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because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Philippians 2:30)

Epaphroditus continued to serve Christ, even while ill. He may have been weak when he left Philippi but pressed on to come and deliver the collection to Paul and to minister to him.

The word translated “risking his life” in the Greek is (παραβολεύομαι paraboleuomai)[1] and means to expose to a chance of loss or damage, to expose oneself willingly to a danger or risk, and carries the picture of a gambler who places all he has on one throw of a dice. It means to take a major risk in whatever is being discussed.

Paul here says that Epaphroditus put his life on the line to complete the service that the churches had sent him to accomplish for Paul. Since they were unable to be there, they had commissioned Epaphroditus to take care of Paul. The words “what was lacking” are not said in reproach to the Philippian believers but only meant that they were unable to be present in body with Paul. They did not lack the will to provide for him; they lacked the opportunity to serve him.

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Because he came close to death for the work of Christ. There are many ways that Epaphroditus  risked his life or gambled his life for the work of Christ. First, the journey would have been arduous, lengthy, and dangerous from highwaymen known to rob people. Then, there is the fact that he fell deathly ill while helping Paul. We do not know if he pushed himself and initially ignored his illness when he first fell ill that intensified his illness. Or that on the first sign of recovery, he was trying to resume his duties earlier than he should have.

Risking his life. There is a variant (difference) in the MSS here, but determining the original reading is quite easy,

WH NU[2] παραβολευσάμενος τῇ ψυχῆ
“having risked his life”
P46 א A B D F G copsa

Variant/TR παραβουλευσαμενος τη ψυχη
“having no regard for his life”
C Ψ 33 1739 Maj syr

The original word was “having risked his life” supported by the earliest and weightiest manuscripts (P46 א A B D F G copsa) WH NU. A variant reading is “having no regard for his life” supported by TR (C Ψ 33 1739 Maj syr). If we look at the Greek verb in the original reading παραβολευσάμενος “risking” and the variant παραβουλευσαμενος, there is but one letter difference in the words, “υ” upsilon. The internal evidence does not help because both readings make perfectly good sense in the context because Epaphroditus did risk his life for the work of Christ. In the original reading it is a simple, plain statement “for the work of Christ, risking his life.” In the variant, “for the work of Christ, having no regard for his life” simply means that he valued his life as less than the work for Christ. But one could never set aside the far more superior manuscript evidence for the original reading. However, J. B. Lightfoot offers an interesting take on “παραβολευσάμενος, [saying Epaphroditus] ‘having gambled with his life.’”[3] On the other hand, as we look at the variant, we see a case of  self-sacrifice, which is commendable but not as interesting, lively, and exciting as ‘gambling with his life.’

To complete what was lacking in your service to me. Paul is not here blaming the brothers in Philippi as though they had somehow been negligent or unmindful of his needs. Paul knew that they simply had not had the chance to come in person to care for him. (cf. 4:10) Therefore, Epaphroditus had to make a special journey to Rome to fill in for what the brothers could not do in person, what the church would have gladly carried out if it was feasible, or if he was in Philippi and not in Rome. So, Epaphroditus had made a valiant effort to carry out work for Christ in the name of their church and on behalf of the brothers in Philippi. He did this regardless of the unexpected event of falling ill or despite it.

So as we close out this chapter, we can understand better the summary of the concept of Christ – the Pattern of Life in verse 5 – “Have this mind in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus….”

[1] Wesley J. Perschbacher, ed., The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, ed. Wesley J. Perschbacher (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990). Page 305. 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 2444.

[2] WH stands for the 1881 Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament. N of the NU stands for the Nestle-Aland 2012 Greek New Testament 28th edition, and the U of the NU stands for the 5th edition of the United Bible Societies 2014 Greek New Testament.

[3] Joseph Barber Lightfoot, ed., Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: Macmillan and Co., ltd, 1913), 124.

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