As many of you might know, I have only recently begun serving here on staff at Hebron. With great excitement, I look forward to the opportunity to honor our Lord with you as we minister in His name. I have lots of daydreams of what the position might look like; many thoughts of how I could serve God here; plenty of visions of what might happen in the years ahead. But I do know one thing for certain: I would love my work to be thought of like Paul thinks of the ministry of Epaphras.
We don’t know a lot about Epaphras. Besides a few comments in the book of Colossians, and a passing reference in Paul’s letter to Philemon, Epaphras is completely unknown to us. We can gather from the references that Epaphras heard the Gospel of Christ (perhaps from Paul himself), and then was central in sharing that Good News in the city of Colossae. Beyond that, little is known. Yet, in just a few verses, Paul inspires me with the description of his friend—inspires me, and, God-willing, motivates me to be the best minister I can be, more and more faithful to our Lord.
Here’s how Paul describes Epaphras: “our beloved fellow servant,” “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,” one who “made known to us your love in the Spirit.” Wow! What a description!
To be “beloved” means that you are held in such high esteem by others that they give themselves fully to you. “Beloved” entails commitment, dedication, devotion; not just emotion, but not less than that either. Epaphras had the kind of character that enabled people to love him, to connect with him, to be committed with him.
The phrase, “fellow servant,” is loaded—loaded with meaning, loaded with challenge. To be a servant is to dedicate yourself to another, to their goals, their purpose, and their benefit. It means giving yourself away, not for yourself, but for another. To be a servant is to intentionally make yourself less so that another might be more. And, to do this with others, to be a “fellow” in the midst of your serving, makes it all that much more difficult, and fulfilling!
“A faithful minister.” One who serves for the benefit of others, and who does this with integrity. But, the focus here on “faithful” is not a characteristic of the minister, but on the object of the minister’s faith—that is, on Christ. No matter how attentive, how compassionate, how nurturing one is, what sets Epaphras apart is his faithful service to Jesus.
Serving Christ. And, serving Christ “on your behalf.” The idea is that Epaphras never lost sight of the very human element of the Gospel—that Christ gave himself so that we might benefit. So, in his ministry, Epaphras (and all good ministers) serves the Lord, and the Lord does what He does—pours out grace to his people.
Clearly, Epaphras knew his Lord, and served his Lord. But more than that, Epaphras shared about his Lord. Jesus was not simply something personal and private to Epaphras. The Gospel so dominated Epaphras’s life that he spoke of Christ to the Colossians, and spoke of Christ’s work in the Colossian church to Paul.
OK, now, here’s the kicker…: Epaphras serves, not just as a model for those of us serving our Lord in “professional ministry,” but for all those who claim the name of Jesus Christ as their Savior. Yes, I want Paul’s description of Epaphras to apply to me… but not because I am a pastor, but because I am a Christian. You, too, are called to follow, to love, and to serve Jesus. And, in so doing, you are called to be, “a beloved fellow servant,” “a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,” one who “made known the love of the Spirit.”
This Sunday, we continue in our look at Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, and we will see the outcome of a ministry like Epaphras’ (and, God-willing, a ministry like yours). In preparation, you may wish to consider the following:
1. Why might Paul need to remind the Colossians about the character and faithfulness of Epaphras?
2. Of the traits listed, which do you most “resonate” with? Which might you need to exercise more?
3. Who in your life might speak of you the way Paul spoke of Epaphras?
4. Why does Paul qualify the Colossians’ love as “your love in the Spirit?” What difference does “in the Spirit” make?
5. What makes someone “beloved” to you? What qualities are present for “beloved” to apply?
6. If a “servant” willingly becomes “less” so that another might become “more,” are you a servant?
7. Do you think of yourself as a minister? Why/why not?
See you Sunday!