Family You’ve Never Met

How did the gospel make it to Colossae?
(Christocentric Lesson 1)

Family reunions. They’re loved and hated. Perhaps you go to one every year. A great thing about family reunions is that you get to see faces which you only see once a year. Some of those relatives you’d never see if it weren’t for that get-together. That can also be the bad thing. You have to visit with those relatives from whom you tried to stay away all during the year. Then WHAM! You’ve got to deal with them at the reunion. But then there are those family members which you never get to see. You know they exist. You know they are Uncle Jack’s grandkids, but you’ve never seen them—never met them, but you know they’re part of your family. They just never show up at the reunions or anywhere else where you happen to be.

Family can be a tremendous blessing, but when you’re a believer, you have another family, a spiritual family, because you have a common Father in heaven. Everyone who has turned from sin and turned to Christ in faith and repentance is a member of God’s family, and that bond is eternal. That’s the situation of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He’s writing to a group of believers which he’s never met, and the letter serves as Paul’s point of contact with his spiritual family in Colossae which he’s heard about through Epaphras, a beloved brother in Christ. Because he’s seen the concern of Epaphras for the Colossian believers, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes up the task of proclaiming Christ and His supremacy to the Christians in Colossae.

A Big City, a Big Message

Paul was a missionary, and he started churches where he traveled. In one particular metropolis called Ephesus, he started a church and stayed on for around three years. He ministered daily in Ephesus as he shared the gospel and built up the believers in solid Christian teaching. Because Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, the largest city in the area, and a great commercial center, people came from miles around to do business in the city. The city also housed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the temple of Artemis, or Diana.[1] Paul was able to spread the gospel to people from all around as they came to Ephesus and crossed his path there. In fact, so great was his daily teaching influence upon Ephesus and upon those who visited that Dr. Luke said, “…all the inhabitants of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the message about the Lord” (Acts 19:10).

A New Believer, a New Church

I grew up in rural Southwestern Louisiana and lived about seven miles from the nearest small town. My sisters and I made the trek each day to attend school there. My family could get most of our basic needs met right there, but sometimes we needed to go a little farther away into the city. Similarly, this seems to be the case with a man by the name of Epaphras. Possibly, he had traveled to the big city of Ephesus from a smaller town called Colossae which was about 120 miles east of Ephesus. Perhaps, Epaphras went to the city to sell merchandise or buy supplies, or maybe he journeyed there to visit the synagogue or to worship the goddess Diana. For whatever reason, he found himself in Ephesus and possibly heard Paul teaching somewhere in the city. Whether after his first hearing of the gospel or after multiple hearings, Epaphras believed the good news about Christ and repented of his sin. He became a follower of Christ, and Paul became his father in the faith.

At some point, Epaphras left Ephesus and went back to his hometown of Colossae. The evident fact is that he could not keep this news to himself. He shared it with others in Colossae. Paul wrote, “…You have already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you….You learned this from Epaphras….” (Col. 1:5-7). Soon there was a group of believers meeting together worshipping the one true God and honoring Christ, His Son. Since Paul’s life was Christocentric, or centered on Christ, he was faithful to the task of sharing Christ’s message, and countless lives have been changed by Christ through Paul’s faithfulness. Paul made himself available for the Lord’s use, and God used him to change a man’s life and that man’s eternal destiny and thus bring change to a town he’d never even visited and become a spiritual grandfather of sorts to family in Colossae.

Questions to Ponder

  • Have you considered that what you think is a chance encounter with someone may be a God-ordained opportunity to share the gospel with that person?
  • If you’re a believer in Christ, is there an Epaphras in your life? If not, why not?

For Further Study

[1] Stott, John R.W. God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians. (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1979, 1980), 23.