Share This Episode
Grace To You John MacArthur Logo

Model Spiritual Servants, Part 3: Epaphroditus

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
December 5, 2023 3:00 am

Model Spiritual Servants, Part 3: Epaphroditus

Grace To You / John MacArthur

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1113 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.


But the bond that the Philippians had with this man was so deep and so rich that it is apparent that this man was so totally stressed over sadness because the Philippians were worried about him that Paul says, I've got to send him to you because he cannot exist feeling that you don't know he's okay. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm Phil Johnson, your host. Today John will continue his look at some seemingly average people in the Bible but whose faithful lives are tremendous examples for us today. The focus on this broadcast from the series Heaven's Heroes, a person John MacArthur calls the Bible's hero of the common man, with an uncommon name by today's standards, Epaphroditus. Before the lesson, though, it's always a joy for us to hear from people like you who week after week are finding encouragement from these broadcasts and from the variety of other teaching resources that are available from Grace to You. And certainly, John, when we hear these stories, we remember the faithful people who make Grace to You possible, and their generosity takes on a special meaning this time of year.

Yeah, we're in a series called Heaven's Heroes, and I think there are some new heroes going to be in heaven someday who are heroes because of the support they brought to the ministry of Grace to You. We are so grateful for everything God has done this year to bring friends like you along, to hear the Word of God, to grow deeper in the Word, and through your generosity to meet our financial needs month after month after month. We know that in these last weeks of 2023, there will be an important time for us to finish off the year and make sure we can start 2024 strongly and see all the things that God will do as we move ahead. By God's grace, friends like you who have benefited from Grace to You often reach out to us in December with a special year-end donation.

That makes a huge difference, just to let you know how much. About a quarter of our entire annual budget is met through gifts we receive at the year's end. So know this is an important time for us, and if it's on your heart to do that, know we'll be grateful, and the Lord will honor that gift. So thank you for prayerfully considering how you might support Grace to You financially, and just know that we take that stewardship of your gift very seriously. Ultimately, your gift will go right through us to bless other believers and even non-believers with the gospel across North America and far beyond around the world. So thank you for your desire to strengthen families and individuals and churches with biblical truth. Thank you for being a partner with me and Grace to You in the meeting of needs. And now let's get back to some other of Heaven's heroes and take a look at a faithful man named Epaphroditus. Stay with us.

That's right, friend. There's a lot you probably don't know about Epaphroditus, but you'll be encouraged as you examine the heroic life of this common man. So with the lesson out, here again is John MacArthur. Let's open our Bibles for our time in God's Word to Philippians chapter 2. In this wonderful second chapter, the Apostle Paul selects himself as one model of a spiritual servant. Then he selects Timothy as the second, and as we shall see, the third is a man by the name of Epaphroditus. And we will look at verses 25 through 30 of chapter 2, and there we will come to know perhaps in a very special way this wonderful man named Epaphroditus. It's hard for us in this society to get in touch with a model of sacrificial living, and so we have been looking at Paul and Timothy and now maybe the richest of all of them, Epaphroditus. And I say that because he is much like us. There's nothing really incomparable about Epaphroditus as there is about Paul. There's nothing really preeminent about his giftedness as there is in the case of Timothy who was so uniquely gifted of God, a remarkable man in every way. This is just one of us, and in that sense his model and his example becomes all the more direct in its application. We could say there are few Pauls, there are some Timothys, there are many Epaphroditus.

This is the people's model. Just for sake of distinction, we call Paul the sacrificial rejoicer or the humble rejoicer. We call Timothy the single-minded sympathizer. And now as we come to verse 25 through 30, we see Epaphroditus, let's call him the loving gambler, the loving gambler, and I'll explain that as we go. Now what do we know about Epaphroditus? Well, directly we really don't know anything about him. We don't know anything about his background directly.

We don't know anything about his parents. We don't know how long he'd been a Christian. We don't know what his function was in the church.

We really don't know anything except by implication in this passage and we'll try to construct the best we can somewhat of a profile of this very unique man. Remember now, Paul is a prisoner, a two-year incarceration in a private house by the Roman government. The Romans have chained him to one of their soldiers, keeping him a prisoner in his own house. During the time he is imprisoned by Rome, he still has some freedom for ministry. The Philippian church who loved him very deeply, the church which he founded as recorded in Acts 16, when they became aware of his situation were greatly troubled by it and decided they wanted to help him, realizing he could no longer work to earn his living, support himself and his ministry, they wanted to send him some money. So the Philippians collected sacrificially from their people a gift of love and they sent it to Paul and it was taken by this man Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus took the money to Paul but there was more involved than that. The Philippian church instructed him not only to deliver the money but to stay and to become the servant of Paul in the matter of all of his personal needs. So Epaphroditus is sent with the money as the chosen delegate of the church and also he is to stay as the servant of Paul, serving all of his personal needs.

Now that alone would tell us something about Epaphroditus. Number one, the Philippian church would never have sent a man to work in close proximity with the apostle Paul unless he was most eminently representative of the godliness of that congregation. We can assume that they wouldn't want to put anybody suspect very close to the apostle Paul, who may well have been the most discerning human being that ever lived, and who could see through anyone. And so we can be fairly certain that Epaphroditus was a man of genuine spiritual virtue. A man of depth in terms of his love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, we could also ascertain that he was a man with a heart of a servant. For him to go and to simply meet all the needs of the apostle Paul would indicate to me that he saw himself in the role of coming alongside to serve. There's no indication that he was a significant preacher-teacher in the church, although he may well have been able to do that. It could well be ascertained that he was more likely a deacon than an elder, and that his role was more the role of serving than the role of leading. But nonetheless, we can for sure know that he must have had a servant's heart. The Philippian congregation, having chosen him as their ambassador, as it were, to Paul, would never have chosen a man who wouldn't literally give his life away in service to someone else, because to do so would betray both their love for Paul and Paul's trust in their judgment. Thirdly, we can ascertain that not only was he a humble, serving, godly man, but he was a man of great courage. Because he knew exactly what he was walking into, there was no question in his mind how the Roman government felt about Paul.

That was obvious for everyone to see. It was imminently possible that Paul could lose his life because he was, after all, a prisoner, and there was consideration about whether or not he should continue to live, since he was bringing the heresy of Christianity into the Roman world. And if, in fact, Paul's life was taken away, it would probably be a matter of course for them to at least consider taking the lives of those who served alongside of him.

So he well knew the risk involved. So here is a man, then, who is a godly man, or he wouldn't have been chosen, who is a servant who is chosen to do that which most fits his gifts, and who has the courage to step into a hostile environment where the very one he serves is hated, rejected, and he is willing to do that. We, beyond that, don't know anything about him. There is a short form of the name Epaphroditus in the Greek, and that is Epaphras. And there is an Epaphras mentioned in Colossians 1-7, but there is no reason to identify the two as one.

We think they're two different people. Another thing that might help you in understanding this man is that he has a very common name. The name Epaphroditus was a common name. In fact, the word Epaphroditus was a common word. It was a common noun, if you will. Not only a proper noun, not just a name, but a common term.

And I'll tell you why. The name is drawn from the name of a Greek god. Have you heard the name Aphrodite?

Have you heard that name? Aphrodite was the goddess of love. In Rome, her name was Venus, goddess of love. Among the Greeks, it was Aphrodite. She was the goddess of love and beauty. And this man is named, as it were, for Aphrodite.

The Epaphroditus is simply a term that means favorite of Aphrodite, favorite of Aphrodite. This tells us that he came out of a pagan environment. Christians would never name a child like this. Of course, a first-generation church isn't going to have any background in Christianity, so he came out of a pagan family.

We don't know when he was converted. It's very likely his family worshiped, among other deities, this goddess Aphrodite. By the way, she was an extremely popular goddess and was sort of the goddess of good luck, as I'll tell you a little later. The name Epaphroditus eventually came to mean lovely, loving, charming, and so forth, but originally meant a favorite of Aphrodite.

And that was a word in and of itself. I'll explain that later as well. So the man came out of a pagan background, converted to Christ. We don't know where.

We don't know in what way. It very possibly could have happened when Paul founded the church at Philippi. He could have been one of the early converts and been there from the very beginning, but we do not know that. He has become, however, a key Christian in the church, a sacrificial man who has left his home, his employment, his ministry, his church, his friends, his wife, his children to go and serve the apostle Paul, a very sacrificial man. Now those are some of the general things we know about this man.

Let's get a little more specific, all right? Look with me at verse 25. I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need. Now let's talk a little about these five titles which Paul gives to Epaphroditus because they help us get a little more of an idea about this special man. There are five titles in verse 25. Three of them look at Epaphroditus in relation to Paul.

Two of them look at him in relation to the Philippian church. The first three are keyed by the word my. My brother implied my fellow worker and implied my fellow soldier. In relation to me, he is brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier. So Paul is really honoring Epaphroditus as a faithful servant and he does so by giving him those three titles and they are very special. They're not hard to understand. You can read them and understand them completely.

But let me dig a little bit more deeply and show you that there's a sense in which this is a rather comprehensive kind of titling. First of all, he is called my brother. The key is the word my. Paul is viewing him in a very personal way. He is my brother.

What does he mean by that? Well, he means brother in the sense of spiritual birth. They both have the common source of life, God the Father having given them life in Christ through the Spirit. They are brothers in Christ. And so they share the common eternal life, but there's more to it than that. It is not only brother of common life, but it is brother of common love.

And the term ad el fas also carries the idea of comradery, friendship, affection, feelings. And so Paul is saying, first of all, I want you to know that Epaphroditus not only shares with me common life, but he is a brother loved. I have affection for him. He is my comrade.

He is my friend. That's the personal titling. Now what that celebrates is Paul's own interpersonal relationship with him, how he related to Paul.

Okay? The second title is how he related to the ministry, and he calls him my fellow worker or fellow worker. This word is used 13 times in the New Testament, 12 times out of the 13 by Paul, and he uses it of people who worked alongside him in the ministry. You can look up its uses in Romans 16.

There's one in Philippians 4, 3, another one in 1 Thessalonians 3, 2. Paul titles people fellow worker who came alongside and worked with him in the extension of the gospel. So he says, he not only in relation to my person is brother, but in relation to my task is fellow worker, co-worker. The emphasis here is not on common life, but on common effort. He is commendable not only for his relational skills, he is commendable also for his laboring effort, for his diligence.

Not just brothers in life and love, but workers together for Christ. Thirdly, he says my fellow soldier. This is to say not particularly looking at his relation to Paul or his relation to the task at hand, but that he is commendable in relationship to the enemies which fight against the ministry. The title fellow soldier, by the way, is a very, very honorable title. I did a little research into that Greek word which is also used in the second verse of Philemon, and I found that outside of biblical record, that word was used on some special occasion to honor a soldier. Usually a common soldier was honored with that title, and the goal was to make the soldier equal to the commander in chief.

In one case, to make a warrior equal to a king. To say you are a fellow soldier, in the very heart of that Greek word is the word stratios from which you get strategist, was to say that you rank with those who are the strategic people in the forces, the strategists, the great leaders, a great term of honor. And Paul is pulling Epaphroditus up, my fellow strategist, my fellow commander in chief, my fellow, as it were, leader in the matter of spiritual warfare. Now all three of these terms demonstrate the gracious humility of the heart of Paul. Paul doesn't look down on Epaphroditus at all.

He looks right eyeball to eyeball with him. In his wonderful humility, he could lift anyone to his own level. My brother, my fellow worker, my fellow commander in chief, this is the humble heart of the great apostle. There are two more titles that he's given that tell us a little more about him, and they are in relation to the Philippian church. And here he introduces the word your. From my viewpoint, these three things describe him. From your viewpoint, these two describe him. He is your messenger and minister to my need.

This, very simple. Your messenger is the word apostolos, from which we get the word apostle, which isn't a translation, but literally a transliteration. He was your apostle. Now somebody might say does this mean he was like the twelve or like Paul? Is he a real apostle in that sense? There are others who are so designated.

I think of Romans chapter 16, I think it's verse 7. But was he equal to the apostles, the eleven, and then Matthias who replaced Judas, and then Paul who also was an apostle? Is this an official title?

Well, it is official in a sense, but let me help you to understand this. The twelve apostles are unique. The twelve apostles, and you must understand this distinction, are apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to Galatians 1, 1. Paul an apostle, not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.

Now note it. There are some apostles, only a few, eleven plus Matthias plus Paul. Only those men were apostles selected by the Lord Jesus Christ himself and sent. He does not say of Epaphroditus, he is the apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, he says he is your apostle.

And here's the simple distinction. The apostles with the upper case letters were those sent by Christ. The apostles with the lower case letters were those sent by the church. He is not an apostle of Christ, he is an apostle of the church. He is not that uniquely called and dispatched and foundational apostle chosen by Christ, he is that apostle sent from the church chosen by the church.

And that's a very important distinction to make. The first were apostles of Christ, the second category apostles of the church, and he is such, sent by the church, not by Christ personally himself. Now secondly, he says, not only is he a messenger, he's your messenger, and what was he a messenger of? He brought him money.

That was the issue. He sent whatever they sent, and I'm sure it wasn't just money, there must have been a message with it, a message of love and the promise of prayers and all of that. But secondly, he says, he is minister to my need. He is your minister to my need. You have sent him. Now the word for minister here needs our attention for a moment.

I don't want to get too technical, but I need to give you these foundational ideas. The word is liturgon, from which we get liturgy, and that word has to do with sacred priestly religious service, from which we get the word liturgy today, which is used in relationship to certain kinds of worship. He comes as the ceremonial servant to minister to Paul.

It's a spiritual term, it's a religious term, it's a sacred term. The money which he brought in chapter 4 verse 18 is called an acceptable sacrifice, and so Paul picks up with that terminology. He was a priest doing sacred service and offering a sacrifice of money for the needs of Paul. So he's quite a man, quite a remarkable man, unselfish, humble, sympathetic, compassionate, all of those things. He's a servant, he's courageous, he's godly, he built a strong bond with Paul, he worked fairly alongside of him and did his share, and he was a great soldier fighting the enemy. But with that in mind, go back to verse 25 and look at this.

After all that commendation, verse 25, I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus. You say, well, why are you sending him back? I mean, you just made him out as the most valuable man imaginable. Why are you sending him back? Somebody said, well, has he been unfaithful? No.

No indication of that. Oh, he's homesick. He's homesick for good old Philippian cooking. Is that it? No. He misses his wife. No.

He misses his kids, his friends. No. It is necessary to send him. It's necessary. You've got to have an answer for that then.

Why? Because they're going to say, why did you send him back? If he just shows up and delivers the Philippian letter, which I am confident he took with him, and the Philippian letter doesn't say anything about him, they're going to say, what are you doing here? We sent you there to stay and to see Paul through to the end, either his release or his death. Why are you back here? So Paul says, it is necessary to send you Epaphroditus. In spite of all of these qualities, and in spite of the fact that he is my brother whom I love, he is my co-worker whom I need, he is my fellow soldier who fights the battle with me, I'm sending him back. It's necessary.

You say, why? Verse 26, because he was longing for you all. You say, there it is, homesick, nice try Epaphroditus, good intentions, couldn't cut it, got lonely.

No, you didn't read far enough. He was longing for you all and was distressed. You say, there it is, so homesick, pining away that he became distressed. That word, by the way, describes the confused, restless, half-distracted state produced by physical derangement or mental distress.

It can be the product of grief or shame or disappointment or sorrow, any of those things. But it's that confused, chaotic restlessness that comes in a time of turmoil. And so he says he's restless and he's in turmoil and he's distressed. By the way, it's used, the same word is used in Matthew 26 when Jesus in verse 38 says, in the garden, my soul is deeply grieved to the point of death. It's a very heavy, heavy distress.

One translator calls it full of heaviness. One writer, Sweet, says it is the distress that follows a great traumatic shock. He is really upset. Why? Look at this, verse 26, because you heard that he was sick.

Now wait a minute, that's hard to believe. You heard he wasn't doing well. He knew you'd be sad and your sadness has greatly distressed him. You say, what planet did that kind of guy get off?

I never heard of such a thing. When is the last time you got completely disoriented and restless and totally distressed because you knew somebody was feeling bad about your situation and your distress was directly related to the fact not that you were having a difficult situation but that they were having a difficult time with your situation. Now that will show you the depth of love.

That will show you the bond. Unfortunately, in our society, we are more concerned with things than people, more concerned with possessions than relationships. So we get upset about things and very often ignore how people feel because we're into things, not people. But the bond that the Philippians had with this man was so deep and so rich that it is apparent that this man was so totally stressed over sadness because the Philippians were worried about him that Paul says, I've got to send him to you because he cannot exist feeling that you don't know he's okay. Boy, that's some kind of guy. These people he loves so deeply that he does not want them to be distressed.

That is so foreign to most of us. I have to send him because he is so distressed that you have heard about his difficulty and he wants to come to eliminate your distress. What a compassionate man. You're listening to John MacArthur, chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, with a look at a little-known man named Epaphroditus and the risks he was willing to take for the faith, and how that should motivate you as well. The title of John's current study on Grace to You, Heaven's Heroes. And friend, going back to something John said before the lesson, this is an important time of year financially for Grace to You. If you'd like to express your year-end support for this ministry, contact us today. You can mail your tax-deductible gift to Grace to You, Post Office Box 4000, Panorama City, California, 91412. You can also donate online at our website,, or you can call us at 855-GRACE. Close to 25 percent of our annual budget is met by gifts that come in in just the last few weeks of the year. So if you have benefited from John MacArthur's teaching in 2023, and you want to help others benefit as well, consider making a donation.

Help us start 2024 on strong financial footing. And don't forget, beyond a one-time gift, there are other ways you can support Grace to You. You can set up a recurring donation, you can make a gift of stock, you can include Grace to You in your estate plans. If you'd like to learn more about it, talk to a customer service representative when you call us at 800-55-GRACE, that's 800-55-GRACE, or go to Now for John MacArthur and the entire staff here at Grace to You, I'm Phil Johnson. Be back tomorrow for more on the life of Epaphroditus and how you can benefit from imitating his example. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-05 05:49:34 / 2023-12-05 06:00:00 / 10

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime