Health and Welfare
Normal people are very concerned when loved ones are unwell or left alone. Normal Christians feel like that about God's family in difficulties, wherever they may be. Sickness had overtaken Epaphroditus after arriving to help Paul. Word got back to believers in Philippi that their 'special envoy' was unwell, and as Epaphroditus heard of their concern, he was distressed to have caused them so much grief. And at that time, they did not know that he had almost died. Paul was deeply concerned for him too; and attributes his recovery to God's mercy - otherwise he would have been devastated at the loss of a brother, who had travelled so far to meet his needs.
Paul clearly loved Epaphroditus and was greatly encouraged by his visit. But the Apostle also respected the needs of his family and church in Macedonia to be reunited with their loved one. Indeed, that separation alone caused Paul great concern, not for his own sake (although he relished the comradeship and fellowship in ministry), but he was aware how much comfort Epaphroditus would bring back home. So you see, everybody in this little story gave themselves sacrificially to meet the needs of others, yet everybody was deeply concerned for each other and wanted to bring practical solutions to reunite loved ones.
But Paul’s motivation for sending Epaphroditus back was not only practical, emotional and relational. It was an act of thanksgiving to God. The Lord had intervened in the messenger’s illness. What might have been fatal was turned around by God’s mercy. Paul’s prayers were heard and his impending grief was averted. So, verse 28 starts, “Therefore I am all the more eager to send him …” Like Hannah who pledged that if the Lord gave her a son then she would give him to serve the Lord all his life (1 Samuel 1:10-11), Paul received the dead back to life and did not keep him – rather, he released Epaphroditus to serve his home church. That decision was Paul’s thank-offering, trusting that the Lord would continue to meet his needs through whatever means He chose (Philippians 4:18-19).
True gospel heartedness does not ruthlessly pursue ministry projects at the expense of loving relationships. These relationships are a special part of God's grace to us, for our strengthening and encouragement. Some believers feel so trapped by people-pressures that they do not see ministry opportunities in the middle of their encounters. Others are so project-driven that they have no time to support others who are weak. Paul, Epaphroditus and the Philippian church could teach many of us a useful lesson – each was willing to give of themselves and also to sacrifice what they could have so that others would benefit. That was what God did for us and we should do for others. Selfish sinners like us should never minimise the importance of this teaching: let us find ways to give away what God has given us to express our thankfulness to God and our care of one another (2 Corinthians 9:11).
© Dr Paul Adams