“Therefore, receive him in the Lord with all joy and to such as these show honor, for he came close to death because of the work of Christ, exposing his life to danger in order to fulfill what was lacking in your ministry to me.”
The question that presents itself to our curiosity is what does Paul mean when he speaks of, “what was lacking”? Is he seeking to rebuke the people for something that they missed? Is he suggesting that somehow Epaphroditus has done something that the people of Philippi have been unable or unwilling to do? No, I don’t think that would be consistent with everything else that we find Paul speaking about when it comes to his affections for the people of the church in Philippi. Instead, I think that of which Paul speaks is a ministry of presence. Truly, Paul yearns for fellowship with the people in the church in Philippi, but it would be nearly impossible for the entire church to pick up and leave to go visit Paul…but not impossible for one man to do…and that one man is Epaphroditus.
There is a power to the notion of a ministry of presence, being able to spend time face to face with another person and not just communicating by letters from a distance. A childhood friend of mine is currently spending time in prison. We write, but those occasions where I can travel to see him are particularly valuable. As a pastor, too, I have found that often my presence alongside a family who is grieving the loss of someone means a great deal. It has nothing to do with me nor does it have to do with anything that I might say or actively do. Yet, to know that someone is just there, with you, during a difficult time, means a great deal. And for Paul who is in prison as he writes this letter, Epaphroditus provided this kind of ministry.
And thus honor should be shown. The Greek word that Paul uses here is e¡ntimoß (entimos), and it is a word that refers to something that is precious or valuable in one’s sight — distinguished and set apart. And Paul is not attributing this word only to Epaphroditus. Note that he says, “and such as these…” So to all, who give of themselves sacrificially, who suffer (even to the point of death) to minister to God’s people, to those who practice the ministry of presence to fulfill that which the broader church is unable to fully do…treat them as the precious gift to the church (and community) that they are. Treat them with honor. Yet, how often the servants of God are taken for granted and not seen as a honored gift from God.
Loved ones, strive to be like Epaphroditus in your service to others. They may not be in prison nor may they be at great distances from yourself. You may also not need to risk your life for them. Yet, strive to bless others with your ministry, even if all you do is just be present with them during their time of trial. And those who serve in your midst, who give of themselves to care for others, seek to recognize them as a good gift from God and worthy of your honor.