In our midweek Bible study in Philippians last week, we read Paul’s commendation of Ephaphroditus in Philippians 2:25-30. Paul calls Epaphroditus in v. 25 “my brother [adelphon], and companion in labour [synergon], and fellowsoldier [systratioten], but your messenger [apostolon].” The description of Ephaphroditus as an apostolos, shows the flexibility of this term, which sometimes refers specifically to one of The Twelve (which Epaphroditus was not) and sometimes to “a sent one,” a representative, or “messenger” (cf. Acts 14:4, 14). The early Particular Baptists took this term to refer to those sent to associational meetings. The passage does indeed show the “communion” enjoyed among the early believers and churches, as Epaphroditus had been sent to minister to the imprisoned Paul's needs.
I was also struck by Paul’s references to Epaphroditus’ grave illness, suffered while ministering to Paul’s needs. He was “sick nigh unto death; but God had mercy on him” (v. 27). Paul commends Epaphroditus to the Philippians, exhorting them to “hold such in reputation: Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death” (vv. 29-30). What I find striking is the rather ordinary way that Paul addresses this illness. Counter to the modern, charismatic “faith-healing” narrative, there is no mention of any attempt at or expectation of extra-ordinary healing. Epaphroditus might well have died, yet God, in his mercy, had providentially granted him recovery. God would have been no less just or powerful if Epaphroditus had not recovered. It is like Paul’s instruction to Timothy to take wine “for thy stomach’s sake and thine own infirmities” (1 Tim 5:23). An illness is met not with calls for extra-ordinary intervention but ordinary remedy.
Epaphroditus name indicates his parents may have named him and raised him in after Aphrodite. As a young man, raised by caring parents in a temple of the goddess of love, it would be natural for him to become a helpful and loving convert to following Jesus' Way of Love.
It made perfect sense to him. Love one Another. Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest is Love. God IS Love. Epaphroditus was a great help to Paul, and certainly may have contributed to recording his words, writing for him, and delivering letters and messages too. Certainly his far travels put him at great risk of illness, but his soldier's training helped strengthen him, and his faith in God, in love, heal him.
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