Why couldn’t I have a name like Epaphroditus? Now that is a cool name! What did I get stuck with? Yes – Randy! What a stupid name! It even sounds wussy. And beyond that, I can’t even use the name in a place like England. If you don’t know why that is, I ain’t telling you in a church blog! But if you do know what it means in British slang, you’ll understand why I was embarrassed to find out (too late) from some (not so helpful or timely) British Christians that perhaps using my middle name “Alan” might be more appropriate … all of this after I went up to some old ladies in London and introduced myself by saying, “Hello, I’m Randy.” To which they replied in full accent, “You don’t say!”
Epaphroditus was a common name in the ancient Greco-Roman world, and its meaning was to be “charming” or “lovely.” And that is what Epaphroditus was for Paul – a great fellow to have around who could be counted upon in any circumstance.
When the Philippians found out that Paul was in prison, they sent this prince charming to carry the funds to help Paul, and then to also stay there and provide personal assistance in this time of need. And now, Paul was sending him back to them in Philippi, and sending with him this letter of thanks, greeting, and exhortation.
So, I’ve already gone Greek on you once today with talking about the meaning of his name, and now I’m going to do it twice more!
While Epaphroditus was with Paul, he became terribly ill – to the point of almost dying. The Philippians had heard about this, and in turn Paul had heard back from them that they were really worried about their emissary. All of this worry really deeply bothered Mr. Charming. Here he was supposed to be the guy taking care of the poor Apostle Paul in prison, and then he gets so sick himself that he almost dies and creates a bigger problem of anxiety for everyone. All of this, it says in verse 26 “distressed” him. This is the same word that is used in the New Testament of the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
So Paul is writing to the Philippians to assure them of the great value he derived from the ministrations of Epaphroditus. It is a sort of reference letter to cover for him and to answer any possible criticisms that their representative had failed in his task. To the contrary – here was a guy who Paul said should be given the highest respect and honor, because he had not only done the job at hand, he had risked his very life in doing so.
Here is the third Greek word for you out of this passage – it is the one that is translated “co-worker” in verse 25. It is the word from which we derive the English word “synergy.” It is a combination of “work” and “together.” That was the relationship Paul and Epaphroditus had – a synergy in ministry and working together.
Over the years I have enjoyed this relationship particularly with certain people. From this Tri-State community I would especially mention Beth Ostoich – a great co-worker in the gospel, who knew what I was thinking with even just a glance. In New Jersey, I so much enjoyed one particular staff member, who is now a pastor in Colorado. We served together through a very difficult church situation and thereby built a life-long friendship and partnership.
In the local church, we are in a cosmic struggle of kingdoms warring against one another. We are co-combatants and servants together of the King of Kings. Serving others in and through the church is the greatest work we can do. We should all be deeply involved, and in the intensity of it we should be gaining significant relationships with one another. We need you; you need us. Jump in. Be an Epaphroditus.
25 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. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 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. 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. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him,30 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.