COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“28I have sent him therefore the more diligently, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. 29Receive him therefore in the Lord with all joy; and hold such in honor:30because for the work of Christ he came nigh unto death, hazarding his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me” (Phil 2:28-30, NKJV)
The consideration of the brethren of Christ is the evidence of having passed from death to life. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). Few places in Scripture reveal the deep love Paul had for “the brethren” as clearly as this passage. Both joy and sorrow were related to his regard for the people of God. In this, he was a partaker of Christ, Who pioneered this type of love. This is the class of love that forfeits personal advantage for the other individual. As the beloved Apostle said of the Lord, “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). How beautifully this “mind” is revealed in Paul. It is lofty, yet practical; Divine, yet revealed through an “earthen vessel.”
THAT I MAY BE LESS SORROWFUL
“28I sent him therefore the more carefully [more eagerly, NKJV], that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.” Just as Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians to Paul, now he sends him back. We understand Paul sent him back with a letter–the Epistle to the Philippians. Herein is a remarkable evidence of the spirit of Paul. Even though Epaphroditus was a source of great consolation to him, out of consideration for the Philippians, he sent him back to them. Also, just as they had sent something to Paul through this man, so Paul sent something to them through him to them. What a blessing is godly consideration!
Because of their mutual identity with Jesus, the people of God are tightly knit with one another. The Apostle knew the Philippian brethren would“rejoice” when they saw Epaphroditus. This response was not prompted by mere fleshly associations, but by the “unity of the Spirit.” While they were apart, their colleague was “full of heaviness” (2:26). But when they would be brought together, there would be rejoicing.
The unity of believers is held together by spiritual love and affection–an actual preference for one another. That is why the Ephesian elders wept when they realized they would not see Paul again (Acts 20:38). It is also why Paul said he wanted to see Timothy so he could be “filled with joy” (2 Tim 1:4). One of the marks of a lifeless church is the absence of this spirit. When professed believers are not anxious to be with one another, and have a preference for the company of unbelievers, something serious is wrong. It is ever true, “Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, Because I have hoped in Your word” (Psa 119:74). That is why Malachi said such people“spake often one to another” (Mal 3:16). The spiritual qualities we are seeing in this passage are simply the manner of the Kingdom.
The rejoicing to which Paul refers occurs when the sight of a fellow believer beings greater clarity to spiritual matters. A rejoicing heart is a necessity in Lord Jesus Christ. Although it is not the only experience we have in the Lord, it is a vital one. Rejoicing is like a spiritual catalyst that sets other kingdom qualities and things in motion. It also helps to elevate spirit capacities, so that we see clearer and work harder. This type of rejoicing is a higher form of Solomon’s “merry heart,” which “does good, like medicine”(Prov 17:22). In Philippians, “rejoice” is mentioned ten times (1:18; 2:16,17,18,28; 3:1, 3; 4:4), “rejoicing” once (1:26), “rejoiced” once (4:10), and “joy” six times (1:4,25; 2:2,17,18; 4:1).
There is another key thing to see here. When the Philippians rejoiced, Paul said he would “be less sorrowful.” The NIV reads, “have less anxiety.” Here “joy” and “sorrow” exist simultaneously, as in 2 Corinthians 6:10. Paul does not say his sorrow would be removed, but that it would be diminished. How grateful we must be when our sorrows and burdens are decreased! Once Paul said there was a burden that came upon him daily: “the care of all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). The reduction of that “care” is involved in the phrase “less sorrow.” Suffice it to say, each of us has the capacity to increase or diminish the sorrow of those laboring among us.
RECEIVE AND HOLD IN REPUTATION
“29Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation.” Even though Paul knows the Philippians will be glad to see Epaphroditus, he admonishes them to “receive” him with “all gladness.” It is one thing to “see” a brother, it is something else to “receive” him. The Jews saw Jesus, but they “received Him not” (John 1:11). Diotrephes had seen and known John the Apostle and his fellow laborers, but did not“receive” them (3 John 9).
To receive someone “in the Lord” is to recognize their relationship to Christ. It also involves receiving the ministry into which the Lord has placed them. This can be done with “all gladness” because such brethren, like Mark, are “profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim 4:11). They bring rich resources to us that give an advantage in the good fight of faith. The things of God are made more clear, and come within our grasp because of their presence. The world loses much of its power, and the world to come looms larger, when such brethren are received “with all gladness.”
Without dwelling on this matter, it is apparent this type of reception is not common in the nominal church. The institution has grown to such an extent that men and women of God that have been given the ability to build up the body of Christ are neither recognized nor received. A tragic state, indeed!
Now comes an admonition of great significance: “and hold such in reputation.” Other versions read, “hold such men in esteem” (NKJV), “hold men like him in high regard” (NASB), “honor men like him” (NIV). The idea is that of being highly prized, precious, valuable, more distinguished, and surpassing on honor (Thayer’s Lexicon). Paul once referred to men who should be“counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and the doctrine” (1 Tim 5:17). Such men have forfeited personal interests to give advantages to the people of God. They are among us those of whom Jesus spoke, who have “left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel's” (Mark 10:30). Jesus is not speaking of the heartless abandonment of responsibilities, but of the assignment of absolute priority to the Lord and His Gospel. Such men are rare indeed, and are a special benefit to God’s people.
When we find rare individuals within the body of Christ–people gifted by God to bring great advantages to the saints–we are to regard them highly. Such people have been especially blessed by the Lord, and are to be heartily received by us. This is not a fleshly, or earthly, attitude, but a godly one. People, for example, who “watch for our souls” (Heb 13:17), need encouragement. One of the greatest ways to do this is to receive what the Lord has given them. That is what “receiving him therefore in the Lord” means. It is not a mere legal obligation. This kind of receiving is pictured in the reception Jesus once enjoyed. “And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the people gladly received him: for they were all waiting for Him”(Lk 8:40). In that very place, Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood were healed. Godly reception brings blessing!
FOR THE WORK OF CHRIST
“30Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.” Paul elaborates on the reason for holding Epaphroditus in high regard. What we will behold in this text differs radically from the notions of honor that exist in the modern church. Men are honored for their educational credentials, or possible for their administrative skills. Most of the time, such honor has to do with fleshly distinctions that have little to do with God’s “eternal purpose.” Such things, however notable they may appear, have no value in the Lord’s government.
Here is a rare quality, indeed! “Because he almost died for the work of Christ” (NIV). I understand this to refer to the very sickness from which he nearly died while with Paul (2:26-27). His labors for the Lord brought handicap upon himself. Many would criticize men of God for such action, saying they were not taking care of their body as they should. Such men are considered to be burning the candle at both ends, and needlessly jeopardizing their health. In the flesh, this type of reasoning appears sound–but it is not. Were this the only text on this subject, it would be sufficient to destroy vain imaginations which suppose convenience is a comely trait. Both Barnabas and Paul are described as “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). Paul was expelled from cities, and once stoned, ONLY because of his labors for Christ. Elsewhere, the hope of the resurrection compelled holy men to “stand in jeopardy every hour” (1 Cor 15:30). The Apostle Paul said his labors for Christ had brought the experiences of “weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor 11:27). Paul wrote the Galatians, “it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you” (Gal 4:13, NIV). In travels for the Lord, Trophimus was “left at Miletum sick” (2 Tim 4:20). Paul described Priscilla and Acquila as “my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks” (Rom 16:3-4). There was also the household of Stephanus, who had “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor 16:15).
This is a royal class of people indeed, with whom Epaphroditus was classed. Here and there, you will be blessed to have such people cross your path. They are by no means common, but God has placed them in the body where it has pleased Him. These are people who “will very gladly spend and be spent” for the sake of the children of God (2 Cor 12:15). They confess with Paul, “neither count I my life dear unto myself” (Acts 20:24). They are willing to give it all to Jesus, even at great personal risk.
This is not an attitude that can be legislated by law. You cannot make people live like this. It is a sort of spiritual sacrifice that can only be made willingly. It proceeds from an unusual grasp of the truth of the Gospel, and an unusual ministry given to them by the King. Such people, wherever they are found, are to be held in high regard. Whether it is an Anna who serves in the temple at an old age, a young David who risks his life to confront a giant, an Apostle willing to die for Jesus, or a minister becoming sick because of his labors for Christ–these people are a treasure for us all.