The Non-Apostle Apostles: Epaphroditus


This man is mentioned only in the book of Philippians, but great things are said about him. The apostle Paul was in Rome, awaiting his trial before Caesar, but was concerned about the spiritual welfare of the church in Philippi (Philippians 2:19). He wanted to come himself, but that wasn’t possible. So, in his place, he sent Epaphroditus.[1]

Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow-soldier, but your apostle, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because you have heard that he had been sick. For indeed, he was sick—near to death—but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me as well, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore, I sent him eagerly, that when you see him again, you might rejoice, and I might be griefless. Therefore, receive him in the Lord with all gladness; and hold him in honor: because he was near to death for the work of Christ, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me. (Philippians 2:25-30).

Paul calls this man “my brother” showing the affection that he had for him. He was a brother in the Lord, but Paul makes it more personal by saying “my brother.” He had a closeness, a fondness for this brother in Christ.   Epaphroditus was a friend, someone who could be counted on to listen, and who could empathize with the beleaguered apostle Paul. He helped take care of Paul’s needs, and did it in a way that showed he had the heart of a servant. Epaphroditus was not a blood-relative of Paul.[2]

He was a co-laborer with Paul in the gospel. He not only spent time with Paul as a friend and brother, but he was also a servant laboring for His master. Since the Bible is inspired by God, this is actually God’s commendation of Epaphroditus as a laborer for Christ. Paul worked to spread the gospel, even when he was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16-31), and Epaphroditus may have been one of the ones who helped organize the meetings in Paul’s rented house.

He was a fellow-soldier with Paul. A soldier is involved in the battle, and Epaphroditus was no different. He fought side-by-side with the apostle, using the sword of the Spirit to convince both Jew and Gentile alike that Jesus is the Christ. Picture him there at the house of the apostle Paul, answering questions from the Jews that came to hear about Jesus, and showing them from the Scripture that He is the Messiah.

He was the Philippian church’s apostle, in that they sent him to assist Paul. Paul calls him “your messenger” (KJV), or more literally, “your apostle.” The church in Philippi had heard about the arrest of Paul and his journey to Rome to await trial. How they heard about it isn’t revealed, but their response is: they sent Epaphroditus. Given what is said about this man by Paul, it’s not a stretch to imagine Epaphroditus volunteering for this mission of mercy. He was loved by the congregation there in Philippi (his return would cause them to rejoice), and he served as a very faithful representative for them, supplying service to Paul in their name.

He was a minister. That is, he was a willing servant.[3] He cared for Paul’s needs. That could include such menial things as acquiring groceries, but it could also include caring for Paul if he got sick. Some Greek manuscripts of the letter to the Philippians ends with the words “written from Rome by Epaphroditus.” Quite possibly, Epaphroditus was one of the men who took dictation from Paul so that his letters could be written and sent out to the churches.

He cared for his family and friends. While he was in Rome, working side-by-side with Paul, helping him with his needs and teaching the gospel to others with him, Epaphroditus was homesick. Paul says that Epaphroditus “longed” for his brethren back home. He missed them greatly, but it didn’t stop him from doing the work of the Lord there in Rome. If Paul was concerned about the spiritual welfare of the Philippian church, how much more was Epaphroditus, since those people were his friends and family!

He was “full of heaviness.” He was deeply distressed, knowing that the Philippians were worried about him. Word about his sickness had made it to Philippi, and they were all very anxious over his welfare. And why wouldn’t they be? He was loved by them and highly thought of. But now, Epaphroditus was extremely sorrowful because of their anxiety. The phrase “full of heaviness” is a Greek word that only appears three times in the Bible. The other two times describe Christ on the night in which He was betrayed (Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33).

He was sick—near to death—because of the work of Christ. This man was praised because his own welfare was unimportant to him. He worked with Paul so much and so hard that he got very sick—but it didn’t matter to Epaphroditus, because he knew he was serving Jesus Christ. It’s possible that this sickness was extreme exhaustion, leaving him susceptible to catching a virus or some kind of disease, and too weak to effectively fight it off. Paul said that Epaphroditus didn’t regard his own life, but kept trying to make up for the lack of aid. This kind of gives the impression that Epaphroditus may have been working various jobs, trying to make sure that there was enough money to pay for Paul’s rented house and supply the necessary food and supplies needed. If that is the case, then it’s no wonder he ended up working himself sick. But he didn’t care about himself—he was sent as an apostle by the church in Philippi to care for Paul’s needs. And he was going to accomplish his mission, even if it killed him!

He was a man who fulfilled his mission. At the close of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he says these words:

But I have all [I need], and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, a fragrance of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:18).

Epaphroditus,[4] whose name means “delightful,”[5] had been sent by the church to take care of the apostle Paul. He worked hard, both in physical and spiritual labor, almost dying as a result, but he made sure that he finished his mission. It wasn’t until his mission was completed that he went back home to his friends and family.[6]

One day, we will be able to meet this wonderful servant of God in heaven!

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] The word “send” in Philippians 2:25 is not a form of the word “apostle.”

[2] Paul was from a very strict Jewish family. The name Epaphroditus is taken from the name of the Greek goddess, Aphrodite. It is very unlikely that a strict Jewish family would name their child after a pagan Greek goddess.

[3] The Greek word (leitourgos) describes someone whose love for someone or someplace causes them to undertake expensive care and duties at their own expense. Barclay says “They loved their city so much, [they] at their own expense undertook certain great civic duties. It might be to defray the expenses of an embassy, or the cost of putting on one of the dramas of the great poets, or of training the athletes who would represent the city in the games, or of fitting out a warship and paying a crew to serve in the navy of the state. These men were the supreme benefactors of the states and they were known as leitourgoi.” (Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, revised edition, The Daily Study Bible Series, page 49).

[4] Some Bible students have attempted to identify Epaphroditus with Epaphras (Colossians 1:7, 4:12, Philemon 23), but this cannot be the case. Epaphroditus is from Philippi, sent by the church there, and who longed to return there. Epaphras is a minister from Colossae (see verses mentioned previously).

[5] Some have suggested the name means “handsome.”

[6] David Lipscomb, as well as others, suggested that Epaphroditus was mentioned in Philippians 4:2-3 as the “true yokefellow” who was given the commission to stop the fighting between the women Euodius and Syntyche.

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