The Commendation Itself (2:29-30)

With another inferential "therefore" Paul comes at last to the commendation proper. Since Paul has sent Epaphroditus back for the triple reasons given (for Epaphroditus's, theirs and Paul's sakes), "therefore," he concludes, welcome him in the Lord with all joy, and honor [people] like him. Having given the reasons for their welcoming him back with joy, Paul now concludes by urging them to do so (not all imperatives in Paul are correcting something that has gone wrong!).

Welcome him . . . with [all] joy repeats what he said in the preceding clause as to the purpose of his sending Epaphroditus home. But it does so with the typical (for this letter especially) qualifier in the Lord. The nuance of this phrase is again not easy to pin down, but most likely it is similar to Paul's "hope in the Lord" (v. 19) and "confident in the Lord" (v. 24) in the preceding paragraph. Everything that believers do is in the Lord in some way or another. Their common existence, theirs and Epaphroditus's, is predicated on the fact that together they are in the Lord, meaning they belong to him.

Moreover, Paul adds, they should hold people like Epaphroditus in honor. Although this plural (literally "such people") may indicate, as suggested above, that others are traveling with Epaphroditus and that in this final word they too are included, more likely this simply reflects a standard idiom. When Epaphroditus is held up for honor of this kind, he belongs to the larger category of "such people" who deserve esteem. Thus the two phrases together indicate the kind of reception Epaphroditus deserves upon his return, the kind of esteem in which the Philippians should hold him for what he has done. Such honor is not drawing glory away from God, but is that properly given to one of God's own who nearly "poured out his life" on behalf of a brother for Christ's sake.

With a final causal clause (v. 30) Paul repeats, but also elaborates, the two basic reasons the Philippians should esteem Epaphroditus highly on his return home: first, he almost died for the work of Christ, which is then elaborated, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. What is added to what was already said in verse 27—which we could have guessed at but without certain evidence—is that his coming so close to death was the direct result of engaging in the work of Christ. The grammar of the sentence indicates that this refers to Epaphroditus's bringing the Philippians' gift to Paul in Rome; and since Paul's imprisonment is directly related to the work of Christ, any gift brought to him by fellow believers in this way would be seen as participating in the gospel, as 1:5 suggests.

The next qualifier intensifies he almost died for the work of Christ. By completing his mission in the midst of severe illness, Epaphroditus put his own life in jeopardy. At least that is what the grammar implies. The main clause says he almost died for the work of Christ, which is now modified by an aorist (in this case past) participle followed by a purpose clause, which goes with the participle, not the main clause. Thus, he almost died for the sake of Christ, by "having risked his life in order to complete . . . your service to me." The clear implication is that there is "a causal connexion between the bringing of the gift and the risking of his life" (Mackay 1960:169). This is the phrase that gives credence to the view noted above (v. 26), that he most likely took ill en route to Rome but pressed on anyway to fulfill his commitment to the church and Paul, and thus exposed himself to the very real possibility of death.

The final purpose clause gives the reason for Epaphroditus's so risking his life, while at the same time offers the believers in Philippi their ultimate reason for holding him in high honor: he was willing to risk his life so that he might make up for the help you could not give me. But it is doubtful whether Paul intended to sound quite so pejorative. This combination of the verb "make up for" and the noun "lacking" is used in a similar context in 1 Corinthians 16:17 to refer to "making up for the absence of the rest." That is almost surely the intent here. Thus the clause begins "he has made up for your lack" in the sense of "your absence." Paul's absence from Philippi has created a gap in his life, and Epaphroditus has filled that to a degree.

Having made that point, Paul then returns to the sacrificial imagery of verse 25. With a genitive qualifier he indicates that by the "lack" of their presence, neither could they minister to his needs as they would have liked; but now Epaphroditus has done so in their behalf. As in verse 25 he expresses their gift to him through Epaphroditus in terms of performing the duties of a priest in his behalf. Very much in keeping with 4:10, he thus acknowledges that their "lack" was not in the willing but in the opportunity. Though stated very awkwardly, the sense of the sentence goes something like this: "so that he might make up for your absence and thus minister to my needs as you have not had opportunity to do recently."

Thus Paul concludes this brief narrative of proposed travel plans, a narrative full of warmth and pathos, victory and trepidation. His affection for the Philippians spills over through his expressions of affection for Epaphroditus, their "ministrant" to his human needs. At the same time the passage echoes with notes of gratitude and joy: gratitude to God for his mercy in healing a brother, joy renewed as they see him again. Paul hints at his sorrows but does not elaborate; instead the passage is full of affection and honor for one who dared to risk his life for the work of Christ in bringing him material aid. His ultimate concern is that the Philippians themselves appreciate Epaphroditus for what he has done in their behalf for Paul's sake. If Epaphroditus also serves to model one who was willing to suffer for the sake of Christ, that note, while not played loudly, neither is played so softly that it cannot be heard. Here is very personal material, which includes theological moments because Paul seems incapable of doing anything otherwise.

Bible Gateway Recommendations

Acts: Tyndale New Testament Commentary [TNTC]
Retail: $18.00
Our Price: $11.99
Save: $6.01 (33%)
5.0 of 5.0 stars
Ephesians: Tyndale New Testament Commentary  [TNTC]
Retail: $18.00
Our Price: $11.99
Save: $6.01 (33%)
1 & 2 Thessalonians: IVP New Testament Commentary [IVPNTC]
Retail: $18.00
Our Price: $11.99
Save: $6.01 (33%)
View more titles