Pastor David B. Curtis


The Kenosis of Epaphroditus

Philippians 2:25-30


Philippians 2:7 (NKJV) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.

The word "reputation" is the Greek word kenoo, it means: "to make empty." Figuratively, it means: "to abase, naturalize, to make of none effect, of no reputation." >From this verb we get the theological term "kenosis."

The kenosis of Christ is the attitude that he had that led him to divest himself of any concern for self, to give of himself wholly to others. We are to follow the example of Christ who "emptied himself." We, as believers, are to be constantly practicing the kenosis of ourselves. We are to empty ourselves to make ourselves of no reputation.

This morning we are going to look at the kenois of Epaphroditus who is much like us, he is a man we can identify with. Timothy, whom we looked at last week, was a gifted preacher and teacher who was used of God to minister to many churches. He was an apostolic delegate. Paul commissioned and sent out Timothy. Paul sent Timothy to the church of Ephesus, which was a well established church, to straighten out their doctrine.

1 Timothy 1:3 (NKJV) As I urged you when I went into Macedonia; remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine,

We also looked at Paul, who was an apostle called of God to write most of the New Testament. He's probably one of the greatest Christians that ever lived. It's hard to identify with him and his sacrificial life. It is also hard to identify with Timothy who was a duplicate of Paul, he's no easy act to follow either. So, Paul's third example is Epaphroditus, he is not an apostle, nor an apostolic delegate. He wasn't a teacher nor preacher that we know of. We have no record of any messages that he preached. He wasn't an incredibly gifted man but he was committed totally to Christ. His level of sacrificial service becomes very instructive to us. He provides a pattern that the average person can relate to.

Epaphroditus is one of us, which makes his example very powerful and very convicting to us. Epaphroditus lived out Philippians 2:1-16, he is the "Loving Gambler."

All we know about him is what we learn from this passage. He is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. Let me give you a little background: Paul is in prison at Rome, under house arrest, chained to a guard:

Philippians 4:14-18 (NKJV) Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.

The Philippians, upon hearing about Paul's needs, took an offering and sent it by the hand of Epaphroditus who was to stay at Rome and help Paul in any way he could. He was not just to deliver the money and leave, he was to stay and to minister to Paul's needs. While at Rome Epaphroditus becomes ill and almost dies. When he recovers, Paul sends him back to Philippi with this letter.

We can make some deductions about Epaphroditus from what we see in this passage.

1. He as a spiritually mature man. The Philippian church would not have trusted a novice with delivering the money and someone who would work so closely with the apostle would have to be someone who would represent the church well.

2. He had the heart of a servant-- he was most likely a deacon. He was sent there to serve Paul and they sure wouldn't have sent a lazy man.

3. He was a man of courage-- anyone who would offer himself as the personal attendant of a man awaiting trial on a capital charge was laying himself open to the very considerable risk of becoming involved in the same charge. Paul was the prisoner and enemy of Rome.

Epaphroditus was a godly humble servant of great courage.

The Name: Epaphroditus was a common name, a shortened form of it is Epaphrus, used in Colossians 1:7 of a different man. Epaphroditus was also a common noun. Epaphroditus is derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess, better known by her Roman name , Venus. She's the goddess of love. One of the most celebrated goddesses of the ancient world. She was the goddess of beauty, mother of love, queen of laughter, mistress of the graces and pleasures and also the goddess of luck. She had a very famous son, Eros, better known by his Roman name, Cupid.

Epaphroditus means: "belonging to or devoted to Aphrodite." The name later came to mean: "lovely or charming." Epaphroditus' parents were most likely worshipers of Aphrodite. We don't know when he was converted, he might have been among the first converts in Philippi.

In verse 25, we have a description of Epaphroditus. In verses 26-28, we are given the reasons for his return to Philippi. And in verses 29-30, we are given the exaltation and kenosis of Epaphrodtus. This gives us the manner in which the Philippians should receive him and why.

Philippians 2:25 (NKJV) Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need;

In this verse, Paul gives five titles to Epaphroditus. Three relate to his relationship with Paul and two to his relationship with the Philippian church. Paul highly honors Epaphroditus with these titles.

"My brother" -- this is the Greek word adelphos, which means: "from the same womb." It speaks of a common origin. Paul uses this as a term of affection. All believers share this bond, we are all from the same womb, we're family. When I was in the military I met brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries. No matter where you go you can find God's family. This is where it ends for many, they are brothers, but not for Epaphroditus. Paul goes on to say:

"My companion in labor" -- the Greek word for companion is sunergos. It comes from two words, soon means: "with" and ergos means: "work, toil or labor." He was Paul's fellow laborer. This word is used 13 times in the New Testament, 12 by Paul of people who work with him in ministry. He is a co-worker, it's speaking of common effort, diligence.

1 Corinthians 3:9 (NKJV) For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.

Paul uses the word sunergos here of himself and Apollos. Epaphroditus was not only a co-laborer with Paul, but with God. That is an incredible thought; we are workers together with God.

I think that in our day the church has lost the ergos, the work, toil, or effort that we should be involved in. We need to reach out and take back three areas of toil that used to be so much a part of the church.

1. We need to work hard in intellectual areas; we need to toil in study. We need to know and be able to defend doctrine.

2. We need to recapture a spirit of hard work in the social realm. We need to meet people's needs and stand against the social evils of our day. We need to "show" people that we love them by meeting their needs.

3. We need to labor in the area of evangelism. We as Berean Bible Church need to work at fulfilling our mission statement: "To influence friends who are living in spiritual darkness that they also may know the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ." We need to labor to reach the lost:

2 Timothy 2:8-10 (NKJV) Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, 9 for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Paul was willing to suffer to reach the elect with the gospel.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (NKJV) Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.

We are to labor in calling men to be reconciled to God.

So, Paul calls him a brother, a fellow worker, and then he calls him:

"My fellow solider" -- solider is from the Greek word sustratiotes. It is a compound word from soon meaning: "together with" and stratiotes meaning: "soldier." He says, "We have the same life, the same effort and we have the same enemies.

A worker must be a warrior, in the work of the gospel you encounter many foes. We have what I think is a good description of the Christian life in:

Nehemiah 4:17 (NKJV) Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.

This is what the Christian's life is all about, building and battling. We are to be working to build ourselves and the church up while battling all that come against us.

Sustratiotes is a very honorable title used in Philemon 2 of Archipus. This is the only other New Testament use of this word. It is used in extra-biblical Greek to honor a solider. If they wanted to honor a solider, they would give him the title -- Sustratiotes. It was a title of great honor.

Philippians 1:27 (NKJV) Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,

The word "stand fast" is the Greek word steko which means: "stand your ground in the midst of great opposition." We need to be sustratiotes, fighting together. A shoulder-to-shoulder fighting accounted for the success of Rome's armies, they were the terror of the ancient world. The soldiers marched abreast behind a solid wall of shields.

Epaphroditus was one with Paul in sympathy, one with him in work, and one with him in danger. Paul is honoring Epaphroditus with these titles.

To the Philippian church, Epaphroditus was:

"Your messenger" -- This is the Greek word apostolos. It means: "messenger or sent one." This is not an official title. There were only 14 apostles in the official sense, the 12 plus Paul and James (Gal. 1:1, 15-19). They were sent by Jesus Christ. All others were not apostles of Jesus Christ, but they were apostles of the churches:

2 Corinthians 8:23 (NKJV) If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.

Epaphroditus was an apostle of the church of Philippi. He was sent by them, he was their delegate. Epaphroditus is also called:

"The one who ministered to my need" -- The word "minister" is leitourgos. The normal word used for minister is deokonos -- deacon. But Paul uses leitourgos here. It has an interesting history, used all through the LXX to refer to the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant and the priestly functions that were performed in that system. Paul sees Epaphroditus' ministry to him as a uniquely spiritual act. Epaphroditus was ministering to Paul physically; he brought him a financial gift, and was there to minister to Paul in any way that he could; do his laundry, carry messages, or do what ever Paul needed. This is no fleshly or "secular" work in ministering to Paul's physical needs, it was spiritual. Ministering to others' physical needs is a spiritual priestly function.

"Who ministered to my need" -- The word "need" is from chreia it means: "a need or necessity, that which is lacking." I believe it is used here primarily of physical needs. Emotional needs could be involved here, he ministered to Paul in the area of companionship also. But the primary reason for Epaphroditus being there was to minister to Paul's physical needs. By that I mean what ever Paul needed done, he would do. Look at:

Philippians 4:16 (NKJV) For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.

Here he uses chreia to speak of physical needs. They sent him money to meet his physical needs. Paul uses this word again in:

Philippians 4:19 (NKJV) And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

This is also primarily speaking of physical needs. This word is also used in:

Acts 6:3 (NKJV) "Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;

This "business" is chreia, it refers to taking care of their physical needs. It is used again in:

Acts 20:33-35 (NKJV) "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 "Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. 35 "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Paul says that he used his own hands to meet his physical needs. John uses this word also in:

1 John 3:17 (NKJV) But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need,and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

This word is used of meeting physical needs. The reason that I'm stressing this is because I want you to understand that he was there to serve Paul by meeting his physical needs. But Paul looked at it as "spiritual worship." Epaphroditus' service to Paul was a spiritual priestly function.

Maybe you can't preach or teach, maybe you're not a leader or an administrator, but you can serve, you can meet physical needs. Do you know who my co-laborers are? It is not confined to our other elder. The Hardison's are all fellow-laborers with me. They labor in setting up the church each week. Those who work in the nursery are my fellow-laborers, they take care of your children so you can listen to the Word of God. Those who work in the tape ministry are my fellow laborers, they send out what I teach to others around the country. Those who couldn't be here with us can get a tape and those who were here but slept can go home and listen to the teaching. My mother, who edits my messages, is my fellow-laborer. Those things are just as spiritual as teaching. They are spiritual, priestly functions. We are co-laborers.

Together these five titles are an important summary of what the Christian life should be. We are all brothers, do we act like it? Are we a sunergos, a fellow worker? Are we fellow soldiers? Are we living as sent ones? And are we offering up spiritual sacrifices to God through our service?

Philippians 2:25 (NKJV) Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need;

"Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus" -- Why? If he is so valuable, why send him back? The Philippians would want to know, "what are you doing back? Why are you with Paul helping him?"

The word "considered" is hegeomai. It does not contain doubt, but refers to a decision arrived at after carefully weighing the facts.

The word "necessary" is the Greek word anagkaios, it means: "indispensable, what one cannot do without." The word "send" is pempo. He uses this word in verses 25 and 28. It is not "send back" but "send." The reason it is "send" is because he was supposed to be there permanently. So, Paul says, "I'm sending him to you." I weighed the facts and found it a necessity to send Epaphroditus to you." Why? He tells us in verses 26-28.

Philippians 2:26 (NKJV) since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.

Many say that Epaphroditus was homesick. I don't think so. The word "longing" is epipotheo, it means: "to intensely crave, desire greatly." Paul used this word in:

Philippians 1:8 (NKJV) For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.

It is a strong inward desire for the Philippians. Then he goes on to say that he was "distressed"ademoneo, it means: "to be depressed or rejected, be troubled, full of anguish or sorrow." This word is only used two other times in the New Testament, both of them of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:37; Mark 14:33). The Greek word finds its origin in a word that has the idea of: "not at home, uncomfortable, troubled, or distressed."

Why was he distressed Was he just homesick? No! Look at the rest of the verse: "was distressed because you had heard that he was sick." He was troubled because they heard that he was sick. He knew they would be sad and their sadness has greatly affected him-- not his sickness-- but their concern. He wasn't distressed because he was sick but because the Philippians had heard that he was sick.

When is the last time that this happened to you? You were extremely upset and grieved over someone's concern for your condition? This is the depth of love and care. He didn't want them to be grieved over his sickness.

When I had Guillain-Barre syndrome I didn't tell my mother I was sick because I didn't want her to worry about me. I waited several days until I began to get better before I let her know I was sick.

Epaphroditus wanted to go back to Philippi so they would see that he was alright and end their sadness. Paul could have said to Epaphroditus, "Get over it, they'll live. We have work to do, forget about them." But Paul feels bad because Epaphroditus feels bad, because the Philippians feel bad because he is sick. Everybody feels bad so Paul says, "You've got to go back so everyone will be glad and not sad."

It's nice to know that there are some people in the ministry compelled by relationships and not programs. The ministry is people! When is the last time you set aside something on your agenda to meet someone's need? Paul put the needs of the Philippians ahead of his own.

Philippians 2:27 (NKJV) For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.

The word "sick" is astheneo, it means: "to be feeble, weak, sick. It is used 35 times in the New Testament, 20 of them refer to physical sickness. Weak in the faith is another use. "Almost unto death" -- the word "almost" is paraplesion, it literally means: "along side of a neighbor, next door." Epaphroditus was at the door of death. How this happened or what his sickness was we don't know. All we can do is guess.

"But God had mercy on him" -- God spared him from death and any time that God spares a life from death it is mercy. Every breath that you take, every beat of your heart is mercy. In the Gospels mercy is connected with healing, because we deserve death. It's only of God's sovereign mercy that any of us live. So if you're not dead, how could you ever complain (verse 14). Whatever your condition is, it is far better than you deserve. Some people talk about health and life like it is something they deserve. God owes us nothing!

Paul is saying,"God gave Epaphroditus mercy and he gave me mercy also. When God spared his life, it was mercy to me. Epaphroditus doesn't deserve to live and I don't deserve to have such a good friend. We both received mercy."

"Lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow" -- his sickness brought Paul sorrow and his death would have been sorrow upon sorrow. Literally this is "wave after wave of grief."

Paul was a great theologian, he knew that death for a Christian was a promotion, an end of pain and suffering, and given a choice, Paul preferred death:

Philippians 1:23-24 (NKJV) For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.

But if Epaphroditus would have died, Paul would have lost a good friend and this would have been painful. The problem with the death of a believer is that the separation hurts.

Acts 20:36-38 (NKJV) And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him, 38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.

They were grieved over their separation.

Why didn't Paul just heal Epaphroditus? Paul had the gift of healing didn't he? Yes:

Acts 14:7-10 (NKJV) And they were preaching the gospel there. 8 And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother's womb, who had never walked. 9 This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said with a loud voice, "Stand up straight on your feet!" And he leaped and walked.
Acts 19:11-12 (NKJV) Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.
Acts 20:9-12 (NKJV) And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, "Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him." 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. 12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.
Acts 28:8-9 (NKJV) And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him. 9 So when this was done, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.

Paul clearly had the gift of healing yet his friend almost died and he didn't heal him. Isn't that cruel, sick, and unloving? Why would he not heal his friend? Epaphroditus wasn't the only friend that Paul didn't heal. Timothy was sick and he didn't heal him:

1 Timothy 5:23 (NKJV) No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities.

Why did Paul leave Trophimus sick?

2 Timothy 4:20 (NKJV) Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick.

Why didn't Paul heal his friends? The purpose of the gift of healing was not to keep Christians healthy. It was used as a sign gift to unbelievers at those times when it was necessary to make the proclamation of the gospel effective.

Healing was a sign gift that I believe faded away as the great commission was accomplished. Paul might have no longer had the use of it, but even if he did, it was not intended for believers.

We know that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus were all godly men. Paul holds them up as examples yet they all experienced sickness. What does this say to the "health-wealth gospel" adherents? Epaphroditus wasn't sick because of sin, he was sick because of the work of Christ (verse 30).

Philippians 2:28 (NKJV) Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful.

The words "more eagerly" have the idea of: "with haste or diligence." Paul was quick to send him to the Philippians so they would rejoice to see that he was okay. And Paul was rejoicing to know that they were rejoicing.

Paul could have still used Epaphroditus, but he cared more about their joy than his own physical needs. This is a self-less man.

Philippians 2:29 (NKJV) Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem;

The word "receive" means: "to receive to one's self. They were to receive him "in the Lord." In other words, they were to receive him as the Lord would receive him.

Romans 15:7 (NKJV) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.

The word "gladness" is chara which means: "joy." The word "esteem" is entimos, it means: "valued or honored, to hold one dear or in honor, to prize, to deem precious." Christ emptied himself and God exalted him. Epaphroditus emptied himself and Paul tells the Philippians to honor him. Jesus said the greatest honor among his followers belongs to the one who renders the lowest service. The principle here is that "God exalts the humble." He tells them why they are to esteem him in:

Philippians 2:30 (NKJV) because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.

The word "work" is ergon meaning: "toil, effort, work. Notice that it was the work "of Christ." The words "not regarding" are from the Greek word parabouleuomai. It is a gambling term. It means: "to throw down a stake, to roll the dice." He risked his life as a gambler will take risks for a possible gain. He hazzard his life "to supply what was lacking in your service toward me." This is not a rebuke, it literally means: "to complete your service to me." He is saying, "Epaphroditus is here to do what you can't do because you're so far away."

Epaphroditus loved the Philippians, who he was representing, and Paul, who he was ministering to, so much that he almost lost his life pouring it out in sacrificial service to meet Paul's physical needs.

In the days of the Early Church there was an association of men and women called the parabolani, the gamblers. It was their aim to visit the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases. In A.D. 252, plague broke out in Carthage; the heathen threw out the bodies of their dead and fled in terror. Cyprian, the Christian bishop, gathered his congregation together and set them to burying the dead and nursing the sick in that plague-stricken city; and by so doing they saved the city, at the risk of their lives, from destruction and desolation.

There should be in the Christian an almost reckless courage which makes him ready to gamble with his life to serve Christ and man. You won't die prematurely, so go ahead and take some risks.

Epaphroditus risked it all, life included, to minister to others. He modeled the kenosis, he emptied himself.

What have you risked to meet someone's needs? We don't like risks. Have you ever watched somebody around an AIDS patient? Too often our attitude is, "I can't help, I could catch it and die!" We won't help someone in trouble because we're afraid we might get hurt or even killed. Most of us do the opposite of Epaphroditus, we regard our life as a thing so precious that it is to be guarded at all costs. This is not the attitude of Christ:

Philippians 2:5 (NKJV) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,

Christ's attitude was to give up his life to meet the needs of others:

Philippians 2:8 (NKJV) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

The Bible teaches that we are to give up our lives in order to save them.

Matthew 10:28 (NKJV) "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

We are not to fear people, they can't hurt you. We are to fear God and Him alone.

Matthew 16:24-27 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.

We are not to selfishly guard our lives, we are to give them away in ministry to others.

1 John 3:16-18 (NKJV) By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

Following Christ's example, we should be willing to lay down our lives to meet the needs of others.

John 15:13 (NKJV) "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.

Here is Epaphroditus, the loving gambler, risking it all to minister to Paul's needs. Paul would have survived without him but that's not how Epaphroditus saw it.

We selfishly clutch life and guard our own interests when the mind of Christ is to be selfless and sacrificial. That is what God calls us to. This is uncomfortable to hear, isn't it? If we are going to impact our society, if we are going to be effective in our evangelism, we need to quit selfishly guarding our lives and start taking some risks in order to meet the needs of others.

Epaphroditus fleshed out:

Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Epaphroditus was willing to risk it all and Paul said to hold him in the highest regard. James put it this way:

James 4:10 (NKJV) Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Epaphroditus is a model for all of us to follow. He was the, "Loving Gambler."

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