Colossians 1:7–8 (ESV): 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
It is believed that Epaphras, a native of Colossae (Colossians 4:14) traveled to Ephesus while Paul ministered there, was converted, and then returned home, starting the church in Colossae.
Epaphras now had traveled to Rome to report the faith, love and hope of Colossae Church, but also the presence of some who were teaching false doctrines.
In Colossians 4:12, Epaphras is described as a prayer warrior, struggling in prayer for his church. In Philemon, a personal letter sent to an individual who lived near Colossae and may have been delivered at the same time as Colossians, Paul described Epaphras as a fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus (v. 23). Thus, Epaphras’ efforts to minister to Paul may have led to his own arrest.
Of all the descriptions Paul could have used for this fellow minister of the Gospel, it is interesting to note what Paul called Epaphras: faithful. Epaphras was a successful church planter. Epaphras was a prayer warrior, which Paul did note at the end of his letter. But how did Paul describe this fellow preacher and pastor?
In a world driven by the search for success, followers of Jesus must take note of God’s values.
Even in the church world today, we tend to highlight those who can grow a church to large numbers, or at least pastor a large church, who make a name in their community for various reasons, are published authors, etc, etc. We often rate a preacher by how dynamic his sermon delivery is, how polished and energizing the worship service feels, among other factors.
God values faithfulness.
Notice also of whom Epaphras was a servant: “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf” (Colossians 1:7). The minister of the Gospel serves Christ… on the behalf of people.
The pastor is not a politician, seeking to please a constituency. The pastor is a servant of King Jesus. The pastor shares the Good News to his community.
The message of the Good News is God’s love and grace, but the gospel is also a warning of God’s judgment upon those who will not repent. Therefore, the pastor’s work is not merely of being a messenger, but also a prophet.
The pastor’s faithfulness is seen in his ministry to his congregation, but the gauge of his faithfulness is Christ Jesus.
As an aside: it is interesting to consider that the people-gifts Christ gave the church (Ephesians 4:11) are more about roles of gospel ministers than titles of offices. If so, we would then see that apostles are those who bring the message of the Gospel to people, prophets proclaim God’s grace and judgment, evangelists passionately seek to convince people of Gospel truth through the work of the Spirit, and pastor-teachers expound the truth of the Gospel for the growth in grace of God’s people.
The ESV margin notes that in some Greek manuscripts “your behalf” (v. 7) is “our behalf.” If this rendering were preferable, the stress of the accountability of the gospel minister would be even less to the local congregation, as Paul would appear to note Epaphras as a missionary sent from his apostolic team to Colossae Church. Or, Paul could have been seeking to emphasize Epaphras’ pastoral authority by appealing to his own apostolic authority.
Regardless, Epaphras was a faithful minister of Christ on the behalf of Colossae Church. Epaphras reported to Christ, but he did serve the local church. Therefore, he was responsible to minister well to the people.
The significance of all this is the tendency of many local churches today to regard the pastor from a secular, business-like mindset. The pastor is hired as “CEO” and is expected to produce for and please the local congregation.
If the pastor’s messages are not deemed encouraging or exciting enough, if attendance does not grow, if the worship services are not polished and riveting, if the people do not feel “cared for” enough, the pastor is called on the carpet by the board of directors, and expected to turn around the “trajectory of the church” or be subject to threats of pay cuts or dismissal.
In adopting this model of the church, a local church robs itself of the blessing that Christ gives to it. God calls “gospel ministers” in order to share the Good News… in light of the menacing reality of sin. God forgives, redeems, and pardons the repentant, but those who persist in rebellion against him are doomed to an eternity of separation from God and terrible punishment for their sin! Thus, a pastor who acquiesces to spoken or unspoken demands to only preach a positive message, never challenging people for error, is truly an unfaithful minister of Christ!
Furthermore, the pastor is called by God to this ministry. If he begins to answer to people, rather than God, he takes orders from the wrong entity. The pastor cannot lead people in the will of God by following the will of man, whose heart is deceitful, and desperately wicked.
We must also remember the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9). In a real and vital way, God has called every single follower of Jesus to be a minister of the gospel. God has given us different gifts, according to Christ’s grace, but he has given us all the responsibility to serve. As Ephesians 2:10, we are his worksmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
As Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11-13, God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers (whether one understands that as roles or functions of “gospel ministers”) to equip the saints to do the work of ministry, whereby the church will be built up and mature in the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God.
Does this mean the pastor has no responsibility to grow the local church? Should he be excused if week after week his messages do not sound “inspiring” to the congregation or seem disconnected from God’s Word? If the pastor is a minister of Christ Jesus, what is his responsibility to the local church?
These are only a few of the possible responsibility/accountability questions for the pastor. But firstly, Jesus himself said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Thus, the church’s growth ultimately is due to the work of Christ, but we must also note that the pastor and congregation are responsible to cooperate with and follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor. A pastor who refuses to act in faith or to follow God’s will may be a leading factor in a local church’s failure to grow, but the same is true of a congregation unwilling to act and serve in faith or to follow God’s leading.
Jesus told two parables that, on the face of it, are very similar, yet upon great reflection have different implications and applications. In Matthew 25, Jesus told the story of a master giving three servants different amounts of money – the Parable of the Talents. Two invested their money and doubled the principal. The third hid away the money, unwilling to work for his master. In this parable, application is clear: a faithful servant will work hard, taking risks by faith, and will experience both a return on his endeavor and the commendation of his master.
The Parable of the Ten Minas, recorded in Luke 19:11-27, is deceivingly similar, but has different, important implications. In this parable, the master calls ten servants and gives them each one mina. Whereas in the other parable, some might argue the first two servants had an advantage over the third, in this parable each servant is given the same amount of money.
Furthermore, in this parable of the ten minas, the first servant does not merely double his master’s money. Instead, he greets his master with ten times the original amount! The second servant also does not merely double the money entrusted to him, but returns with five times the original amount! Also, unique to this parable is the fact that the earnings of seven servants are never reported.
Consider this application to faithful ministry in the church: some pastors are enabled by God to have a ministry with exponential results. They see their church grow to thousands, and oversee multiple ministries as they seek to make disciples who make disciples. Other pastors are blessed by God, but their results are somewhat muted, as they pastor a church in the hundreds, and have less ministries, even though these ministries are a powerful expression of God’s love to a lost and dying world.
But the vast majority of pastors labor in churches where the growth is not spectacular, where possible ministries are limited, and they often receive little widespread notoriety.
The 2020 Faith Communities Today (FACT) study of more than 15,000 U.S. religious congregations revealed that 7 in 10 U.S. churches have 100 or fewer weekly worship service attendees, while 7 in 10 U.S. churchgoers attend a church with more than 250 each week. (https://research.lifeway.com/2021/10/20/small-churches-continue-growing-but-in-number-not-size/)
70% of U.S. churches have less than 100 in their weekly worship. Does this mean that the pastor or congregation are unfaithful? No! Rather, it means the norm of churches is a small congregation! Huge churches are the outliers.
The issue is not the size of the church. The master’s overriding concern in the servants’ report was not how much they had gained him; he was pleased that they were faithful!
Matthew 25:23 (ESV): 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
Matthew 25:26–27 (ESV): 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.
Luke 19:17 (ESV): 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’
Luke 19:22–23 (ESV): He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
What does it mean to be a faithful minister, a faithful pastor? Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 give the qualifications for the elders – the pastors of the church. For the sake of brevity, I will only include 1 Timothy 3 below:
1 Timothy 3:1–7 (ESV): 1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
If you were to boil down all of these qualifications to one, what would it be?
Do you see it? The pastor must be above reproach – faithful in everything. The pastor must be the husband of one wife – faithful in marriage. The pastor must be sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable – faithful personally. The pastor must be hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money – faithful in his dealings with others. The pastor must with all dignity keep his children submissive – faithful in his home.
Sometimes, churches hold ridiculous expectations for their pastors. Consider 25 Unbelievable Things Search Committees Said to Pastoral Candidates as a few examples.
God’s expectation is faithfulness. Jesus expects his undershepherds to be faithful in every area of their lives. Jesus commands us to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), to preach the word both when it is a good time to share and when it is not (2 Timothy 4:2). Epaphras is a great example of the pastor’s care for his congregation, and of intercesory prayer (Colossians 4:12-13). The pastor’s role is to equip God’s people to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Each pastor will have different strengths and emphases in ministry, but each face a key expectation: to be faithful to God, others, and oneself.
Some might be afraid that such a standard of faithfulness for the pastor would mean that their church would never grow, that they would be “condemned” to bad sermons or uninspiring services … etc. But such thinking misunderstands God’s expectation of faithfulness. God does not call or require any pastor to be “successful”, but he does call us to be faithful!
We tend to judge, examine, and critique ministry by worldly standards. We must not be mistaken. God requires faithfulness. Speaking of his own ministry, Paul wrote, 1 Corinthians 4:2 (ESV): 2Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. James also cautioned, James 3:1 (ESV): 3Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
We tend to measure faithfulness and spiritual success by the wrong standards!
I was saddened to read yet another article recently of a pastor who, it has been revealed, over several years has acted unfaithfully a couple of times. There were some contributing factors, medicine and alcohol, yet that should not be an excuse for his dishonoring of his marriage and his call to ministry.
My understanding is that these two incidents were not recent, but happened somewhat isolated over a period of time. The reason why these indiscreet moments have come to light, it seems, is due to more than one other pastor in his church who have also been disgraced due to infidelity, and the accusation that this pastor had failed to disclose sexual abuse by a close family member.
Why didn’t all of these issues result in correction by the church much sooner? The two incidents referred to before were known by the church board some time ago, and they even took steps to address these issues. Why is it only now that the board has asked for the pastor’s resignation? It could be argued that all of the various factors have finally reached a critical point in which change had to occur.
Yet we should not overlook the fact that the church this man pastored is a huge megachurch, and has been a great “success” with huge attendance numbers, incredible expansion, powerful influence on the worldwide Church through its worship ministry, and more.
By the factors most eagerly sought by many in the church world today – magnificent buildings, healthy budgets, and large attendances, this pastor was a success. But Christ calls his pastors to be faithful, and this man appears to have had a significant slip-up in that calling. May God grant grace to this pastor to find healing and restoration and continue to be used as a faithful servant of Jesus! Truly, we should hope for God’s grace to forgive, change and restore this man spiritually and even for his ministry calling.
But the point is obvious: we must be careful not to judge by the wrong standard of “success” for the ministry: God calls us to be faithful.
I write these words, however, with some trepidation. It is my fear that someone reading this might think I am giving an excuse for the pastor to be mediocre: sloppy in sermon preparation, half-hearted in pastoral care, uncommitted in outreach to the lost, failing to equip believers for the work of ministry. This is not my intention, at all.
Rather, the pastor must committed to excellence in all these areas. Surely God desires his pastors to have a holy ambition. Both of the parables mentioned above should attest to that. Selfish ambition is not of God; but a holy ambition to spread the Good News, equip the saints for ministry and glorify the King of kings is desperately needed in Christ’s Church.
Yet we should also recognize that every pastor will have certain strengths and weaknesses in their ministry. One may be an excellent expositor, yet not the greatest in delivery. One may deliver dynamic messages, but truly need to focus more on the scripture. One may be excellent in visiting the sick and bereaved, another may be better in teaching. One may have a great prayer ministry; another may excel in outreach.
We must not expect a pastor to “be the best” in every aspect of ministry; we must require him to be faithful in ministry, remembering that his job is truly to equip the rest of the church to serve alongside him in ministry. The pastor himself (or herself) must always strive to grow their skills.
Colossians 1:7–8 (ESV) again say: … Epaphras our beloved fellow servant … is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
Paul described Epaphras as a fellow servant. The Greek for “servant” here is doulos. Epaphras was a bond servant, a slave of Jesus. He belonged to Christ, not to man. He faithfully served Christ on the behalf of Colossae Church. In doing this, Epaphras expressed this church’s love for Apostle Paul. Epaphras traveled some distance to talk to Paul about an issue that threatened the church. He was faithful to guard the church he served from those who would harm it. Epaphras served faithfully, even though it apparently meant imprisonment (see Philemon).
Epaphras was a faithful pastor of Jesus Christ. May each one of us who are called to this ministry follow his great example!
Heavenly Father, thank you for the life and example of Epaphras. Thank you for the call to ministry. May I serve you faithfully on behalf of others, wherever you send me, in whatever capacity you have for me. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.