We encourage you to read all of Philippians 2 each day this week. As you do today, focus on verses 25-30, printed below.
25 I think it is also necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. He is my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier; and he is your representative who serves my needs. 26 He misses you all, and he was upset because you heard he was sick. 27 In fact, he was so sick that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him—and not just on him but also on me, because his death would have caused me great sorrow. 28 Therefore, I am sending him immediately so that when you see him again you can be glad and I won’t worry. 29 So welcome him in the Lord with great joy and show great respect for people like him. 30 He risked his life and almost died for the work of Christ, and he did this to make up for the help you couldn’t give me.
Timothy got to be famous—two New Testament letters sent to him, his name in the book of Acts 6 times and in 10 of Paul’s letters. Epaphroditus? His name appeared one more time in Philippians, and that was it. But he mattered. “When people were put in prison in Paul’s world, they were not normally given food by their captors; they had to rely on friends helping them.”* When the church in Philippi heard Paul was in prison, they chose Epaphroditus to take something—money? warm blankets? scrolls to read? baked goods? maybe all of these?—to Paul, likely in distant Rome. Not as a quick drop-off, but to stay and serve the apostle—"your representative who serves my needs.” But he got so sick he nearly died, and Paul sent him home, carrying this letter. Paul, that great apostle, was not a solo act. He was part of “the body of Christ” he wrote about, and many members of that body, like Epaphroditus, supported and sustained him.
Lord Jesus, when I’m tempted to feel that I don’t matter, remind me of brave Epaphroditus. He couldn’t have written Philippians, but without him we wouldn’t have this letter. Help me play my role as a faithful member of your body. Amen.
* Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone, The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 84). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
** Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 100.
(Our scheduled writer wasn't able to write for today. Over 10 years ago, Darren Lippe, who we usually read on Fridays, wrote a great reflection on Philippians 2:25-30 that we're happy to share with any of you who don't recall it from memory!)
Today’s reading helps remind us that in the course of our faith journey we’ll probably encounter 3 different types of “helpers” & advisors: Discouragers, “Whatever-ers,” & Encouragers. Let’s take a quick glance at what these folks might look like.
Discouragers come in various forms. We might have workplace managers who are reluctant to praise or promote workers for fear of the adverse impact it will have on them. Early in my career, I had a manager who said I couldn’t be promoted because I was too valuable in my current position. He acknowledged that I was qualified & that the promotion would be good for my career arc. He just didn’t want the hassle of having to train someone to take my place. I was tempted to turn in my brown visor & orange shirt! I’d already mastered the fryers in 4 short weeks (yes, I was quite a prodigy) & I could only imagine what I would do with the $0.10/hour raise that came with the title of “grill man.” (Fortunately, I’m no longer bitter about my experience at that A&W restaurant.)
We can face discouragement in our faith walk too. Perhaps we are considering taking a Disciple class. A friend or loved one might say, “Really? I hear you have to read a lot of the Bible.” (Aside: A Bible study that has you actually read the Bible? Eek! That would be like joining a gourmet club & being shocked to learn that you are expected to eat.) Or maybe we are considering a mission trip. A friend or loved one might provide a detailed list of all the logistical hurdles to be overcome. We need to be cautious that we don’t become an inadvertent discourager to someone’s faith journey.
The 2nd group of folks is the “whatever-ers.” These folks provide such a tepid endorsement that it is of no help or use at all. We know how these people sound. “Well, you can join in the Alpha class if you really want to.” Or "You have your Men’s group meeting tonight? I thought you’d pick up Jezebel from dance class.” These folks never actually say “no,” but they also never really say “yes.” We need to realize how our innocent sounding comments can hinder our friends & loved ones on their faith walk.
The Encouragers emulate Paul’s example in today’s Scripture. It gives us a picture of Paul as compassionate, caring, & willing to go the extra mile to help his friend. He doesn’t discourage Epaphroditus from returning home--“If you really think it is a good idea, go ahead.” He actively encourages him to return. He writes a powerful reference letter testifying to Epaphroditus’ character & value to Paul. Did Epaphroditus’ departure provide hardship for Paul? Undoubtedly. Yet he didn’t hesitate to heartily endorse his decision.
What if we imitated Paul? What if, men, we blessed our wife by eagerly handling the dinner & household chores on the evening her women’s group meets? What if we blessed our husband by saying, “Of course you can attend the Men’s Retreat. It will be the top priority that weekend.” When I facilitate a Disciple or other class, I often receive gracious thanks for my commitment & sharing my time. I try to make a point each time to say thank you to my wife, Doris, for her un-failing & guilt-free encouragement that freed up this time. One’s faith journey goes much better with an encouraging friend in Christ by your side.
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