More than one missionary has come off the field with health issues, family issues or whatever only to be judged by their supporting churches. Paul anticipated this issue and was so brilliant as a leader in how he handled the return of one of his own fellow workers.
The believers in Philippi were extremely special to Paul. Time and time again they supported Paul when other churches did not. In essence he was his supporting church. And when Paul was in prison, they gave Paul things he needed as well as they gave him one of their own–Epaphroditus.
We don’t know much about Epaphroditus but he was well-loved by Paul and a faithful worker in the gospel. But sometime during their labor together Epaphroditus became deathly ill. He almost died and perhaps would have if it were not for the great mercy of God. God spared not only Epaphroditus but also Paul, saving him from sorrow upon sorrow.
Perhaps Epaphroditus didn’t want his family and the believers in Philippi to know how ill he was, but regardless, word got back. It distressed him to no end to think of what they might have heard about his condition, whether he was dead or alive. He longed desperately to speak with them and be with them, to let them know he was Ok.
Paul spoke highly of this man–“my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier.” He wasn’t just a messenger or someone who was to be looked up as a weakling because he was homesick, but he was a man who “almost died for the work of Christ” (2:30). We don’t know what all that entailed, how he became sick, if he was caught and abused some way or how. We just don’t know. But it was “for the work of Christ” that he risked his life and almost perished from it.
Some might have questioned why he came back sooner than planned. But Paul mitigates any potential problems. He makes it clear on several occasions that it was Paul himself that was sending him back (2:25,28). He tells them to welcome him with great joy and to show him honor (2:29). He explains this is no easy sell-out but a brother who almost died for the help that they themselves were not able to give (v. 30). He even took it upon himself saying he was doing this “so I may have less anxiety” (v.28). Paul looked out for, protected and honored his fellow workers. And upheld them so that others would do the same.
It causes me to think on things.
Do we fight for the honor of our follow workers?
Are we willing to risk our lives for the sake of the gospel and helping fellow imprisoned believers out?
Do we look down on those who return from the field as “homesick” or do we give honor where honor is due?
How committed are we to our missionaries? Is it $100/month then out of sight and out of mind? Or are we sacrificial to the point it hurts?