But God Had Mercy

In Philippians 2:25-30 there are a few very personal buts. Let’s take a look.

But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul is commending Epaphroditus to the church at Philippi–they had sent him to Paul, and now Paul was sending him back with great admiration and praise.

The first but is contextual. Paul was promising to send Timothy to them. Further, he would be coming to visit himself in person. The but suggests a contrast–those things will happen in the future–now, however, Paul is sending Epaphroditus. This but is about timing.

The circumstances that warrant this timing? Paul tells is that Epaphroditus had been sick, and that he had almost died. We learn something of Epaphroditus in that he appears to have been most burdened for those people in Philippi who were concerned about him. His first thought, even as he was in personal peril, was of others. Good man.

We also see that Paul has great affection for Epaphroditus. He calls him a brother, a fellow worker and a fellow soldier. Those are words of great meaning. They’re kin in Christ. They labor side by side. They’ve fought and risked it all together.

The second but in this passage is big and beautiful. But God had mercy.

Paul credits God that Epaphroditus didn’t die. God intervened, in other words. And this wasn’t just a merciful intervention for Epaphroditus’ sake, but Paul made it clear, he saw this as God showing him great mercy personally. That’s the weight of this text’s third but. Paul loved this man and was spared tremendous grief in that he lived.

If you take a step back for a moment, notice this observation: God twice “mercied” Paul in and through his friend Epaphroditus. First, he was a great comfort to Paul–meeting Paul’s needs. Then, when Paul was worried he might lose this dear brother, God mercied him again by sparing his life.

A text like this should cause us to look at those around us more closely. God often graces us and mercies us in and through those He brings into our lives. What and whom might we give thanks for as examples of the very merices of our God in our lives?