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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Epaphras: An Example of Faithfulness in Ministry
Text:Colossians 4:12-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Leadership
 
Preached:11/15/2015
Added:2015-11-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Pastor Ted Gray
11/15/2015 - a.m.
Epaphras: An Example of Faithfulness in Ministry”
Colossians 1:7-8; 4:12-13
 
There is always great sadness – even a sense of betrayal – when a minister is unfaithful. It is sad when any member of the church is unfaithful; nothing is harder on the church than exercising discipline, especially excommunication. That is true for any member of the church, but it is especially true when the pastor is unfaithful.
 
We saw last week where Demas (Colossians 4:14) deserted Paul and ran after the pleasures of the world. And this was after working with the apostle Paul and the other apostles for many years. For many years Demas seemed to be a faithful servant of the Lord’s, in service as a minister to the churches of the first century. We find him even willing to sacrifice his freedom as he was imprisoned with Paul and with the others mentioned in this passage. But Demas turned out to be unfaithful. In 2 Timothy 4:9 Paul wrote to Timothy, Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.
 
A Faithful Minister of Christ
 
By contrast to Demas, Epaphras set an example of faithfulness in ministry. He is described in Colossians 1:7 as being: A faithful minister of Christ and in Colossians 4:12 as a servant of Christ Jesus.
 
He was faithful in at least two specific ways. He was faithful in proclaiming the gospel message and he was faithful in persevering in ministry. When things got tough in Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea, three locations where he ministered, he didn't throw in the towel and quit. In that way he stands in contrast to many ministers today.
 
Statistics from the Barna Group, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary reveal that 50% of the ministers starting out today will not last 5 years in ministry.  Only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister. Only a fraction of those who enter the ministry will continue in ministry throughout their lifetime. The rest quit or are fired. 1,500 pastors leave the ministry for good each month with the main reasons being burnout, contention in their churches, and moral failure. 70% of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but they have no other way of making a living.
 
But Epaphras was a faithful minister of Christ in that he persevered in ministry. Even though he had to deal with false teachers, with people in his congregation who did not want to hear sound doctrine, even though he ended up in jail, where we find him in Colossians chapter 4 – even in all these various hard circumstances he did not throw in the towel and quit. That is one way he was a faithful minister of Christ.
 
But he was also a faithful minister of Christ in regard to the gospel; he was faithful in teaching biblical truths. Did you notice how in Colossians 1 the apostle Paul describes how all over the world in the first century the gospel was bearing fruit and growing? He describes how through the gospel the Colossians understood God’s grace in all its truth. And then in verse 7 he writes, You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
 
From those verses we see that Epaphras did not deviate from the gospel. He did not try to add to it, nor did he try to take away the hard teachings of the Word of God. But rather he faithfully taught the truths of the gospel so that the Colossians understood the grace of God.
 
Here again he stands in contrast to many ministers today who are anything but faithful to the Word of God. The reason why they are not faithful to the Word of God is because many ministers do not believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word from God.
 
Many years ago already a survey was done among 7,441 Protestant pastors. They were asked if they believed that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God: 87% of Methodists said No. 95% of Episcopalians said No. 82% of Presbyterians said No. 67% of American Baptists said No. And the survey was done in 1987! Do you think those numbers have improved since then?  They obviously have not. (Pulpit Helps, December, 1987).
 
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a faithful theologian, wrote an article back in 2010 entitled Preachers Who Don’t Believe — The Scandal of Apostate Pastors. He described many pastors from across a large number of denominations who are clearly apostate. One of the many described in the article was Wes. Wes is a Methodist minister who lost his confidence in the Bible while attending a liberal Christian college and seminary. Wes went to college thinking Adam and Eve were real people. But he left college and seminary no longer believing that God exists.
 
He said that his church members do not know that he is an atheist, but he explained that they are somewhat liberal themselves. And he added that his ministerial colleagues are even more liberal. He explained: They’ve been demythologized. They don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead literally. They don’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin. They don’t believe all those things that would cause a big stir in their churches.” (albertmohler.com)
 
In his article Dr. Mohler cites many other ministers from a large variety of denominations who are apostate. They are unbelievers. But they are in churches as leaders, leading people astray. They are  a striking example of the truth of Scripture which declares in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15: For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
 
By contrast, Epaphras was faithful to the gospel and he was also faithful in perseverance.
 
Wrestling in Prayer
 
We also see in these closing verses of Colossians 4 that Epaphras was a fervent person of prayer, wrestling – struggling – in prayer on behalf of God’s people. Verse 12: 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.
 
What does it mean that he was wrestling (NIV) in prayer, struggling in prayer as some other versions put it? It means that he was perceptive and thoughtful in his prayer life. Each prayer wasn't just a mechanical recitation of previous prayers. Rather he considered the people in his congregations, the various trials, hardships and temptations put before them and then struggled to bring those needs to the throne of God’s grace.
 
As a faithful minister, Epaphras had undoubtedly read the Old Testament scrolls many times over, including the ones by Samuel where Samuel writes, 1 Samuel 12:23, As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.
 
And did you notice what he prayed for? In verse 12 we see that he prayed for spiritual blessings. He prayed that the members of his church would stand firm in their faith, that they would know the will of God, and that they would be mature spiritually, fully assured of their salvation. The prayer life of the minister is crucial for the well-being of his congregation.
 
However, it’s not just the ordained minister who must be a person of fervent prayer. Each one of us is a minister in that each one of us is to minister the love of Christ to others. Some churches effectively put that concept in front of the congregation. On the front of their bulletins they state the minister’s name, followed by the word “pastor.” And then beneath his name the bulletin says: “The congregation, ministers.”
 
All of us are to minister the love and grace of Christ to others. Wrestling in prayer for the spiritual well-being of those around us is a vital part of every Christian’s personal ministry.
 
A Hard Working Pastor
 
A third noteworthy characteristic about Epaphras is that he was a pastor who worked hard. Paul writes in Verse 13: I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
 
Unfortunately, not every pastor is a hard-working minister. Because a pastor does not punch a time clock and because a pastor usually doesn’t work directly under the oversight of others, lazy pastors can get away with a lot. It has been rightly noted that if the minister can preach an easy to listen to sermon on Sunday, if he has a congenial gift of gab, he can probably get away with a very easy life the rest of the week.
 
Because of the temptation to be lazy, the Lord gave many warnings to those who are in ministry. Ezekiel 34:2 is just one of many Old Testament warnings: ‘..This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?’”
 
Jesus gives a similar warning in John 10 where he warns about false shepherds and teaches that He is the true Shepherd who cares for His flock. James also gives a warning to anyone who would enter ministry, when he writes in the opening verse of James 3, Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. But unfortunately, many pastors do not take those warnings to heart.
 
In contrast to lazy pastors who are in ministry, Epaphras worked hard. Any minister who takes the call to ministry seriously and works hard will find that there is always more to do. He will find that the work of ministry is never completed. There are always more calls that can be made. There are always more visits to do. There is always more work to do on another sermon. There is always work to do, whether for catechism, mid-week Bible studies or administrative work. There is always a need for more study on future messages. There is always more time needed for personal devotions and prayer time, for if the pastor is not fed, how can he feed others? There is always more time needed to be with family as many ministers wives become “pastors’ widows” in the sense that their husbands are so busy with church that the wife is neglected. In the Barna and Focus on the Family statistics on ministry, the divorce rate for ministers is surprisingly high.
 
The work of the minister can be likened to the shape of an iceberg. You only see the tip of the iceberg – about one seventh – you don’t see the great quantity of ice that is below the surface. In a similar way, you see the work of a minister on the Lord’s Day, in the preaching of the Word and in the teaching that is done, but you don’t see what is below the surface. You don’t see all the work that is involved in ministry. In the statistics by the Barna Group and Focus on the Family it was found that among pastors who work hard the average work week is well over 55 hours per week.
 
It is only by God’s grace that a minister works hard. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:10, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
 
The Power and Need for Prayer
 
As we close the study of the 4th chapter of Colossians, we should be reminded of the emphasis of the chapter highlighted in verse 2, which instructs all of us to devote ourselves to prayer. Devotion to prayer is echoed throughout Scripture. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are told to pray without ceasing. It is telling us that our whole life must be an attitude of prayerful dependence on God.
 
Other New Testament passages give us specific things to pray for. For instance, Ephesians 6 describes the devil’s tactics against all believers. Ephesians 6 warns us of the spiritual warfare that all of us face. It instructs us to put on the full armor of God, which includes faithfulness to the study of God’s Word and faithful living according to that Word. And then in Ephesians 6:18 we read: ..Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
 
In addition to prayers for all believers – all the saints – always pray for those who are in ministry. In Colossians 4:3 the Apostle Paul writes, And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message. It is only one of many passages where Paul specifically asked for prayer for himself and for blessing in his ministry. In Romans 15:30 he pleads, I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.
 
The reason why the apostle so frequently asked for prayer is that he realized that those in ministry serve as a bull’s eye on the devil’s target. Every Christian is the focus of his target, but when he can get a leader in the church to fall he scores a great victory, even though he has already lost the war.
 
The reason it is such a victory for the evil one to cause a  minister to fall is because it shatters the confidence of Christians in their spiritual leaders, and it also causes unbelievers to blaspheme the name of God. Writing to the Romans the Apostle points out in Romans 2:21-24, You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
 
Because the evil one has this added incentive of causing pastors to fall he uses every temptation possible. Many pastors fall to the temptation to be slothful. One of the men from another church who regularly attends our Men’s Breakfast pointed out that lazy ministers can get a sermon off the Internet and use it as their own. He is absolutely right, and there are many ministers who do just that.
 
Other ministers are tempted by the arrow of lust. Statistics on the number of ministers who are addicted to pornography are absolutely stunning. One reason why ministers might get a sermon off the Internet is because they haven’t had time to make their own sermon since they have been busy looking at pornography all day. And that is a problem not just in liberal churches, but in conservative, Reformed churches as well.
 
For pastors like Epaphras, who work hard, burnout can be a real problem. I find verse 17 intriguing because it says, Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.” I find it intriguing, because as I mentioned, the work of the ministry is never over. People ask, “How long does it take to write a sermon?”  The real answer is it takes a lifetime. It takes a lifetime of study and prayer; it takes a lifetime of experiencing God’s providence in one’s life. Because of that every sermon is incomplete. It could always be better. It could always be deeper, more applicable, more Christ-honoring. Many pastors have trouble sleeping on Sunday night, because they are thinking of what they could have, and perhaps should have, said to make their sermons more effective. There is always more work to be done and because of that every conscientious pastor works with a certain level of futility.
 
Consequently, discouragement is one of the devil’s most effective tools against pastors. After all, he used it very effectively against Elijah, taking Elijah from the top of Mount Carmel to the heat of the desert where he came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4).
 
Every Christian can relate to that feeling of discouragement at times, but it is certainly true in the pastoral ministry. If you are faithful in ministry you are often going to be discouraged. And I don’t say that as a way to get sympathy or to complain. Over the years I have come to see that it is indeed a great privilege to serve as a pastor. I say it simply as a matter of fact.
 
And it is a fact that we should not be surprised by. Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He carries all the sorrows that are cast upon Him, but He also bore all the sins of everyone who believes in Him. Is He described in Scripture as always jovial, whistling carefree on His way to Mount Calvary?
 
Not at all. In his life on earth Jesus is best known as a man of sorrows, acquainted with suffering and grief. Philippians 1:29 tells us how it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have (29-30).
 
All of us share in those sufferings of Christ. And those who are called to be under-shepherds beneath the Great Shepherd of the sheep should not be surprised that many times ministry is discouraging and depressing, hard and frustrating.
 
But instead of throwing in the towel and quitting, pastors are called to follow that good example of Epaphras. How many sufferings did he have as he served those churches at Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea? We don’t know the full extent of them, but we know they were severe enough that he was in prison with Paul as this last chapter was written.
 
In the sufferings of life we are always to remember the words of Jesus in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And take to heart the words of Romans 8:18 where Paul writes, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
 
* * *
 
I appreciate your prayers for me, even as I pray for you. Pray that I may follow the example put before me in Scripture – that of Christ – and the example of Pastor Epaphras who was a faithful minister of Christ: He was faithful in perseverance; faithful to the gospel. He was a pastor who wrestled in prayer for his congregation. He was a pastor who always worked hard, knowing that even in the discouragement of the pastorate the promise of 1 Corinthians 15:58 is of great comfort – to those in the pews as well as to those in the pulpit – Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Amen.

 

- bulletin outline -

 

You learned it (the gospel)  from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful ministerof Christ on your behalf…  I vouch for him that he is working hard
for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. - Colossians 1:7… Colossians 4:13
 
Epaphras: An Example of Faithfulness in Ministry
Colossians 1:7-8; 4:12-13
 
I. Epaphras set an example in ministry as he was:
     1) A faithful minister of Christ (12a; Colossians 1:7-8)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     2) A fervent person of prayer, wrestling – struggling – in prayer on behalf of God’s people (12)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     3) A pastor who worked hard (13)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
II. Application: Never quit praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17) for all believers (Ephesians 6:18) and for those in ministry (Colossians 4:2-4; Romans 15:30)
 
 
 
 
 
 
11/15/2015 – a.m.

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 11/1, Rev. Ted Gray

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