Note: As mentioned in previous posts, our church’s women’s ministry just completed a study on Colossians that is still very fresh in my notebook and bouncing around the walls of my heart and head. For posterity, I’m sharing some thoughts from each of the sessions that resonated personally and including notes from the cutting room floor that didn’t make it to the teaching sessions.
“In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.”Colossians 1:6-7
“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.”Colossians 4:12-13
When studying a book of the Bible, particularly a New Testament letter, it’s easy to miss critical details if we are satisfied with a surface reading. When researching the context of Colossians, we learned Epaphras undertook a 1300-mile journey to consult Paul in a Roman prison when false teachers threatened to confuse the young faith of his beloved church by undermining the foundational truths of Jesus’ supremacy and sufficiency.
And these were not 1300 easy miles. No Buccee’s. No heated seats. No Cheez-Its and Diet Dr. Pepper’s or 80’s mixed tapes. But Epaphras went anyway because his people were in trouble and Paul was the subject matter expert who could advise how to best intervene.
Intervention. The word immediately makes us think of reality television and drug addiction, but the act is as old as time. The word literally means, “the action of becoming intentionally involved in a difficult situation, in order to improve it or prevent it from getting worse”. (Cambridge Dictionary) The first intervention occurred in Genesis when God confronted Adam and Eve’s sin and ultimately led to the sacrifice of His Son to prevent eternal separation. All interventions suggest some personal cost be it spiritually, emotionally, financially, or physically by the one stepping in on behalf of the other.
And yet, are we prepared to purposefully involve ourselves in another’s life when we have enough of our own issues to deal with? Epaphras may set an incredibly high standard for what it looks like to go above and beyond for those we love but at the very least he forces us to evaluate what we are willing to sacrifice for them. Is it worth a moment of time in our own town for the price of a cup of coffee to check in with those within our church families whose spiritual well-being may be at risk? After struggling through two long years of a pandemic, many are missing among our numbers who may need nothing more than a simple phone call to restore fellowship. Will we pick up the phone?
It’s one thing to be cut to the quick when taking a long look in the mirror, and another altogether to act on what we’ve seen. Following Epaphras’ example, allow me to suggest some ways to equip ourselves to battle the enemy on behalf of those we love.
- Gather co-laborers
When we find ourselves frozen into inaction, it’s often because we feel we are in it alone and the enormity of inserting ourselves into another’s life is too daunting to take on. But we aren’t alone – we are set within the Body of Christ and together we have a courage and confidence that’s hard to muster in the solitude of our own living rooms.
Epaphras surrounded himself not just with casual friendships but with ministry partners who were as invested as him in seeing others know the truth of the Gospel. When the church was threatened, he went to the foremost authority on Jesus’ teaching and invited him in. There was no competition, no comparing his own influence with that of Paul’s. The church was more important than his ego and together the men prayed and planned and worked to defend the Colossians against those who threatened her.
For reasons unknown, we’ve come to fear awkwardness above all things. So, if it’s a complicated situation, gather some equally weird friends and use fresh imaginations on the best ways to reconnect with those who are floundering.
- Wrestle with prayer, not people
Epaphras was “always wrestling in prayer” for his fellow brothers and sisters. Undoubtedly, before seeking out Paul he had approached them with truth to combat the lies they were being fed by the false teachers. We don’t know how these conversations played out but from personal experience, people are often happier in their delusions and do not always welcome being brought back to reality.
Depending on the depth of the deception, simple reasoning may no longer be an option. God alone can change hearts and minds so fighting the thing out with the individual at great cost to the relationship and our own well-being is futile. It’s in these times that we speak our peace and surround ourselves with co-laborers who will wrestle alongside us in prayer believing that God will hear and act.
- Keep receipts
Paul “vouched” that Epaphras was working hard not only for the Colossians but for those in the neighboring areas as well. He kept receipts on what he’d witnessed of his co-laborers and presented them readily to any who may question their motives. It was his great joy to commend others for the sake of the Gospel.
In a time when people take to social media to gather their own following, it’s increasingly rare to see one deflect the spotlight onto another. Not all interventions have a negative connotation. Some of the most valuable input we can make into someone else’s life may be in their calling instead of their weakness. Be ready to praise others. Point out their giftedness and the ways God is using them. This validation may be just the thing a woman needed to identify how God will use her to invest in the lives of others.
Here are some questions presented in the Bonus Material for this teaching session. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject:
- Have you ever had to take extreme actions to protect the spiritual, and perhaps physical, well-being of someone you love? How did your risks compare to Epaphras’?
- Sometimes, we are the ones who need to be confronted. On a scale of 1 (Don’t judge me) to 10 ( I welcome accountability), how do you rate yourself on willingness to accept wise counsel from church leadership, fellow believers, and/or family members?
- Think of someone whose work is faithful but perhaps unrecognized or unacknowledged. How can you encourage her and/or commend her to others?