Two seemingly unrelated things came together and resulted in me writing The Unlikely Missionary, which appears in the August 2012 issue of NTM@work magazine.
When our magazine team was discussing content for the August issue, I was studying the book of Philippians.
The August issue is about the folks who serve in the USA as part of the team planting churches among unreached people groups. And Philippi is Paul’s thank-you letter to the Philippians for their regular, generous and sacrificial support of his ministry.
What do those two have in common?
The journey began when I noticed that Paul, in Philippians 2:25, called Epaphroditus “my … fellow worker.” It caught my eye because I knew Paul used that term for people who worked alongside him planting churches where the gospel had not yet reached.
Was Paul calling Epaphroditus a missionary?
To my way of thinking, Epaphroditus was little more than a messenger. And reading the verse, I almost settled for that:
“Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need;”
You see that? Paul called him a messenger. He must just be a messenger.
Not so fast.
The word that is translated here as messenger is the same word that is rendered as apostle in reference to missionaries and the Apostles. That word appears 79 times in the New Testament, and only three times is it not translated as apostle.
Once, in Acts, Luke uses it for someone who is sent.
Paul uses the word 38 times, and in two of those it is translated as messenger. But the other 36 times it is translated as apostle, meaning one of the twelve or a missionary. And the one other place where it is often rendered as messenger, in 2 Corinthians 8:23, Paul is talking about missionaries.
So it would be very odd if Paul chose that word to describe Epaphroditus if he didn’t consider Epaphroditus a missionary. In conjunction with the fact that Paul also uses a second term he normally reserves for missionaries, “fellow laborer,” it seems very difficult to believe Paul considered Epaphroditus just a messenger.
It seems like a straightforward reading of the Bible would say that Paul considered Epaphroditus a missionary.
And that was the springboard for the article.
You see, people have a lot of opinions about missions and missionaries, and a lot them are not actually biblical. This is even true for some well-educated people, folks who know their Bibles well – like the folks who translated Philippians 2:25 and decided to not use “apostle” for Epaphroditus.
The real challenge is to put aside what we think, and find out what the Bible says about missions and missionaries. You may be surprised. Send me a note if you want to know more.
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