The Amazing Faith of Epaphroditus: 5 Words That Describe the Christian Life
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Though the “big names” of the Bible tend to receive the most attention, I have often found myself drawn to the lesser known people mentioned in Scripture. I think it’s because we know so little about most of them, yet their names are still recorded forever in God’s Word. We often make much of Paul and Peter and John and the like, yet during the early church there were hundreds and even thousands of believers who were amazingly faithful and godly people…it’s just that we hardly know anything about them. So, I often find myself coming across a name in Scripture and stopping to wonder, what were they like? How did they come to faith? If I knew them personally, would I be in awe of their faith? Or would they seem like an ordinary, but faithful, follower of Jesus?
In Philippians 2:25-30 (and 4:18), we are introduced to a member of Paul’s ministry team named Epaphroditus. This is the only place in the Bible where he is mentioned, yet he is paid some extremely high compliments, including Paul saying we should honour people like Epaphroditus because he almost died in his service of Christ. Sounds like a faithful guy!
In my short meditation on Epaphroditus, I noticed that Paul gave him 5 specific labels in only one short verse, which I found to be incredibly enlightening. Philippians 2:25 reads (bold mine):
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…
These five roles are a pretty good summary of what it means to be a Christian. Evidently, Epaphroditus is a great example for us to follow. We may not know a lot about him specifically, but these few words begin to paint a portrait of what kind of person he was.
All Christians are part of one big family. The Bible speaks of becoming a Christian by using the language of family, where God is our Father and we are his adopted children (Ephesians 1:5). This means that all believers are united as brothers and sisters in God’s household. In fact, our spiritual bond through Christ is even greater than our physical bonds through blood (Matthew 12:48-50). As Christians, we need to be devoted to one another with “brotherly affection”, and see ourselves as being family. Paul and Epaphroditus, although we have no reason to believe they were related to one another, considered each other brothers because of their common faith in Christ. We too must do the same!
No one becomes a Christian by their works, but everyone who becomes a Christian through faith in Jesus is called to a life of good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Part of the Christian life means fruitful labor for Jesus (Philippians 1:21-22). Although we are saved and destined for heaven, there is much work to do in the meantime! The gospel must be preached, disciples must be made, prayers must be petitioned, needs must be met, love must be shown, and so forth, until we die or Christ returns. The Christian life is one of joyous labor for Jesus. Like Epaphroditus, we should not waste our days frivolously, but serve Christ and advance the Kingdom with all the strength that God supplies. Apparently, the only thing that could slow him down was an illness that nearly took his life!
The Bible uses the language of war to describe the Christian life, saying that believers are soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3), that we must put on armour for battle (Ephesians 6:10-20), and that the Church is storming the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). We are not at war with any part of humanity, however, but with our own sinful desires and also the Enemy of our souls. The war-like descriptions in the Bible are meant to shake up comfort-seeking Christians and remind them that they are in the front lines of a battle. Souls are at stake. Casualties are real. Get off your butt, suit up for war, and get in the fight! Epaphroditus evidently had this kind of mindset, one which we would be wise to share with him.
Christianity does not offer a product. Rather, it offers a Person, and does so in the form of sharing good news. By definition, Christianity is a movement based on a message: that Jesus died for sin and rose for salvation, and any who repent and believe on him will be reconciled to God! Our faith is inherently word-based. This word of salvation and eternal life is what we are called to proclaim. Therefore, every Christian is a messenger, an appointed agent sent by God to share the good news (2 Corinthians 5:20). Like Paul, Epaphroditus was involved in such a ministry. He was a Philippian who was responsible for communicating between Paul and the Church back home. In bringing the Word from the apostle back to his city, and aiding in the preaching ministry of Paul, Epaphroditus gives us a great example of someone who was dedicated to the spread of the gospel. We need to be dedicated to this as well!
A minister is one who simply serves. The aim of a minister is to meet the needs of other people. Just as Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45), so the Christian calling is the same. Believers are beckoned by God to be those who put the needs of others above their own. We are meant to be servants, doing whatever it takes to get a particular job done. This requires a great deal of humility and also resolve in the face of conflict or failure. We can deduce from Paul’s comments about Epaphroditus that he was a person who was a faithful servant. He loved Paul and sought to meet his needs. He was a team player who did what was asked of him. He dedicated his life to showing the love of God to others and being a servant of the Kingdom. Oh how we could use that kind of attitude in the Church!
Be an Epaphroditus
We may not know much, but what we do know about Epaphroditus leads us to believe that he was one remarkable Christian! (Actually, he is an example of what an ordinary Christian is meant to be…extra-ordinary!) Here is a believer who was totally sold-out for Jesus. He loved like a brother, laboured like a worker, fought like a soldier, shared like a faithful messenger, and helped others like a great servant. These are some high compliments! I am left wanting to be like him, and looking forward to meeting him in heaven and telling him that his great example was an inspiration to me. I pray that it would be for you as well. Let’s honour Epaphroditus by aiming to imitate his amazing faith!