By Larry Ray Hafley
All that we know of Epaphras is contained in the,Scriptures which follow: “There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” (Phile. 23). “As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit” (Col. 1:7,8). “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis” (Col. 4:12,13).
There is not much to sift through, but what is revealed speaks well of Epaphras.
(1) He was a man of prayer. In our struggles and stresses, as we strive to face the strains of life, we often neglect to pray. Epaphras saw the “order and the steadfastness of (the Colossians) faith in Christ” (for it was he who told Paul of their love in the Spirit), yet, he labored fervently in prayer on their behalf. How many churches and brethren have gone astray because we have failed to pray as we ought?
It takes time and energy to pray with purpose, to labor fervently in prayer, as Epaphras did. It is easy to run words through the mind, but efficient prayer requires effort that we are too careless or too busy to render. We must fight against the deadly arsenal of Satan with pen and tongue, in word and deed, but unless our works of faith are accompanied by prayer, we are destined to despair (cf. Eph. 6:19; 1 Tim. 2:1; Matt. 9:38; 2 Thess. 3:1).
(2) He was a man of “great zeal.” Epaphras’ zeal was for the brethren. We, too, need “great zeal” for one another. This zeal will express itself, not only in prayer, but in words of exhortation and doctrine. With greater zeal, we will “warn the unruly, comfort the feebleminded (those faint of heart), support the weak, be patient toward all men” (1 Thess. 5:14). A “great zeal” and “fervent charity” will produce faith, induce steadfastness and “purchase a good degree and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Such zeal and love will cause us to “exhort one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).
We pine and plead for unity. We wring our hands, wag our heads and wrest our hearts over divisions and strife among brethren. Much of it, though, could be avoided if we had the “great zeal” for one another that Epaphras had.
(3) He was a “servant of Christ. ” Volumes are inscribed in the terse descriptions of Epaphras as a fellow servant, fellow prisoner, a faithful minister and a servant of Christ. These words are filled with service and selfless sacrifice. Christians are not employees; preachers are not simply hired hands. If we had a proper perception of servitude perhaps our attitude would be “less of self and more of Thee.” Thankless, unnoticed devotion is rare amid a generation raised for instant praise and personal promotion. But the ringing words of our Lord must echo in the hearts of all who love His kingdom “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came ‘ not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28).
Fame, ambition, jealousy and contention for applause escapes men like Epaphras. They are too dedicated and consecrated to Christ to care whether or not anyone is taking note of their efforts. The church needs more men and women like Epaphras who serve in anonymity and obscurity, without regard to recognition or reward. Ironically, those who seek “earthly wealth and honored fame” will reap eternal poverty and everlasting shame, while those who faithfully serve will receive “praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7; Rom. 2:7).
(4) He was a man of balance. Epaphras desired that the Colossians “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. ” He was not one-sided. He did not preach grace while ignoring obedience. He did not preach scriptural worship while being silent about worldliness. He did not preach the gospel while failing (or refusing) to expose the errors of men.
Churches and brethren cannot remain sound with a preacher who is always “gentle among (them), even as a nurse who cheriseth her children. ” Sometimes one must be “bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention” (1 Thess. 2:2,7). If our studies are in one area to the neglect of another, we will not be complete and perfect. If I exercise my right arm, but not my left . . . well, you get the picture. So, if we always preach love and how to have a happy family, we will rear a generation of loving, happy families. And that is good, but they may begin to practice infant baptism and use instrumental music in worship if there is no balance. One may be doctrinally sound regarding the work of the church, but be an abusive, hateful husband and father. Again, no balance. Epaphras taught a balanced gospel – “perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
(5) He was a preacher of the gospel of grace. The Colossians learned of the true grace of God and of the hope of heaven from Epaphras (Col. 1:5-7). They were in the kingdom (Col. 1:13); hence, they had been born again. Having heard the word of truth, they had been buried with Christ in baptism (Col. 1:5,6; 2:12). One does not truly know the grace of God – he has not been saved by grace – until he has been “risen with Christ” in faith and baptism (Col. 2:12; 3:1).
Further, Epaphras taught the Colossians of “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5-7). The “one hope” of our calling cannot be over emphasized. Preaching that fails to remind us of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus is a hopeless message. The wrath of God is to be feared, and it must be preached to be known. How much the more, brethren, should we stress glory, honor, immortality, i.e., eternal life (Rom. 2:7)? “Great is your reward in heaven” must not be neglected. Are we raising a company that has all but forgotten “to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:10)? The hope of all faith should be the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He shall meet us in the air and transport us to His everlasting kingdom where we shall bask in the light of His Divine presence forevermore. “And so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:17,18). Epaphras did.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 15, pp. 451-452
August 6, 1987