When you begin to rattle off the names of the great characters of the Bible, there are some obvious names that come to mind: Jesus, Paul, Moses, Abraham, Peter and so many more. However, there’s one name that may not make your top ten that is extremely important. His name is Epaphroditus, and he’s only mentioned two times in the book of Philippians. Paul says of him in Philippians 2:25, “But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need.” Why is Epaphroditus so important? Well, for one, he’s the reason we are reading the book of Philippians. He hand delivered the letter from Paul to the church at Philippi. But there’s another reason he’s so important. He is the first recorded short-term missionary in the Bible sent out by a local church. The word “messenger” that Paul used is a term that means ‘one commissioned and sent out.’ The church at Philippi saw a need in the missionary ministry of Paul that they could meet. And they met that need through Epaphroditus. They ‘commissioned’ him and sent him out. By commissioning, I simply mean that they publicly identified him as the right person to meet the need, and, in a public way, shared that with the fellowship in Philippi, and they sent him out. Epaphroditus paved the way for so many of us who’ve followed in his footsteps to be commissioned and sent out of a fellowship to join in God’s activity beyond our local context.
By commissioning, I simply mean that they publicly identified him as the right person to meet the need, and, in a public way, shared that with the fellowship in Philippi, and they sent him out.
Since Epaphroditus, there have been untold thousands of individuals and teams sent out short-term and long-term from churches all over the world to serve, and this idea of commissioning is an important part of the process. At Hope Church in Las Vegas, we see commissioning in two ways. First, we believe in lifestyle commissioning. We held a service a couple of years ago where we preached on the kingdom principle that God wants to use your job, skill and passion to engage in His global mission everyday. So we had our entire church family stand and we “commissioned” them…all. We identified them as the right people to serve and, in a public way, we set them apart for that service. The second way we see commissioning is to short-term or long-term service outside our local church context. Every time we send out a team or individual, we have a moment in a worship gathering where we bring that team before our entire fellowship. In that moment, we share about the need God has raised them up to meet, and then we lay hands on them, pray over them and send them. I believe that’s exactly what happened with Epaphroditus. We are simply following in the pattern of the early church to “commission” those we are sending out.
We held a service a couple of years ago where we preached on the kingdom principle that God wants to use your job, skill and passion to engage in His global mission everyday.
The importance of this moment that we call “commissioning” is really six-fold:
1. It’s biblical — It’s simply following the Biblical pattern. I believe the best missiological strategy book in the world is the Word of God. The more we can follow the example of the early church, the better off we will be. 2. It’s visionary — When God births a church, it’s always born for something bigger. Commissioning allows others in the fellowship to see the bigger picture of what God is doing in and through your church to expand His kingdom. 3. It’s affirming — It allows us to affirm the gifting and calling of God in the individual or team being sent. 4. It’s convicting — It allows the Holy Spirit to use the testimony of those being commissioned to challenge others in the fellowship to use their gifts and abilities to join in God’s kingdom activity. 5. It’s inviting — It invites others to join in what God is doing in the life of those being commissioned, through prayer and generosity. These moments are great opportunities to invite the church as a whole to join in what God is doing. 6. It’s celebrative—Every time we commission a team, we are celebrating that God is allowing our church to join in His activity. So, when you get to heaven and run into Epaphroditus, be sure to thank him for his impact on the sending church!
Published October 29, 2015