Read Philippians 2:25-30
One thing we know about the Apostle Paul is that he spent a lot of time in prison! And we can imagine that often, he would have been alone, apart maybe from having a Roman guard or two for company. Certainly, at the end of his life, when he’s in prison yet again, he has an intense longing to see Timothy and Mark again (2 Tim. 4:9, 11), even though Luke is current with him (2 Tim. 4:10).
But that makes this little section we read here even more affecting. Paul and the Philippians shared a joyous partnership in the gospel (see 1:3-6 for instance). And as an act of love, they sent Epaphroditus to him, to help him take care of his needs – this was likely monetary and material goods. Here was Paul – isolated, restricted, unable to come out – and they sent him the gift of a human messenger.
But now Epaphroditus has fallen ill, and seriously so. He almost died, Paul says. And it is now Paul’s turn to perform an act of love. He gave it some thought, and obviously concluded that the best thing to do was to send Epaphroditus back for the sake of his recovery, and for the sake of reducing the Philippians’ anxiety about him. This came at a cost to himself – he was losing companionship, and stepping back into isolation. And yet gospel partnership drove him to send back the person he calls his brother, co-worker and fellow soldier.
Both Paul and Epaphroditus provide us with 2 model examples of how to be gospel-centred in these strange days. For Epaphroditus, the gospel drove him to risk his life so that he could provide the right kind of help for his brother in Christ. For Paul, the gospel drove him to embrace being alone, so that he could ensure his brother in Christ’s life was preserved. One decided to venture out, the other decided to “self-isolate”, to use the lingo of today. Both acts were different, perhaps even opposites of each other at first glance, but there were both acts of love, acts of trust, and indeed, both acts that flowed out of the gospel they believed in.
What does this tell us? It is strange days we live in, and to self-isolate, for instance, is counter-intuitive to our notions of what it means to love and honour Jesus. But this helps us to see that there is no one size fits all when it comes to being gospel-centred. The key thing is: are we truly loving and modelling Jesus in the decisions we make? We are all currently facing different circumstances, with different factors, but let’s strive to be thoughtfully gospel-centred the way Paul and Epaphroditus was.
- Whatever circumstance we’re currently in, pray that we will keep making decisions and taking actions that flow from the gospel.
- Pray especially for our Health Director-General, as he continues to provide leadership and direction to our health department and systems during this stressful time.