Faithful Co-workers in the Gospel

When the apostle Paul wrote to the saints at Colossae he told them that he regularly thanked God for them in his prayers. Although Paul had not visited Colossae when he wrote his letter, he knew of the growth of the church through his faithful co-worker, Epaphras. His letter of encouragement to these new Christians therefore began with thanksgiving to God for the work of grace in each of their lives.

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.     Colossians 1:3-6

Here the familiar triad of faith, hope and love are knitted together in Paul’s prayer. Faith and love spring from hope, according to the apostle, which is a way of saying that they spring from God’s promises to us in the gospel. Our hope is the joy of heaven secured for those whose lives are bound to Jesus Christ. He is our righteousness and through him, God freely forgives us, since we would otherwise be condemned. Faith and love are therefore our response to God’s grace and the hope that is ‘stored up for us in heaven’. Faith highlights our trust in God, not just for our salvation but for every aspect of our lives, expressed in humble dependence upon his word. Love highlights our obedience to God in all that we do, honouring God by our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:8) in accordance with his word. This, as Paul declares elsewhere (Romans 1:5), is the ‘obedience of faith’: not an obedience that is dependent upon our own efforts, nor a faith that is barren; but ‘faith expressing itself through love’ (Galatians 5:6).

Epaphras brought this good news to the city of Colossae. Who was your Epaphras? Who first shared with you the hope of heaven, the joy of sins forgiven and the liberating declaration that you were righteous in God’s sight solely through the work of Christ? Perhaps it was your parents, your minister, your Sunday School teacher, a relative, friend or neighbour. Whoever, it was, I trust you thank God for them in having shared this news with you.  

Perhaps another more interesting question is: who would say that you were their Epaphras? Who could thank God that you shared the hope of heaven with them? Paul expected every Christian to be partners in the gospel. He expected every believer to ‘redeem the time’ (Ephesians 5:16), or as he says to the Colossians:

Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders, make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everybody. Colossians 4:5-6

The gospel was growing among the citizens of Colossae, for they shared in the joy of seeing gospel growth among them (Colossians 1:6). Their activity was a delight to the apostle and a cause of much joy and thanksgiving to God. As we commence a new calendar year in 2024, we all have a part to play in God’s great mission to the world. May we be as earnest and as prayerful as Epaphras and those early Colossians, making the most of our time with those who do not know God, so that Christ might be honoured as Lord and Saviour in every community throughout the world.

Bishop Glenn Davies
Diocese of the Southern Cross

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