A little digging in Colossians discovers some details about Epaphras, a minor character in the New Testament, but a main character in Colossae and an exemplary leader for us today. Two passages tell us about him, Colossians 1:3–8 and 4:12–13.
A Faithful Evangelist (Colossians 1:3–8): Paul reminded the Colossians that Epaphras taught them the gospel, noting him to be “our beloved fellow servant” and “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf” (Colossians 1:7; cf. 1:5). Epaphras may have been saved through Paul’s ministry in Ephesus and then taken the gospel to Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). The church was probably about five years old.
Visiting Paul 800 miles away from Colossae (Acts 28:30–31), perhaps Epaphras asked about how to deal with the false teachers in Colossae (cf. Colossians 2:4). Epaphras encouraged Paul with news that the gospel had borne fruit in Colossae, provoking Paul to thank God (Colossians 1:8; cf. 1:3–6). God blessed the faithful work of Epaphras as an evangelist and church-planting pastor.
A Prayer Warrior (Colossians 4:12): Illustrating how Epaphras was a slave of Christ Jesus on their behalf, Paul told the Colossians how Epaphras struggled for them in prayer (Colossians 4:12). He prayed specifically that they would stand mature in their Christian walk and be fully convinced of what they knew to be the will of God for their lives in Christ Jesus (Colossians 4:12; cf. 1:9). Given the content of the whole book up to this point, Epaphras likely prayed that they would truly know Christ as their Savior and that their union with Him empowered them to live the Christian life, not rules or regulations. Epaphras deeply desired a united body of believers who found their fellowship in Jesus Christ and not the methods of man. He prayed for all of these things.
A Persevering Pastor (Colossians 4:13): Paul strongly affirmed that Epaphras had “worked hard” for the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and brothers in Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). Literally put, he had “much labor” for them, “labor” being an unusual Greek word for work that is only used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe anguish and pain in judgment (Revelation 16:10, 11), an experience unknown to God’s people in time to come (Revelation 21:4). If Paul meant to shade the work of Epaphras with this connotation, then his labor and work had been difficult, sometimes painful, perhaps being the result of unique burdens placed on him in the service of three churches (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:28).
Whatever the case, Epaphras worked hard, and perhaps his work had more struggles than the usual evangelist and church planter, even in the few years that he had been there. Archippus had maybe filled his role for now (Colossians 4:17), and Tychicus and John Mark would encourage the church as well (Colossians 4:7–9, 10). Epaphras persevered at the side of Paul, perhaps to accompany him back to Colossae once he got out of prison.
All quotes ESV. Articles by Pastor Huffstutler are at davidhuffstutler.com.