“Now, I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and comrade in arms — also your apostle and a minister to my needs — for he was longing and anxious to be with you because you heard that he was seriously ill.”
We are introduced to Epaphroditus; we don’t know much about him apart from what we read here, yet from that we can infer that Epaphroditus was the representative of the Philippian church who brought the love gift and stayed on for a season to help care for Paul. We also see that he had become ill — seriously ill — during that time, and Paul speaks further on that in the verses which follow.
What strikes me is the term that Paul uses to describe Epaphroditus…he is called an “apostle.” Some of our translations use the term “messenger” here, but that isn’t entirely accurate. Were Epaphroditus simply a messenger, we might expect Paul to use the term a¡ggeloß (angelos) or were he more of a courier, we might expect the term specoula/twr (spechoulator). Yet, in ancient times, an apostle was more than just one who brings a message on behalf of others; an apostle also carried with him the authority of the one who sent him — much like the modern notion of a political envoy.
The question is, are we then to understand Epaphroditus as an apostle in the same way that Paul was an apostle. The answer to that question is, ‘no.’ The reason for this answer is because we must also ask of whom a person is an apostolic representative. Paul refers to himself as an Apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1, etc…). In turn, Paul refers to Epaphroditus as “your apostle.” Thus, Epaphroditus is serving as an apostle, an authoritative representative, of the church in Philippi. In addition, Epaphroditus is also a believer, a servant of Christ, which makes him Paul’s brother in Christ and a comrade in arms — spiritual soldiers against the powers and principalities of this world.
What is worth noting is that while some people call themselves “Apostles” in our modern times, that office has ceased with the establishment of the church and the close of the Canon. None of these so-called apostles speak with the authority of Jesus Christ and if they claim to, we must be wary. Indeed, they might claim to be apostles of their church if that authority is so given to them, but the Biblical term for those of us who lead churches is that of Shepherd — Pastor. And a Pastor is a servant first…terms like Apostle (at least when used today) only tend to reflect a person’s ego. Better to be called a fellow-worker.
Notice too, how important these people are to Paul. When one is incarcerated, to have contact with others is a gift of God’s grace. I would encourage you that if you know someone who is in prison — write them a letter today or make a plan to go visit them. Be that Epaphroditus to them; it will mean the world to them as they serve their time behind bars…and what a wonderful opportunity to witness the grace of Christ.
“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
Philippians is one of Paul’s later letters, written while in Prison in Rome (c.f. 4:22), and towards the end of his life. This places the letter as having been written in the early 60s, AD. The Church in Philippi had sent him a gift (4:16,18). It was not uncommon, in ancient times, that those in house prison were to pay for their own lodging essentially, forcing them to rely on the generosity of friends and family. Such is the context of this letter where Paul is responding back and saying, “thank you,” to these generous Christians.
Though this first verse is little more than an introductory greeting, it contains a great deal of depth and ought not be overlooked. To begin with, we find Timothy with Paul. This is earlier in his imprisonment as Paul is speaking of sending Timothy to the church in Philippi with his greetings and for their aide (2:9). Yet, this is taking place before Paul writes for Timothy to return (2 Timothy 4:9) which is closer to his death. Again, this helps us to discern the timeline of Paul’s letters.
More importantly is the title that Paul applies both to himself and to Timothy. He says that they are slaves or (as is sometimes translated) bondservants of Christ Jesus. The term that is used here is douvloß (doulos), which is one of the terms that Paul quite regularly uses to describe his service to Jesus Christ. This term refers not to a mere hired servant, but to a servant who is bound (as a slave would be) to his master. As Christians, we serve Christ Jesus and Christ alone. We given permission to have two masters (Luke 16:13) and we do not serve Christ for a season and then serve another (as hired servants might do). We are bound to serve Christ until the very day we die.
This is a mindset that the modern church has largely forgotten. People are quick to live lives and expend energies for the things that they want, but when they get tired, weary, or frustrated at the direction that things are going, they bail out and do something different. Such is not the calling of a Christian. No matter what the cost, not matter where he leads us, we must follow for we are not our own. We, if we will be faithful, must grasp this notion and serve Christ, not self.