I’m lacking creativity to write a catchy title for this one. But reading “Epaphras” so many times brings to mind how my friend says it. Epaphras was a friend of the apostle Paul, and you’ll read more about him in my talk. Blondie was writing and giving sermons on Colossians when I was, but instead of saying “Ee-paf-ras” like most normal people, she, in her soft-but-still-northern Yorkshire accent would go “Eeeeeh-paf-ras”, as in “Eeh-by-gum-paf-ras”. We both did a lot of Colossians, and every time I just couldn’t get over the “Eeeh-by-gum”. Sorry Blondie. At least I didn’t tell you while you were doing it.
I’m not gonna lie – this is one of my earliest sermons so it’s probably not my best. But no matter how badly wrapped the message may be, the truth of the Bible is the same. So please try to see past my clunky writing as we dive in…
Bungee jumping is ridiculous. To me, the idea of flinging yourself off a high ledge with nothing but a piece of rope to stop you becoming human porridge on the floor is insane. So much trust goes into that rope, and stories like the one last week don’t fill me with confidence about the sport. I remember last year there was a news story where a woman’s bungee cord failed whilst she was jumping over a crocodile-infested river. Thankfully, she managed to swim out of the river and was ok. But when something as important as the bungee rope fails, the jumper is in serious trouble, to put it mildly.
There are many things that we trust, to varying degrees. We trust the floor beneath our feet to hold us up, we trust our alarm clocks to wake us up in the morning; we rely on our friends and family and trust in their love. We also trust that what we are taught at school and university, and by our parents, is true. There are certain things that we trust which are fundamental to us, and like a failed bungee cord it’s terrifying when it seems like they aren’t true. What are the most important things we trust in? And how can we be confident that they are trustworthy?
I’m going to be talking on Colossians 1:1-8, and I hope that as we explore this passage we will see that we can be confident that the most important thing that we trust in, the Gospel, is true. Let’s have a read of the passage:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
– Colossians 1:1-8
As we can see from the first two verses, the apostle Paul is writing to the church in Colosse. Colosse was a small city in the Lycus Valley area of what is now Turkey. It was about 120 miles southwest of Ephesus. The church in Colosse began during a period of evangelism linked with Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in 52-55AD, and which is recorded in Acts 19. It was started by a man called Epaphras, who was from Colosse himself, and brought the Gospel back home as Paul’s associate/representative. Paul is writing to the Colossians probably in 60/61AD, during his time in Rome. Epaphras had visited Paul in Rome and told him about the churches in the Lycus valley such as Ephesus and Colosse. He must have mentioned the recent introduction of a false teaching at Colosse which could undermine the Gospel and prove dangerous for the Church. What we will see from the rest of Colossians is that this false teaching basically said that you had to obey certain rules to gain what they called “true knowledge”. To correct this, Paul wrote to the young Colossian church.
His greeting in verses 1-3 is fairly normal for the time; stating the author, the recipient, and a greeting. Paul states his credentials as an apostle (literally meaning “someone sent”) of Jesus, as he does in his other letters. He also mentions Timothy, probably because he was with him at the time. He then addresses the Christians at Colosse as being “holy and faithful brothers in Christ” (v3). He is affirming their faith throughout this first section, encouraging them that they can be confident in the Gospel they know.
After his greeting, Paul goes on to mention his thanks to God for the Colossians. He says that “we always thank God… when we pray for you” (v3). If you notice, he says “when we pray for you.” This implies frequent prayer for the Colossian church – even though he hasn’t met them. When he does pray for them, he thanks God for their faith in Jesus and the love they have for “all the saints” (v4). I’ll come back to this later; but if you notice, both the Colossians’ faith and love for their Christian family come from “the hope that is stored up… in heaven” (v5). This hope is the hope of salvation and right standing with God that they have in Jesus. This is something the Colossians can be confident in, because it is stored up for them in heaven, as Paul says in verse 5. It is kept safe where it cannot be touched by any that would seek to destroy it or take it away. And this is the same hope that we have! We believe that we are saved through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, and here we see that the inheritance that we will enjoy is safe.
Paul mentions that the Colossians had heard about this hope through the preaching of the Gospel. You see, the problem is not that they haven’t heard the Gospel properly – Paul describes Epaphras as a “faithful minister of Christ” in verse 7, so he would have given them a faithful and true account of how Jesus had saved them – no, the problem is that some dodgy new teaching had crept into the Colossian church. This teaching could have confused them and caused them to doubt whether they were saved at all, because it was saying that you needed more than just faith to receive all the blessings we have in Christ. But Paul is stating here that the Colossians already know the truth, because they have been taught it by Epaphras, and that they can be confident in it. Why? Because the Gospel was spreading around the known world, as Paul says in verse 6, bearing fruit and growing. And it was doing this in their church as well. This is something alive, something growing. Something that is obviously Spirit-empowered as shown by its progress, against all odds at times. Paul is saying, “look, you know this already and it is true.” He is showing them that they are saved, because of what can be seen in them. He is beginning to suggest that the truth which they have already been taught is worth trusting in, and Paul will pick up on this thread throughout the rest of the letter.
So, Paul has described how the Colossians can be confident in what they have been taught already about Jesus and their hope of salvation. And we know that this had a visible effect: Epaphras told Paul about the Colossians’ faith and love, which resulted from their hope. It makes sense that faith follows on from hope – we believe in this hope that we have. But I wonder whether we consider our love for fellow-Christians to come from the hope that we have? I know that I hadn’t really thought about it before studying this passage. Yet the hope stored up for us in heaven, the fact that by trusting in Jesus we are given right standing with God and become His children, should spark a love in us for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as well as, faith. We know that we are saved by grace, and we know the imperfect condition of our own hearts. God’s Holy Spirit lives in us, and He empowers us to love others; especially the eclectic bunch of other imperfect people that we now call our spiritual family! And since this love and faith “spring” from our hope, they are a sign that we are saved by God.
We have seen that Paul confirmed that the Colossians could be confident in the Gospel, and that their faith and love came from their hope. He confirms that he can see that they are saved, in preparation for his rebuff of false teaching in the rest of his letter. So, we can be confident in our trust of the same Gospel that we believe in. And we can encourage one another, if, or maybe when, we struggle with assurance – we can encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, reminding them of the things we have seen in them that show their faith.