From his plans to hear about their affairs (now in response to this letter) and to come himself as soon as possible, Paul turns to the more immediate matter at hand—the return of Epaphroditus, who is also the bearer of the letter. The paragraph is in two parts (vv. 25-27; 28-30), both of which (a) begin on the same note (Paul's having sent Epaphroditus), (b) mention Epaphroditus as the Philippians' "minister to my needs" and (c) note that Epaphroditus's illness brought him very near to death. What is being explained in both parts are the reasons for sending Epaphroditus now and not waiting for the outcome of Paul's trial.The first part gives the reason from Epaphroditus's perspective: his own deep longing for the community back home in light of their knowing about his illness (v. 26). Verses 28-30 then give the reason for sending him from the Philippians' perspective: their own joy in seeing him again, which will lessen Paul's present sorrow to some degree (v. 28).
But the whole should especially be read from Paul's perspective, which helps to explain what (for us) is the most striking about the paragraph—that it takes the form of commendation, the kind of thing that regularly appears in letters from the Greco-Roman period to introduce the bearer of the letter to the one(s) addressed. Why such a commendation in this letter? Most likely it is another reflection of the "mutual affection" dimension of friendship, which pours forth regularly in this letter. This profusion of commendation is part of that affection. Paul has received the Philippians' gift from Epaphroditus (cf. 4:18); now in sending him back he commends him to them as one of their own, and in honoring Epaphroditus, Paul honors them. That Epaphroditus should have risked his life on their behalf is reason enough for Paul to urge them to receive him back with joy. That God has spared him so that he could come back at all is all the more reason for joy—on everyone's part.
Given the paradigmatic role of every preceding narrative to this point, that may well be so again. If so, the paradigm here moves toward the "suffering" theme in this letter. Epaphroditus models one who was ready to risk his life and thus to suffer for the sake of Christ on behalf of others. What makes one think so in this case is the unique phrase "unto death" (v. 30; NIV almost died), used elsewhere in Paul's letters only in 2:8 to refer to Christ's death on the cross.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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