Paul seems to have an extremely well developed sense of empathy. He was able to identify with others and put himself in their shoes to experience what they were experiencing. When God showed mercy by healing 18 blessingEpaphroditus Paul planned to send him back to Philippi to be a blessing and an encouragement to all his family and friends. He writes in Philippians 2:28, “I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.” He was more eager because of the pain that the Philippians were experiencing over having heard that Epaphroditus was ill. Paul’s eagerness to send Epaphroditus back to his family and friends was motivated out of his concern for them. He identified with their grief and was eager to relieve it.

Richison observes, “Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is simply feeling the emotions of another person. Empathy is the ability to identify with the state of the other person. Paul put himself in the place of the Philippians. By doing so he acted unselfishly. He sent back someone very important to him. Empathy is a sign someone is thinking of others and cares for others.” There will be a lot of joy upon his return to Philippi. They will probably have a potluck and let him tell about his visit to Rome and his time with Paul. But more importantly, Epaphroditus would carry a letter from Paul that he will read publicly to them. It’s the letter that we’re reading today and that every generation of Christians have read since the establishment of the church. This letter, Epistle, became part of the Word of God.

No Paul was thinking about them when he decided to return Epaphroditus to his home church. Yet he still had some personal benefit from it. He adds in Verse 28, “and I may be less sorrowful.” It will be a huge blessing to Paul to have been able to act to alleviate the suffering of others. He knew that the family and friends of Epaphroditus would be comforted and experience great joy at getting him back into their midst. But Paul’s own stress was relieved knowing that he relieved that of others. That’s always the way it is. When we empathize with others and take action to help alleviate their hurts and pains and hardships we too receive the benefit and get to share in their joy. I would add that Jesus teaches us that the one who serves is the one who receives the greatest blessing. Jesus said “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”