Faithful Pastors; Faithful Parents

PMT 2014-065b by Don Strickland

Colossians 1:7-8
just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on your behalf, (8) and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

[Note: There is a textual problem in verse 7. The NASB translation reads “on our behalf” (ie on Paul and Timothy’s behalf). This translation would mean that Epaphras was Paul’s representative to the Colossians. The KJV, NKJV, and ESV agree with the translation as it is above. The only difference between the two textually is one letter – hemon vs humon. I have chosen to follow the KJV textual tradition in this case because of the textual evidence in its favor.]

Paul, having just accounted the means by which the Colossians received the hope laid up for them in heaven by which fruit was born and continued to be born in them (vv 5-6), now refers to the person by whom that Gospel was preached – Epaphras. Paul describes Epaphras in relation to Timothy and himself, and then in relation to the Colossians. First, Epaphras is called their fellow laborer in the preaching of the Gospel who is dearly loved by Paul and Timothy. Second, Paul references Epaphras’s office and calling. He was a minister of Christ who looked out for the Colossians’ good. This fact is further affirmed and amplified in verse 8 where Epaphras is said to have given Paul a positive testimony of their love in the Spirit.

The knowledge of salvation is normally brought by men. The Gospel is ordinarily taught and applied by men who are called to teach. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rm 10.14) In order for faith to be exercised, the Gospel must be heard, and not just heard, but explained to the mind and applied to the conscience. And then whosoever believes, they shall be saved. Therefore do not lightly esteem the office of minister because it is filled by a weak or flawed man. God shows His power in weakness (2Co 12.9). He brings light out of darkness (John 1.5). He gives spiritual life to the dead (Rm 4.17). In man’s salvation, God works through the ministry of weak, sinful men to see if we will look at the instrument, the earthen vessel, He is using, or whether we will have our eyes on the treasure brought in that vessel. Do not be like Herod who enjoyed listening to John the Baptist. However, when Herod’s sins were exposed by the preacher, John’s words never pierced his heart for Herod was afraid of John, not God’s Word through John (Mk 6.20).

Paul calls Epaphras a “our beloved fellow bond-servant.” Paul’s and Timothy’s affection for Epaphras grew out of a common bond with him. They were servants of the same master, and siblings, as it were, of the same Father. Those joined in such a manner ought to love one another. Both Abraham and Moses used the argument of the common bond of relations to make peace between others (Gen 13.8 and Acts 7.26). But how much more should we as believers, who are joined with a bond by the Spirit of God – a union much deeper than a physical one, be mindful of our relationship with each other. By the Spirit we are all made members of one mystical body and members of one another (Rm 12.5 and 1Co 12.11-12). Therefore, as God is our common Father, Christ as our common Brother, and being united together in one faith and one body, let us remember to love and to show that love to each fellow believer (Eph 4.1-6).

Paul’s description of Epaphras as faithful is the highest compliment a minister can receive (1Co 4.2 where “trustworthy”, pistos, may be translated as “faithful”). Both Jesus and Moses are said to have been faithful in the dispensing of their offices (Heb 3.2ff). To be able to fulfill the trust that has been laid upon him is much more important than brilliance or eloquence. And this commendation may be extended outward to all who rule over and govern others, since they too are called ministers of God (Rm 13.4). He who is diligent in his worldly calling will normally reap temporal rewards here on earth, but he who is diligent in discharging his duty before God will stand before Him with joy (Mt 25.21). And consider this thought, whether or not you are diligent in your duty, you know full well that the wicked will be quite dedicated to their evil course (Pr 4.16).

A minister who is faithful, as Epaphras is here depicted, will discharge his duty for the good of the people under his care. One of the ministers’ descriptive titles is “shepherd.” A shepherd takes care of the sheep. He does not abuse them. We see this aspect in Ezekiel 34 – 35. The false shepherds of Israel are compared to the One True Shepherd of God (ie Christ). The false shepherds are judged for their mistreating and defrauding the sheep, and then God describes the manner of His Shepherd. His Shepherd is kind and cares tenderly for God’s flock. In the same way, ministers and elders now are to imitate their master in the way they care for the sheep of the flock for which God has given them the responsibility. If you have a minister (and elders) who is working faithfully, do not endanger him to discouragement. Work diligently at gaining spiritual profit from his ministry. Live out the sermon each week by being attentive to the Scriptural application. Remember to have your devotional and prayer time every day. Think of ways you can let him/them know how much you appreciate their ministry on the churches behalf, but be sincere (ie no flattery merely for the sake of encouragement). And remember Hebrews 13.17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

And to you parents, what does faithfulness look like in the home, who might be a biblical role model for such faithfulness and what difference might it make? When God had decided to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, He came to Abraham. And speaking as if to Himself, God affirmed that He would not hide His plans from His servant Abraham. Why? It was because Abraham would be a blessing to all nations. How? “For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18.17-19). In order to bring about God’s blessing to the nations, Abraham was chosen to teach God’s way to all his household and to follow that path in obedience to the Lord. That description is faithfulness – teaching God’s way to those under your authority and then living it out.

With verse 8 Paul proves that Epaphras was faithfully dedicated to the good of the Colossians by the testimony that he gave of their love. Though they were distant from Paul and his companions in body, the Colossians love for them were close to them by the Spirit. Interestingly, Paul returns the thought in 2.5 while commending them for their discipline and faithfulness. How did they love Paul? It was by the Spirit. These words show that true believers love one another though that may never see each others faces which argues that true love does not rise from any outward circumstance, physical trait, or attribute. Our union with Christ is the reason. We are one in Christ, therefore we are one at heart though we are far apart. As 1 John 3.14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.”

Lastly, we learn that looking out for a fellow believer’s good means we speak well of them as we can.

Don Strickland

Don Strickland

Epaphras’s words edified Paul (2.5) and stirred him to prayer on their behalf (1.9). To report those things as may engender and increase love among believers is a virtue. And thus to train our minds and tongues to edify and build, and not to strife and disunity is to be our goal (Phil 4.8). We can all learn from Proverbs 26.20 in this regard.

(20) For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.

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