Summary: This message is an introduction to the book of Colossians. It gives the history of its establishment through the eyes of Epaphras. It also deals with using our tongues to uplift others.
March 16, 2003 Colossians 1:1-8
“If you can’t say anything nice…”
As parents, one of the first things that we teach our children is the phrase, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s a good phrase to live by.
This morning, I’m going to introduce you to someone who lived by this rule. Every time that he opened his mouth about someone else, he had something positive and uplifting to say about them even when they were not in his presence. If I could, I’d have brought him here this morning for you to meet personally. I would have even put it in the paper. I know that it would have drawn a crowd because a person who always speaks in a positive way about others is definitely newsworthy in our society today. Had it been possible, I would have brought him here. Unfortunately, he has been dead for almost 2000 years. His name is Epaphras.
Even though he is dead, it is still possible for us to meet him. Now, I’m not talking about a séance or voodoo or anything like that. I’m talking about using what the Bible has to say about him mixed with a little bit of glorified imagination so that we might actually be able to hear the positive words that Epaphras had to say. In order to do this, I’m going to need your help. Here, on my chair, I have a bathrobe, a piece of cloth and a headband. When I put these on, I need you to imagine that the words that are then coming out of my mouth are actually the words of Epaphras. He and I together are going to tell his story. The story has four short chapters, and in each chapter, we’re going to hear how Epaphras talked about different people and what the result was. Are you ready? Do you have your imagination cap on? OK. Chapter one.
1. Epaphras talked about Paul to the Colossians. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus” (vs. 1)
The book of Colossians was actually a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians who lived in Colossae, a city in what we now call Turkey. Paul wrote this letter or epistle while he was in jail, so it is known as one of the Prison Epistles. Paul had one potential disadvantage when he wrote this letter. He did not know the Colossian Christians, and they did not know him. Other than this book and the book of Romans, all the other books that Paul wrote were to people that he personally knew through his own interaction with them.
Even though Paul did not have the advantage of a personal relationship with the Colossian Christians, he had a relationship with Epaphras, a citizen of Colossae. Paul had met Epaphras during the three years that he spent in Ephesus, a city about a 100 miles east of Colossae. It was probably during his stay at Ephesus that Paul had the privilege of sharing the gospel with Epaphras and seeing him get saved. Epaphras stayed with Paul for a while so that he could learn from Paul and grow in his faith. But the time came for him to go home to Colossae.
Epaphas’ arrival back home would have created a stir in the city. It was a small city so everyone would have quickly heard about his return. Most of the people who lived in Colossae had been born there and they would die there, never having left its borders. Sounds like many West Virginians. For someone from Colossae to travel to a city 100 miles away would be the equivalent of a West Virginian traveling to Russia, China or even into outer space. They wanted to know all about his journey. They asked what he had seen, so he told them about the temple of the goddess Diana. They asked what he had done, so he told them about time that he had spend at the sea port watching the ships arriving and departing and listening to the sailors tell of lands far away. Then they asked him about people he had met. That’s the request that he had been waiting for. Can’t you see the big smile on his face? Can’t you hear the excitement and joy in his voice as he begins to tell them about his new friend, Paul?
I can almost hear Epaphras as he begins to speak with words that might have gone something like this: [put on a robe and a turban to help people visualize the scene with you] “It was on a sunny day much like this one. I hadn’t been in the city long before I headed to the market. I knew that the market was the town gathering place. That’s where you went to find the best places to eat and sleep. That’s where you could hear all the town gossip, and it was the place where people entertained themselves by talking about all kinds of new ideas. I remember seeing this one guy who was sitting on some steps, and there was a group of people gathered around him. They were hanging on every word that he said. I wondered what could be so important or entertaining about this guy that would make people give up their time to listen to him. He wasn’t wearing robes of royalty, nor was he wearing the outlandish clothes of an entertainer. But something he said held their attention. I didn’t have time that first day to discover what was so special about this guy. I had more important matters to deal with.