Delivering the Gospel

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. (Colossians 1:3-8)

This morning as we open up God’s Word together I would like us to think about missions and evangelism. In verses 7 and 8 of Colossians 1 we read of a man, Epaphras, who faithfully delivered gospel truths to the converts at Colossae. A man who acted on what he knew about God, about Christ, about entrance into God’s Kingdom, God’s family, by going and sharing those truths. We might call Epaphras a missionary or an evangelist, or we may simply call him a brother who loved others enough to share the good news of the gospel with them.

We don’t know a lot about this man Epahpras, but we can know some of what he did simply from these couple of verses that we have before us. Here are four things we know about this man Epaphras, four ways that Epaphras responded as a recipient of God’s grace of salvation. He was…

A proclaimer of truth
A beloved servant
A faithful minister
An encourager

I say that these are ways that Epaphras responded to his own salvation, and what I mean is that he would be none of these things, at least not in the way we read about, had he not been a recipient of God’s grace of salvation. Epaphras would have spent his time in other ways had he not known Christ. But knowing Christ, his direction was changed. The Holy Spirit changed him, gave him a new path, new work, made him new, and this newness of life brought with it new thinking, new action. 

This is what happens when God draws us into His family. We may not change jobs, move to a faraway place, or things like that, it is just that wherever we go, whatever we do, we do so as changed people. We go and do with new goals, with an eye on the Lord and eternity and a love for others.

Epaphras may have been a proclaimer of some things prior to Christ, but he was not a proclaimer of the truth. He may have been a servant or a slave, but not a beloved servant or slave of Christ. He may have ministered to others in some helpful way, but not as a faithful minister of the Lord. And He may have encouraged others to do things, but not encouraged others in the faith by telling of God’s work in His people. I am sure Epaphras was busily doing things prior to knowing the Lord, but his busyness took on new forms after he met the Savior.

As we talk about this man and his work, I want to challenge you to think about how you spend your time and why you spend your time the way you do. Think about that and evaluate whether your time spent is significant regarding the growing, active, powerful Kingdom of God. Is the way we spend our time, thought life, actions, activities, indicative of our new life in Christ? Have we taken on new goals as those changed by God. And think about this in your individual context. I’m not suggesting that like Epaphras we are all called to do just what he did as a missionary and perhaps a full-time gospel minister, I’m only suggesting that as we go through this life, as we go in the context in which God has placed us, whatever that is, wherever that is, that are we living as changed people, living in service to our Lord. 

How did Epaphras do this? First, he was a proclaimer of truth! He had learned the truth about Christ, God’s plan of redemption, and having learned that he could not pack it away just for himself, ignoring the fact that so many had not yet heard, had not yet received the good news. So what did he do? He made it his aim to share what he had learned for God’s glory and for the good of those who would hear. An impactful verse related to this is found in Romans 10…

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)

So Epaphras took the message and he faithfully proclaimed it. He would not be guilty of hiding it as a light under a basket. He did as Jesus commanded the Apostles in His final instruction to them…

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

When I was a kid, I had a next door neighbor named Greg. Greg was a few years older than me and I really looked up to him. Just prior to one of his birthdays, his dad came over and asked if he could put Greg’s gift in our garage so that Greg wouldn’t see it. My dad said yes, and Greg’s dad looked at me and said, “You better not tell Greg what it is!” Well, this gift to me was the coolest thing ever. I had never seen anything quite like it. It was a bicycle that, instead of having handle bars, it had a steering wheel. I had never seen anything like that and really haven’t since. I guess I’m the only one who thought that was a great idea; it apparently didn’t work well and didn’t catch on, but I really liked it. In fact, I liked it so much and was so excited about it that, yes, I told Greg about it, and even showed it to him. And boy was I in big trouble! But I thought that I just couldn’t keep something so exciting in! It was too much for me to keep to myself, so I thought.

What we are excited about, don’t we tend to tell others about it? The good news, the greatest news, life impacting and lasting eternal news has been delivered to us. Who are we telling?

Jesus said go and tell, make disciples. Paul reminds us that to hear, they need a preacher. Are we proclaiming gospel truths? Epaphras was a proclaimer of truth.

Epaphras was also a beloved servant or slave. Paul calls him a beloved fellow servant. Epaphras, now being a part of God’s family with Paul, is loved by Paul. They are family. They are in this together. “Beloved” is one of Paul’s favorite words to describe fellow Christians. This is describing who Epaphras now is, not just what he is doing. There is this unique bond between Christians that Paul is drawing out here. I think it comes from a kindred spirit, but also as a result of shared goals. There was no room here for comparisons, for competition, for personal fame. It was Epaphras who spoke truth in Colossae. Paul had not been there. Paul was a great missionary and pastor, but he did not feel as though he had to go everywhere and do everything. That is what one does when they are building their own kingdom, trying to make a name for oneself. Paul’s joy was that the gospel go out, that Christ be exalted, and if Epaphras was in the best position to do that, then that seems good with him. This reminds me of a passage in 1 Corinthians 1…

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (1 Corinthians 1:10-15)

I love that passage, and how we are reminded that the goal is not self-promotion, but promoting Christ. I get really nervous when a church or ministry seems built around one guy. Or when one person thinks they have to do it all. No, we are a family and we are to work together. 

I was talking with someone just last week about how we believe that biblically, the church is to be led by a plurality of elders, a plurality of leaders, equal leaders. And we can do that as we recognize God’s work in all the life of the church, His body, not just in a single person.

The famous apostle Paul could and did have an attitude of, “You go Epaphras, do the work of God in Colossae, go as our beloved brother.” The thrilling thing is, should be for us even, that God’s work is being done. Yes we have our part, but many others do as well. No rivalry here.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)

The idea is that God has a place, a special place of service or places of service, for each of His children. We can appreciate how God has gifted and called one another and see each other, like ourselves, as loved servants or slaves of Christ.

Are we excited about the way God is using us? Are we excited about the ways God is using fellow believers around us?

Epaphras was also a faithful minister. He was faithful in his work on behalf of Christ to the Christians in Colossae. In verse 7 we read, “just as you learned it from Epaphras.” “Learned” here implies that Epaphras’ task was not only to be a part of winning them to Christ, but that he also stayed and faithfully instructed them in the faith. He evangelized, but also, as a faithful servant, helped to guide their understanding as to how to live in this new faith.

Epaphras had learned from Paul, and now he passes truths of Christian living on to them. Paul talks about applying truths in places like 1 Corinthians 4:6, and in Philippians 4:9, which says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Being faithful speaks of endurance, of staying with someone, of working alongside people during thick and thin. Being faithful is often times going the distance with others, not giving up on people, not giving into despair as ministers of Christ. For him it meant not just a quick evangelistic presentation, though that is honorable, but an ongoing relationship of working out with them how to represent Christ in a hostile world.

We can be so helpful to others simply by assuring them that we will, in the strength of Christ, go with them even if times are hard. That is a faithful brother or sister, a faithful minister for Christ. This flows from the words and attitude of Christ when He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9)

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

This attribute of faithfulness in the Father, in Christ, is to be seen in us as His children, as we are more conformed into the image of Christ.

I see this kind of faithful service, faithful ministry all around me in many of you. It is a grace of God to see such a thing. None of us are perfect in this way. But by God’s grace we see many examples.

How can you reach out to a brother or sister in Christ in this way? How can you communicate with those close to you that you are with them, will be with them? How do we better reach into each other’s lives with a word of truth, comfort, and love just as Christ has done for us?

Some here may be thinking, “I wish someone would be that way with me!” And if you are thinking that, I would say that I hope so too! I hope that you will experience the love of a faithful servant of Christ who will come alongside you in whatever you are dealing with. But I would also say, let’s each one be that faithful servant with someone else, let’s not wait for someone to be that for us, let’s proactively reach out to someone else. We are called to that, in Christ’s strength we can do that. Will we each one commit to that?

Finally, Epaphras was an encourager. He was given a task by God to go to Colossae, to evangelize the lost and to stay and instruct these new believers in the ways of Christ. He got to go. He got to see God at work there firsthand. He had a front row seat as many were rescued from their slavery to sin, from the road to eternal punishment and ushered into the family of God. Everyone could’t be there. Paul could not be there to see all that he saw. Verse 8 says Epaphras “has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

Paul had ministered to Epaphras, now Epaphras has won many in Colossae. Multiplication was taking place, fruit was being produced from the gospel, spiritual growth taking place. We know this because Paul stated it in verse 6 and now we see more evidence, repeated evidence of God’s work in their lives by their love in the Spirit – a fruit of the Spirit. Paul is so encouraged by this word that it is like he cannot stop thanking God for it, for them!

Epaphras was an encourager. And the way he encouraged Paul and others was by stating what God was doing. Many times our encouragement can be well intended, but frankly, of little use. We say things to a sick person, things like, “Well, I’m sure you will be better tomorrow.” Really, how do we know that? I mean, because I say it will it be so? It is an effort to be encouraging, but I don’t know how helpful that really is. Or if someone is afraid over an upcoming school or work presentation, we may say, “Oh, I’m sure you will do great!” Well maybe not, we hope so, but maybe not. Or if someone is depressed, “It will pass soon.” I guess that may depend on how you define soon. 

We say all kinds of things to try to encourage others. Paul was in prison as he wrote this letter. He might need some encouragement. The way he is encouraged here is to know that God was at work, saving and growing people. God’s power was on display in the church. Christians were loving each other in the name of Christ.

This is real encouragement, nothing unsure about these statements. You get the idea that prison for Paul was not as difficult as he learned of and focused on gospel-focused ministry around the world.

We can encourage each other with sound biblical truth and testimony of God’s continued faithful work in the lives of people. What is more exciting than that?

And so, while we don’t know a huge amount about the man Epaphras, we do know these few things. We know that as a man of God he was a proclaimer of truth, a beloved servant, a faithful minister, and an encourager.

I love looking at these New Testament ministers’ lives! We can see examples of what it is like to serve well, and we can honestly evaluate our lives as we do. I hope you have been encouraged and challenged, as I have, by this example today.

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. (Colossians 1:3-8)