New Testament minor figure, Epaphroditus

Philippians 2:25-30 HCSB But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus—my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need— 26 since he has been longing for all of you and was distressed because you heard that he was sick. 27 Indeed, he was so sick that he nearly died. However, God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have one grief on top of another. 28 For this reason, I am very eager to send him so that you may rejoice when you see him again and I may be less anxious. 29 Therefore, welcome him in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in honor, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your ministry to me.

Philippians 4:18-20 HCSB But I have received everything in full, and I have an abundance. I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Epaphroditus’s name is of pagan origin. It means “belonging to Aphrodite” — the name of the goddess is actually incorporated into the name Epaphroditus. The nine passages above is the extent of our knowledge about Paul’s brother coworker, and fellow soldier as well as the messenger from Philippi. While there is precious little information contained in them, they grant us a close view of the apostle to the gentiles time in prison.

During the second missionary journey Paul sailed from Troas, with Silas (2 Co 1:19; 1 Th 1:1; 2 Th 1:1) Timothy & Luke and eventually came to Philippi. We are told of his experiences there in Acts 16:12-40. What we believe was there first Sabbath after their arrival, the apostle and his companions went out to the bank of the river, and spoke to the women, some Jews, and other proselytes, who had come together for purposes of worship. One of these was named Lydia, a Greek proselyte from Thyatira, a city of Lydia in Asia Minor, a seller of purple whom he led to the lord. They stayed in Her house for some time.

Here in Philippi, Paul and Silas were cast into prison for interfering with the exploitation of a poor soul in their charge. While in the jail the story of the jailer unfolds, and Paul likewise leads him and his family to the Lord. After they were brought out of prison and received an apology for the magistrate for there imprisonment that returned to Lydia’s house to greet and bid farewell to the brethren there. Needless
to say, Paul enjoyed a good work and built many relationships in the Lord with these fine people.

During the course of Paul’s work and journeys for the Lord, it is estimated he spent a total of 5 to 6 years cumulative in prison. Prison meant different things to different people in the first century. The poor was beaten, and or executed mostly. The rich faired somewhat better in that they might only be forced to leave town and fined. Roman citizens usually had a luxury of legal opportunities to avail themselves of. Trials of relative fairness and appeals to higher courts were two such opportunities. The Philippian letter occasioned Paul yet again in prison, this time in Rome. The church at Philippi sent Paul help and it was Epaphroditus who brought it. Not only delivering the help but staying in Rome to assist Paul in what ever way Paul needed. We are not told of what this help consisted but we do know three things concerning it.

  • First it earned Epaphroditus the accolades of Paul, coworker, and fellow soldier, two descriptions Paul did not bestow without merit.
  • Second, we know he was very sick almost unto death. The church at Philippi had heard of his illness and was very concerned for their brother in the Lord. This concern distress both Epaphroditus and Paul a great deal. As a result, Paul reluctantly sent Epaphroditus home as soon as he got well.

The fact of his illness raises a very interesting question. Paul a full apostle of the Lord accomplished several miracles, (Acts 14-16 no less than 8 miracles) why did he not heal Epaphroditus who was so valued by the apostle and the Church at Philippi? The scripture gives us clear understanding why. Miracles were to testify to the truth of divine message John 5:36, Hebrews 2:4. Arbitrarily, for own personnel reasons would not glorify God or testify to the validly of the message or the apostle.

When a man like Epaphroditus gives of himself for the sake of God’s kingdom, many people benefit. Such a man is worthy of honor, and his presence is cause for rejoicing (Philippians 2:29).

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was Paul in Philippi?
  2. What were the circumstances of Paul’s 1st visit to Philippi?
  3. Who was with Paul in Philippi Prison?
  4. Why was Paul put into prison in Philippi?
  5. What does Epaphroditus’s name mean?
  6. What did Epaphroditus do for Paul on behalf of the church in Philippi?
  7. Why did Paul send Epaphroditus home to Philippi?
  8. Why did Paul not heal Epaphroditus when he was ill?
  9. What lesson(s) can we gain from this story of Epaphroditus?