While no one ever wants to get sick, seven hundred miles from home is certainly not where you would choose for it to happen. But that is exactly what happened to Epaphroditus. And he wasn’t just sick – in fact, he almost died. He risked his life to complete the mission entrusted to him by his home church of Philippi, a mission in which he went to Rome to be of service to Paul. When he recovered, he began to worry – not about any residual effects from his sickness, but about the folks back home. They had heard about his sickness and they were very concerned.
I had a similar experience 5000 miles from home. And while my sickness was nowhere as serious as that of Epaphroditus, the concern on the part of my wife was just as real as that of the church at Philippi. I had a severe asthma attack while on a mission trip to Latvia – I had never had one before – and when I called home, she could tell something was wrong. The fact that she could not be with me – the fact that she did not really know what was happening – all contributed to her concern.
Because of the great distress that this situation was causing Epaphroditus, Paul sent him home. But Paul was very careful to protect the reputation of Epaphroditus. He reminded the church at Philippi of the great sacrifice Epaphroditus made to complete this work on their behalf. The second chapter of Philippians records Paul’s description of Epaphroditus with terms like “my brother,” fellow worker,” fellow soldier,” your messenger and minister.” And in no uncertain terms, he told them to “receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,” when he again reminded them that Epaphroditus had risked his life to complete their service.
Paul sent Epaphroditus home because he realized how this situation was affecting both Epaphroditus and the church at Philippi. Paul was losing a fellow worker, but he knew that Philippi needed Epaphroditus more than he did. This entire episode happened as it did because everyone involved was willing to sacrifice for Christ. Philippi made sacrifices in order to send support to Paul. Epaphroditus sacrificed greatly taking Paul the gift. And Paul was willing to sacrifice a needed and effective worker so that others would have what they needed. In so doing, each one lived out the words of Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
And of course, in their actions, they followed the example that Jesus left when he willingly left his heavenly home to be a servant to mankind and a sacrifice for our sins. Let us thank God for servants like Epaphroditus, and let us determine to serve our Lord with the same fervent zeal.