This Sunday, we’re starting a new series at City of God Church working through the book of Colossians. I’m always excited at the start of a new series. Without fail, God always (sometimes unexpectedly) teaches me so many things as I slowly make my way through His word.
One of those unexpected things I discovered while reading through Colossians this week was how encouraged I was by the heart and ministry of a man named Epaphras.
If you’re not familiar with his name, you’re not alone. He’s not a prominent figure in scripture, and his name only pops up three times (Col. 1:7; 4:12; Philem. 23). However, what we do know about him presents a perfect picture of how the gospel can transform an individual, and how that individual can play a vital role in seeing a city come to know Jesus.
The first time his name is mentioned is in Colossians 1:7. Here is what Paul had to say about Epaphras.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
When Paul writes this letter to the Colossians, he is writing to a church he didn’t plant. In fact, he’s never even had the opportunity to visit them at this point, but what Paul has heard about them up to this point has been pretty positive. This is a body of believers who have faith in Christ and love for others that is rooted in their hope of the grace of God. How incredible would it be if this could be said of every church?
News of this church came to Paul by way of Epaphras. As Paul notes here, he’s one of the individuals primarily responsible for preaching the gospel in this city. He is the one through whom the Colossians heard and understood “the grace of God in truth.” A little later in this letter (Col. 4:12), we actually find out that Epaphras is “one of you.” He was from Colossae. These were his people, and he had made it his responsibility to ensure that as many in this city as possible had an opportunity to hear about and respond to the gospel.
Without getting into the details, there are reasons to believe that Epaphras responded to the gospel during Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus in the mid-50’s (Ac. 19:1-10). Notice what Paul says the gospel does in the life of a person when they receive it. It bears fruit and increases (Col. 1:6). This was true of the church in Colossae, and it was true of Epaphras individually.
There are plenty of ways the gospel can bear fruit and increase. This fruit can be the transformation that happens in a person as they are transformed into the image of Christ (Gal. 5:22-24). The increase can also be from new believers being converted as they are presented with the truth of God’s grace.
It’s easy to make the Christian life complicated. However, I think Epaphras gives us a beautiful picture of what God calls all believers to do. We hear the gospel, receive it, experience the joy and peace that comes from knowing God, and that cultivates a desire in us to share that message with the people closest to us.
What happened to Epaphras? He believed the gospel and then spent the rest of his life persuading those he knew to believe. He was a faithful minister to these people (Col. 1:7), struggled on their behalf in prayer (Col. 4:12), and even spent time in prison because of his ministry (Philem. 23). His desire for others to know Jesus cost him something, but I’m willing to bet he thought it was worth it.
This is a picture of a man who sacrificed much so that others might believe. He was so captivated by God’s love for him that he wanted his family members, neighbors, and fellow citizens to experience that same love. It’s an example we see in the Gadarene Demoniac of Mark 5:19-20, and it’s example we’ve seen set by thousands if not millions of others throughout church history.
As we study the book of Colossians together, my hope is that God would raise up many like Epaphras in our church. My prayer is that you and I are so taken by the beauty of the gospel that we are stirred to invite as many as possible to receive this good news. Oh, that God would stir up “unceasing anguish” in many of us, like Paul (Rom. 9:2), over the reality that there are many in Lafayette, West Lafayette, and Purdue who don’t know Jesus.
When you stop and think about those closest to you who aren’t in a relationship with God, it can be a crushing feeling. However, rather than remaining in our despair, we can follow the example of Epaphras who experienced the fruit of the gospel in his own life and gave everything so that others might have a similar experience.
Epaphras loved Jesus. He loved his city. Those two truths led to a church being planted and numerous believers who had been transferred from the “domain of darkness” to “the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). May the same thing happen here. May the gospel bear fruit and increase in this city and on this campus. God saves sinners but in his grace, he uses us in that great work of spreading the gospel.
Would you pray with me that our city would experience a similar gospel awakening?
Would you pray that God would give you a desire to see those closest to you come to know Jesus?
Would you pray that the gospel would bear fruit and increase here and in your own heart?