This article appeared in the August 2012 issue of NTM@work.
Epaphroditus may be the most unlikely of missionaries.
You may not have heard of him, even though Paul told the church at Philippi to “hold such men [as Epaphroditus] in esteem” (Philippians 2:29).
And at first glance, his ministry doesn’t seem like much compared to that of Paul or Barnabas or Silas – or even Mark or Philip. The church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus to deliver their offering to Paul. He became very ill while doing so, then recovered and returned home. (Philippians 2:25-30; 4:18)
Not exactly an illustrious missionary journey.
So why does Paul tell us to esteem or honor people like Epaphroditus?
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, calls Epaphroditus his “fellow worker” (2:25). That’s a term Paul reserves primarily for people such as Timothy (Romans 16:21), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23), and Mark and Luke (Philemon 1:24).
The Bible calls these people “missionaries.” “Missionary” is derived from the Latin for “sent one,” so it is the English equivalent of the Greek word apostolos, for which most English translations use “apostle.” (See Acts 8:18 and 14:14 and Romans 11:13 for examples of places apostolos is better translated as “missionary.”)
That’s also a term Paul uses for Epaphroditus. In the same verse where Paul refers to him as a fellow worker, he calls him the messenger of the church at Philippi. The word translated as messenger is apostolos.
Paul uses this term – and evangelist (euangelistos), which also can mean missionary (2 Timothy 4:5) – for people who worked with him in carrying out the Great Commission by establishing churches where there were not yet believers. (See Romans 15 for Paul’s strategy.)
Paul counted himself among those people, even late in his ministry when he was no longer planting churches. Like many of my co-workers in the USA, he was helping direct other missionaries. Are people who do this missionaries? Paul thought so, and since it’s in the Bible, we know God thinks so too.
Luke is also on Paul’s list of co-workers. Luke was active in one church plant (Philippi, Acts 16 and 20) , and we know of one time he practiced medicine (Acts 28). His most enduring contribution was actually writing. I work among a group of writers and editors and designers who share stories about what God is doing today. Missionaries? The Bible says so.
And let’s not forget Epaphroditus. He made sure the money given for Paul’s ministry reached him. That’s the role of the folks in our Finance Office. Missionaries? Yes, if we take the Bible literally.
Paul instructs us to “hold such men in esteem.” He tells us to honor the people who, like Epaphroditus, work behind the scenes so disciples can be made in remote places. But what does that mean?
The word Paul uses in Philippians 2:29 is found only five times in the New Testament. Twice it’s translated “precious” in reference to Jesus in 1 Peter 2:4-6. It’s also the word for the place of honor at a feast in Luke 14:8.
Perhaps the most telling usage of the word occurs in Luke 7:2, when Luke relates the story of the centurion’s servant – actually, slave – “who was dear to him.” The word translated “dear” is the word Paul used in Philippians 2:29. When this valued slave was deathly ill, the centurion sought out help. He used his influence to ask elders of the Jews to plead for Jesus to come and heal his slave. Because of that, the slave’s need was met.
So what do you think the Bible means when it tells us to “hold … in esteem” the people who work behind the scenes to make tribal ministry possible?
What will you do to obey God’s Word and “hold such men in esteem”?
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