Risk-Taker!

Epaphroditus. Now there's a Biblical character that doesn't get much attention. When was the last time you spent a few minutes meditating on the life and merits of Epaphroditus? 

Didn't think so. Neither have I. 

But Epaphroditus was highly esteemed by one of the greatest Christians that ever lived: Paul actually commands us all to "honor such men as he"  (Phil 2: 29) and so, of course, we must. Let's do that, shall we?

His story is scarcely known to us. His name appears in only two verses of the Bible (Phil 2:25; 4:18). He was a companion in Paul's travels and trials; he served as a messenger, bringing comfort and updates from the Christians at Philippi and delivering Paul's Epistle back to them. 

And he suffered—greatly!—a great grievous illness that almost took his life. He endured it with courage, and grace; and proved faithful to Christ throughout the ordeal. 

Epaphroditus' name tells us quite a story actually. It breaks down into two parts: Epi ("devoted to") and Aphrodite (goddess of love and sexual pleasure; patroness of prostitutes). What do you think? Sound pagan enough for you? The cult that worshipped Aphrodite was popular all over the Mediterranean and it was almost nothing but porn. Ceremonies in the temples of Aphrodite almost always included prostitution.

And this dear man, since the day he was born, had been "dedicated" to her; whatever that—God forbid!— might entail.  

But—praise God!—here he is: serving Christ; fighting the good fight; proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel with Paul and even "risking his life for the work of Christ." Phi 2: 30.  

Isn't it amazing how even just a name in the Bible can speak volumes about this Gospel of ours; this powerful force that drives away the darkness and changes lives forever! 

Paul offers a string of wonderful "titles" for this man. First of all: he calls him "brother":

"I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother."  Phil 2: 25

Wouldn't that be an honor? To have Paul calling you "brother", or "sister"? Well, I've got news for you: he does call you that. You are his brother and sister! 

As Christians now, we have all been born into a larger family than that of our natural parents and siblings. You are part of the family of Christ now. 

Here's a great commitment for 2019: be faithful brothers and sisters in this family! Love one another! Care for one another! Bear each other's burdens. And you'll be just like Epaphroditus!

Paul gives him another great title:  

"I send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, my fellow-worker..." (Phil 2: 25)  

Oh yes: fellow-worker! Not only are we part of this wonderful family; we are also united in the same work: proclaiming Christ throughout the world! Laboring together to advance His kingdom.

Paul goes on to give him another title: "fellow-soldier". This is one of the highest compliments a Christian can ever have. You know? We often forget that, as children of Christ, we face a great common Enemy.  And because of him, we are bound to be involved in  great spiritual warfare! Be ready to fight it well, dear Christian! Be a fighter! Be a tough-minded, battle-hardened soldier of Christ! And you'll be just like Epaphroditus.

But by far, the greatest title is the last one: Paul calls him a "risk-taker". 

"...he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to provide for our needs..." Phil 2: 30  

Believe it or not, Paul actually used an old gambling term to describe his faithful friend here. The verb describes "throwing it all in"; holding nothing back. The noun—parabolani—originally referred to a "reckless gambler"; someone willing to throw down everything he had, everything he owned, in order to win the stakes. But here—praise God!—Paul seizes it for the kingdom: using it to describe this faithful Christian who is willing to "throw it all in"  for the sake of his Savior! 

Not long after Paul wrote this epistle, by the way, churches all over the New Testament world picked up the word and started calling their martyrs and suffering saints "parabolani": risk-takers. As a matter of fact, when a terrible plague struck Carthage in 252 AD, the great pastor, Cyprian, urged his entire congregation to be "parabolani"—risk-takers for Christ by ministering to the sick and the dying, since no one else in all the world would do it! 

How about you? Are you one of the parabolani? Are you a "risk-taker"? You will find no higher title than this one; not in all the Kingdom of Christ. 

Back in the days of the horrible Henry VIII, when everyone else was keeping their mouths shut, two great preachers continued to speak out against the crimes and abuses of their King. William Peto and Henry Elstowe. Henry was furious. He called the two in and threatened them with immediate execution. 

Standing nearby was the Duke of Essex who spoke up with a grin, offering to "sew them into flour sacks and throw them into the Thames." I love Henry Elstowe's reply to the Duke: "Threaten such things to the rich and the dainty whose only hope is in this world, but not to us. We fear them not! Thanks be to God, we already know that the way to Heaven is just as swift by water as it is by land." 

I love it! Spoken like a true 'risk-taker'.

See you Sunday. Glad to be back!   RAS

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