Do you remember the question in the game ‘Scattergories’ where you had to list a Bible character? Whatever letter that crazy 20-sided die landed on, you had to write a name from the Bible beginning with the same letter to win a point (two if you doubled up, though this was particularly difficult on this question).
I admit this question has become easier for me in later years as I’m more familiar with the amazing people found in the pages of Scripture. If it landed on ‘E’, I probably would write Enoch, Elisha or Esther—some of the famous ‘E’-named characters with epic and memorable life stories.
Epaphras would not be a contender. Up until last month, I didn’t even know this guy existed.
I preached recently at our myMADAGASCAR Sunday about faithfulness and shared some key points in the faithfulness journey that I have learnt in my short years so far in life and ministry.
When I was doing study for my message, I came across this unassuming yet influential person in history. Due to his faithfulness, one of the most prominent churches in the early Christian church matured and endured. And I was completely ignorant of him.
Epaphras is listed only three times in the Bible by the apostle Paul:
Colossians 1:7 (NIV)
You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf…
Colossians 4:12 (NKJV)
Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
Philemon 23 (NIV)
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings.
I had never read nor heard about Epaphras before. Sadly, along with many others, his was one of those names I would just skip over while reading. But something compelled me to look into his life, and what I discovered reminded me again of the power of faithfulness.
Epaphras was a native of Colosse, and by the time he was mentioned in Paul’s writings, he was the minister of the church there. Under his ministry, many of his countrymen came to faith in Colosse and other townships in the region.
While Paul was in prison in Rome, Epaphras came to visit him to get his advice on dealing with heresies within the body of Christ. The church had begun to be swayed with half-truths and a mixed gospel. During his visit, Paul wrote the Colossians epistle with Timothy, validating the ministry of Epaphras and encouraging the church to hold fast to the true gospel and doctrine of Christ as they were taught.
Paul had great affection for Epaphras, who ministered to his need and the needs of others. He even referred to him as a ‘bondservant of Christ’, which is a highly-honoured title that he only gave to himself and Timothy.
This was a faithful man, in deed and prayer. He was someone who trusted in God and served Christ persistently and zealously in the location God had called him to.
We don’t know much more about Epaphras as he is only mentioned these three times in Scripture. The picture that these verses paint, however, is of a man who faithfully served his God, his church, his leaders and his town, without fanfare or profile.
There are no grand statues in his honour, nor books gratifying his life. Yes, his name was listed in the greatest book of all time for us all to read about, but I never noticed it nor knew it, and I dare say most of us haven’t.
This makes me ask the questions: Without his faithfulness…
Would we have had the letter to the Colossians, full of glorious teachings on the truth of Jesus Christ, His rescue of mankind and essential Christian living?
Would the church at Colosse have been established and firmed up in their belief of Christ?
Would Paul have been given the help when he needed it to continue in his ministry journey?
We never have to consider an alternate reality, because Epaphras was faithful. He showed up, day after day, week after week and year after year.
His faithfulness to what and where God called him to serve was profound, and we are all privileged to reap the benefits now.
Together with all of the other greats of faithfulness, he encourages me to keep on keeping on — and I hope he encourages you too!