Have you ever felt like you were on the verge of being worked to death? Maybe after hours of overtime at your job without a break or vacation, doing chores as a kid, or when faced with an ever-growing “honey-do” list? Being worked to death is a common expression we use to describe too much work without enough rest.
Whenever I think of being worked to death I think about the legend of John Henry who (supposedly) outworked a drill digging into Big Bend tunnel. As the story has it, there was a drill that could outwork any man, but John Henry (who was born with a hammer in his hand) challenged the machine. The result was Henry driving 14 feet to the drill’s 9 and consequently dying. John Henry worked himself to death to prove that he was better than the best drill machine money could buy.
Whether or not the story is completely factual, it goes to show that people with gifts and opportunity can do extraordinary things when they put their mind to it. People can even work through strenuous circumstances and persevere under the weight and pressure of intense stress.
One such person is the “minor” character in the New Testament, Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30). Paul described Epaphroditus as “my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25). He was an early Christian who had a relationship with Paul and the Philippian church. He was commended by Paul, described as someone to be held in honor (Phil. 2:29) because he “came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your ministry to me” (Phil. 2:30).
Epaphroditus wasn’t necessarily worked to death, but he worked in the face of death to serve Jesus and complete the ministry of the Philippians. He’s a model for us that even in the face of dangerous or scary circumstances, we can continue to do the work of the Lord. If Epaphroditus could serve in the face of grave illness, certainly we can serve Jesus in the face of whatever it is burdening our life. Don’t work yourself to death, but also don’t let anything keep you from working for the one with the power over death!