other. We should be conscious that believers are not the same as unbelievers.
ii) The Spirit Attitude that should govern how we receive servants
“with all gladness” – gladness = joy in 1:4,1:25,2:2,4:1. If and when this dear brother makes it back to you, this is to be your attitude and spirit when he arrives, “all gladness”. This is such an important grace beloved.
II. WE NEED TO REGARD THEM v29
“hold such in reputation” – not just Epaphroditus, but any individual LIKE Epaphroditus should be treated in a particular way of greater care and appreciation. While every man is a sinner. While every believer is a believer. None of this means we should not give special recognition to certain individuals within the church and reserve greater respect for them. Not idolize them, but give them a place of respect that reflects your recognition of their service to the body of Christ.
Now Epaphroditus had already earned some position of respect in the church to have been given this task. I don’t know what he had done to get that, but Paul says, those like him, respect them. We should identify those with a Epaphroditus-like attitude in the church.
III. WE NEED TO REPLICATE THEM v30
These words are not given as exhortation to the reader, but they contain instruction that ought to be challenging to us.
i) Replicate their suitability – “to supply your lack of service toward me” – Sometimes providence dictates whether we are suitable for a job or not, but sometimes we choose to make ourselves suitable or to not. Paul is not rebuking them. Until Epaphroditus came along and made himself suitable to do what he did, they couldn’t fulfill their desire. The lack of service was the restriction of providence and opportunity to do what they wanted to do for some time. I’d be surprised if there was not a reluctance among some to do this job, but Epaphroditus made himself suitable.
ii) Replicate their selflessness – “not regarding his life” i.e. he risked his life to do this. There are some with fanciful interpretations here, and they see in the verb ‘regarding’ the idea of gambling, and that Epaphroditus gambled with his life. That’s not in the lexicons beloved.
If you say, ‘Lord, I’m willing to do anything’, and then the church say, ‘We’d like you to consider this…’ and you know it’s God opening a door for you, it’s not a gamble to go ahead – it’s the will of God. Gambling is driven by fate, not faith. Epaphroditus did not gamble with his life, he just didn’t make it the priority in the circumstances, and the circumstances were that he had been given a mandate to get this gift to Paul and stay with Paul in spite of the danger of associating with one who may have been put to death at any time, and he made fulfilling the mandate the priority over his life. He was selfless.
iii) Replicate their service – “for the work of Christ” – he was a messenger of the church, but his work was for Christ. Genuine work for the church and for other believers is work for Christ, beloved. Never forget it. Things we do for the benefit of others or the church body as a whole is a service to the Lord.
Close – How Christlike Epaphroditus was in his suitability, selflessness, and service.