Who has heard of Epaphras? Was he one of the 12? (No, the name doesn’t ring a bell in that list.)
Was he a friend of Jesus; like Martha, Mary and Lazarus? (No, in fact, he never met Jesus.)
Was he on the council of the first church at Jerusalem, with James and Peter? (No. His is a Greek name, and as far as we know, he never visited Jerusalem.)
Was he there on the day of Pentecost? (No. Being a Greek he wouldn’t have been celebrating the Jewish festivals of Passover and then Pentecost 50 days later.)
So, who is he and what do we know about him?
Here are some verses which mention him. Make a note of all the information you can gather about him.
Colossians 1:3–8: His name appears in verse 7.
Colossians 4:10–14: His name appears in verse 12.
Philemon 1:22–24: His name appears in verse 23.
What do they tell us? Share your answers. What else might you like to know about him?
Epaphras is one of countless numbers of similar people, both in the NewTestament and subsequent history.
He was a church planter.
He probably didn’t think of himself like that. They probably didn’t even have the phrase ‘church planter’.
But, put simply, he was the person who founded the Christian community in Colossae. And that’s the way most church planting has been done, across cultures and centuries. Especially so in areas where the gospel hasn’t been heard.
In the West – especially in churches like the Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics –we tend to think it has to be heavy on planning and infrastructure. In fact, it has always been the opposite –relationship heavy, infrastructure light.
We don’t know exactly how Epaphras became a Christian, but this is the most likely picture:
Read Acts 19:1–10. List all the things this tells you about Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Note in particular Acts 19:10. How does this picture of Paul’s ministry fit with contemporary church life?
Read Acts 20:17–38, the record of the last meeting between Paul and the leaders of the church at Ephesus.
How does this picture compare with your experience?
It seems that Paul’s daily lectures –which would have included interactive discussions that defended the faith and taught people about Jesus and the gospel –were the epicentre of a movement that affected towns and cities far and wide.
Epaphras likely came to faith through Paul’s teaching in Ephesus, and when he related the story of his conversion and all that he had been learning to his Colossian friends, they too wanted to believe. And so, without really knowing it, he planted a church in Colossae.
It seems most likely that he met Paul in Ephesus because they became close friends and companions in ministry; and even fellow prisoners for the gospel.
We know how some New Testament churches were started, but not all.
Laodicea, Hierapolis and countless others had churches whose founders we don’t know. The church at Rome began from Jewish seeds as those who were converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10) returned to Rome with the gospel. In reality, there was not one church in Rome, but a plethora of house churches, as was common throughout the New Testament era.
Why might God use ‘anonymous’ people to plant churches?
Church planting is really just letting the gospel run by the means of the often unexpected and frequently unknown people the Lord raises up.
To close, please read Luke 10:1–12 and pray for the Lord of the harvest to raise up workers for his harvest.
Rev Dr Noel Due is the LCA/NZ’s Pastor for New and Renewing Churches.
This feature story comes from The Lutheran April 2020. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.
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