The Gamble of Epaphroditus

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 honor 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

Gambling For Christ

After an elaborate commentary about the faithfulness of Timothy, Paul switches his focus to Epaphroditus. Paul introduces Epaphroditus with similar alacrity as he did for Timothy. At the beginning of verse 25, he talks about sending Epaphroditus back to the Philippians. This suggests that Epaphroditus was sent to Paul by the Philippians as their messenger. Clearly, Paul developed a fondness for Epaphroditus during his stay with Paul. Thus, the apostle uses three significant and commendable titles to refer to Epaphroditus. Paul calls him brother, a co-worker, and a fellow soldier. These three titles say a lot about the appreciation and esteem that Paul had for Epaphroditus. The title brother is used to highlight the personal relationship Paul had with Epaphroditus, who was both a valuable companion who was trusted to bring Paul the much needed financial support from the church at Philippi. Paul also refers to Epaphroditus as a co-worker. That means Epaphroditus played an active role in spreading the gospel and the work of ministry. Epaphroditus is also called a fellow soldier. Paul enjoyed using military metaphors to refer to the Christian journey and to Christians. Perhaps it is because he spent at least one year chained to two Roman soldiers as he awaited trial in Rome.

Paul maintains that Christians were fighting spiritual warfare as soldiers in the Lord’s army. In Ephesians 6:11-18, he exhorts believers to put on the whole armor of God. To the degree that Epaphroditus was by his side, supporting him when most people had forsaken him, Paul applauds Epaphroditus for being a soldier for Christ. Paul ends verse 25 by ensuring he shows gratitude and appreciation to the Philippians for sending Epaphroditus to bring him a much-needed gift of financial support. The apostle uses the Greek word, which has the idea of priestly service. The idea is that “when Epaphroditus brought the support money from the Philippians to Paul in Rome, he brought a sacrifice.” In verse 26, Paul acknowledges the concerns of the Philippians for Epaphroditus. He informs them that Epaphroditus is in distress because he knew the Philippians were anxious about his physical health. Paul assures them that Epaphroditus was indeed sick and almost died. However, he assures them that God had healed Epaphroditus and spared him of the sorrow that losing Epaphroditus would have caused him (v. 27).

Paul is grateful to God that Epaphroditus recovered from his illness because Epaphroditus became sick when he came on behalf of the Philippians to minister to Paul’s material and spiritual needs while Paul was in prison in Rome. He did not want to bear the sorrow for the death of such a valuable brother and partner in ministry. Thus, in verse 28, he talks about his eagerness to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians so he can stop worrying about Epaphroditus. In verse 29, Paul uncharacteristically exhorts the Philippians to welcome Epaphroditus in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him. Paul is not known for heaping such profuse praise on anyone in his writings for their sacrifice to the work of the Lord. Yet, in this case, because Epaphroditus risked his life to minister to Paul’s material and spiritual needs, Paul felt that honor was due to Epaphroditus. The fact that Epaphroditus was willing to put the work of Christ first and his wellness and safety second did not go unnoticed by Paul. The Greek Paul uses for “risking his life” came from a gambler’s word that meant to risk everything on the roll of the dice. Simply stated, Paul is saying that Epaphroditus risked everything for the sake of Jesus Christ.

In the days of the Early Church, a group called “the gamblers,” risked their lives to visit prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases. “Often, when a plague struck a city, the heathen threw the dead bodies into the streets and fled in terror. But the gamblers buried the dead and helped the sick the best they could, and so risked their lives to show the love of Jesus.” It is that phrase that Paul uses to describe the courageous act of Epaphroditus. Paul closes the chapter with a stinging commentary. He tells the Philippians that Epaphroditus risked his life to make up for the help they could not give him. Presumably, the Philippians had been neglectful in their generosity and good intentions to Paul. Epaphroditus felt it necessary to go to visit Paul personally to reassure the apostle of the affection of the saints at Philippi toward him.

Application

I seldom hear anyone referring to the many sacrifices that some Christians make for the sake of Christ as a gamble. Unfortunately, not too many Christians would want to be identified as a gambler. Yet I think the term is fitting because Jesus has asked his disciples to forsake everything to follow him and to risk their lives for him.

Pledging our allegiance for Christ and sharing the gospel across the world is tantamount to rolling the dice for Christ. In many cases, Christians have been killed on the mission field. Others have been imprisoned and persecuted for living the Christian life. Yet that is what validates our identity and gives us the credibility to proclaim the name of Jesus.

During this pandemic, people are being asked to take precautions and to practice social distancing. This is not the first time the world has had to deal with a dangerous pandemic. In past centuries “the gamblers” risked their lives to care for people in prison and those infected with contagious diseases. In what way are you a “gambler” for Christ during this pandemic? I am not saying Christians should not take precautionary measures, so they do not get sick. However, as the number of food-insecure people continues to grow, we have to take risks. There are too many lonely seniors living in fear alone, for Christians not to take risks.

The call of discipleship is a roll of the dice. Just as Jesus risked his life for our salvation, we ought to risk our lives to make up for the care and concern that so many people are not getting. We cannot be satisfied with good intentions. The needy want concrete actions. Doing these actions may inevitably require a risk from us. Yet I am persuaded that those who risked their lives for the sake of Jesus will get an eternal reward that far surpasses the sacrifice they made.

Prayer

Blessed Lord, please give us the courage to risk our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ.

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