Philippians 2:25-30 | "25 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, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me."
Today we are considering Philippians chapter 2, verses 25 to 30. Hear the word of the Lord, “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, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”
This is last part of Philippians chapter 2, and one of the things that the Apostle Paul is doing in this chapter is encouraging the Philippian church and the Philippian Christians to look at their brother Epaphroditus as an example of one who served the Lord Jesus Christ well, even risking his life to serve Paul and the Gospel. And here's what Paul does in Philippians chapter 2: He begins with the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who came into the world and offered Himself unto death, even death on a cross. Well, that is the supreme example of self-sacrifice and service. And then he goes, Paul does, to the second tier, which is Paul himself, and Paul says in verse 17 of Chapter 2, “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith.” Well, that may be difficult for the Philippians to attain to. And then Paul goes to his disciple Timothy, who's even closer to where the Philippians are in their spiritual maturity, and Paul says about Timothy, “I have no one else like him.” He seeks the interests of Christ Jesus. He served me as a son serving his father in the Gospel.
So Paul goes from Christ to himself (Paul) to Timothy and now to Epaphroditus, who is a member of the church in Philippi to whom Paul is writing as if to tell the Philippians, here is one of your own. He ministered to me in my need. You can attain to this kind of service. You know who he is. This is a tangible expression of Christ-like committed service even by someone who’s willing to give Himself unto death. This is what you should strive for. And one of the reasons Paul does that is to show the Philippians that they can serve in this manner, sacrificially, Gospel focused, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is the kind of model that the Philippians need, but this is also the kind of model for Christian service that we as Christ’s people need. We need to model our lives after people who are committed, greatly committed, to the Lord Jesus Christ. If we do this, they will motivate us, they will encourage us to press on in the race of faith. That doesn't mean those we are seeking to emulate or imitate are perfect, but it means that their lives have a distinctly future orientation and they’re great servants of Christ. So if there aren't people in your life who model Christ, find what we would call “spiritual mentors.” It's critical that you do this and look to them. Perhaps you'll find great traits in one and in another and you won't find everything you need in one individual, but that's very important.
I want to go on to our second point and that is this: That a healthy and an appropriate response to our loved ones who die in the Lord is for us to grieve. Verse 27, Paul says, “Indeed he, Epaphroditus, was ill, near to death, but God had mercy on him, but not only on him but on me also lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” What Paul is saying that if Epaphroditus dies, I -- Paul -- am going to experience this tremendous grief. He even says sorrow upon sorrow. But here is what I want you to see. I want you to see that Paul, if Epaphroditus had died, would have experienced sorrow upon sorrow. This is the same Paul who in chapter 1 verse 23 of Philippians said this, when he is speaking of himself, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” Paul says of himself in chapter 1, it's far better for me to die and to go on and to be with Christ. That's better by far. There's nothing like reaching the goal of my life as an apostle which is seeing Christ Jesus face to face and being like Him and enjoying the glory that Christ Himself had with the father from before the foundation of the world. That's the glory that is ours in Christ. Paul says that's better by far, but in today's text chapter 2, verse 27, he says, ‘If Epaphroditus dies I'll be left behind and I’m going experience sorrow upon sorrow.’ Now, here's what I want you to see. If Epaphroditus were to die, then Epaphroditus -- it would have been better for him by far, absolutely. For everyone who dies as a believer in Jesus Christ, it’s better by far when compared to being here on earth. We’re thankful for life here, but life in Glory is infinitely better. But if Epaphroditus died, for Paul, he would have experienced sorrow upon sorrow.
Now, this is very critical for us as Christians when it comes to a Christian expression of grief at the loss of our loved ones in the Lord. It really is better for those who die in Christ. It's better by far because they’re with Him. All of the bodily ailments and difficulties and challenges of life are, for them, a thing of the past, but for those who are left behind -- Paul in this passage and perhaps us when we lose loved ones and friends, we experience sorrow upon sorrow. We need to get this right, because grief and the grieving experience is given to us by God and we don't want to pretend that everything is okay and fine when our loved ones in the Lord die. It's great for them, but for us we're experiencing sorrow upon sorrow. If our loved ones in the Lord die, it's not better by far for us who are left here; it's better by far for them who have gone to be with the Lord. So we grieve, and I'm going to elaborate on that in a moment, but I want you to feel that, and I want you to feel the freedom to grieve the loss of your loved ones and friends in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is Christian. To just only rejoice because they've gone to be with the Lord and then to pretend like we're not experiencing sorrow is sub-Christian thought or un-Christian thought. It's not Christian thought, because we've just looked at scriptures that prove the opposite. It's better for those who go to be with the Lord but we still experience sorrow upon sorrow.
And I want to elaborate now on the Christian experience of grief. Using another verse First Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 13, Paul says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep” -- that is those who died in the Lord -- “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Paul wants us as believers to grieve the loss of our loved ones in the Lord as those who have hope. Here's what I want you to see. When we were unbelievers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we grieved without hope. If we lost loved ones when we didn't know Jesus, we grieved without hope. We could maybe conjure up hope or try to create hope, but we had no significant foundation for experiencing hope. We had no answer for the grief we were experiencing, so we grieved without hope. But in Christ, as believers, Paul says, “I want you to grieve as those who have hope.” When we become believers and know Jesus, we still grieve but now there's a big difference -- and I want you to see this -- we now grieve as those who have hope. We grieve, but we have hope of knowing that our loved ones in the Lord, who died, are now with Jesus. And we also grieve and that grief is shot through with hope, because we know that one day we will be with our loved ones who have gone before us to be with Jesus. So we still grieve. That's our present reality. We grieve as those who have hope. And there will come one day when we are with Christ in glory when all grief is gone. We will grieve no more. This is what the Apostle John was referring to in Revelation 21, verse 4, when he said, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” That's the way it will be in glory.
So coming back to Epaphroditus. Remember he was a great example for the Philippian church and Paul was setting Epaphroditus before the local church as a tangible expression of sacrificial service on behalf of the Christian Gospel, Christ, and Paul. And through this, by extension, God wants you and He wants me to find wonderful examples of people who are living the Christian life, people we can look to, people we can learn from. And remember, as long as we are in this world, we grieve at the loss of our loved ones in the Lord, but we grieve as those who have hope. The hope of one day knowing that we will grieve no more, because Jesus Christ has conquered death. Let's pray.
Heavenly father, we marvel at the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you that he conquered death and we thank you for this wonderful example here of Epaphroditus and how Paul set him before the Philippian church. Lord, if it weren't for just this part of the New Testament, we really wouldn’t know much about this man Epaphroditus, but throughout the running centuries of church history he's been set before regular people, such as ourselves, as an example of how all of us in Christ and by the power of the Spirit can serve Christ wholeheartedly. We thank you for that and pray that we would find such examples in our lives, even today. For Christ’s sake, amen.