…just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.(Colossians 1:7-8 ESV)
My initial response to this text is that I’d like to be counted as a beloved fellow servant by the Apostle Paul, it would feel rather nice to have such a statement recorded in a letter sent to the church I had founded.
But stop and consider what it might take to be counted as a ‘fellow servant’ with Paul:
- Struggling on behalf of others in prayer (Colossians 4:12).
- Unceasing prayer (Colossians 1:9, 2 Thessalonians 1:11).
- Praying earnestly night and day (1 Thessalonians 3:10).
- Giving thanks to God (Ephesians 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 3:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
- Working hard (Colossians 4:13).
- Toiling night and day (1 Thessalonians 2:9).
- Not a burden on those being served (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).
- Be a faithful minister (Colossians 4:7).
- Rejoicing in sufferings (Colossians 1:24).
- Be ready to suffer affliction (1 Thessalonians 3:4).
- Willing to die for the sake of Christ (Romans 16:3, Philippians 1:21, Philippians 2:29–30).
- Ready to share your very self with others (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
- Be approved by God (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
- Speaking to please God, not men (or women) (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
- Not seeking glory from people (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
- Gentle (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
- Humble (Philippians 2:3).
- Holy, righteous and blameless in conduct (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
- Considering the interests of others (Philippians 2:4, Philippians 2:20–21).
- A teacher, using spoken and written words (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
I am sure there are other attributes that can be found if a thorough systematic study were done, but the list above indicates what the Apostle Paul valued in his fellow bondservants. In effect a fellow servant with Paul is a bondservant of Jesus Christ and Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:25-28).
Not that all those who ministered with Paul lived up to this standard, he often mentions his distress over those who considered themselves as super-apostles (2 Corinthians 11:5), seek their own interests (Philippians 2:21), preach law and hinder people from obedience to Christ (Galatians 5:7, Galatians 5:12), deceive believers regarding the end times (2 Thessalonians 2:2–3, 2 Timothy 2:18), devote themselves to idle myths (1 Timothy 1:3–4) due to poor understanding (1 Timothy 1:6–7). There were also some who indulged in irreverent babble (2 Timothy 1:16-17)and teach error for shameful gain (Titus 1:10-11).
Considering these two lists; the attributes of a fellow bondservant of Christ; and the attitudes and behaviour of those who let Paul down, it is striking how easy it is to find examples of the second list in the christian world today yet how few stand out as examples of a bondservant of Christ. Obviously true servants of Jesus will be humble, consider the interests of others and not be a burden so are less likely to draw attention to themselves.
It would be pointless having a moan or rant about the lousy state of Christian leadership, it is human (sinful) nature for the self-seeking to rise into public leadership. However, those who have the most impact on individual baby Christians are often the humble, true bondservants of Christ and I can certainly grow in all the areas outlined in my list above. I would like to be counted as a fellow bondservant, yet am far from that currently. The beloved Epaphras is an excellent reminder of what my goal in life should be.