By Shawn McMullen
In a foreign country, a respected preacher was in prison waiting to be tried for his faith. Many of the churches he had visited (some he even helped establish) were praying for him as he awaited his trial.
One congregation felt such deep concern for him that they collected an offering and chose one of their own to deliver it. The man they selected for the task was well known and highly respected in the church. They were confident he would bring the gift safely to its recipient and, once he arrived, be of great service to the imprisoned preacher.
The church’s strategy seemed to be working well. Then something happened to the messenger (whether en route or after his arrival, we don’t know) and he became gravely ill. In fact, his illness was so severe he nearly died as a result. But God was merciful to the sick man (and to his home church and the imprisoned preacher) and restored him to health.
When word of his illness reached the sending church, many were genuinely concerned about his well-being. Others apparently questioned his sincerity and effectiveness. Was he just being lazy? Did he abandon his task once he arrived? When word of their misgivings reached the recovering messenger, he was distraught and longed to return home. He didn’t want his church family to think poorly of him, and he wanted to show those who were genuinely concerned about his welfare that he had fully recovered.
This put the imprisoned preacher in a tight spot and caused him no small amount of anxiety. The man who had come to him had provided a great service. Not only was he a valued brother in Christ, he had become a dear friend and loyal coworker. The preacher didn’t want to give him up. But for the sake of the man who had come to him, and for the sake of the sending church, the preacher decided to send him back sooner than expected.
So the preacher wrote to the church explaining his coworker’s return. He wanted to make sure they understood how priceless his service had been. Because some in the home church may have questioned the worker’s motives, the preacher instructed the entire congregation to receive him with joy when he returned and to honor him for the hero he was—a man who would have willingly given his life to complete the task he had been assigned.
You can read the original version of the account in Philippians 2:25-30. The preacher, of course, is the apostle Paul. The faithful coworker is Epaphroditus.
Epaphroditus is a role model for all of us. His selfless service and sacrificial spirit endeared him to the Philippians, and then to the apostle Paul. In a short time Paul had grown to love and depend on Epaphroditus to the point that losing him to his illness would have brought him “sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27).
The next time you ask yourself what it really means to care for others in the body of Christ, read this account in Scripture. And ask God to make you more like Epaphroditus.