Ephaphras, Philemon, Archippus, and the Colossian Church: An Illustration of How the Application and Advancement of the Gospel Depends upon Believers

Monday, May 23, 2005

Ephaphras, Philemon, Archippus, and the Colossian Church: An Illustration of How the Application and Advancement of the Gospel Depends upon Believers Serving One Another

In preaching through Philemon, the power of Epaphras' ministry in the Colossian church is simply astounding. And the power of his ministry lay behind his attitude of servitude, laying aside his 'calling' as a pastor, and even his own life as a human being, in order to serve the needs of others. He is a true example of Philippians 2:3-4, of looking to the interests of others rather than to our own interests, of considering others and more important than ourselves. He is an illustration of Jesus Christ who came to serve and not to be served.

From the life of Epaphras I looked with amazement the impact his life and ministry had on the church in Colosse. Epaphras' testimony and lifestyle was evidenced in Philemon's lifestyle, as well as in Archippus. From these three men I learned that the advancement of the gospel depends upon believers applying the gospel to their own lives by doing whatever they must do to serve one another. The advancement of the gospel doesn’t depend on us. It does, however, depend upon us serving one another. Consider these bits of historical information which point to this astounding ministry.

Epaphras was the founder of the church in Colosse. Yet we also know in the letter to Philemon that he is in Rome helping Paul while in prison. So this founding pastor of the church leaves his 'calling' and 'vocation' in his church to serve as an 'errand boy' to an apostle hundreds of miles away in another city.

But Epaphras can only go and serve Paul in this way because another named Archippus has determined to step up and serve Epaphras, presumably by taking his place as pastor, or at least as a church leader of some sort. So Archippus leaves his 'calling' and 'vocation,' whatever that was, in order to serve in the capacity where he was needed most.

But Archippus can only rise to serve the church in Colosse as a leader because people like Philemon and Apphia (presumably Philemon's wife, or possibly sister), as well as the rest of the church body, are serving him by identifying, recognizing and affirming his gifts in this area of leadership. Philemon and Apphia utilize their 'calling' and wealth and influence and reputation in order to finance and support the work of the ministry in Colosse. And the believers in the local church there are utilizing their 'calling' as Christians to function within the local church so as to help it grow.

And the church body can only identify, recognize and affirm his gifts in leadership because they are serving one another in love, as we read of in Philemon 7 – they were all refreshed.

But all of them were only refreshed because Philemon was serving them through his generosity and love for them.

So the advancement of the gospel in Rome was happening through Paul because believers were serving him and were serving each other.

Further, if Philemon was an elder or leader in the church, then Archippus could have only assumed pastoral leadership of the church in Philemon’s home if Philemon was generous enough to open his home up for the believers to gather there, and if Philemon, presumably, gave the necessary monies to finance his work, and possibly even Epaphras’.

And, if Archippus was Philemon’s son (as many scholars think), then the father is serving son through the generosity of home and finances so that the son can serve the father, thereby both serving the rest of the body of Christ.

That’s how the gospel works itself in us and out through us to the rest of the world. Everybody serving everybody so that the gospel can go out to everybody else.

Do we care enough about the gospel that we are willing to do whatever we must do in order to see it applied and advanced, even if it means stepping outside our 'calling' or 'vocation'?

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