All of us recognize certain names. We know them because they belong to famous people. They might be sports stars, celebrities, or movie actors. Sometimes, they are so famous they go by a single name. Such names include Oprah, Cher, Bono, and Pelé. When we hear names like Elon Musk, Donald Trump, Barak Obama, and Bill Gates, we think of people who are wealthy and powerful. Many people in our world associate these names with people who deserve respect and honor.
Most (perhaps all!) of us, however, do not have names like that. We are not famous. People do not recognize us or consider us worthy of any particular esteem.
In a few cases, people even have names that others think of with disrespect. Imagine, for example, meeting somebody named Jeffrey Dahmer, or with a first name like Adolf. At the very least, we would point out that such people have very unfortunate names.
In Phil 2:2 we meet a guy with a name like that. Epaphroditus is only mentioned a couple of times in the NT, and only in the book of Philippians. Evidently, he is not wealthy. He is not a leader in the church.
I can only imagine that Epaphroditus would have been a lousy name for a Christian at Philippi. It is easy to see that the name has the word Aphrodite embedded in it. She was the Greek goddess of love. As such, she was the patron goddess of prostitutes. Epaphroditus’s name probably means something like, “favored by Aphrodite” or one who is devoted to her. I can only imagine that Epaphroditus’s parents were pagans. I cannot imagine a Christian family giving their son a name like that. Corinth, which was located about 200 miles south of Philippi, was a major center for the worship of Aphrodite. This goddess was well known in the area.
I’m guessing that when believers at Philippi heard his name, they would shake their heads and think, “That is one lousy name!” For a modern-day parallel, think of how we would react to a new believer in our church who introduced himself with, “Hello, my name is Beelzebub!”
I know that there were plenty of Greek names associated with Greek and Roman gods, and so maybe it wasn’t as bad as it might seem. But still, I feel for the guy. I hope that Epaphroditus was able to laugh it off, and even make a joke about it. After telling people his name, maybe he sarcastically added, “Thanks mom and dad!”
But what Paul says about Epaphroditus is interesting. He tells the believers at Philippi that when they see him, they should rejoice and hold him in esteem. They should receive him in the same way they would welcome a really important person (v 29). In other words, they should treat him like a rock star.
Why? Because he was a humble servant. Paul had just described Jesus Christ in this way (Phil 2:5-11). Epaphroditus was imitating Christ. He had served the church at Philippi and had served Paul while he was in prison. This is the kind of person we need to recognize. This is the kind of person we should honor.
What a difference from the world’s attitude. As Epaphroditus traveled from Rome back to Philippi, I am sure nobody noticed him. Perhaps, to pagans, his name was pretty common. He was nothing out of the ordinary. If he met Christians on the way, they may have suggested he change his name to something else.
But there was no need to do so. He already had a great name. He was a “slave” of Christ. That was the same “name” the Lord had (2:7). On the road to Philippi, nobody noticed him. Little did they realize that he was wealthier and greater than a first century Oprah or Donald Trump.