Epaphroditus, my brother and companion in labor, and fellow soldier…for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life (Greek gambling with his life)—Phi_2:25-30
Who Was Epaphroditus?
All we know of Epaphroditus is told us in this letter. He is one of those brave souls who leap into the light in connection with the imprisonment of Paul. It has been thought that he might be identified with the Epaphras of the Colossian epistle. But even if the names be one, such identification is improbable. It is scarcely thinkable that the pastor of Colossae should be so associated with a church in Europe as to be made its delegate to Paul. It is as a delegate we hear of him. For that perilous office he had volunteered. He had undertaken to convey to Paul the offerings of the Philippian Church. And of the risks involved in such a journey and in visiting a suspect and a prisoner, we have sundry hints in the apostle’s words. No compulsion had driven Epaphroditus. He had taken all the hazards cheerfully. The strain of it all had told on him so terribly that he was brought down to the gates of death. And the point to note is how the great apostle “grappled him to his soul with hoops of steel,” and spoke of him in terms of loftiest eulogy.
Risks Immortalized Epaphroditus and Paul
It is a very interesting word which Paul uses when he says that Epaphroditus “did not regard” his life. It is a word from the language of the gambler. In the long hours of his imprisonment, Paul had narrowly watched his Roman guards. He had heard them talking about boxing matches; he had been a spectator when they played at dice. And as he saw them gambling with their money and taking risks in a reckless way, his thoughts went winging to Epaphroditus. That was the kind of thing which he had done. He had deliberately gambled with his life. For Christ’s sake and for the Church’s sake he had flung caution to the winds of heaven. And that loving and self-forgetting recklessness so stirred the gallant heart of the apostle that Epaphroditus is immortalized. Had he played for safety he would have stayed at home. He would have pled the urgencies of work at Philippi. Probably his health was none too good, and he had doctor’s orders against going. But Epaphroditus took the risks—lived dangerously—gambled with his life—and so lives within the Word of God forever.
One understands how the great heart of Paul clave so closely to Epaphroditus. The spirit of that inconspicuous delegate was the spirit which burned in his own breast. Like all great missionaries, Paul did not dwell on dangers. He only spoke of them when he was forced to. In his tremendous eagerness to spread the Gospel, he almost forgot the risks that he was running. But if ever a man gambled with his life, lived dangerously, and took the hazard, it was the great apostle to the Gentiles. He, too, might have played for safety. He might have advanced a score of reasons for it. That lacerating and gnawing thorn, for instance, would not that justify the nicest caution? But Paul forgot his caution and took risks that well might have appalled the strongest heart in the ardor of his love for the Lord Jesus. The love of Christ constrained him. He lived dangerously for the Lord. The motto of Paul was never “Safety first”; from the beginning to the end it was “Christ first.” That was why he found a kindred spirit in this obscure delegate from Philippi who would have nothing to do with self-regarding caution, but for love’s sake gambled with his life.
The Holy Spirit Gives Courage
This lofty disregard of self is inherent in all Christian service. A certain joy in living dangerously is one of the first-fruits of the Spirit. In the upper chamber, before Pentecost, the disciples were very careful of their lives. The doors were shut for fear of the Jews. They trembled at every step upon the stair. But when the Holy Spirit came on them in power, there was a kind of reckless gaiety about them which made men think that they were filled with wine. The doors were no longer barred now. They did not jump at every mounting footstep. That mighty rushing wind which swept the chamber somehow had swept their caution right away. They were ready to take any risks now, in the spiritual baptism of Pentecost, and like this delegate, they gambled with their lives. Later on we read of two of them that “men took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” And what was it that carried this conviction? It was the defiant boldness of the two. Heedless of safety, imperiling their liberty, they proclaimed the resurrection of the Lord—and men took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus. The strange thing is that one of the two was Peter—and immediately we remember the denial. Peter had played for safety then. To save his skin he had almost lost his soul. Now, in the power of Pentecost, that same Peter was sublimely reckless. He was living dangerously for his Lord. All great servants have had that spiritual mark. St. Francis had it when he had kissed the leper. Luther had it when he would go to Worms though devils were thick as the tiles upon the house-tops. And nobody, however quiet his sphere, is ever thoroughly equipped for service unless, like Epaphroditus and the rest of them, he is prepared to gamble with his life. I have heard of ministers who were afraid to visit where there was fever or diphtheria or smallpox. I have even known of them being dissuaded from it by loving members of their congregations. Doubtless Epaphroditus was besought so by those who prized his ministry at Philippi; but he that saveth his life shall lose it.
Leaps into the Dark Inevitable in the Life of Action
This holds also of the life of intellect as certainly as of the life of action. To live by faith is always to live dangerously. My old professor, Lord Kelvin, once said in class a very striking thing. He said that there came a point in all his great discoveries when he had to take a leap in the dark. And nobody who is afraid of such a leap from the solid ground of what is demonstrated will know the exhilaration of believing. To commit ourselves unreservedly to Christ is just the biggest venture in the world. And the wonderful thing is that when, with a certain daring, we take Lord Kelvin’s leap into the dark, we discover it is not dark at ail, but life abundant, and liberty, and peace.