God Had Mercy on Him

Philippians 2:26-30 For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that you had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when you see him again, you may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me. 

‘Full of heaviness’ [Greek: ademoneo] heavily burdened.

‘Sick’ – he had been sick. This proves that at the time of the writing of this epistle he was well again. For the work of the Lord, he had been “nigh unto death” (2:30). How could the work of God make him sick if not by overwork and improper rest? In such a case, it would be a physical breakdown rather than some disease. The Greek verb for “he had been sick” is astheneo, to be weak or frail in any sense. It is used 15 times of: Weak faith (Rom. 4:19; 14:1, 2, 21; 1Cor. 8:9-12); weak law (Rom. 8:3); weak (poor) people (Acts 20:35) and weak in boldness and power (2Cor. 11:21, 29; 12:10; 13:3, 4, 9).

It is used 17 times for physical sickness and 3 times for physical breakdowns because of overwork (2:26-27; 2Tim. 4:20). Thus, to conclude that the cases of Epaphroditus (here) and Trophimus (2Tim. 4:20) prove that Paul and the apostles had lost their power to heal, or that it was only occasionally that they had such power is concluding too much. Paul did have the power to do special miracles (Acts 19:11-12). He had the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 15:18-19, 29). He even had the power to impart gifts to others (Acts 19:1-7; Rom. 1:11; 1Tim. 4:14; 2Tim. 1:6). Gifts are not given so that bodies may be abused by overwork to bypass consequences. They are not to enable man to work beyond what is sensible and best for the body.

‘But God had mercy on him.’ This proves that God did miraculously restore the man and save him from death. Prayer will do wonders even in a physical breakdown, but it will never sustain a body that is not properly taken care of by rest and nourishment.

‘Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.’ This was the cause of his physical trouble – overwork. In such a case like this, and no doubt that of Trophimus, it was best to let them recuperate before going back into the work.