Wednesday 31 December 2008

Faithful and dependable: Colossians 1:7-8

You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
Colossians 1:7-8

Epaphras serves as the personal link between Paul, the writer of this letter, and his reader in Colossae. More than a shared acquaintance, he becomes a extension of Paul's ministry of teaching and proclaiming Christ.

  • Epaphras was likely convert of Paul, who went on preach the gospel to the Colossians. In establishing the church there, Epaphras serves as an extension to Paul's ministry.
  • As such, Paul writes with vested interest in the Colossian Christian's faith. Epaphras was acting in his capacity on "our behalf" - continuing on the work of teaching and preaching that characterised the apostles ministry.
  • Both Paul and Epaphras were, in turn, completely dependant on Christ. Paul's description of Epaphras as a "servant" is unique - literally it means "slave" (see Philippians 1:1). The term is meant to express his utter dependance on Christ. That he refers to Epaphras as "fellow servant" reinforces not so much Epaphras' credentials in relation to Paul, but the Colossian's minister's shared devotion to the Lord.
  • The two ministers of Christ also share a common concern for the church - Colossians 4:12 reveals Epaphras' prayer for their maturity and assurance in Christ. Paul writes this letter to reminding the Colossians to stand firm in their knowledge of the gospel, in the face of false teaching threatening to lure them away from the central message of Jesus as Lord.
  • In the earlier verses, Paul has been drawing his readers attention back to the gospel. It is the message of salvation that they have heard and understood (1:6).
  • Complementing this is the teaching ministry by Epaphras which conveyed the gospel. It is because of this ministry of the Word, in relaying "God's grace in all truth", that Epaphras is a faithful minister in Christ.
  • While Paul has been writing earlier about the "fruit of the gospel", there is a strong sense in which he isn't simple referring to the faith and love of the Colossians as the evidence of the gospel's effectiveness, but the believers themselves being the fruit that serves as an encouragement to the ministers of the gospel.
    As Epaphras conveys the message of their "love in the Spirit", you can't help but sense that this wasn't so much a report he delivered back to the apostle, but an a testimony to God's grace in revealing a glimpse of the fruit borne through the ministry of proclaiming the gospel. So similarly, Epaphras - having himself come to trust in Christ through Paul's ministry - now serves to refresh the apostle's spirit through his partnership in God's work of proclaiming his Son.
  • Later on, Epaphras would go on to share not just in Paul's spiritual struggle, but his physical predicament as well. Paul's letter to Philemon would refer to him as "a fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus" - unlikely to be a metaphorical. Paul had written both letters from a prison cell (4:18).
  • Authentic faithfulness and devotion to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ encourages others to do the same. But as Paul would remind us, it is the gospel itself that produces this fruit:
    " ...All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth. "
    (Colossians 1:6)

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