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 5 – The Bandits (Walk Peacefully)
Thankfully, Kepheus and the dead branch landed on the opposite side of the tree from where Epaphroditus, Sofia, and Pavlos stood. While they were unharmed, Kepheus wasn’t. The wind was knocked out of him when he hit the ground, he was scraped by the branches he had fallen past, and when he eventually rolled over onto his back it was clear he had landed on his right arm, which he clutched tightly to his chest.
Epaphroditus helped him sit up, but when they moved him so he could lean against the tree, Kepheus shouted in pain.
“This isn’t good,” Pavlos said, wringing his hands together.
Even Epaphroditus, who was always so calm, looked concerned.
“What should we do?” Sofia asked.
“We can pray,” Epaphroditus said. “And I can make a sling. That will help him as we walk. We’ll need to get back to town. One of my travel companions was trained by a doctor. She can make sure his arm is set right so it heals properly.”
Eager to do something to help, Sofia and Pavlos gathered around Kepheus and prayed with Epaphroditus.They thanked God for showing them how to get back to the road and for keeping Kepheus from worse injuries. They also prayed for his comfort in the pain, the healing of his arm, and help finishing their journey well, despite their circumstances.
After they finished, Epaphroditus set about removing the straps from his bag and tearing some cloth from his shirt to make a sling for Kepheus.
As he worked, the kids looked out over the hills. Pavlos broke their silence. “Is God surprised when the path changes? Or when we go off the path?”
“What makes you ask that?” Epaphroditus asked.
“This happened so fast. I just didn’t know if he was surprised by it like we were.”
“We might be surprised, but God isn’t.”
“Not even now?”
Kepheus spoke up, “Pavlos, he has the whole map. He knew this would happen.”
“Yes, he does,” Epaphroditus said. “What looks like a changed path to us is a path God already knew we would take. Which is reassuring, right?”
“But why? Why did he allow it to happen?”
“Maybe he’s trying to use it to teach us something?” Sofia suggested.
“Go on,” Epaphroditus encouraged.
“Well, he could be teaching us to practice walking humbly, like Jesus, by serving Kepheus. If we don’t help, the rest of the walk to town could be pretty painful for him.”
“That’s a good lesson. Anything else?”
“He’s teaching me not to trust so much in myself.” Kepheus admitted. “We just talked about this, but now I actually have to live it out. I need to walk firmly with my trust in God.”
“I’m glad to see you realize that,” Epaphroditus said. “What about you Pavlos?”
“He’s teaching me not to step on dead branches. And that it’s the little guy who should climb the trees.”
Kepheus playfully punched Pavlos in the arm with his left hand.
“Hey! What was that for?” Pavlos asked while rubbing his arm.
“Watch out! Otherwise you might need a sling too.”
Epaphroditus held the sling up to see what needed to be finished on it. “Pavlos, there are a million and more reasons for why God allowed that branch to break and Kepheus to fall. We might never know them all. We may only know a few, if that. But we can be assured that God’s map is perfect and that he is the anchor to hold on to no matter what happens.”
Satisfied with the sling, Epaphroditus helped Kepheus put it on. “How’s that?”
“It’s great,” Kepheus said. “I should be fine to make it back.”
“All right. We’ll take it slow and head down to the road. I can carry your pack and lead the way. Sofia and Pavlos, can you pull back branches and make sure Kepheus has a clear path? Once we get to the road, we can pause for a breath and I can read you the last part of the letter.”
• • •
Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.
As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.
At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen.
Give my greetings to each of God’s holy people—all who belong to Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send you their greetings. And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
• • •
Epaphroditus and the kids reached the road as the sun hovered over the horizon, ready to drop. It was quiet; most people were back in town. After they had paused to read the letter, they set out with urgency in their step. They could see the town in the distance and they wanted to get there before the gates closed.
Despite their current pace and the fact that one of Epaphroditus’s steps equaled two of his, Pavlos was able to fire off several questions. “What’s Paul talking about? Why doesn’t he worry? How can he be content and calm even when he has nothing?”
“Do you think Paul left us to figure that out on our own?” Epaphroditus asked. “Or do you think he answered it?”
“I guess he probably answered it.”
“And what did he say?”
Pavlos seemed stumped, so Sofia came to his aid. “Is it what he said about peace that is beyond understanding?”
“You’re on the right path. Where does that peace come from?”
“Praying,” Kepheus said. “Telling God what we need, while remembering and thanking him for what he’s done.”
“Yes indeed,” Epaphroditus said. “When we walk with Jesus, we can take our needs and thanks to God in prayer. This leads to the peace and contentment Paul talks about and models.”
“But what about the riches he talks about?” Pavlos asked. “How can we have those?”
“Remember, this letter is teaching us how to walk. It’s not a treasure map, so the riches Paul is talking about aren’t the riches you think they are. They’re actually even better.”
Pavlos mouth dropped open. For once, he was speechless.
Epaphroditus looked at him warmly. “I think it’s time I tell you the parable of the bandits.”
“Is that about us?” Sofia asked.
“That’s between you and God.”
Then he began telling them the last parable.
• • •
Three friends lived in a small, unnoticed town. They didn’t have a lot, but they didn’t need a lot, and everyone there got by just fine.
But the friends weren’t content. When they got together, they worried about everything. They thought that if they just had more, then all their worries would be gone. So they started working whatever jobs they could. They would do this and that for whoever paid, but deep down they were never satisfied. Nothing was ever good enough.
Several weeks passed, and their meager earnings only ever seemed to get them by. The money in their jar never seemed to amount to what they so desperately wanted: more. It certainly wasn’t enough to stop their worrying.
So they started to do things that they knew were wrong, but earned more than the jobs they had been working. When it was quiet and no one was looking, they would break into houses and steal from families in their town, even from families they knew! They told themselves they would stop once they got to a certain amount, but it never came. They had thought that if they just had more they could stop worrying, but they didn’t realize that the more they had, the more they had to worry about. And they only became more anxious as they continued to break the law.
After one of the friends was caught by a guard, the three of them decided to leave the town and become bandits on the road. Maybe then they could have more if they left and tried something new.
God saw all of this happening. There are no secrets that can be kept from him. So in his grace he sent along a messenger. This messenger walked in peace, prayed about everything, and worried about nothing.
The bandits ambushed this messenger. They beat and bruised him, yet he forgave them. And while he didn’t have what they wanted or expected, he did give them the message God sent with him. It was a message that introduced them to God through his son, Jesus Christ. If they trusted in this good news, it would allow them to live without any worry, no matter what they had or didn’t have. It would open the door for them to pray directly to God, asking him to meet their needs. It meant that instead of living as bandits, they could walk with Jesus in peace.
• • •
As Epaphroditus finished, he was met with the sound of sobbing. He stopped and looked back at the kids. Sofia had her face in her hands as her shoulders heaved, Pavlos had his arm around her and was crying with her, and Kepheus had tears running down his cheeks.
Seeing this, the compassion Epaphroditus had first felt for them welled up inside him again. “I thank God you ambushed me,” Epaphroditus said.
The children wiped the tears from their eyes and looked at him with confused expressions. “You do?” Kepheus asked.
“Yes, because then how else would I have been able to tell you this good news? You meant to harm me, but God meant it all for good.”
“I guess you’re right,” Sofia said.
Pavlos looked down and kicked a rock. “We weren’t very peaceful…”
“You weren’t,” Epaphroditus agreed. “In your sin, you’re rebels against the living God. But that’s not how it has to be.”
“No, it doesn’t. Because through Jesus, you can be forgiven. Then you can walk with him joyfully, humbly, firmly, and peacefully.”
“So he can save us?” Pavlos asked hopefully.
“And change us?” Kepheus asked.
“He can save and change all of you. Do you want to be saved? Do you want to become more like Jesus?”
“I think so.”
“I would like that.”
“Then trust him. He did what we couldn’t even hope to do. He lived perfectly and died the death we deserved. Trust that Jesus did that for you. Because of Jesus, you can ask God to forgive you for your sin, and he will.”
“That’s all? It sounds too good to be true,” Sofia said.
“It is too good to be true! But it’s true all the same. Jesus became a servant for us, and now he’s our savior and king! It is only through him that we can come to God.”
“How can we know that Jesus has saved us and is changing us?” Kepheus asked.
“Repent and believe. Turn from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. He is the rightful king of your heart and your life, and only he can save you.” Epaphroditus paused and looked at each of the kids in turn, then asked, “Have you done this?”
The kids looked at each other. “We want to,” Kepheus said.
“Then let’s pray,” said Epaphroditus. Each of the kids nodded. Then one by one they closed their eyes and bowed their heads and prayed with Epaphroditus. When they finished, a visible peace and joy had washed over them, and Epaphroditus had the biggest smile on his face.
They began walking again. The sun was only partially above the horizon now, but the gates were still open and they would make it just in time. The kids led the way and Epaphroditus brought up the rear, humming a cheery hymn.