Gospel words and loving care should not be separated. Epaphroditus had come from Philippi with gifts to sustain Paul during imprisonment (Philippians 4:18). In modern terms, he might appear to be an aid worker. But he came with a heart for the Lord, the commission of the church who trusted him to carry their money and practical gifts. He had a genuine concern for the apostle (Philippians 2:30). However, the heart of this man is revealed by Paul’s description of 'brother', 'fellow-worker' and 'fellow-soldier'.
The word, 'brother', says that he was a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, not a cultural believer (there was no Christian culture in those days; indeed, Christianity was definitely counter-cultural). Epaphroditus was not a courier doing a job, but a man who so identified with Paul’s ministry that he was willing to risk his life for the sake of the gospel. Hence 'fellow-soldier': he fully identified with the imprisoned apostle and understood the rigours of the spiritual battles around them ... how they must have prayed together! And that was not all: house arrest allowed Paul to welcome visitors who came to hear the gospel, and Epaphroditus was clearly involved in gospel ministry too as a 'fellow-worker' (Philippians 1:12-14).
Paul thought it was necessary to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi. Why? Firstly, Epaphroditus had been critically ill and needed to be reunited with family and church who cared for him (Philippians 2:27). Secondly, Paul wanted to encourage the church in Philippi who were struggling through persecution (Philippians 1:27-30) – and so say how much their gift had meant to him, because they were so precious to him. Thirdly, because the only way to transmit a letter of encouragement was by courier – and Epaphroditus could take it. It was another situation in which Paul allowed the Lord to bring everything together in such a way that His purpose was achieved, and all the people were blessed (Romans 8:28).
In the Bible, there is no such thing as 'just an aid-worker', any more than 'only an evangelist'. Although the pastor, teacher or evangelist must not be side-tracked from their main tasks (Acts 6:1-4), uncaring or loveless ministry is a mockery of the gospel. Likewise, those involved in 'mercy ministries' must not assume that care is the horizon on their service for God. All are called to bear verbal witness to Christ, and to be ready with a gospel response to the question, ‘Why do you care?’ (1 Peter 3:15). Integrated ministry should be a normal part of every believer's lifestyle and visible in the office, hotel, call-centre, workshop or market. We are all intended to wear God's love, share God's care and bear testimony to God's gospel. This trio of responsibilities is for us all; the ratio of particular activities is at the Lord's command.
© Dr Paul Adams