But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 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. 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. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 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. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 25-30)
Just in case the Philippians needed someone closer to home than Timothy as an example of humility of mind, you know, that willingness to consider others more important than yourself, they had a ready specimen in Epaphroditus. From Paul’s description we might suppose that Epaphroditus was one of the overseers (see 1:1), one of the leaders in the Philippian church. He had been entrusted with the message and the money the church had sent for Paul’s needs. He had the utmost integrity.
Was he on the side of those who wanted to send money to Paul? Perhaps, but his concern was not for those only who sided with him in this matter. He was concerned for the distress of the whole congregation and longed for all of them when he found out that they heard he was ill almost to death. And can you imagine what concerns he might have had when they learned this? I can just hear those who did not want to send money to Paul saying, “I told you so.” “See,” they might have said, ” we send money to Paul and we almost lose one of our pastors.”
God spared Epaphroditus and in so doing spared Paul and the Philippians more suffering. But this stirring up of the conflict all the more is surely the reason Paul feels a need to even have to charge the Philippians to welcome Epaphroditus in the Lord with great joy. Why else would they hesitate to do so unless there was a lack of joy over his trip? Why else would Paul have to charge them to honor their own shepherd? His willingness to risk his life for the work of Christ in order to help Paul must be noticed as another example of someone with humility of mind. Epaphroditus did not think first of himself when he undertook this trip nor when he fell ill. He thought of his fellow congregants.
It is a strange but time worn verity that we are changed by those around whom we center our lives. Paul is challenging us to center our lives around those in our fellowship who demonstrate this kind of Christlike humility.