“When thou goest, thy way shall be opened up before thee step by step.” Proverbs 4:12, free translation
The Lord never builds a bridge of faith except under the feet of the faith-filled traveler. If He builds the bridge a rod ahead, it would not be a bridge of faith. That which is of sight is not of faith. (Streams in the Desert)
I wonder what it felt like to be Epaphroditus? He was often near the action in the early church, but never the center of attention. Although he hung out with the rock stars of the Way, he never headlined a show or even opened one. Suffice it to say he had more in common with the roadies than those on stage. His name appears in only one book of the Bible (Philippians), unless he happens to be the individual that the apostle Paul addresses briefly with a shortened version of the name, Epaphras, in two other New Testament letters (Colossians & Philemon). At first glance, we may have high expectations of someone whose name means “lovely;” until further asking around reveals that it was quite a common name, derived from Aphrodite. “Hello, meet John Smith.” It seems our rather nondescript friend was a courier of sorts who multi-tasked as valet for St. Paul, but that tells what he did and says nothing about how he felt.
Did Epaphroditus ever deal with a twinge of regret or even jealousy over never getting the chance to do something particularly memorable in the church other than deliver messages? What was it like to be important enough to be mentioned by name in Scripture, but just barely mentioned? Actually, I think I know. I have reached the place in life where no matter what I do, I know someone who does it better. In fact, it would be delusional at this stage in life to think that I can best anyone at anything. No matter how hard I work, how well I preach or teach, how skilled I am at word smithing, how adept I am at facilitating strategic relationships, I stand in the shadow of giants.
The same was true of Epaphroditus, yet he has lasting merit because of his relation to Paul and others in the church at Philippi and beyond. In other words, worth in God’s kingdom is never determined by performance. Instead, the import of my existence consists of the quality of my relationships. If my wife knows the joy of an adoring and supportive husband who helps her celebrate each moment as grace, I have great value. If my children and grandchildren look to me as an example of how to navigate the tragedy and ecstasy of living, I leave a legacy of exceptional worth. If my church finds in me a sacrificial shepherd willing to lay down his life for his sheep, I have an investment in eternity. In other words, relationship trumps accomplishment every time.
Beware the performance trap in Christian ministry. Step forward in faith, not because you are an intrepid adventurer of exceptional spiritual fortitude, but in failsafe reliance on a Father who receives and keeps you with endless love.