Many of us know Philippians as a letter where talks about joy. But I was reading a bit of it the other day and got a different picture.
Paul was in prison, Epaphroditus was visiting him from Philippi. He went on behalf of the church to help Paul. Perhaps like a short-term missions trip where a team goes to help a missionary. Like a rescue team goes to support people in the middle of a crisis. Like the Red Cross sends teams to flooding.
Somehow on the journey, Epaphroditus got sick. He kept going, but by the time he got to Paul, he was close to death. Paul never mentions the illness, but he’s pretty clear about the likely outcome. In time, Epaphroditus recovers. But now, rather than his body being sick, his heart is. He knows that the people back home heard how sick he was. He wants to get back to let them know he’s really okay.
In a time when the news travelled slowly, the worry lasted a long time. For all the people back home knew, Epaphroditus had died.
Paul has Epaphroditus carry the letter of Philippians with him.
What I noticed in reading the letter this time was the amount of feeling that Paul expresses. Epaphroditus was longing to go home, was distressed about the concern of the people back home. Paul saw his recovery as God’s mercy, sparing Paul from having that sorrow on top of the sorrow he had from events in the rest of his life and ministry. By sending Epaphroditus, Paul’s concern for the people in Philippi would be lessened.
This is a very different sense than thinking that Paul says we should be happy all the time. He was sorrowing, not always singing. He had concern mixed in with his confidence in God. In addition to saying “rejoice”, Paul sent Epaphroditus to be physically present.
Our sorrow and concern for others is not a sign of lacking faith. Paul doesn’t confess it as sin, nor does he apologize for it as weakness.
Neither should you.