Caring for Missionaries: The Biblical Imperative

T his week I’ve participated in the Stoney Creek Baptist Church missions conference. Their theme “iCare: What Can I Do?” is all about caring for missionaries. I don’t remember hearing of a church having that kind of focus on missionary care.

On Sunday Aaron, my good friend and Stoney Creek’s Associate Pastor, preached. He commented that you can’t really find a chapter and verse to say “Thou shalt care for missionaries.” As I got ready for my Tuesday night talk to the twenty-somethings I think I came pretty close.

Paul, in Philippians 2:29-30, commands the church in Philippi about Epaphroditus, “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”

Philippians 4Based on Philippians 4, it seems that the church in Philippi, wanting to help the Apostle Paul, commissioned Epaphroditus to carry financial help to Rome, where Paul was imprisoned. Epaphroditus evidently was to stay with Paul for some time, providing personal assistance to him during his imprisonment.

For some unclear reason, Epaphroditus is returning to Philippi and Paul commends him to the church. They are to welcome and honour Epaphroditus, and missionary care-givers like him.

The reason is striking, but it is masked by our English translations. ESV has “for he nearly died” and the NIV family have “because he almost died”. But the Greek text of Phil. 2:30 parallels that of Phil. 2:8, “he [Christ] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death.” Epaphroditus was a clear example of having the mind of Christ, of looking to the interests of others.

How would you honour such a person? I like the Pillar NT Commentary on these verses.

He urges them to give Epaphroditus a really great banquet and a permanent place of honor rather than a simple potluck supper and a quick nod for his service.

It may be self-serving for me as a missionary to tell a church like Stoney Creek to care for missionaries, and I said as much to the group of twenty-somethings I talked to. Nonetheless, it’s a biblical mandate and I ask not so much for me but for people like me. As I’ll explore in another post, missionaries really need it even if we don’t always want it.

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