Session 5

Philemon 1:23-25

 

      In this session we’re going to look at the final two verses of Philemon.  Like several other NT books, Philemon ends with a series of greetings.  Five people are mentioned by name—Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. This is the type of material would be tempted to skim over rather quickly in our personal Bible study, thinking there’s not much for us to learn from it.  But actually there is much to learn from examples of the people mentioned in these verses. 

      This list of names at the end of Philemon is a reminder that the Christian life is a life of relationships.  When you accepted Christ into your life, you became a part of a great spiritual family.  And as members of the family of faith, we’re to encourage each other, draw strength from each other, challenge each other, and support each other.  The concept of Christians drawing strength and encouragement from each other permeates this list of names.  Notice the recurring use of the word “fellow” in these verses.  Literally that word means to be together with another. 

 

EPAPHRAS

In verse 23 Paul describes Epaphras as “my fellow prisoner.” Some Bible scholars take that to mean that Epaphras voluntarily gave up his freedom to be with Paul and keep Paul company in prison.  He didn’t abandon his friend in a difficult time.  He remained loyal and true, even though it cost him his freedom to do so.

 

This was the man who shared the gospel with the Colossians. And from the book of Colossians we know quite a bit about him. 

 

In Colossians 1:7 he is described as:

·         “beloved” - His name is very close to “Aphrodite” which means “lovely.”  And he was a very lovely person.  He was much loved by Paul and by the Colossians.

·         “fellow bond-servant” - The word “bond-servant” translates the Greek word “doulos”...that was the word used to described the lowest of slaves in the social order of the first century world...this was the person who did all the dirty work...whatever no-one else wanted to do, that task fell to the “doulos”...that’s the role unselfish Epaphras, as well as Paul, gladly assumed...instead of demanding a position of honor or authority, instead of seeking praise and recognition, Epaphras was the kind of person who willingly put himself in the background and put others first...

·         “faithful servant of Christ” - It has often been said that faithfulness is the primary thing the Lord requires of us...I Corinthians 4:2 that “...it is required of stewards [or servants] that they be found faithful...”... Epaphras was certainly faithful toward Christ...Epaphras was also faithful toward Paul...

 

In Colossians 4:12-13 we are told that the over-riding passion of Epaphras was the spiritual welfare of the Christians in the area of Colossae.  He expressed that concerning in two ways:

·         Epaphras prayed hard

      The last part of v.12 says that Epaphras was “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”...that little statement gives us a wealth of information about how Epaphras prayed and about how we should pray...for example, it tells us that Epaphras prayed—

 

CONSTANTLY - Notice the word “always” in the middle part of v.12... not sometimes/occasionally/when felt like it/when urge hit him...not even regularly...but he was “always” praying...he had learned the secret of “praying without ceasing” as we’re instructed to do in I Thessalonians 5:17...doesn’t mean always had head bowed and eyes closed in traditional position of prayer...but does mean was constantly in touch with the Father and that we just naturally lift to Him the needs of people who cross his path and mind...and more often than not, the people in his hometown of Colossae were on his mind and in his prayers...

 

FERVENTLY - The phrase “laboring earnestly” translates a word from which our word agony comes...in NT times the word was used to describe an athlete who gave his all on the athletic field...it’s the same word used to describe the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane  as he anticipated His death on the cross...in using that word Paul was saying that prayer was not a flippant matter to Epaphras...he took it seriously and worked hard at it...

 

PERSONALLY - Paul tells the Colossians that Epaphras prayed “for you”...he no doubt prayed for them by name...for Epaphras prayer was not an impersonal religious exercise...Epaphras carried the Colossians in his heart and it was just naturally for him to pray for them personally...

 

SPECIFICALLY - He prayed that they would “stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God...”...that phrase indicates that the desire of Epaphras for the Christians in Colossae was that they grow and mature in the Christian faith...he prayed that they would have the spiritual depth and strength not be led astray by the false teachers who had infiltrated that church...

 

·         Epaphras worked hard

      Ruth Graham once said that Christians should pray as if everything depends on God and Christians should work as if everything depends on us...I like that...prayer alone is not enough...work alone is not enough...we must have both in our lives to accomplish what God wants us to accomplish...and Epaphras certainly understood that...

 

      Look at the first part of v.13…the NASB says, “For I bear him witness that he has a deep concern for you...”...the NIV says “I vouch for him that he is working hard for you...”...and the word translated “deep concern” in the NASB and “working hard” in the NIV carries the idea of great toil or excruciating labor...

 

      Paul was saying that Epaphras was a hard worker...and the very fact that Epaphras was in Rome with Paul may be evidence of that... we can’t know for sure why Epaphras was in Rome, but he probably made that difficult journey to get advice from the Apostle Paul concerning how to deal with some of the problems facing the churches in the area of Colossae...

 

      He was the kind of person who was so meticulous in his work, so conscientious about his responsibilities, that he would gladly go the second and third mile to be effective in what he was doing...

 

 

 

MARK

Mark, who is also known as John, has one of the more interesting stories in the NT...he was the son of a wealthy widow who lived in Jerusalem...we first meet John Mark in Acts 13 where he accompanies Paul and his cousin, Barnabas, on Paul’s first missionary journey...Mark’s failure was that when things got a little tough, he bailed out and went home...this so angered Paul that when it came time for the second missionary Barnabas wanted to take Mark along and Paul, still angry over Mark’s quitting on the first trip, flatly refused...the incident caused a rift in the relationship between Paul and Barnabas...

By the time Paul wrote the book of Colossians, Mark and Paul had reconciled their relationship.  His life reminds us that failure can be a spring board to greater things. 

Instead of frustrating us, we need to learn how to allow our failures to motivate us...many of the world’s most successful people found that failure can be a stepping stone to success...That happened in the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the famous American literary figure...he lost his job at a customhouse in Salem and feeling very dejected and defeated he went home to break the bad news to his wife...her reaction surprised him...she said, “Good.  Now you can continue work on your book.”...and with her encouragement he got busy and finished writing The Scarlet Letter, which became a classic of American literature...

 

It is interesting that as Paul’s life neared its end, it was John Mark who he summoned to his side.  In the letter of 2 Timothy Paul instructed Timothy to “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”

 

ARISTARCHUS AND DEMAS

Aristarchus and Demas were complete opposites...Aristarchus is a man who stayed...Demas is a man who strayed...Aristarchus stuck with Paul through some very difficult and trying times...Demas ended up deserting Paul...and from the examples of these two men--one positive and the other negative--there are several key things we can learn about the Christian life...Aristarchus and Demas remind us that the Christian life is a life of perseverance…

 

In the Scripture the Christian life is often compared with a race...Aristarchus and Demas were both in the race, but they approached it from totally different perspectives...Aristarchus approached the Christian life as a marathon which takes patience and endurance...Demas approached the Christian life as a sprint where you run for a short distance at top speed and then stop...

 

Both Aristarchus and Demas were from Thessalonica in the Roman Province of Macedonia...both probably came to profess faith in Christ during Paul’s ministry in that city...however, their futures in the faith were radically different...

 

Aristarchus was a man who stayed with it...he hung in there and refused to quit even in the face of great difficulty...

--first meet him in Scripture in Acts 19 where he is seized by a rioting mob in Ephesus because they recognized him as one of Paul’s companions...that frightening experience could have caused him to turn back on go home, but it didn’t...he stayed with Paul...

--know from Acts 20 that he traveled with Paul to Jerusalem where Paul was nearly torn apart by an angry mob and was saved only because the Roman soldiers stepped it...that frightening experience could have caused Aristarchus to turn back on go home, but it didn’t...he stayed with Paul...

--know from Acts 27 that he was with Paul on the journey to Rome...a journey marked by danger and shipwreck...that experienced could have caused Aristarchus to turn back on go home, but it didn’t...he stayed with Paul...

--and we see from Colossians, as Paul endured his imprisonment in Rome, Aristarchus was still faithfully by his side...

 

Demas was just the opposite...apparently by the time Paul wrote Philemon and Colossians, Demas was in the process of falling away… he was running out of gas...he was about to drop out of the race and apparently Paul could see it coming...by the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy Demas had dropped out...in 2 Timothy 4:10 Paul makes this sad statement about Demas...”...for Demas, have loved this present world, has deserted me...”...and the clear implication is that not only had Demas deserted Paul, he deserted the ministry...

 

Arastarchus and Demas remind us we always are faced with the choice of staying with Christ or straying from Christ. 

 

LUKE

Luke was one of the most influential people in the history of the church:

--wrote approximately 1/4 of the NT...if it weren’t for his writings, we would know very little about the growth of the early church and the spread of the gospel across the 1st century world...

--was the first church historian, and as such was one of the most important people in Christian history...

--was a close friend, traveling companion, and personal physician of the Apostle Paul...

It’s interesting that as influential and important as Luke was in the  history of the church, almost everything we know about him is found in a single verse in the Bible.  In Colossians 4:14 he is described as “Luke, the beloved physician…”

--there has been much speculation about Luke’s background... according to Eusebius and Jerome, two of the early church fathers, Luke was born in Antioch of Syria...some speculate that he may have been the brother of Titus and that he first met Paul when Paul was a student at Tarsus...others say he may have been a freed slave from the household of Theophilus who is mentioned by name in the prologues of Luke and of Acts...but all that is mere speculation and cannot be verified...

 

--if you’ll look carefully at Paul’s reference to Luke in Colossians, you’ll discover three things about him we can know for certain...he was a physician...he was a Gentile...and he was a faithful companion to Paul...

 

Luke reminds us of the importance of using our abilities for the Lord.  By profession, Luke was a physician...by the 1st century the Greeks had elevated the practice of medicine to an honored vocation...in the culture in which Luke lived, much like in our culture today, physicians were held in high esteem...and no doubt Luke could have chosen any number of ways to use his unique skills as a physician, but he chose to use them in service to the Lord by caring for and serving alongside the Apostle Paul...From the book of Acts we know that Luke joined Paul at Troas on Paul’s second missionary journey...and, from Paul’s last NT letter, 2 Timothy, we know that Luke was with him to the very end…

Comments