The word of the day is “ fellow.” Much of St. Paul’s writing focuses on essential theological and moral teachings and their application to his congregations and their members. In our reading of Philippians 2:24-30, however, St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the practical management of his ministry. The brief reference to a co-worker from Philippi reveals that Paul did not do his great missionary work alone. There were numerous colleagues, named and unnamed, who served on Paul’s missionary team.
A Brother, Fellow Worker, and Fellow Soldier
In today’s reading, the Apostle writes that he is sending back a delegate from Philippi. He writes, “Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier” (vs. 25). The Philippians were so eager to support Paul that along with money they commissioned one of their members to assist the Apostle in Rome. Though a stranger to Rome, Epaphroditus became a loyal, faithful, and helpful member of St. Paul’s team.
But while in Rome, Epaphroditus became ill, probably from overwork. (vs. 30) When his fellow members learned that he had almost died, the faithful in Philippi became alarmed (vs. 26). To ease their anxiety, Paul writes that he is sending his co-worker back home (vs. 27-28). This suggests that the occasion for this letter is the opportunity to send correspondence back with him.
Women and Men on Paul’s Evangelistic Team
Often, in greetings or remarks, Paul lists his co-workers. Among them are women leaders such as Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Apphia, Priscilla and Junialea. And eight of Paul’s letters include co-senders including Sosthenes, Silvanus (Silas), Timothy, and Titus. There are so many others that it is not feasible to list them. But from these names, we can conclude that Paul administered a sizeable and effective missionary and evangelistic team. Depending on their gifts, his co-workers served as associates, preachers and teachers, ministers, colleagues, delegates, deacons, messengers, fellow travelers, scribes, and pastors who served the congregation that Paul had started. The Apostle’s mission could not have flourished without these countless servants of Christ.
In the case of Epaphroditus, the Orthodox Church, recognizes him as Bishop of Adrianium (Italy) and commemorates him on December 8. The Church also remembers this co-worker on Jan. 4 at the Synaxis (Gathering ) the Seventy Apostles. These were the seventy that Lord sent on a mission in Galilee to announce the coming of the Kingdom (Luke 10:1-20).
Paul taught that the Body of Christ is composed of many members. Like the parts of the body, these members serve different functions. And, in fact, as we give greater honor to the less presentable parts of our bodies, so God gives greater honor to those who do not get the attention of those in the public eye (1 Cor. 24). Therefore, no one should despise the seeming lowliness of the work that so many do. They do not labor for our applause but for the Christ and His Church. The unrecognized servants of God deserve our esteem and our prayers of thanks to God.