“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.” - Phil 2:25
Epaphroditus really jumped out at me this morning. And not because Epaphroditus has the oddest name in the Bible. That prize, scholars say, fluctuates from year to year between Esh-baal (1 Ch 9:39) and Bildad the Shuhite (Job 2:11). No – what struck me was Epaphroditus’ many roles – he’s a brother, a co-worker, a soldier, a messenger, and a minister.
First, he’s a brother. The Way of Jesus is about being a member of God’s new family. In Jesus’ own words, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35). And the bond in Jesus’ family is tight. If you do anything to a member of Jesus’ family, you might as well have done it to Jesus himself – whether it’s good or bad (Matt 25:40). After rising from the dead, Jesus gives this message to Mary: “Go to my brothers and say to them – I am ascending to my Father and your Father” (Jn 20:17). Jesus gathered the new family of God. Paul is a member. And so is Epaphroditus. And for that reason, Paul calls him brother.
Second, he’s a co-worker. We do the work of God’s Kingdom together. And our “co-worker” status traces all the way back to the book of Genesis. It all begins when God invites Adam to share in God’s own work. The first co-worker tilled a garden. God entrusted Adam with God’s own work. In fact, part of the “fall” is our tragic move from working with God to working against Him. But Jesus, of course, changes all of this. God entrusts His Kingdom to Jesus, and Jesus shares God’s kingdom-work with his new family. And for that reason – we’re all co-workers.
Third, Epaphroditus is a soldier. The Kingdom work we’re called to share in can be likened to a battle. As co-workers, we’re also fellow soldiers. We fight anything and everything – in our world and in our hearts – that opposes our Father’s Kingdom. Of course, the only sword we carry is the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17); the only breastplate we don is the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14). And so our tactics are a bit different. We turn the other cheek. We bless those who curse us. But this is all part of the battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
Fourth, Epaphroditus is a messenger. He understands that “we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel” (1 Thess 2:4). In other words, God has given us the message to make us messengers. We can even say that we are stewards of God’s message. And like all stewards, we have a choice. We can hoard the message by keeping it to ourselves. Or, we can speak the truth in love and share God’s message freely. To do the former is to bury our talent; to do the latter is to be a messenger like Epaphroditus.
Fifth, Epaphroditus is a minister. That doesn’t mean that he was ordained or that he went to seminary or that he wears a fancy robe on Sunday mornings. No. It just means that he is a servant. That’s all a minister is – one who serves another in the name of Jesus. And as brothers and co-workers and soldiers – and especially as people who want our message that God, in Christ, served us to look credible – this is perhaps our highest call and our greatest privilege.
FOR TODAY: Consider the five high roles that Epaphroditus plays in the church. Which ones resonate with you the most? The least? Assuming that these roles are universal for all disciples of Jesus, what roles would you add to this list? (Consider leaving your answer on the comments section for everyone’s edification. After all, we’re family.)