Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fellow Servant, Faithful Discipler

As you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:7-8)

As the gospel, the good news about the grace of God through Jesus the Messiah, began to fill the world, it soon came to Colosse, where some believed. Ever since then, Paul says, it has been bringing forth fruit among them. The grace of God is not a one-off experience where you hear the good news, believe it and that’s that. That is just the beginning. There is a new life, and a new way of living. The grace of God continues to work, bearing its fruit in us. In Galatians, Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The grace of God is a tree of life within us, and the process of learning to walk in this grace and experience this fruit is called discipleship.

“You learned this from Epaphras,” Paul says. The Greek word for “learn” is manthano. From it comes the word mathetes, the Greek word for “disciple.” The believers at Colosse were discipled, taught how to live in the grace of God, by Epaphras. So who is this guy?
  • He is one of their own, a man of Colosse — one of you,” Paul says (Colossians 4:12) — who ministers throughout the region, in Laodicea and Hierapolis (4:13).
  • He is a well-loved “fellow servant” with Paul and Timothy, and indeed of all who serve Jesus the Messiah.
  • He is a faithful “minister.”
  • He is a man of fervent prayer and great zeal (4:12-13).
  • Not only a fellow servant, he is also a “fellow prisoner” with Paul. That’s what Paul calls him in his brief letter to Philemon (v. 23), one of the believers at Colosse. Paul wrote both of these letters, as well as the ones to believers at Ephesus and Philippi, while he was in prison for proclaiming King Jesus.
Notice that Paul calls Epaphras both a “fellow servant” (Greek, syndoulos, slaves together) and a faithful “minister” (Greek, diakonos, deacon). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words explains the difference between these two words this way:
Diakonos is, generally speaking, to be distinguished from doulos, “a bondservant, slave”; diakonos views a servant in relationship to his work; doulos views him in relationship to his master. See, e.g., Matt. 22:2-14; those who bring in the guests (vv. 3-4, 6, 8, 10) are douloi; those who carry out the king’s sentence (v. 13) are diakonoi.
Servant speaks of the One to whom Epaphras belonged. Minister speaks of the function he performed, the service he rendered to Jesus and His church. It was a work in which he was found to be trustworthy. He did not just introduce the Colossians to Jesus; he ministered the grace and hospitality of Jesus to them. With fervent prayer and great zeal, he discipled them in faith, hope and love and became founding pastor of the Church at Colosse.

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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