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Philippians 2:25-30 – The Pattern of Christ and the Ministry of Epaphroditus

Summary

Paul explains why he is sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi.

Analysis

The Philippians thought the ministry of the gospel should be carried out by one who is strong and healthy, and so they sent Epaphroditus to minister to Paul in his time of imprisonment. When word came back to Philippi that Epaphroditus was seriously ill, the people were distressed, and so was Epaphroditus upon hearing their response. Therefore, Paul writes: "For he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. He was indeed so ill that he nearly died" (2:26-27). Later in this passage Paul uses words to describe Epaphroditus's ministry as "he came close to death" (2:30), words in Greek that are grammatically identical to the words that describe the extent to which Christ was "obedient to the point of death" (2:8). God is present in the depth of Christ's ministry of self giving: "Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name" (2:9). God is likewise present in the depth of Epaphroditus's ministry: "But God had mercy on him" (2:27).

The connection between Christ's ministry, as expressed in the Christ hymn (2:6-11), and the
ministry of the Philippians through Epaphroditus (2:25-30) is a theological gem and a significant teaching of this letter. At the point of the loss of human strength and power in our lives, the cross of Christ is present; this is where God is present. Earlier in the letter Paul expresses this truth in light of his own life of imprisonment: "speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain" (1:20-21).

Philippians 2:25-30

25 Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow-soldier, your messenger* and minister to my need; 26for he has been longing for* all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honour such people, 30because he came close to death for the work of Christ,* risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

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10 February 2011

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