WHEN LOVING OTHERS HURTS
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 2, specifically, Philippians 2:25 – 30.
Reflection | Of all his letters addressed to churches, Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi is arguably his most personal. For in Philippians, we are privileged to meet, albeit briefly, some of the people, associated with that faith community. Earlier, Paul spoke about Timothy, whom Paul shared he is going to send as soon as he knows more about the likely outcome of his trial in Rome. However now, Paul still needs to send this letter to the Philippians, so he is going to have someone named Epaphroditus deliver it.
Epaphroditus was a member of the Philippian church. When the Philippians heard that Paul was in prison, they sent Epaphroditus to him in order to convey a financial gift as well as to provide any further assistance Paul needed. Epaphroditus’ role also included bringing news from Philippi, specifically about the church, to Paul. While visiting Paul, Epaphroditus became gravely ill and almost died. This distressing news caused concern among the Philippians.
Paul, as he is sending Epaphroditus back to the Philippians, wants to make sure that Epaphroditus would be well received by his community. The depth and tenderness with which he writes about Epaphroditus is noteworthy. Whereas, Paul viewed Timothy as a son, he speaks of Epaphroditus as his “brother.” He then goes on to describes Epaphroditus in even more generous, glowing terms – as “co-worker and fellow solider” – that is, as a faithful colleague in ministry.
We also quickly learn part of the reason Paul is specifically sending Epaphroditus with this letter is “he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill” (v. 26). What stands out here is this is a small but significant example of living out Paul’s earlier admonition to putting the needs of others above our own. For Epaphroditus was more burdened for the Philippians who were concerned about his illness than he had been about the illness itself.
That this selfless, other-centered disposition for Christ is Epaphroditus’ standard modus operandi is further evidenced in Paul’s counsel as to how the Philippians ought to receive Epaphroditus. Paul encourages the Philippians to afford Epaphroditus the highest respect and honor he had not only done the job at hand; he had risked his very life in doing so. Jesus’ words cannot help but come to mind, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
What we can learn from the witness of Epaphroditus is that following Jesus involves risk. Sometimes we get the idea if we’re serving the Lord, then we will be immune from trials and suffering – that somehow, we will avoid difficulties like illnesses, feeling isolated from others, or experiencing financial hardship. It seems to me there’s a lot of that kind of talk going around right now! But this is not what Jesus told us to expect at all. Again, and again, he cautioned us to count the cost of following Him. He repeatedly spoke of the need to be willing to die to ourselves in order to truly serve others.
For the sake of living the Gospel, Epaphroditus suffered the effects of distance from those he loved. He longed to be together again with his family, friends, and community. Because of his commitment to reflect Christ to another person in need, Epaphroditus didn’t just get sick, he caught an illness that threatened his life.
Beyond the life story of Epaphroditus, the story of the Church is filled with examples of the suffering that inevitably comes when we walk in the walk of Jesus. Bad things do happen. We can and will get hurt. Sacrifices will need to be made for the greater good. Following Jesus involves risk – the risk of suffering for the sake of serving others.
So why take the risk? Because the rewards of the Kingdom of God far outweigh the risks. Our willingness to extend grace and to suffer for the sake of safeguarding another person tangibly demonstrates that our faith and hope in Jesus, in the Gospel is real, is true, is life-giving. And all our losses borne of out of a belief, a conviction in the Gospel are backed by the assurance that Christ’s love is stronger than death, that following Jesus always leads to resurrection.
Consider & Discuss | Epaphroditus risked his life in following the way of Jesus. Are you willing to take the same risk – to stake your life for the service of Christ? Why or why not? In what or whom else are you placing your safety and security above or before Jesus?
Prayer Focus | Compassionate Father, draw us closer to You as we continue to walk on this journey of faith. Remind us that we can only lead others by first following You. As we reflect on the example of Epaphroditus, we ask for You to create in us ever more humble and joyful servant-oriented hearts. Help us to find our refuge in You alone. Empower us to be willing to risk our very lives for the sake of offering Your love and grace to others. Repel our fears with the certain promise of Your resurrection. Amen.