Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. (Philippians 2:25-30, NKJV).
In this letter, Paul has already mentioned Timothy, his beloved son in the faith, and now he brings into focus a Gentile named, Epaphroditus. All we know of this man comes from this epistle to Philippi, but brevity in Scripture does not equate to insignificance.
That he was a Gentile is clear from his city, his name, and his identification as the church's messenger. Epaphroditus means "belonging to the Grecian goddess Venus", it also implies "lovely", perhaps indicating that the person so named was not unattractive in appearance. No devout Jew would have a pagan deity as his namesake, so his Gentile background is certain. That he was a resident of Philippi, and a key member of the young fellowship, seems clears by the fact that he was the one bearing the church's offering to Rome for Paul's benefit. Clearly, as well, he had remained with Paul for some amount of time, and had contracted a serious illness in the interim.
The apostle described this man as my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need. Do not overlook this glowing commendation. This Gentile believer, presumably young, or at least significantly younger than Paul, was considered by the apostle to be, first, a brother. Paul did not tout his authority and position as an Apostle of Christ unless pressed into it by necessity. He saw himself as merely a servant of the Kingdom whose primary function was a messenger of the gospel to the Gentile world. He did not stand on ceremony, expect special treatment, or insist on titles of rank.
He was approachable, loving, hard-working, brilliant, and not inconsequentially, the one chosen by the Holy Spirit to author two-thirds of the New Testament. He traveled thousands of miles across the ancient world, successfully planting the early church in a hostile environment, and establishing the doctrinal foundation of the faith. Yet, he was unassuming and humble. His saw himself as a sinner saved by grace, not some lofty spiritual official. At the same time, he brooked no compromise with what he considered to be the essential tenets of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, and did not hesitate to confront even the Apostle Peter face-to-face, when he saw that he was acting the hypocrite in Galatia. For Paul to call Epaphroditus, brother, then, was a tribute in and of itself, indicating the man's faithfulness, like-mindedness, and sincere conversion.
But he was more. Referring to him as a fellow worker indicates that Paul considered Epaphroditus to be an effective co-laborer in the cause and work of evangelism and church planting. He was someone whom Paul trusted to accomplish the things of God with the same urgency and sense of priority that Paul himself had. To be thought of in this way by the apostle, the same man who worked to the point of exhaustion for his Lord, was high praise indeed.
Beyond brother and fellow worker, Paul also considered him to be a fellow soldier on behalf of Christ, a comrade-at-spiritual-arms engaged in active battle to advance the banner of the gospel. To be called this by a man who suffered ship-wrecks, beatings, imprisonment, slander, false accusations, riots, stonings and endless persecutions, says a great deal about the esteem in which this younger man was held. It was a unique designation given by name to him alone in all of Paul's writing, so his endurance, courage, and commitment must have been something indeed.
He was also messenger for the church and one who ministered to [Paul's] need. Thus, he was clearly a reliable man who accomplished what was given to him, and was useful to those to whom he was sent. These are rare and valuable qualities in a worker for the Kingdom of God; to be someone who could be counted on to carry out what was given to him, and then to be able to serve in whatever capacity he subsequently found himself. I imagine him anticipating, and joyfully endeavoring to fulfill, the needs of those around him. These are so very important attributes in the workers and volunteers within the church. So often, discouragement, distraction, and dissonance of purpose begin to interfere in the smooth functioning of any human organization, be it the church or otherwise. It is quite a testament to this young man that he was wholly a benefit, and never an impediment, to Paul's needs in ministry.
And he was loved by his people, and loved them in return. In fact, Paul sent Epaphroditus to deliver his letter since he was longing for [them] all, and was distressed because [they] had heard that he was sick. Concerned that his home church would be needlessly worried by news of his own illness, and missing their fellowship as well, Epaphroditus strongly desired to comfort, and be comforted by them; another tribute to his character and sincerity.
Paul then commends him further by affirming that indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. So the prospect of this young man's death was an especial cause of sorrow for the apostle, a man who had already suffered and lost much in his work as an evangelist. Again, it is clear that Epaphroditus was particularly beloved by Paul himself, perhaps as close to his heart as Timothy, himself. Consequently, in recognition of all these things, Paul, the excellent leader that he was, sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. It was no small source of delight to Paul that his brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier would both be encouraged by, and encourage, the believers in Philippi, and providing the opportunity for both things to occur eased Paul's overall sorrow at all the things he had suffered.
And lastly, Paul's greatest commendation and instruction: Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. Selflessly, faithfully, heroically, Epaphroditus worked the work of Christ without regard to personal cost or comfort, with a sincere heart, and pure motives, and should therefore be welcomed by his home church as the honorable soldier and servant he had proved himself to be.
Paul then ended his tribute with a final compliment about the effectiveness of Epaphroditus' service. He acknowledged that his coming supplied Paul with what was lacking in [their] service toward [him]. In other words, the young man's arrival and faithful service was as if he brought the church in it's entirety to Paul as aid and comfort. Since they could not all be there in person, their representation by this young man was the equivalent.
That each of us, as members of the body of Christ, be worthy of these and similar commendations, should be our desire and the prayer of our hearts. May God grant it to be so.