Roger D. Campbell
Without any fanfare, the apostle Paul by inspiration wrote about a brother named Epaphras (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable) in both the Book of Colossians and the Book of Philemon. Paul was a prisoner in Rome when he wrote both of these epistles. Epaphras was his fellow prisoner at the time (Philemon 23). We learn a number of truths about brother Epaphras in the only three Bible passages in which he is mentioned (Col. 1:7; 4:12,13; Philemon 23). Let us take a look at the Bible’s record of his activities.
First, Epaphras was a teacher of the word. Colossians 1:5,6 states that the Gospel had come to Colosse, helping the people there to know “the grace of God in truth.” How had they learned the Gospel message? The next verse says, “As ye also learned of Epaphras.” We know little about Epaphras’ personal life, but we know that he taught the Gospel in Colosse. In one way or another, all of us “ought to be teachers” of the word (Heb. 5:12). Each of us needs to seek out opportunities to sow the seed. Jesus said, “the sower soweth the word” (Mark 4:14). Let us all be more diligent in teaching the Gospel in the time that we have remaining on the earth!
Second, Epaphras was Paul’s “dear fellowservant” (Col. 1:7). This expression has a ring of close camaraderie to it. Paul and Epaphras served together in the same Cause — a Cause which is too big for any single person to carry out by him/herself. What a thrill it is to know that we have devoted fellowservants in the church on whom we can count! They are indeed dear to us as Epaphras was to Paul.
Third, Epaphras was a faithful servant of the Christ. He was not simply a servant: he was “a faithful minister of Christ” (Col. 1:7). Colossians 4:12 simply says he was “a servant of Christ.” Is that not what we are all striving to be, a faithful servant of the Lord? We either faithfully serve Jesus or we do not. We are either with Jesus or against Him (Matt. 12:30). We are either obedient to Him or we are not. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness” (Rom. 6:16)? If we are in a situation where we are told, “Tell us a little bit about yourself,” would it not be appropriate to say, “I am a servant of the Christ?” Epaphras could honestly make such a claim. Can we?
Fourth, Epaphras was a greeter of the brethren. “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth [greets, NKJV] you...” (Col. 4:12). It may not sound like much, but to make the effort to greet someone, whether in person, by telephone, or by sending a written message, can really be a boost to that person. It can make that person feel noticed, remembered, and appreciated. Most of us have been in situations where the thoughtful greetings of other saints were a source of encouragement to us. If I have counted correctly, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance lists verses from thirteen New Testament books in which greetings were passed on between Christians, or else the instruction was given for saints to greet one another. That sounds like greeting our fellow saints is important, does it not?
Fifth, Epaphras prayed for the spiritual welfare of his brethren. “Epaphras...always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). It is so easy to get caught up in our own little world and forget about the needs of our fellowservants. And, it is also possible for us to think and pray only about their physical needs. Epaphras prayed diligently. He prayed diligently for other saints. And, he prayed for their spiritual well-being. It would not take much effort for us to do the same. When brothers and sisters in the Lord are truly in our hearts, then they will also be on our lips when we come before our Father in prayer.
Sixth, Epaphras was a brother with notable zeal. Speaking of him, Paul wrote, “For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis” (Col. 4:13). Do you and I have such a reputation? Are we known for our zeal in the Lord’s work? The Lord instructs us to be “fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11). Yes, the Christ wants His people to be “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). In modern language, we call it being on fire for the Lord. Does that describe us?
As we noted earlier, Epaphras was Paul’s “fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 23). More than once Paul referred to himself as the Lord’s prisoner, meaning that he was imprisoned because of his loyal service to the Christ (Eph. 3:1; 4:1). We know that Epaphras also faithfully served the Lord. It may well be the case that he, too, was imprisoned because of his unwavering commitment to righteousness. I have watched documentaries about the horrible environment that exists in many modern prisons. I have visited and taught the Gospel in prisons in three different nations, seeing first hand some of the deplorable circumstances in which the inmates live. You and I would not find it pleasant to live in such a place. I cannot imagine what the prisons of Epaphras’ and Paul’s day must have been like. Beloved, if there someday comes a time when you and I must “do time” because our steadfast devotion to our Lord puts us in conflict with and in violation of civil law, then we need to be mentally prepared to be a prisoner for our Lord. Epaphras was.
Epaphras is not a well-known figure in history. But, he was faithful to the Lord, and that is the one thing in any person’s life that really matters. May the clear Bible statements that we read about the life of Epaphras be an encouragement to all of us that want to go to heaven.
by Ron Hutchison
Will someone please tell me how we can warn the wicked of their wicked ways if it is not right to tell them they are wrong? It would be impossible to fulfill this responsibility without telling them they are wrong. We are just as much watchmen as Ezekiel was, and we have the same responsibility to warn the wicked from their wicked way. The Bible teaches in Titus 1:9-11 that an elder has the responsibility of "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." The word "convince" means "to convict." How can an elder convict the gainsayer of his sins and stop his mouth without telling him he is wrong. It would be impossible! Paul taught preachers "In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (II Tim. 2:2526). How can you instruct those who oppose themselves without telling them they are wrong? How can they recover themselves out of the snare of the devil if they don't realize they are wrong? Paul taught, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thy self, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:1-2). James taught, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:19- 20). How can we restore someone if we don't tell them they are wrong? How can we convert someone who has erred from the truth unless we point out his error? It is impossible. Jesus taught, "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother" (Matt. 18:15). What does Jesus mean when He says, "go and tell him his fault?" Does it not mean that you are to show him where he is wrong? We not only have the right, but we have the obligation to show people where they are wrong in their religious beliefs and to help them see the truth. One of the objections people have to telling people that they are wrong in religion is based on the false teaching that people can't really know the truth - that we can't really know what is right and wrong in religion. Of course this contradicts what Jesus said in John 8:32, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." This ought to forever settle the question as to man's ability to know what is right and wrong. We can know the truth, we can know when one errs from the truth. People seem to think that because men and women of equal education and attainments disagree on even basic passages that means the com mon man can never come to a knowledge of the truth, or at least, can never be certain that he has. Nothing can be further from the truth! God has so designed the Bible that no matter how many degrees a person has behind his name, he has no more ability to understand the Bible than the man who has a third grade education. In fact, the man with the third grade education may have the advantage because he doesn't have his mind clouded with the words and writings of modernists! WE CAN KNOW THE TRUTH! JESUS SAID IT AND WE ALL OUGHT TO ACCEPT IT WITHOUT RESERVATION!! Another objection people have to telling people they are wrong is that each one of us is a sinner and thus we do not have the right to tell another sinner that they are wrong. I agree that each one of us sins (1 John 1:8), but I disagree that each one of us lives a life of sin. To hear some of our brethren talk, they believe that we are just as bad after becoming a Christian as we were before. It is true that before we became Christians we lived in sin, but when we became Christians we became dead to sin (Rom. 6:2). We are now "walking in the light" (I John 1:7). However, the person who is wrong religiously is walking in darkness - he is living in sin because he is not walking according to the teaching of the New Testament. I submit to you that the per son who is walking in the light (in spite of the fact that he sins) not only has a right, but he is obligated to tell the person who is walking in darkness that he is wrong. If that were not the case, then no one but a sinlessly perfect individual could ever preach the gospel to others, and there aren't any of them on the earth anymore! If the gospel (truth) is to be preached it must be preached by those who are walking in the light, even though they may sin at times. Let me say again, if a person is not right religiously he is not "walking in the light," he is "walking in the darkness" and he must be told that he is wrong if there is to be any possibility for salvation. The person who is "walking in the light" is the one who has the responsibility to tell him.
IS IT RIGHT TO SHOW PEOPLE THEY ARE WRONG? [PART I]
by Ron Hutchison
If a doctor knows that another doctor has made a wrong diagnosis and thus prescribed the wrong medicine for a patient, would it be wrong for that doctor to tell the other he is wrong? If a Pharmacist knows that another Pharmacist has given the wrong medicine to a patient, would it be wrong for the first to tell the second that he is wrong?
If a preacher hears another preacher teach something that he knows to be wrong, would it be proper for that first preacher to tell the second that he is wrong? It never ceases to amaze me what people will accept in other areas of life. In the above illustrations, we know we would want the first doctor to speak up if the other doctor had prescribed the wrong kind of medicine if we were the patient! If we were the customer of the pharmacist, we would certainly want the Pharmacist to speak up if he knew his partner was giving us the wrong medicine. But what about the third illustration? Should a preacher ever tell another preacher he is wrong? Should a member of one religious group tell a member of another religious group that he is wrong? Unfortunately, many people would answer NO to these questions. They do not believe that one religious person has a right to tell another religious person that he is wrong. This belief is based on the "live and let live" - "just preach Christ and let everyone else alone" - "we're all going to the same place, we're just taking different roads to get there" - "as long as a person is sin cere, that's all that matters" theories. EVERY ONE OF THESE THE ORIES IS TOTALLY FALSE! If one religious person is prescribing the wrong "medicine" (teaching that which is in conflict with the Bible) — that which will lead to spiritual death - then all others have a right and an obligation to tell him he is wrong for his sake as well as those who hear him. There are some things that we just cannot be wrong about and be saved! And not only would it be right to tell people who are teaching things that are false that they are wrong, we have an obligation to do so! There is a principle set forth in Ezekiel 3 that applies here: "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul" (Ezek. 3:17-21).
PART II next week…
Wayne Coats (1927-2013)
I was assigned the subject of temperance to be discussed during a lectureship. I will never forget the feeling of self-condemnation which became a part of my life as I prepared my lecture and studied the Bible, which I held across my fat belly. My clothes were getting too small and my breathing was out of control. I could do a fairly good job preaching to the brethren and sisters about what they should and should not do. They needed to practice self-control but did I not need to do the same?
A lengthy spell of illness has helped me to practice temperance and self-control which is a real problem, but such is my duty as a Christian. The food which I relish so much must be rejected and I can do it. I am doing it.
One occasion was a Gospel Meeting and the other was a home-coming service when I was invited to return and speak where I had formerly preached. On both occasions a bountiful lunch had been prepared by the good sisters. When the closing “amen” was said, people moved out into the area when lunch was being served. At both of those congregations I tried to act as if I had a bit of manners and stood greeting the people as they moved out of the auditorium. At one of the congregations, a good lady who had been the wife of a deceased elder came and asked me to come along to lunch. When she and I entered the lunch room I saw the local preacher all bent over a plate filled with food and shoveling it in somewhat like a hog eating out of a trough. The two occasions mentioned above were almost identical. To surmise that I wanted special treatment is sheer nonsense. One thing which is sickening, nauseating and downright disgusting is to see preachers who have no manners or self-control and who feel justified in ignoring those Scriptures which tell us to be temperate. It doesn’t take much sense for a normal human to learn a few decent manners and if such are not learned, please spare me the thrill of having to be around such people.
In picking a preacher, let me refuse the temptation to lobby for my close friend and demand that all the others kow-tow to my whims. There is no kind of politics as dirty as church politics. If you have not seen this, live a little longer. Diotrephes will pay a visit by and by (3 John 9). One dear sister described her husband by saying, “All he does is attend a business meeting and run off his mouth.” She hit the nail on the head. Self-willed people can be a pain in the neck.
There are some other characteristics which I deem to be important in picking a preacher but I do not have time to write an entire book on this. Pity the people who have picked the wrong preacher! Getting rid of the wrong preacher can be like getting rid of the seven-year itch. There will usually be a lot of clawing and scratching — which God hates (Prov. 6:16).
I believe if I was engaged in picking a preacher, it would be of tremendous value to pick one that could also be “unpicked” if need be. Some preachers just do not blend. The mix isn’t right. Why rip a congregation to pieces over purely personal desires? I shudder to think of the sorry mess which has developed over picking the wrong preacher. The same is true in trying to change preachers, in some places.
If I picked a preacher I would earnestly pray for one who was constrained to preach the Gospel. I mean the preacher like Paul who had some deep convictions about preaching! The dear brother with all his trials declared, “woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).
The phone rang and the brother who called wanted to know if I knew of a place needing a preacher. He said he used to preach but quit and went into secular work but he just couldn’t make a living in secular jobs so he decided he would try preaching again. Well, er, ugh, I don’t know about no church who needs that kind of preacher. I like the man who can say — “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Incidentally, no congregation has invited me to pick a preacher for the group and I am not anticipating that any will. It sounds fairly cranky I know, but if I should ever be saddled with the awesome task of picking a preacher, I would really want to view two places. I would want to look at the seat of his britches to see how slick his pants were (from sitting around), and I would also want to look at the soles of his shoes to see how thin they were from moving about. I read somewhere about “making full proof of thy ministry.” This did not say, “make a fool of thy ministry.”
Wayne Coats (1927-2013)
I would pick a preacher that has common sense, studies hard, is constrained to preach the Gospel, is temperate in all things, and doesn’t expect others to kow-tow to his every whim.
I am not writing this article based upon a lot of preacher picking experience, in fact, I have never been faced with the serious task of picking a located preacher. I sometimes think the situation might be comparable to selecting a good watermelon out of a large field of melons. One dear old brother remarked, “I’ve never preached a sermon but I’ve read the Bible and heard enough preachers to know when a man is preaching the Bible.”
I believe if I attempted to pick a preacher to locate with a congregation, I would demand as my number one qualification that a preacher have an unusual amount of common sense. Brethren with common sense can determine if a preacher has any common sense. But someone may object that a knowledge of the Bible should be the first priority. If a man is to preach and work with a congregation, common sense would demand that one would study to know the Book. If one knew ever so much Scripture and had no common sense, I would not be interested in supporting him. Common sense is a marvelous quality which is not always so common.Sometimes we may refer to a brother as having a lot of horse sense which has been defined as stable thinking. Isaiah said, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people do not consider”(Isa. 1:3).
Back during the thirties, my dad had several mules and mares, and one old donkey. Old John was not the most intelligent animal on the farm but he knew his specific stable or crib. He knew where he belonged. Even a dumb ass knows that much, which is not true of some preachers. A Gospel preacher needs to know where he belongs. He needs to have enough common sense to work within his sphere. We are not born with common sense. One big dummy in a congregation can ruin most everything.
At the Divinity School the curriculum was arranged in order to assist denominational pastors to become Administrators, if that was what they wanted. It is amazing how many youthful Administrators we have who virtually sit at the controls while elders grin. So many of the youth ministers are nothing more than social service Administrators. Honesty demands that we admit this.
A second qualification which I would require if I picked a preacher would be to find a man who studies very hard. It seems strange that all the brethren in secular work need to arise early and punch the clock for an eight-hour work day but the preacher can still be in bed snoozing the time away. I know there are brethren who stay up late to do their studying. God bless them, but there are others who are nothing more than sleeping goof-balls. One brother was asked when he studied and his reply was, “I did my studying fifty years ago.” It was pretty obvious. Brother N. B. Hardeman used to compare such men to green watermelons, i.e. they got pulled too green. The very height of pleasure for me is to take my trusted Bible in hand or a good sound, sensible book written by a faithful brother, and let the hours flow by. It is difficult to preach on themes where ignorance is so prevalent. I know! There have been subjects assigned for me to deal with in Lectureships concerning which I was totally ignorant. Give me a couple of months to prepare and I promise that by diligent study I can dig out that which I need to present. No preacher should ever get up before an audience and begin to apologize. If he is stupid, dumb or ignorant, the brethren will realize it without having to be told. If a preacher isn’t ready, he needs to get ready or not try to preach. Apologetic excuses will not help the situation. Begging for sympathy will not solve the problem of being unprepared.
I would pick a preacher who knows how to be temperate in all things. Titus was to teach the aged men to be temperate (Titus 2:2). The bishop was to be temperate in all things (Titus 1:8). It isn’t necessary in this article to deal with every area wherein temperance is to be practiced but we must know that temperance is a part of the beautiful cluster described in the Bible as the fruit of the spirit of God (Gal. 5:23).