Why Paul Felt It Necessary To Send Epaphroditus - Part #2 (series: Lessons on Philippians)
by John Lowe
(2:26) And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
This is the reason Paul has decided to send “Epaphroditus,” back to Philippi at once. It is unlikely that Epaphroditus would have traveled the 700 miles to Rome alone, especially when he was bringing a sum of money to Paul. So if he became ill shortly after their arrival, his companions would take back the unwelcome news on their return to Philippi. This illness naturally intensified his longing to see all his brethren at home, and he was also greatly distressed to realize that news of his condition would have filled them with grief.
(2:27) Indeed he was ill and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.
Paul here movingly reveals his own reaction to Epaphroditus’ illness, which was so serious that he nearly died. But in spite of his anxiety for the life of his friend, Paul did not heal him by exercising “the signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12), because even in that charismatic era the apostles could not perform miracles whenever they felt so inclined. Their will was subject to God’s will. But in graciously restoring Epaphroditus, God showed mercy both to him and to Paul, who was thus spared from being snowed under by “sorrow upon sorrow.”
“But God had mercy on him.” Paul attributes “Epaphroditus” recovery to God’s mercy and adds that, if he had died, his own troubles would have been increased; for the “sorrow upon sorrow” must mean the sorrow that would have been Paul’s if his friend had died, plus the bitterness of his own imprisonment.
Paul’s testimonial is making it easy for Epaphroditus to return home. There is something very wonderful here. It is touching to think of Paul, himself in the very shadow of death, in prison and awaiting judgment, showing such Christian consideration for Epaphroditus. He is facing death, and yet it mattered to him that Epaphroditus should not meet with embarrassment when he went home. Paul was a true Christian in his attitude toward others; for he was never so immersed in his own troubles, that he had no time to think of his friends’ troubles.
This section is valuable to us for the light it throws on the subject of divine healing:
1. First of all, sickness is not always the result of sin. Here is a man who is sick because of the faithful discharge of his duties (see
v. 30), “...for the work of Christ he came close to death.”
2. Secondly, we learn that it is not always God’s will to heal instantly and miraculously. It appears that Epaphroditus’ illness was prolonged and his recovery gradual (2 Tim. 4:20; 3 John 2).
3. Thirdly, we learn healing is a mercy from God and not something we can demand from Him as is our right.
(28) Therefore I am all the more eager to send him so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.
The Philippians had intended that Epaphroditus should stay with Paul and attend to his needs in prison, but circumstances alter plans, and Paul now deems it best to send their brother back so that they may rejoice in his safe return. By sharing in the joy of this reunion, Paul’s sorrow will be lessened.
A better translation of this verse may be: “I am in greater haste to send him.” The reason follows: “so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.” I wonder if the value of Epaphroditus was not properly appreciated at Philippi since Paul goes on to say: “So then, welcome him in the Lord”―give him a real Christian welcome―“and honor people like him” (2:29).
The moral of the story: There should be in the Christian almost reckless courage which makes him ready to gamble with his life to serve Christ and men.
Scripture and Special Notes
[a} “As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ” (2 Cor. 8:23).
[b} “I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). In Hebrews 13:16 almsgiving is also described as a sacrifice with which God is well pleased. The first and chiefest offering we can make is ourselves: "We offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies" (comp. Romans 12:1); in that chief offering is involved the lesser gift of alms.
[c} “because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me” (Phil. 2:30). The sense is "having hazarded his life; literally, having gambled with his life, not merely having risked it, but risked it recklessly.