Note from the authors:
“The Parables of Epaphroditus” is a historical fiction story written for children of Cedar Heights. Its original intent was to accompany Pastor Jeff’s sermon series on Philippians in 2021, though we hope it is helpful to any future readers as well.
– Avery Johnson and Carter Brown
Part 1 – The Messenger
There once was a man with a very unique name. His friends tried to give him a nickname, but try as they might, they could not find one that fit, so they called him Epaphroditus, which is what his parents named him. Sometimes he told people they could call him E., but no one ever did. Epaphroditus was a leader and a messenger for a church in a town called Philippi.
Epaphroditus loved his church. By God’s grace, it was started by the Apostle Paul ten years earlier. Before Paul came with his friends, no one in Philippi, who were called Philippians, had ever heard of Jesus. But God used Paul’s gospel sharing to powerfully turn the hearts of many people in Philippi to trust in Jesus, including Epaphroditus.
Paul spent a lot of time teaching, writing, and talking about Jesus, but there were other people in the town who didn’t want to learn about Jesus. They tried to hurt Paul and his friends and even chased them out of town. But even though they were apart, the friendships and love between Paul and the Philippians who trusted in Jesus continued.
Paul traveled years and miles away, but he stayed in touch, and eventually the church at Philippi learned he was put in prison for sharing Jesus with others. They were upset by this news, but they remembered that God had worked mightily when Paul had been imprisoned in Philippi.
The Philippians themselves were no strangers to persecution and suffering. People in their town had begun to say and do despicable things to those who trusted in and talked about Jesus. It was hard, but their church persevered because Paul taught them that Jesus was the most important thing.
Since Paul had been so encouraging to them, they decided to send a gift of encouragement to him. So they enlisted their beloved Epaphroditus to deliver their gift and serve how they could not.
Paul was overjoyed to see Epaphroditus and was cheered to hear news of the Philippian church, even in their hardship. While with Paul, Epaphroditus learned as much as he could and served the gospel cause with all his strength.
During his trip, Epaphroditus became deathly sick. Thankfully, God had mercy on him and restored him back to health. But in those days, word traveled slower, so the church at Philippi only heard Epaphroditus was sick and not that he had been healed. This made them very anxious for his well being, which worried Epaphroditus.
Before letting Epaphroditus return home to Philippi, Paul insisted on writing a letter to his Christian brothers and sisters which Epaphroditus could take back. Paul wanted to go himself, or send along his companion Timothy, who everyone called Tim, but he wasn’t sure when that would be possible.
The thought of returning home excited Epaphroditus. He wanted his friends to know he was all right, but more importantly, he wanted his church to know what Paul, by the Holy Spirit, had written in his letter, for it was a letter of great encouragement and joy in Jesus.
And so it’s here that we meet our friend Epaphroditus as he leaves Paul and Tim to carry the letter to the Philippians.
• • •
Epaphroditus walked along the well-worn road through the rocky, yet green, hills of Macedonia. This territory was owned by the Romans, but their protection was strongest in the cities. Out in the country he was more vulnerable. Bandits and thieves were not uncommon in this area.
Rubbing his eyes, Epaphroditus tried to wipe away his tiredness. It was approaching midday. He would need to find a spot to rest soon so he could avoid walking in the hottest part of the day. Maybe he could take a nap in the shade. The last several days had been long days of travel, but now he was only a few days walking distance from Philippi.
Days before, on the morning he left, Timothy had shaken him awake. Tim was always an early riser, something he modeled after Paul. He spent that time dwelling on God’s Word and talking with God in prayer. Epaphroditus liked to think of himself as an early riser too, but in all the time he stayed with Tim, he never could wake up before him. Even when he tried tying a rooster to his bed, Tim was still up before him.
Tim’s voice was firm yet kind, “Epaphroditus, wake up. It’s time to go. Today is the day you’ll begin your return journey to Phillipi, and the sooner you set out, the better.”
“Hmph?” Epaphroditus mumbled.
“Wake up and get ready. You and your travel companions will leave within the hour. The sun will rise soon. Paul wants to pray over you before you go.”
It didn’t take long for Epaphroditus to prepare. He didn’t have much. He also felt better than he had in a while. Praise the Lord, he was restored to full health! Together, he and Tim set out in the darkness to where Paul was being kept.
Paul, of course, was awake when they arrived at his prison. He greeted them fondly. His chains clinked together as he moved. “Epaphroditus, my brother, my fellow worker, my fellow soldier. Today you leave us, but we will see you again. Before we send you, we have a few things for you.” He picked up a rolled bundle from the ground beside him. It was Epaphroditus’s tent; Paul had insisted on patching it. “I think you’ll find this more manageable and useful. It doesn’t leak anymore, and I made some helpful adjustments as well.”
Then Tim held up a smaller bundle. “And here is bread to sustain you for the first part of your journey.”
“Thank you, both of you.” Epaphroditus said. He took these gifts and carefully arranged them in his pack alongside his waterskin and a small pouch of coins.
Paul held up his finger indicating there was one more thing. “And lastly, a letter for our friends in the church at Philippi.” He went over to a rough-hewn table which held his meager writing materials. There, he rolled up the letter, tied it with a string, dropped it in a protective cylinder, and gave it to Epaphroditus, who set it carefully inside the very top of his pack.
The three men stood in silence for a moment. Then Paul said, “Let’s pray.” Paul and Tim rested their hands on Epaphroditus, and together all three men bowed their heads.
And so it was that after Paul and Tim prayed thanksgiving, travel mercies, and the continued fruit of righteousness through Jesus Christ over Epaphroditus, he set out on his journey as the sun rose on a new day.
Epaphroditus rolled his shoulders in an attempt to adjust the straps of his pack. It was good he traveled light, but now he was running the risk of traveling too light. The bread Tim had given him was long gone. In fact, pretty much all of the supplies were. Without many other options, he had sent his more swift travel companions a day ahead of him, giving them the rest of his coins, so they could restock on supplies. They had agreed to wait for him at the next town before moving on. It wasn’t ideal to travel alone, but Epaphroditus trusted God to protect and provide for him while he was apart from his friends.
It helped that his mind was preoccupied with things other than food. He mostly thought about the letter Paul had given him to deliver. He’d read it dozens of times already, and every time he did, it put more bounce in his step. At this point he almost had it memorized.
Ahead, the road dipped down into a pass between two hills. He resolved that after he made it through, he would find a nice spot to rest from the noonday sun before pushing on. Ideally he would like to reach the next town before nightfall.
Wary of the pass, Epaphroditus slowed his pace and tried to keep lookout for signs of trouble. This section of the road had been very quiet, and now he was alone. He prayed God would keep the bandits at bay.
Everything was normal as he walked through the pass, but as he stepped into the opening on the other side he was hit by a sudden flurry of rocks. He ducked and covered his head from the sharp pain of being hit. Surprised, he scrambled for cover.
Up the slope came a shout. “We got him! Charge!”
Straining to see where his attackers were coming from, Epaphroditus was blinded by the sun. Blinking, he hunkered down, scrambled in the opposite direction, and tripped, landing face down.
His pursuers were fast, and it did not take long for their footsteps to run up and surround him. “He’s a measly one, isn’t he?” a voice said.
Another voice cut in, supposedly the leader, “Quiet you. We’ll take what we can get.”
Yet another voice, which belonged to a girl, to Epaphroditus’s surprise, said, “I hope he’s not hurt too badly. Why did you aim for his head?”
Epaphroditus looked up, his eyes widening when he saw his attackers. They were children, not bandits! As he propped himself up on his elbow, the leader, who was the tallest and the oldest, stepped forward. He had dark, shaggy hair, serious eyes, and he carried a big stick. He made use of it by swinging it around, pointing it at Epaphroditus’s chest as if it were a sword. “Don’t think of trying anything.”
Epaphroditus sighed. They were kids, but it wasn’t going to be easy to find a way out of this mess. “What do you want?” he asked.
The other boy stepped forward threateningly. “Your money or your life!” He was the one who called Epaphroditus measly. He was the smallest of the three kids, but what he lacked in size he made up for in ferocity, which was a dangerous combination with his apparent lack of concern for his own safety.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” the girl said, rolling her eyes. She looked like she was the second oldest. Her manner was kind and curious, but she also seemed the most realistic and perhaps a little bit skeptical.
The leader spoke up. “We want your money. We don’t want to hurt you, but we will if we have to.”
Epaphroditus patted his pack. He’d given all of his money to his travel companions. Now he wished he hadn’t. Not for his own sake, but for the kids. They looked like they needed it more than he did. It was true, he could probably outrun or overpower them, but the fear he felt when they attacked was changed as compassion welled up inside of him. Maybe there was another way. Something that could help all of them.
“I don’t have any money.” Epaphroditus said. “But what do you do with people who don’t have anything? Surely you have captured many before me?”
“You’re the first!” The other boy said.
The leader scowled. “Quiet you. He might be the first, but he won’t be the last.”
“Well, it’s an honor, I think, to be the first to fall to… What do you call yourselves?” Epaphroditus asked respectfully.
“We haven’t named our group yet,” the girl said. “We meant to as we walked out here, but we couldn’t agree.”
The leader dropped the tip of his stick to the ground. “There are plenty of good names. You just didn’t like any of our suggestions.”
“I liked Bad Bandit Boys,” the other boy said.
“But that doesn’t work because I’m a girl,” the girl said.
“Well, what are your names?” Epaphroditus asked.
“I’m—” the other boy started.
“Stop!” The leader slapped his stick lightly but firmly against the other boy’s chest. “Don’t tell him your name. If he escapes he’ll tell people who we are.”
“Or worse, our parents,” the girl said.
Epaphroditus nodded. “Understandable. But I need to call you something.”
The leader thought for a second. “You can call me Chief.” Then he gestured to the others. “She’s Thinker. And he’s…”
“Sidekick!” The other boy said, beaming. “It’s the best job.”
Chief shrugged. “Alright. Sidekick it is then.”
“What do we call you?” Sidekick wondered.
“Well, if we’re not going by full names, you can call me E.,” Epaphroditus said. “Now what can I do to gain my freedom?”
The leader swung the stick back around. “Give us everything in your bag.”
“I’m afraid that’s not much,” Epaphroditus said. “I’m only a messenger.”
“What’s your message?”
Epaphroditus raised his hands. “Whoa. One at a time. Yes, I’m a messenger. I’m delivering a very important letter to Philippi.” Epaphroditus paused; he had an idea. He pulled the letter out of his pack and held it up. “This letter is all about walking well. I’ll tell you what the letter says if you free me and take me to the next town.”
“Walking? What more can we learn about walking? And even if we wanted to learn about that, what’s stopping us from just taking it from you?” Chief asked.
“We can’t read,” Sidekick said.
Thinker shrugged. “If he has nothing else, we might as well listen to what this letter has to say. We’ve never read a letter before, and it must be pretty important for him to travel so far to deliver it.”
“And we need to go back to town to get more snacks anyway!” Sidekick added.
Chief moved away from Epaphroditus and crossed his arms. “Both of you come over here so we can talk and make a decision.”
As the kids huddled together and whispered, Epaphroditus stood up and dusted himself off. Deciding it best to honor them and not try to run off, he waited patiently.
Finally, after many minutes and several side glances, the group surrounded him once more.
“We’ll free you and take you to town, but only if you tell us what the letter says,” Chief stated.
“And don’t think about trying anything,” Thinker said.
“We’re watching you,” Sidekick added for good measure.
“Deal,” Epaphroditus said. “Let’s get a move on then. We’ll want to get there before nightfall.”
Chief frowned. “Hey! I make the decisions around here.” He raised his stick in the air and pointed it in the direction they needed to go. “We’ll take the shortcut. Let’s move!”
Epaphroditus shrugged and followed Chief off the road. Thinker and Sidekick brought up the rear. Together, they began trekking in the direction of town.