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. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 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. 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. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him, 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. Philippians 2:25-30 (NIV)
God chose to build his church by using Spirit-filled believers as his co-workers. In Philippians 2, we read of two young men that helped Paul during his tribulation. One is a household name: Timothy, the young man who travelled with Paul and who later became the pastor at Ephesus. Paul had written him two letters included in our Bible. The second young man is lesser known: Epaphroditus.
In Rome, prisoners’ families and friends had to provide them with food and clothing, otherwise they would have starved or frozen to death. The church in Philippi heard about Paul being taken to stand trial in Rome. They knew of the hardships he would bear in the process so they sent Epaphroditus, all the way from Philippi, to be Paul’s helper at this time.
We can easily miss the implications of this part of the letter. As the crow flies, Philippi is 1 000 km from Rome across two dangerous seas. The better way to travel is overland, but that is a distance of 1 600 km. To put it into perspective, the French route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain is 790 km long. A fit person takes six weeks to complete it. Epaphroditus would have had to walk all the way to Rome, at least 12 weeks one way. During his travels, he also experienced hardships and became very ill in Rome. He might have been young and longed for his home. That is why Paul had sent him back home. He had fulfilled his mission and had helped Paul cope through this difficult time.
Why is this included in the Bible? Nearly nobody esteems Epaphroditus these days. But he is the kind of person God had used to build his kingdom all through history. Every church has those people whose names will not be written in history books. They shun the limelight. But through their faithful ministry, using their gifts and opportunities, they honour God and build his church.
We might feel that our contribution to God’s kingdom is minute. Remember, God has made us willing and able to serve (Philippians 2:13). Your willingness, combined with his power, creates a beautiful kingdom. You are making a difference in his story!
Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, that I am called to serve you with my life, my gifts and my time. Although I may feel small and insignificant, help me to remember that you build your kingdom with mustard seeds. Here I am, Lord, send me! Amen