The Epaphras Effect
We read in the book of Acts how the apostle Paul traveled throughout the known
world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote, “from Jerusalem and round
about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus
I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I
might not build upon another man’s foundation” (Romans 15:19-20). He planted
churches in Asia, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, Cyprus, and (no doubt) countless
places of which we have no specific record.
But he didn’t plant the church in Colosse. Epaphras did.
We’d love to know more about Epaphras. He may be the same as Epaphroditus, the
“brother and fellow worker” Paul mentions in Philippians 2:25; but since
Epaphroditus was a messenger from Philippi in Macedonia, and Colosse was in
Asia, that seems unlikely. Basically, all we know of Epaphras is what Paul
tells us in Colossians 1:7 and 4:12-13 — he was a Christian in Colosse who was
responsible for teaching most if not all of the saints there, and who had
traveled to work with Paul and inform him of the progress of the church there.
But what we do know about Epaphras gives us some lessons that will serve us
well in our efforts in the cause of Christ:
You don’t have to do everything yourself. Even Paul understood that. He was
not responsible for teaching every human on the face of the earth — not even
every Gentile human. He taught as many as he could, and left it to others to
do the same. There is no indication that Paul felt any sort of responsibility
to “check up” on Epaphras or fill in any blanks he may have left. Paul spent
more than three years just down the road from Colosse in Ephesus, during which
time (if not before) the church in Colosse was almost certainly established.
Yet there is no indication whatsoever that Paul even visited Colosse in any of
his travels; other than Philemon’s family (Philemon 1) and Epaphras himself,
he gives no indication he knows any of the Colossians personally.
Hard-working, well-intentioned Christians can acquire a sense of
self-importance if they are not careful. We must remember that God is the one
who causes the growth, not we ourselves (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). Certainly we
would not encourage apathy or passivity in the work of the Lord. But allowing
others to scatter the seed is not necessarily laziness; it is a demonstration
of our confidence in the power of the seed itself, whoever it may be who is
Don’t forget the fundamentals. Paul writes to the Colossians of “your faith in
Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the
hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of
truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:4-5). As it was Epaphras who taught them the
gospel, it is safe to assume he also instilled in them an appreciation for
faith, love and hope — faith in Jesus as Savior and in His word as “the power
of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), love of brethren
that Jesus said would define us as His disciples (John 13:35), and hope that
anchors our thoughts and aspirations in a higher place than we know now, a
place where we can be with the Lord (John 14:3) and escape all the hardships
and inequities of life on earth (Revelation 21:4). Certainly the gospel gives
us more to digest than that; but if we spend quality time every day thinking
about and working on our faith, love and hope — the three things Paul said
were greater even than spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 13:13), it will be hard
for us to go too far wrong.
The work is never done. There is no time or place for resting on our laurels
in Christ. True, the gospel appears to have taken firm root in the hearts of
the Colossians. But that only provides them an opportunity to be “constantly
bearing fruit and increasing” (Colossians 1:16). The seed of the gospel that
is “able to save your souls” when implanted in your heart (James 1:21) is
planted so it will have a chance to prosper, to grow, and eventually to yield
a crop, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matthew 13:8). This
“crop” is seen in personal development, as we “grow in the grace and knowledge
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), as well as branching out
to touch others’ lives — including those who had not known the gospel before
but are moved to accept it because of our efforts.
I hope it can be said of us that each of us, like Epaphras, is Paul’s “beloved
fellow bond-servant.” If so, we can have the kind of impact in our corner of
His vineyard that Epaphras had in Colosse.
By Hal Hammons
From Expository Files 17.11; November 2010