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April 30th, 2017

Sermon Colossians 1:18 . . . “People to meet in heaven:  Epaphras”

“People to meet in heaven:  Epaphras”

Colossians 1:1-8

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In his book, Invisibles:  Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of the Workplace, author David Zweig writes, “The United States…has always been a nation of strivers and ingenuity.  Anyone who’s made the effort to come here is a motivated individual…it’s our cultural, perhaps even biological DNA.”

But, he says, somewhere in the background, working behind the scenes, there’s another group of people called “the Invisibles”.  In his words, they’re the “highly skilled people whose roles are critical to whatever enterprise they are a part of…defiantly in opposition to the accolades.”  In other words, if it weren’t for the quiet, unknown, often unnamed workers, the world as we know it would quickly fall apart.

Think of the perfume industry, for example.  You’ve heard of Calvin Klein’s Escape for men, Paradise for women, Hugo by Hugo Boss, Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden, Forever by Elizabeth Taylor and Ralph Lauren Blue for women.  They’re some of the most popular and best-selling fragrances in the world.  

But have you ever heard of the man who created them, David Apel?  Probably not, and you probably never will.  He’s the perfumer, the “nose” behind the scent.

Or how about Jim Harding?  You’ve probably never heard of him either, and probably never will.  He’s a “wayfinder” at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the busiest airport in the world.

What’s a “wayfinder,” you ask?  I’m glad you asked!  He’s someone who designs signs, light and even architecture to help people navigate a busy environment.  And while you may never look up and say, “My, what great signs they have here!” or “I found everything so easily!” it’s his job to take us, in the fastest way possible, from where we are to wherever we want to go.

He too is an “invisible,” quietly working behind the scenes, doing his job.

And in the book of Colossians, chapter 1, we find someone just like that—a man named Epaphras, a man we want to meet in heaven.

If you would, please turn in your Bible to page 1251 as I read the words of our text, from Colossians chapter 1, starting at verse 1:  “Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:  grace to you and peace from God our Father.  We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.  Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.  He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

“Epaphras our beloved fellow servant,” wrote Paul.

So who was he and what do we know about him?

If I could, let me also read the words printed in your Bible on the top of the page.  That’ll help us to better understand what’s going on.

It says:  “Paul wrote to the church in Colossae to fortify it against false teachers who might try to impose strict rules about eating and drinking and religious festivals.  Paul shows the superiority of Christ over all human philosophies and traditions.  He writes of Christ’s deity (‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’) and of the reconciliation He accomplished with His blood.  He explains that the right way of living in this world is to focus on heavenly rather than earthly things.  God’s chosen people must leave their sinful lives behind and live in a godly way, looking to Christ as the head of the church.  Paul wrote while in prison, probably about the same time as he wrote to the Ephesians.”

As you may already know, the apostle Paul went on three different missionary journeys over a period of some thirteen years.  He visited places like Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Philippi, Lystra, Derbe and even Athens, Greece.  And there he told the good news of Jesus Christ.

As he wrote to the Corinthians:  “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

And while Paul was able to visit so many places throughout Asia Minor, there were also a number of places he never could.  And one of them was a city called Colossae, a town that lay at the foot of Mount Cadmus, not far from Hierapolis and Laodicea.

But even though Paul was never able to visit them, God sent another man named Epaphras to minister to them.  As he wrote in verse 7:  “Just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.  He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf.”

So who was he?  He was a behind-the-scenes, “invisible” kind of guy, an unsung hero sent by God, and encouraged by the apostle Paul.

But apparently, his work wasn’t easy.  The people of Colossae had problems of all kinds.  For one thing, just after the time of Christ, they were hit by an earthquake.  And while other cities managed to rebuild, poor, little Colossae never really did seem to recover.  Even more, it was never much more than just a small town.

But their real struggle came in their walk with Christ.  As one commentator put it, the people of Colossae “lived in an environment of religious pluralism.  They coexisted with people who worshiped Anatolian, Persian, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian deities and with Jews who were devoted to the worship of one God and the observance of Torah.”  In other words, it was a place where anything goes, where no one knew what to believe.

Then to make matters worse, not only did the people of Colossae live in the midst of a hodgepodge of religious beliefs, it had become a sort of theological stew.  Different thoughts and practices of various religious beliefs all sort of blended together.  What did it really mean to worship God and follow Christ?  No one really knew.  And, poor Epaphras, good and faithful minister that he was, didn’t quite know what to do.

That’s why he boarded a ship, and sailed all the way across the Mediterranean, to the city of Rome.  And there he sat and poured out his heart at the feet of the apostle Paul.  

As it says in chapter 4:  “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.  For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.”

And that’s why he wrote in chapter 1, at verse 9:  “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

The Bible has more than its share of “heavyweights,” those we know so deeply and so well—people like Moses and Elijah, Mary and Martha, Peter and Paul.

But the Bible also mentions hundreds of others like Jehu and Silvanus, Terah and Tychicus, Uzzah and Othniel, even Bezalel and Hushai the Archite.  They’re the “D-listers,” the ones we don’t know so well.

So it is for a man named Epaphras.  He didn’t walk on water, like Peter did.  He didn’t call down fire from heaven, like Elijah.  And while you can be sure to find, most anywhere, a St. Paul Lutheran Church, you’ll probably never hear of one called, “St. Epaphras.”

But that’s okay.  He was a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, quietly, faithfully, doing what God called him to do.

And so can we.  Sometimes, what we do is the hardest thing anyone could ever do—leading a Bible Class, visiting shut-ins, guiding youth, teaching Sunday School, whatever it might be—quietly and faithfully, we do what God has called us to do.

So what can we learn from this man named Epaphras?  Let me mention just two things.

First, he cared for his people.  You could tell that by the way he loved them and prayed for them.  That’s why Paul wrote in chapter 4:  “He struggled on your behalf…that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

And one more thing—when Epaphras knew he couldn’t do it, that his work was more than he could handle, when false teachers and false teachings invaded his church and the churches of the Lycus Valley, he sailed all the way across the Mediterranean to sit at the feet of the apostle Paul.

And when life brings us more than we can handle and our problems seem too hard to bear, there’s a place even we can go—to the Word that strengthens us and to the feet of our Savior Jesus.

As Paul wrote to the Colossians:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

 

We thank You, dear Jesus, for the mission and ministry of a man named Epaphras.  Help us in our callings, whatever they may be, as we seek to faithfully follow You.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen

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