The apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi is an amazing letter of love and concern for the well-being of the believers in that city. Paul is in prison as he writes the letter, yet his greater concern is for the church. He expresses his love and affection for them (1:8). He says he is torn between leaving this life and being with the Lord, which he says is far better, and staying on earth to continue engaging in gospel ministry for their sake (1:21–26). He says he would rather stay for the sake of the Philippians. He writes to encourage them to live in genuine community, one that places the interests of others above one’s own (1:27–30; 2:1–11; 2:14–16; 4:2–3).
He tells them he plans to send Timothy to them (2:19), so that he would return to Paul with news from the church (imagine not having Zoom available to connect with one another!). He also plans to send Epaphroditus to them. Epaphroditus was apparently from Philippi and had been sent by the church to assist Paul. The church had heard that Epaphroditus had been seriously ill, so Paul encouraged them by acknowledging he had been ill—near death, in fact—yet received mercy from God and recovered (2:25–27). Paul then writes something extraordinary:
I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.Philippians 2:28 ESV
Paul’s love for the church in Philippi is evident. He would rather remain in prison than go to be with Jesus in heaven for their sake. He is so concerned for their emotional well-being that he will send his “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” to them (2:25). Paul clearly values the help of Epaphroditus, yet he will send him to Philippi that they should rejoice at seeing him again.
But notice what else Paul writes: “and that I may be less anxious.”
Isn’t that a bit shocking? This is the apostle Paul, the one who had been taken up to the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 2:2)! This is the apostle Paul who later in this very letter says to not be anxious (4:6). This is the apostle Paul who was whipped five times for preaching the gospel, who was imprisoned numerous times, who was beaten with rods three times, who was stoned and left for dead, who was shipwrecked and desperate for survival on multiple occasions (2 Corinthians 11:22–33).
Paul is sending Epaphroditus to the Philippians so that he will be free of his anxiety. Even though Paul had experienced great suffering, that is not what caused him anxiety. Even though Paul was currently in prison and was facing the very real possibility of his own death, that is not what caused him great pain. His concern for the Philippians and their distress at the illness of Epaphroditus is what caused Paul great pain. Their relief at receiving him back would result in Paul’s relief.
I am encouraged by the apostle’s example. We should long for relief from our pain, and we should also long for other’s relief. As we spend time in prayer today, let’s pray for one another. Let’s pray specifically today for those who are unemployed or underemployed. Pray for God to provide for their needs, of course, but pray also for their anxiety—the mental pain and distress that the apostle Paul himself experienced! Let’s pray that others will find reason to rejoice in the midst of pain and hardship and suffering. Let’s pray for one another that we may find joy in the midst of sorrow.