It’s so easy to skim over the ‘minor characters’ in Scripture, isn’t it? Men and women whose names are mentioned only once or twice – about whom very little is said. Epaphras is one of those names that only appears 3 times in the Bible (Col 1.7, 4.12; Philemon 23).
He was a church planter and the pastor of the churches in at least Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, if not in other towns in the Lycus valley of Asia Minor. Paul describes him in Col 1.7 as a ‘beloved fellow-servant’ and a ‘faithful minister of Christ’. In Col 4.12 he is referred to as a ‘servant of Christ Jesus’ – a phrase that Paul uses of only two other men: himself and Timothy.
So, this is a man who was exceptionally highly regarded by the apostle Paul. Why? What marked him out as a ‘faithful minister of Christ’?
1. Faithful preaching. Paul says that the Colossians heard ‘the word of truth, the gospel’ (Col 1.5) and that they ‘understood the grace of God in truth’ (Col 1.6). How did they come to know these things? Col 1.7: ‘…you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.’
When Epaphras preached the gospel to these people he didn’t just give them a few bullet points—he taught the gospel comprehensively and deeply, carefully explaining its truths and unpacking its applications. This should be one of the marks we look for in a faithful leader—he teaches the word of truth, the gospel so that people understand the grace of God in truth.
2. Frequent pains. Epaphras poured himself out for the sake of Christ’s people. Col 4.13 literally says, ‘He has much toil on your behalf and on behalf of those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.’ The word ‘toil’ is not the usual Greek word for work, but a word that we only find 3 other times in the New Testament, all in Revelation. It’s a word from the battlefield—a word that throbs with painstaking strain and exertion.
Epaphras labored hard in preaching, praying, combatting false teaching, traveling around the Lycus valley to visit the churches, counseling late into the night, debating with false teachers–His life and ministry revolved around these people.
3. Fervent prayer. Col 4.12 describes Epaphras as ‘always struggling on your behalf in his prayer, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.’ This word ‘struggling’ is another word that pulses with effort. It refers to wrestling and hand-to-hand combat. That’s how much toil Epaphras poured into his work of interceding for the saints at Colosse. And he did this ‘always’—the people of God were constantly on his heart and mind and he gave himself to pray for them, that they would grow to maturity in their faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Why was Epaphras marked by these things? Because these were the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry on earth. He preached faithfully to crowds and to individuals. He poured himself out on behalf of others. And he prayed constantly for his people, day and night. in all the will of God.
Will you pray for your pastor (me) and your leaders at Victory to embody these marks of faithful servants of Christ, reflecting the marks of Christ’s own faithful ministry, more and more.