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For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. (Philippians 2:27)
Paul states that this illness was nearly fatal to Epaphroditus. It is interesting to make a note here that the Apostles did not have permanent gifts. We know that Paul had the gift of inspiration in writing the letters preserved for us today as part of the Bible. Paul obviously wrote many other letters that were not preserved – possibly because they were written outside of the inspiration of God. Paul had used the gift of healing in a number of instances (even healing an entire city) but often we read that he did not have the apparent ability to heal. He started his ministry before there was anything, such as our Bible, to teach and authenticate his message. The sign gifts were given to substantiate his validity. But, as his ministry progressed, the gifts apparently culminated when not needed. Paul had a thorn in his flesh; many believe possibly an eye disease, which remained for the grace of God to be understood by Paul. Timothy had stomach problems; Paul did not heal him but apparently gave him a medical prescription from Dr. Luke. In 2 Timothy 4:20, Paul states that he left Trophimus in Miletus, sick. Why? Because the emphasis was to be on Jesus, the Great Physician, rather than on the one who was being authenticated.
Paul says that God had mercy on Epaphroditus, probably due to the many fervent prayers (Paul and the Philippian believers), and therefore God healed him. Paul tells us that this was good, not only for Epaphroditus but also for himself. Paul says it would cause him “sorrow upon sorrow.” The Greek word used here twice (lype) literally means pain, distress, grief, or afflictions. This phrase carries the picture of heaping up one thing on another – the idea of accumulating this grief or sorrow. With all that Paul was going through in his imprisonment and concerns for the churches, the death of his friend would have been a major blow.
Paul is showing here to the Philippian believers another example of being able to have joy in adverse circumstances, and that it all comes from God himself.
More in-depth Insights
A little-known Bible character named Epaphroditus became depressed. He had been charged with attending and comforting the seriously ill apostle Paul in Rome, some 600 miles away. However, Epaphroditus fell sick and needed to be comforted. He may have thought the Philippian congregation that sent him would believe he had failed them. On the other hand, he might just have felt extreme guilt and longed to see them, to know they understood his circumstances. Paul used the Greek word (ἀδημονέω adēmoneō), “to be distressed,” “to be in anxiety,” “to feel dejected,” “sorrow troubled [i.e., depressed],” to define Epaphroditus’ circumstance. Bible scholar J. B. Lightfoot wrote that this word can designate “the confused, restless, half-distracted state, which is produced by physical derangement, or by mental distress, as grief, shame, disappointment, etc.” ademoneo “to be troubled, much distressed,” is used of the Lord’s sorrow in Gethsemane, Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:33. (Vine 1996, 299)
The circumstances of Epaphroditus, the historical setting, what exactly brought on his distress can help us today better appreciate how anxiety and stress can contribute to a depressive bout. A devastating sickness may be a basis of depression or guilt feelings of someone in the congregation or a Christian that is visiting a counselor. This one might have been very active in the congregation prior to an illness or getting older and now is very limited in what he can do. This could be very distressing! The pastor or counselor can use Epaphroditus to teach a lesson or at least a lesson on the effects of extreme or misplaced guilt. The counselor would ask, “Can Epaphroditus be blamed because he fell ill?” The counselee would respond, “Definitely not!” Then, the counselor briefly explains what they already know to be true about our fallen condition. (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 5:12) Then, the counselor asks the counselee, “Epaphroditus wanted to serve God and his congregation, but sickness restricted him to some degree, did it not? The counselee answers, “Yes.” How did Paul and his congregation feel about Epaphroditus? Were they angry because of what happened, the counselor asks? “No,” says the counselee, “in fact, he praised him.”
The Feeling of Depression
“As you wake in the morning, you know, just before you come into consciousness, you feel very sad, very emotional, to the point that you do not want to rise to face the day, you just keep forcing yourself back to sleep,” says Julie. She goes on to say that you do not want to face the day; there is this feeling of impending doom, a sense of worthlessness, wondering why you have to go on like this.”
James remembers, “I was always in a state of nervousness, feeling guilty over everything, and fearing the worst was just ahead, and that life was over when it had only just begun. My fear of losing my job actually pushed me to quit it before the embarrassment of going through the rejection. I worried day and night about everything, my mind racing from one thing to the next, as a beat myself up with my negative self-talk (“man am I dumb!” “I will never amount to anything!” “My life is hopeless!” “Even when I do my best I fail.”). I felt as though I failed God and would never be in his good graces.”
All of us have been sad from time to time, giving us that misplaced belief that we can relate to a person who suffers from clinical depression. This could not be further from the truth. The sad truth is, what we may do to remove our feelings of sadness, if recommended to a depressive person, will only enhance their depression.
 See the Bible Difficulty section (2) at the end of this chapter to further discuss this issue.
 Jerry Falwell, Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, , Liberty Bible Commentary, ed. Jerry Falwell, Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers, 1983). Page 2443.