But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. (Philippians 2:25-27 NIV)
From 2014 to 2017, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States. From this vantage point he identified one of the most lethal health crisis in America today—the epidemic of loneliness. Murthy wrote:
We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher.
Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades.
During my tenure as US surgeon general … [and] my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. The elderly man who came to our hospital every few weeks seeking relief from chronic pain was also looking for human connection: He was lonely. The middle-aged woman battling advanced HIV who had no one to call to inform that she was sick: She was lonely too. I found that loneliness was often in the background of clinical illness, contributing to disease and making it harder for patients to cope and heal.
[Work and the Loneliness Epidemic, Harvard Business Review (August 2017)]
Paul is in a prison in Rome. This in itself can be a lonely situation. Strangely, the rules of the prison life then in 1st century Rome allow for people to be with Paul. God sends Timothy and Epaphroditus to be with Paul. Timothy is Paul’s assistant in the work of the gospel. He has travelled the Mediterranean with Paul starting churches and encouraging them. Paul refers to Timothy as a son (Philippians 2:22).
The Philippians send Epaphroditus to take a financial gift to Paul (This is also permitted by the rules of prison in Rome). They also ask Epaphroditus to stay with him and help him in practical ways. I believe Epaphroditus helps Paul domestically. Paul calls Epaphroditus his brother, co-worker and fellow soldier (Philippians 2:25).
Therefore, Paul is not alone. He has Timothy and Epaphroditus with him. God is present with him through the presence of these 2 friends.
However, while in Rome, Epaphroditus falls sick. He is sick to the point of death. There is a potential for Paul and the Philippians to lose the true friend and fellow worker in Epaphroditus. Paul prays for him. Timothy prays for him. Paul sends word of this to the Philippians. He asks them to pray for him.
Epaphroditus is not alone in his sickness. Paul, Timothy and the Philippians are praying for him. I believe as Epaphroditus lies on the bed sick, God is speaking to him. God assures Epaphroditus that he is not alone. One clear sign that God has not abandoned him is that God prompts Paul, Timothy and the Philippians to pray for him. God speaks through the prayer actions of his friends. I also believe that to pray for someone is to care for them. God cares for Epaphroditus through his friends.
In Epaphroditus’ situation, God has mercy on Epaphroditus, Paul, Timothy and the Philippians and cures him of his illness. Paul rejoices with God’s step of healing that he says that he, Paul, is spared sorrow upon sorrow (Philippians 2:27). Both Paul and Epaphroditus are not alone. They have each other and God’s community coming alongside them. May we pray for others and bring God’s presence upon them.