Epaphras, a Faithful Minister of Christ
John Heading, Aberystwyth
The apostle Paul attracted around himself men of like outlook and character. Timothy and Silas had been deliberately chosen by the apostle, while others such as Apollos, Aquila and Priscilla chose to associate themselves with him. This did not make Paul their centres to abide faithful Christ had to be the true centre. We find that special men were associated with particular churches, epistles and aspects of Paul's work: Timothy in 1 Corinthians, Titus in 2 Corinthians ; Epaphroditus in Philippians, and Epaphras in Colossians. Thus the Spirit takes note of everyone having fellowship with the servants of Christ. Hence in Acts 20. 4 there were men arising from Paul's three journeys accompanying him from Corinth into Macedonia.
It is therefore helpful to assess ourselves relative to the spirituality and faithfulness of any particular character, such as Epaphras. This man was "our dear fellowservant", Col. 1. 7, namely, "fellowbondman". This was the attitude taken in service Christward - as Paul described himself, Phil. 1. 1. Thus Paul could love him, with both men on the bottom rung of the ladder, unitedly giving Christ the exalted position. Again, he was "for you a faithful minister of Christ". This is deacon-service saintward, in a position established by the Head. The word "deacon" implies all service, both the kind that serves tables and the kind that deals with ministry of the Word, Acts 6. 2, 4. The concept of "faithful" is important; faith acquires salvation - we trust God; faithfulness is a result -He trusts us in His service. Paul was "counted... faithful", 1 Tim. 1. 12, as were Timothy, Tychicus, Silvanus and Onesimus.
The conversation of Epaphras was not governed by gossip, but by holy reporting of news; he "declared unto us your love in the Spirit", Col. 1. 8. This would be love for Christ, love mutually between the saints as governing all relationships, and a "labour of love" in service, 1 Thess. 1. 4. On the matter of holy reporting, the reader should consult 1 Corinthians 4. 17;
2 Corinthians 7. 7, "he told us your earnest desire, your mourning", Ephesians 6.21; Colossians 4.7. Such news would not be coloured or exaggerated, but faithfully expounded.
Again, Epaphras is described as being "one of you", Col. 4. 12, as is Onesimus in verse 9. Here is spiritual recognition of membership of a local assembly. Here was no drifting, even when away from home circumstances. Paul regarded Onesimus as linked with the Colossians even before he returned from his conversion in Rome. This therefore supports the deliberate recognition of membership of a local assembly; see also Acts 15.24; 1 John 2.11. Additionally, Epaphras was "a servant of Christ", namely "Christ's bondservant"; the Lord Himself had placed him in this lowly position, and Paul recognized that the highest service developed from the lowliest roots.
Moreover, he was "labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God". Here was nothing spasmodic, but continuity in prayer. Paul always adopted this principle of prayer, "we give thanks to God .. . praying always for you", Col. i. 3; he did not "cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will", v. 9. By way of reciprocation, they should do the same for him, "praying for us also", 4. 2-3. The reader can find this constant two-way fellowship in prayer in most of Paul's Epistles. Thus Epaphras did this for his home assembly, and such exercise may well burden our own hearts constantly during assembly prayer meetings.
Continuing, he had a great zeal for his home assembly, and for "them that are in Laodicea", 4. 13. The zeal of the Lord's house affects one's whole personality and exercises, John 2. 17. The Lord sought purity of the house in His zeal, and our prayers, following those of Epaphras, should likewise seek the wellbeing of our own and other assemblies. Perhaps the cessation of this payer for Laodicea was associated with its downfall in Revelation 3. 14-22.
Finally, we find in Philemon 23 that Epaphras was Paul's "fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus", a fact not mentioned in Colossians. We are not told why, but the reason can only be on account of his testimony for Christ and association with Paul. He could still greet the saints, suffering as a Christian, yet glorifying God on this behalf, 1 Pet. 4.16.