Epaphras—“A Faithful Minister of the Christ”
WHO founded the Christian congregations in Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi? Perhaps you would have no hesitation in answering: ‘Paul, the “apostle to the nations.”’ (Romans 11:13) You would be right.
However, who established the congregations in Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea? Although we cannot be sure, it may have been a man named Epaphras. At any rate, perhaps you would like to know something more about this evangelizer, since he is called “a faithful minister of the Christ.”—Colossians 1:7.
Evangelizer of the Lycus Valley
The name Epaphras is an abbreviation of Epaphroditus. But Epaphras is not to be confused with the Epaphroditus from Philippi. Epaphras was from Colossae, one of the three centers of Christian congregations in the Lycus River valley, in Asia Minor. Colossae was situated just 11 miles [18 km] from Laodicea and 12 miles [19 km] from Hierapolis, in the ancient region of Phrygia.
The Bible does not explicitly say how the good news of God’s Kingdom reached Phrygia. However, Phrygians were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost in 33 C.E., perhaps some of them being from Colossae. (Acts 2:1, 5, 10) During Paul’s Ephesian ministry (about 52-55 C.E.), the witness given in that area was so vigorous and effective that not only the Ephesians but also “all those inhabiting the district of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10) It would seem that Paul had not preached the good news throughout the Lycus Valley, since many who became Christians in that region had never seen him.—Colossians 2:1.
According to Paul, the one who taught the Colossians about “the undeserved kindness of God in truth” was Epaphras. The fact that Paul calls this coworker “a faithful minister of the Christ on our behalf” shows that Epaphras was an active evangelizer in the area.—Colossians 1:6, 7.
Both the apostle Paul and the evangelizer Epaphras had great concern for the spiritual welfare of their fellow believers in the Lycus Valley. As the “apostle to the nations,” Paul must have rejoiced to receive news of their progress. It was from none other than Epaphras that Paul heard about the spiritual condition of the Colossians.—Colossians 1:4, 8.
The Colossians faced problems serious enough to persuade Epaphras to make the long journey to Rome for the specific purpose of discussing these matters with Paul. The detailed report made by Epaphras was evidently what moved Paul to write two letters to those brothers otherwise unknown to him. One was the letter to the Colossians. The other letter, which apparently has not been preserved, was sent to the Laodiceans. (Colossians 4:16) It is reasonable to think that the contents of those letters were intended to respond to the needs of those Christians as perceived by Epaphras. What necessities did he see? And what does this tell us about his personality?
The letter to the Colossians seems to indicate that Epaphras was worried that Christians in Colossae were endangered by pagan philosophies involving asceticism, spiritism, and idolatrous superstition. Moreover, the Jewish teaching of abstinence from foods and the observance of certain days may have influenced some members of the congregation.—Colossians 2:4, 8, 16, 20-23.
The fact that Paul writes about these subjects shows us how alert and sensitive Epaphras was to the needs of his fellow Christians. He showed loving concern for their spiritual welfare, being conscious of the dangers of the environment in which they lived. Epaphras sought Paul’s counsel, and this reveals that he was humble. Maybe he felt the need to receive advice from someone with more experience. In any case, Epaphras acted wisely.—Proverbs 15:22.
A Man Who Valued Prayer
In the conclusion of the letter he sent to the Colossian Christians, Paul says: “Epaphras, who is from among you, a slave of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings, always exerting himself in your behalf in his prayers, that you may finally stand complete and with firm conviction in all the will of God. I indeed bear him witness that he puts himself to great effort in behalf of you and of those at Laodicea and of those at Hierapolis.”—Colossians 4:12, 13.
Yes, even while he was Paul’s “fellow captive” in Rome, Epaphras was thinking about his beloved brothers in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis and praying for them. (Philemon 23) Literally, ‘he struggled’ for them in prayer. According to scholar D. Edmond Hiebert, the Greek term used here denotes “a strenuous and costly activity,” something similar to the mental “agony” experienced by Jesus Christ as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:44) Epaphras earnestly desired that his spiritual brothers and sisters attain stability and full Christian maturity. What a blessing for the congregations such a spiritually-minded brother must have been!
Since Epaphras was called a “beloved fellow slave,” there can be no doubt that he endeared himself to fellow Christians. (Colossians 1:7) When circumstances allow, all members of the congregation should give of themselves freely with warmth and love. For example, attention can be given to assisting the sick, the elderly, or others with special needs. There may be different responsibilities to care for in the congregation, or it may be possible to contribute to theocratic building projects.
Praying for others, as Epaphras did, is a form of sacred service that all can perform. Such prayers may include expressions of concern for worshipers of Jehovah who have to face various dangers or difficulties of a spiritual or physical nature. By exerting ourselves vigorously in this way, we can be like Epaphras. Each of us can have the privilege and joy of proving to be a “beloved fellow slave” in the family of Jehovah’s faithful servants.