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Honorable Discharge

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Scripture: Philippians 2:25-30

Philippians 2:25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.  26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.  27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.  28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.  29 Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him,  30 because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. [1]

4:18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.[2]

1.  A Helper Released

It was a “necessary” thing to send Epaphroditus home – not a preferable thing.  He had been sent with gifts to minister to the imprisoned apostle in the pagan city of Rome.

Anyone ever visit people in prison?  I don’t think I have ever seen such appreciation for visitors as I have in prison.  At any rate, he let him go for higher reasons than his own wishes and sent him home with great references and the Philippian letter to deliver.

q      Reference. 

my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.”

Epaphroditus was released from his assignment with excellent references.


These quotes were allegedly taken from actual federal employee performance evaluations:

"Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap."

"When she opens her mouth, it seems it is only to change feet."

"This young lady has delusions of adequacy."

"He sets his personal standards low, and consistently fails to achieve them."

"This employee should go far, and the sooner he starts, the better."

"He certainly takes a long time to make his pointless."

"I would like to go hunting with him sometime."

"He would argue with a signpost."

"He has a knack for making strangers immediately."

"He brings a lot of joy whenever he leaves the room."

"If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he's the other one."

"Takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes."

--submitted by Pastor Paul

Who was Epaphroditus?  What do we know about him from the scriptures?  His name appears twice only in the letter to the Philippians. A Macedonian Christian from Philippi. There are no grounds for identifying him with Epaphras of Col. 1:7; 4:12, or Phm. 23. His name means ‘comely’ or ‘charming’. Paul calls him your messenger (hymoµn apostolon, Phil. 2:25), where the word used is one more frequently translated elsewhere as ‘apostle’. This does not mean that Epaphroditus held any office in the Philippian church; he was simply a messenger (cf. 2 Cor. 8:23) who brought the gift from the church to Paul in prison at Rome. He became seriously ill, possibly as a result of over-exerting himself in journeying from Philippi to Rome, or in serving Paul at Rome. The av says ‘he regarded not his life’ (see Phil. 2:30), but rsv more correctly ‘risking his life’. The word used is paraboleusamenos, ‘having gambled with his life’, from paraboleuesthai ‘to throw down a stake, to make a venture’.

In the early church there were societies of men and women who called themselves the parabolani, that is, the riskers or gamblers.  They ministered to the sick and imprisoned, and they saw to it that, if at all possible, martyrs and sometimes even enemies would receive an honorable burial.  Thus in the city of Carthage during the great pestilence of A.D. 252 Cyprian, the bishop, showed remarkable courage.  In self-sacrificing fidelity to his flock, and love even for his enemies, he took upon himself the care of the sick, and bade his congregation nurse them and bury the dead.  What a practice of the heathen who were throwing the corpses out of the plague-stricken city and were running away in terror.


Bibliography. J. Agar Beet, ‘Epaphroditus and the gift from Philippi’, The Expositor, 3rd Series, 9, 1889, pp. 64ff.; C. O. Buchanan, ‘Epaphroditus’ Sickness and the Letter to the Philippians’, EQ 36, 1964, pp. 157ff.      d.o.s[3]

He had been sent by the Philippian church to deliver a gift and to minister to Paul’s needs.  They sent him out of town with their offering and therefore he would have been greatly trusted in the church at Philippi.

The church at Philippi was the first-fruits of European Christianity. Their attachment to the apostle was very fervent, and so also was his affection for them. They alone of all the churches helped him by their contributions, which he gratefully acknowledges (Acts 20:33–35; 2 Cor. 11:7–12; 2 Thess. 3:8). The generosity of the Philippians comes out very conspicuously (Phil. 4:15). “This was a characteristic of the Macedonian missions, as 2 Cor. 8 and 9 amply and beautifully prove. It is remarkable that the Macedonian converts were, as a class, very poor (2 Cor. 8:2); and the parallel facts, their poverty and their open-handed support of the great missionary and his work, are deeply harmonious. At the present day the missionary liberality of poor Christians is, in proportion, really greater than that of the rich” (Moule’s Philippians, Introd.).

Now Paul was sending him home with some reluctance at losing his help.  Paul was not given to flattery and was especially cautious and even critical in the choosing of those who served with him.

It was personnel issue that drove a wedge between Paul and his ministry advocate and mentor, Barnabas.  We have come to associate the name Barnabas with encouragement.

Acts 4:36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement),  37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. [4]

It was Barnabas who once went to bat for Paul and vouched for him.

Acts 9:26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.  27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.  28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.[5]

While Paul was the benefactor of Barnabas’ encouragement, he could not agree with Barnabas assessment of John Mark who left them in the middle of a previous missionary attempt  and their disagreement over this issue drove them apart.

Acts 15:39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,  40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.  41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. [6]

But he called Epaphroditus by some very complementary terms:

Ø      Brother – same family

Ø      Fellow worker – same task/peer

Ø      Fellow Soldier – same force/kingdom builder

This was about as good a reference as a man could get, being sent back to his own.

q      Reasons.  Why was he sent home? 

26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.  27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.  28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.

It really wasn’t primarily his sickness.  He had already recovered and the danger was past.

He was sent home because:

Ø      He loved and missed his home church

Ø      He worried about reaction to rumors related to his sickness

Ø      He had accomplished his mission

Ø      He carried the letter to the Philippian church from Paul

Ø      His return was a commission to ministry at home

Ø      Peace of mind for Paul relative to his well-being

2.  A Hero’s Return

2:29 Welcome him in the Lord with great joy. . . .”

q      Welcome.  Why would Paul instruct the Philippians to welcome Epaphroditus home? 

Perhaps he wanted them to know that he was not returning because he had failed.  People return home for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes because it seems to be a safe place when things fall apart elsewhere.  There is a tendency for people to associate “coming home” with failure. 

By current standards of success, Jesus might be considered a failure.  Let's look at how Jesus measured up to these standards:

Was he popular?  No.  He was not well-liked.  In fact, after one of his sermons, all of his followers deserted him, except for the Twelve Apostles.

Did he have political power?  No.  He was a political failure. All levels of government first rejected him.  Then they conspired to kill him.

Did he have lots of friends?  No.  His friends often hurt him, eventually abandoned him, and one of them betrayed him to death.

Did he have money and possessions?  No.  No house, no "wheels", no world headquarters, no Christian amusement park.

Was he respected by his peers?  No.  His professional peers (Pharisees) rejected his work.

Despite his apparent failure by these standards, Jesus Christ has changed the lives of millions of men and women across the centuries. How could he, in light of his failures? .

Epaphroditus was no failure.  He went alone to represent his church when others stayed behind.  He was not the only one who might have gone but he was the only one who did.

Some Christians are so afraid of failure that they become reserved, overly cautious, and uninvolved in life.  They follow a policy of guarded living, holding back time, talents, and treasure from God's service.  Their motto is:  To keep from failing -- don't try!  On the other hand, those who are willing to make mistakes and risk failure are the ones who ultimately achieve great things.  Instead of being filled with fear, they go forward in faith.  Problems are challenges. While they may not all be solved, these courageous people would rather live with that reality than have a clean record of no failures and no accomplishments.  Benjamin Franklin said one time, "The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all -- doing nothing."

Someone once defined real failure as:

" without knowing what life is all about, feeding on things that do not satisfy, thinking you have everything, only to find out in the end you have nothing that matters."

Perhaps he wanted to make a value statement.  He wanted people to aspire to this kind of service.  We lift the sort of behavior that we want to encourage.  We have some of our folks who will be serving abroad within the next few months.  When they return we will celebrate with them.

Perhaps he wanted to silence the critics.  There are always critics.  Some have suggested that Paul gave this admonition because some were critical of Epaphroditus having stayed away that long in Paul’s service.

The galleries are full of critics.  They play no ball, they fight no fights.  They make no mistakes because they attempt nothing.  Down in the arena are the doers.  They make mistakes because they try many things.  The man who makes no mistakes lacks boldness and the spirit of adventure.  He is the one who never tries anything.  His is the brake on the wheel of progress.  And yet it cannot be truly said he makes no mistakes, because his biggest mistake is the very fact that he tries nothing, does nothing, except criticize those who do things.

David M. Shoup

It has been suggested  that the Philippians may have been critical of the apostle for retaining the services of Epaphroditus too long and that this criticism prompted his decision to send him back. It is a less likely suggestion that the Philippians had not taken seriously the reports of Epaphroditus’ illness and needed to be told of its serious character, although it is significant that he twice mentions the almost fatal sequel and further describes Epaphroditus as ‘risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me’ (Phil. 2:30). But do these allusions contain an implicit criticism of Epaphroditus which Paul finds it necessary to answer? Was there some feeling that Epaphroditus had not completed his task, or that Paul was not appreciative of his services? If that were so, Paul’s words in Philippians 2:25–30 would certainly rectify any wrong impressions that the Philippians may have formed.

q      With great joy.   God help us to learn to celebrate together.  To enjoy our mutual victories as much as we labor over our common problems.  There are those who find perverse delight in the failures of the church and love to spread the news of those.  As well they lack the magnanimity of character to look on the victories of the church with anything more than skepticism and they seek to diminish what we need to be purely celebrating.  Is God at work in this church today – let’s celebrate it without qualification.  No cold water please.  Just let it be joy.

3.  Honor Required

2:29 “. . . . honor men like him.”

This is what we are here to do today.  In my mind it is the most important part of the service that we share.  It is more important than any song that we sing today and perhaps if it can be understood for what it is, more important than this message.  It is important because this for you and I is a character building exercise.  We can never experience the depth of emotion that these men feel today.  We are privileged to have the living veterans here with us today.  We are expressing our thanks today for those here and those fallen.  We are reflecting upon the fact that we have freedom that is preserved at a very high cost and freedom that we should never take for granted, because it can always be lost or even forfeited.  But mostly we benefit from participating in this exercise because as we honor others our souls somehow become larger and we become better for the process regardless of how it may or may not touch our emotions.  To honor is the right thing to do and when we do what is right, God is honored above all.

Epaphroditus was an exceptional man, a cut above the ordinary.  I would say that this has always been a personal desire.  If God has created me uniquely then I want to live the same way.  I believe that the best way to discover God’s unique design in my life is to know Him intimately and fully.  If I become a student of other men then I will become like them.  While individuals inspire us and serve as great examples and they influence our lives greatly there is something that the world needs from each of you hear this AM.

Colossians 3:1  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices  10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. [7]

You see, I believe that Jesus look slightly different on each of us.  We put on the new man relative to the way that we see and experience Christ vitally.  Someone somewhere will be impacted by the personal “living out” of your faith.

Epaphroditus was worthy of honor because:

q      He recovered from a near-death illness. It is interesting to notice that Epaphroditus endured his illness in the service of a man who had healed many people through his ministry and his prayers.  He recovered but just barely, having come to the point of death.  Does God miraculously answer every person’s prayer for healing.  No. 

Cases of illness among Christians in apostolic times are mentioned. The fact that they occur indicates that the apostolic commission to heal could not be used indiscriminately to keep themselves or their friends free from illness. Timothy had a gastric complaint (1 Tim. 5:23). Trophimus was too ill to accompany Paul from Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). Epaphroditus was gravely ill (Phil. 2:30), and his recovery is attributed to the mercy of God (Phil. 2:27). Most striking of all is Paul’s enigmatic ‘thorn in the flesh’ (skolops teµ sarki), which has been variously identified (most often as a chronic eye disease), but by few convincingly and by none conclusively. Its spiritual significance far exceeds its importance as an exercise in diagnosis. Paul gives three reasons (2 Cor. 12:7-10) for it; ‘to keep his feet on the ground’ (v. 7), to enable him to be spiritually powerful (v. 9) and as a personal service to Christ (v. 10, ‘for Christ’s sake’).

It would be wonderful if God automatically protected or healed everyone who gives their life in service to God.  Pastor Marc suffered from epileptic seizures as a missionary to Venda.  Ruth and Scott Wood came home because of Ruth’s incapacitating illness.  These seem to be the most obvious reasons at least.  I would have to think that there would be much more significant reasons for their return.

q      He risked his life.  A person who lives by faith will at times take risks and so will a faith-filled church.  If we stick to what is safe, predictable, neat, above the possibility of criticism then we will never accomplish anything of significance for God as a congregation.

q      He represented his church and fulfilled his mission. 

to make up for the help you could not give me.” [8]

He did what he was asked to do for people who could/would not do it themselves.

What were the character qualities in Epaphroditus that we should honor?


q      Integrity. Integrity is doing what you say you will. You are trustworthy. People can rely on you. You keep your promises. The one thing that will keep most people from following you is if they are unsure of whether you will actually take them where you say you will. Are you known as a person of integrity? If so, you will become an Extraordinary Leader!

q      Optimism. People don't want to follow someone who thinks the future is bad!  They want to follow those who can see the future and let them know that there is a better place and that they can get them there! Do you see the cup as half empty? Then you are a pessimist. Do you see it as half full? Then you are an optimist.  Do you see it as totally full - half air and half water? Then you are a Super Optimist! Are you known as an optimist? If so, you will become an Extraordinary Leader!

q      Embraces Change. Leaders are the ones who will see the need for change and willingly embrace it. Followers will at first desire to stay where they are. Leaders need to see the  benefits of change and communicate that to their followers. If you don't change, you won't grow! Are you known as a person who embraces change? If so, you will become an Extraordinary Leader!

q      Risk Taker. Whenever we try something new, we are taking a risk. That is part of growing though, and it is imperative. Most people are risk averse.  Not the leader! They calculate the risk and what is to be gained from taking the risk. Then they communicate that to the followers and away they go to a better tomorrow! Are you known as a person who is willing to take risks?  If so, you will become an Extraordinary Leader!

q      Tenacious. The tendency of the follower is to quit when the going gets tough. Two or three tries and their motto becomes "If at first you don't succeed, give up and try something else." Not the leader! They know what good lies beyond this brick wall and they will go and get it. Then they will take others with them!  Are you known as a person who is tenacious? If so, you will become an Extraordinary Leader!

q      Catalytic. A leader is ultimately one who gets people going.  They are able to move others out of their comfort zone and on toward the goal! They can raise the passion, enthusiasm and the ACTION of those who would follow.  Are you known as a catalyst?  If so, you will become an Extraordinary Leader!

q      Dedicated/Committed. Followers want people who are more devoted and committed than themselves. At the first sign of lack of commitment, followers scatter for the doors. If the leader sees the end and is bailing out, they better get out first.  Followers follow those who will stick it out because they see the importance of the task and the goal. Are you known as a person who is committed and devoted to the goal? If so, you will become an Extraordinary Leader!

The Sentinel's Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty

Is total and whole-hearted

In the responsibility bestowed on me

Never will I falter

And with dignity and perseverance

My standard will remain perfection

Through the years of diligence and praise

And the discomfort of the elements

I will walk my tour in humble reverence

To the best of my ability

It is he who commands the respect I protect

His bravery that made us so proud

Surrounded by well meaning crowds day by day

Alone in the thoughtful peace of night

This soldier will in honored glory rest

Under my eternal vigilance

*Inscription on the Tomb Of The unknown Soldier, Arlington, VA

God, give us men!  A time like this demands

Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;

Men whom the lust of office does not kill;

Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;

Men who possess opinions and a will;

Men who have honor; men who will not lie;

Men who can stand before a demagogue

And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!

Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog

In public duty and in private thinking;

For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,

Their large professions and their little deeds,

Mingle in selfish strife, lo!  Freedom weeps,

Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.

   -- Josial Gilbert Holland, God, Give Us Men!,

      From The Best Loved Poems of the American People,

      selected by Hazel Felleman


[1]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[2]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[3]The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.

[4]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[5]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[6]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[7]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[8]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

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