When you visit a baseball park for a game, it’s common to see boys and men wearing their favorite player’s jersey. Complete with their ball cap, glove, and jersey—they enjoy the experience of watching their favorite ball player play the game. It’s good to set before your eyes good examples—those worthy of emulating.
When it comes to pastoral ministry, there are many poor examples of men who are lazy, who don’t take their calling seriously, or perhaps shouldn’t occupy a pulpit at all. Like baseball, it’s good to have solid men who serve as grand examples in pastoral ministry—and those are the men you want to follow after and keep your eyes focused on.
In Philippians 2:25-30, we find such a man who is worthy of imitation—a grand example of what pastoral ministry should look like. Notice how Paul describes Epaphroditus to the church at Philippi.
The Steadfast Labor of Epaphroditus
Paul called Epaphroditus his brother (a reference to a true believer) and fellow worker (συνεργός) which is a reference to the fact that Epaphroditus was a helper to Paul and his ministry in the gospel. When you consider the fact that pastoral ministry requires long hours and steady labor to get the work accomplished on a weekly basis—it should be noted that such a quality of steadfast work ethic is required. Epaphroditus was a man who refused to be lazy. A lazy pastor is a shameful thing.
It should also be noted that Epaphroditus exemplified a willingness to engage in spiritual warfare rather than looking to hide behind Paul and others to see how they would fight—he was apparently right there with Paul as a fellow solider. A faithful pastor must be willing to push back against error, expose sin, and use the sword of the Spirit to pierce false gospels that seek to lead the church astray.
A pastor who is unwilling to stand up against error and speak out against schemes of the devil is a pastor who has forfeited his post and abandoned his calling (see Titus 1:5-9). That was not the case for Epaphroditus.
The Love for God’s Church
There was no question regarding Epaphroditus’ love for the church at Philippi. He cared for the people and desired that they would be filled with joy. Paul refers to him as the messenger of the church at Philippi—one who labored to bring the people the gospel. This is indeed the best way for a pastor to love God’s people, by engaging in the labor of a messenger—to deliver the Word of God faithfully.
When you consider how many pastors today view themselves as life coaches, comedians, psychologists, and church growth experts—it shouldn’t really be a shock to see the spiritual lethargy and shallowness that persists among many local churches in our day. Epaphroditus was a man who understood what his responsibility was and he loved the people enough to bring them God’s Word.
His love is also evident in the fact that he didn’t want them to know about the severity of his health crisis. In fact, he had almost died—yet he didn’t really want the church at Philippi to know and worry. Rather than seeking to use his health situation as a means of elevating his need for love and care, he sought to keep it private in order to prevent the church from being overcome with fear and anxiety.
The Sacrificial Love for Christ
Paul mentions that Epaphroditus nearly died for the work of Christ—risking his life in the gospel service to Paul. Apparently, the illness that Epaphroditus experienced limited his ability to serve faithfully, but he labored onward in order to pick up the slack that the church at Philippi had in their care for Paul. Such a move put his health at risk greatly—and according to Paul he nearly died.
John Calvin observes:
Epaphroditus felt that his health would be in danger if he applied himself beyond measure; yet he would rather be negligent as to health than be deficient in duty; and that he may commend this conduct the more to the Philippians, he says that it was a filling up of their deficiency, * because, being situated at a distance, they could not furnish aid to Paul at Rome.
The work of Christ is worthy of sacrifice and if necessary—death. Some men fight the good fight and it costs them dearly—as it did Spurgeon in the Downgrade—dying at 57 years of age. In other cases, the work of Christ may cost you everything as it did Tyndale who was burned at the stake for his work in bringing us the Bible in our English language. For Epaphroditus, it was the care of Paul and meeting his need. For that—we remember his faithfulness and diligence in his love for Christ—not just his love for Paul. It was Epaphroditus’ love for Christ that precipitated the sacrificial care he provided for Paul. Yes, he loved Paul, but he loved Christ even more.
These are the qualities of a faithful minister of the gospel. We all follow after examples—boys look to their favorite baseball player on the field, business owners look to worthy examples in the corporate world, and we must look to solid Christ exalting examples in pastoral ministry. Those who preach the gospel must walk in the footsteps of men who love Christ, his church, and understand what it means to be a faithful pastor.
That is how we remember Epaphroditus and that’s why Paul recommended him to return to Philippi to continue in his service as their overseer.
*“Vn accomplissement, ou moyen de suppleer ce qui defailloit de leur seruice;”—“A filling up, or a means of supplying what was defective in their service.”
 John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 84–85.