Models of Ministry, Part 3
Models of Ministry, Part 3 5.4.20
While we lived in Dallas as I went to seminary, I worked as a security guard for about five years. At this job, I had a lot of down time. My boss allowed me to do school work, watch TV, whatever. It was a great seminary job. I had to work nights. Sometimes really late. The later it got, the less school work I would do. So, instead of school work, I would watch a bunch of videos on Youtube.
There were many funny and entertaining videos I watched on YouTube during my time as a security guard. Many. One of my favorites was a show called “Extreme Cheapskates.” I believe this is a show on TLC. “Extreme Cheapskate” features people who do very odd things in order to save some money. I mean like very odd. In one episode, there is a woman who has a very bad toothache. She goes to the dentist, and the dentist recommends a root canal. But that root canal will cost about $2,000. She says that’s too much. The dentist then says that he can pull the tooth for about $200. She decides that that’s too much. Instead of having the Dr. pull her tooth, what she does is she has her own husband pull her tooth at home. The video shows her at home, getting all prepped for the procedure. And the husband pulls her tooth out. It’s one of her molars, too, so a real big tooth.
Y’all, I’m all for saving money, but somethings you just need to pay the professionals to do. Like this lady, she should just have the Dr. address the tooth. Think about all the complications that can happen!? Wow. What I am saying is that are some activities that you should pay other people to do for you. I know we live in the Midwest were the “can do” spirit is strong, but sometimes you just gotta outsource some responsibilities.
You can’t outsource everything, though. While you should outsource dental work, you should not outsource ministry. You can’t do that. We are all, every single one of us, is called to take forth the message of the gospel to this world. Ministry is not just for the professions. God calls all of us to minister to the lost and to other Christians. Yes, to outsourcing dental work. No to outsourcing ministry.
This morning we continue our study on models of ministry. This is now part 3. Two weeks ago, we dealt with Paul’s and the Philippian’s example, last week with Timothy’s example, and this week we will begin diving into Epaphroditus’ example. Let’s go ahead and turn to Phil 2:25. We are just covering one verse this morning. We covered 5 verses last week. We’re changing pace for this week. Just one verse. Paul says this,
I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need.
I will be breaking this verse into two points.
Epaphroditus in Relation to the Philippians
The focus of this morning’s sermon will be the five titles that Paul applies to Epaphroditus: brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier, messenger, and minister. There’s five there. The first three, “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” are titles that are in relation to Paul. The last two, “your messenger and minister,” are in relation to the Philippians. I will break these titles down based upon who these titles are related to. The first three titles are in relation to Paul, and the final two titles are in relation to the Philippians.
To begin my sermon this morning, I will start with the exploring the last two titles Paul gives to Epaphroditus. The reasoning here is that these last two titles introduce us to who Epaphroditus was. These last two titles give us some biographical information on Epaphroditus that are helpful right up from. In talking about Epaphroditus, Paul does not introduce the man. He simply begins talking about him. Who is he, though? Where did he come from? Why does Paul want to send him to the Philippians? The last two titles Paul gives help us understand these questions.
My first point is this: “Epaphroditus according to the Philippians.” We will begin with the title “messenger,” then proceed to “minister.”
Epaphroditus was a “messenger” on behalf of the Philippians. The Greek word here is the word ἀπόστολος. As you might be able to tell from the sound of that word, this is the word from where we get the English word apostle. Epaphroditus was an ἀπόστολος on behalf of the Philippians.
Now the word ἀπόστολος has a specific meaning in the NT and a broad meaning. The specific meaning of ἀπόστολος is what we tend to usually think about: an apostle. Someone who had seen the risen Christ and who had been commission by Christ to take the gospel to the world.
Now there is also another definition of ἀπόστολος. An ἀπόστολος could be anyone who was sent out as a messenger. Another way to translate this nuance of ἀπόστολος is with the English terms delegate, envoy, messenger.
When Paul refers to Epaphroditus as an ἀπόστολος, Paul does not mean that Epaphroditus is an apostle in the technical, theological sense. We have no indication that Epahphroditus had seen the rise Christ and had been commission by him. Rather, what Paul means here is that Epaphroditus had been sent out by the Philippian church as a messenger to Paul.
In the ancient world, there were no telephones, text messages, mail system, or e-mails. When we read the Bible, we often forget these truths. To get a message to someone in the ancient world,
someone had to physically tell that person. The Philippians had a message to give Paul. The only way to get that message to Paul was for Epaphroditus to physically deliver it to him.
Remember the distance Epaphroditus would have had to travel to get to Paul. In the ancient world, there were no planes. All travel on land was either by foot or by animal. Travel in the water was by an unmotorized boat. The distance from Philippi, where the Philippian church was located, and Rome, the location where Paul was imprisoned, was about 800 miles, depending on the route someone took. Scholars estimate that this could have take up to 3 months to travel from Philippi to Rome. Now that is the longest figure. It could have taken shorter. Nonetheless, this would have been a long journey for us who can get on a plane and get anywhere in the world in a short period of time.
Epaphroditus had to travel a very long way to get this message to the Philippians. We are not told the specifics of this message here. Epaphroditus had something to say to Paul but we are not told what. Scholars do believe, though, that Epaphroditus brought to the Philippians this very letter. How did the Philippians get this letter from Paul? Epaphroditus brought it to them. Looking again at 2:25. Paul says,
I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus
Epaphroditus was the type of messenger who physically brought with him this letter of the Philippians from Paul to the Philippians. Paul didn’t mail this letter. Rather, Paul sent this letter to the Philippians via Epaphroditus. He was a messenger in that sense. And what an important messenger he was. We are exploring this letter this morning due to Epaphroditus’ efforts. Incredible.
We are told, though, that Epaphroditus was also sent out by the Philippians to be a “minister” to Paul’s need. Look again at 2:25 at the end. Paul says,
and your messenger and minister to my need.
Now what does Paul mean here that Epaphroditus was a minister to his need? To answer this questions, turn to Phil 4:14. This verse helps us to understand what Paul means here. Paul writes in this passage,
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
Paul remarks here that the church in Philippi was the only church who partnered with him in the
spread of the gospel during this time of his ministry. Paul’s relationship with this church has remained a constant up until his current imprisonment. The Philippians had been faithful to Paul. They had partnered with him in gospel ministry.
Specifically, as v. 18 specifies, he had “received full payment, and more.” Now who delivered this payment to Paul? Epaphroditus: “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, ka fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Epaphroditus brought a financial gift to Paul. He met his needs by bringing Paul money.
In the ancient world, if you want to send money, there was no quick way to do that. We must remember that the ancient world was much different than the current world. Today sending money is very easy. You can do that electronically. Send money across the world with just a few key strokes. The ancient world was much different. To get money to someone, someone had to physically bring it. That’s what Epaphroditus did. He physically brought the money to Paul.
Paul needed this money. Remember he was in prison. In the ancient world, prisons did not feed inmates. That is a recent phenomenon. There was not daily provision of food in these ancient prisons. Prisoners had to have people bring them food to live. Epaphroditus likely used the money that he brought Paul to buy food for Paul. Further, Paul needed someone to bring him his food. Paul wasn’t free to go out and about and gather food for himself. He needed the money to buy food and some person to go and purchase that food. We know Epaphroditus brought Paul money (Paul says that). And Epaphroditus, I image, also used that money to buy Paul’s food and brought it to him.
Epaphroditus served the Philippians in a very important task. He was their messenger to Paul, and their minister to him. He played an absolutely essential role in church history. Without his efforts, without his sacrifice, I probably wouldn’t be preaching from the book of Philippians. We wouldn’t have the book of Philippians without Epaphroditus. Wow. Praise God for Epaphroditus.
Epaphroditus in Relation to Paul
Paul recognized Epaphroditus’ usefulness, as well. Paul had many great things to say about him. Just as the Philippians found Epaphroditus
The first title that Paul applies to Epaphroditus is “my brother.” Think about Paul’s gratitude to Epaphroditus for coming all that way from Philippi to help him. Wow. What tremendous gratitude Paul had for this man. Paul loved Epaphroditus. He designates him as his brother.
Paul is here highlighting one of the chief metaphors the Bible gives for describing the church. The Bible teaches that the church is a family. This family starts with the concept of a father. The
Father, the Bible teaches, is God the Father. God the Father, the Bible teaches, has adopted us and made us his children. Paul says this in Rom 8:14–15.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
As Paul teaches here, the Father has adopted us. He has made us children of God. And the Spirit is who produces in us this confession that God is our Father. The Father sends his Spirit in our hearts, and the Spirit of God produces in us the confession that God is our Father.
Jesus, too, is involved in this process of making God our Father. Listen to what John 1:12–13 reads.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
So Jesus gives us the right to become children of God. All three persons of the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—participate in making God our Father. When God the Father becomes our Father, we then refer to other people who share that same Father as brother or sister. Brothers and sisters share in an intimate relationship with each other because they share the same Father. We as fellow Christians are intimately related to each other.
The second label Paul applies to Epaphroditus is “fellow worker.” This is a common label Paul applies to those who he works alongside with in the gospel. Look with me at Phil 4:2–3. Paul writes this there,
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
In this passage, Paul applies this to several people in the church in Philippi. He applies it to these two women, Euodia and Synteche, to Clement, and to others within the church.
Epaphroditus’ ministry to Paul was definitely work. The distance he had to travel, the perils he faced, the amount of energy he had to exert. The labors and the toils.
What this word highlights about Epaphroditus and others, is that ministry is work. Ministry is labor. Ministry is hard. It involves sacrifice, pain, and perseverance. These are all difficult qualities to attain. But it is these difficulties that that the Lord calls us to. The Lord wants us to repent from couch-potatoe Christianity. One that requires no sacrifice, no work, no labor, no ministry. This is sin, dear friend. This life is one that God calls us to labor for the sake of his Son, for the sake of his Son’s glorious gospel. Rest, ease, and pleasure will come in the next life. In this life, we are to work, labor, exert ourselves for the work of the gospel.
The difficulty of the ministry is so hard that Paul describes it as a war. Paul says this next of Epaphroditus. He calls him a “fellow soldier.” Soldiers engage in war. Ministry is so hard that it is referred to as a war. It is a battle. It is a contest of epic proportions. This life is war. Ministry is warfare.
When we come to a title like this, Christians can have two tendencies for understanding this title. Some Christians do not factor this title into their understanding of ministry. They might not like it. They might say, “We aren’t called to warfare; we are called to love others.” These Christians might have a hard time with a title like this. They think that this type of title communicates the wrong idea of Christianity. So they don’t like to use it or think about it.
Other Christians think about this title too much. For them, warfare is what the Christian faith is all about. They love to fight for truth. They love to preach God’s justice, his righteousness, and his law. The want to conquer all things for God and his word.
Now both of these tendencies are incorrect. The first tendency under-emphasizes this title of “fellow soldier.” These Christians neglect to factor this title into their view of ministry. The other tendency over-emphasizes this title of “fellow-soldier.” Both of these tendencies are a sign of a misunderstanding of Christian ministry.
The correct answer is found when we compare this title of “fellow soldier” to the title of “minister.” As we explored above, Epaphroditus was a “minister” to Paul’s need. Now if you think about a minister, of someone who meets others needs, what comes to my mind is love, compassion, patience, and sympathy. Epaphroditus had sympathy upon Paul and his situation. That’s why Epaphroditus traveled so far. He loved Paul. He wanted to help him. He wanted to show Paul his love for him.
Nevertheless, Epaphroditus was also a soldier. He loved Paul but Epaphroditus was also engaged in a warfare. It was an absolute battle for Epaphroditus to serve Paul and the Philippians. As we will explore next week, Epaphroditus almost lost his life in the process. Epaphroditus mission to Paul and back to the Philippians was a battle. There’s no getting around this.
Our approach to ministry must incorporate both a minister-mentality and a battle-mentality. That is what the Word of God is teaching Paul applies both titles to Epaphroditus and it is when we appreciate both titles that
Up until this point I have not given any application from this passage. I’ve simply described who Epaphroditus was based upon the five titles Paul gives to him. I want to end, though, with one point of application. And that point of application has to do with usefulness.
Deep in all our hearts is the desire to live meaningful and purposeful lives. Deep in our hearts there is a desire to make a difference in this world. For our lives to matter. For us to bring good to the world. We all have this desire. This desire has been put in our hearts by God himself.
While sin can and does distort this desire, we all desire to make a difference. We want to be useful.
Now, dear friends, where is this desire for usefulness quenched? Where do we find this desire satisfied? This desire for purpose and usefulness finds it’s fulfilment in ministry. If you want to live a useful life, if you want to be useful for God, if you want your life to have meaning, model Epaphroditus by engaging in ministry.
Epaphroditus was a tremendous man. What made him tremendous is his usefulness. Epaphroditus met a great need for Paul, for the Philippians, and for us. He is one of the main reasons why we have this letter today. Epaphroditus was helpful, practical, useful.
Our longing for purpose is satisfied when we become useful to God and to the world. Dear friend, do you want to have a meaningful life? Do you want to be useful? Do you want your life to make a difference in this world? Do you want to be like Epaphroditus and radically change human history? Dear friend, of course you do. Then what do you do?
Engage in ministry, dear friend. For Christ’s sake, pour out your life for others. Seek to meet the needs of others—both physically and spiritually. Be a minister to others. Have compassion and sympathy on others. Be a soldier. Fight the fight of faith. This is where the human heart finds it’s longings fuflfilled. Purpose is found in usefulness. Will you not strive to live a useful life by engaging in ministry? God offers you tremendous blessing.