Joseph: An Example of Suffering and Patience

By | September 22, 2022

After repeatedly commanding his readers to be patient in suffering (Jas 5:8–9), James points to the prophets and Job as examples for us today: “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:10–11).

Joseph received and interpreted dreams from God, marking him as a prophet. So, surveying his life in Genesis 37–50, let’s consider his suffering and patience, being steadfast in the Lord’s purpose, and experiencing the Lord’s compassion, mercy, and blessing in time.

Suffering and Patience

When Joseph was “seventeen years old” (Gen 37:2), he was taken captive by his brothers and sold to some Midianites who sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, in Egypt as a slave (Gen 37:24, 28, 36). This suffering began thirteen years of hardship and affliction that would end at age thirty when Pharaoh appointed him over the land (cf. Gen 41:46).

“After a time” in Potiphar’s house, Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph (Gen 39:7). When he ran from her advances, she falsely accused him of the same, unfairly landing him in prison (Gen 39:17–20). Nonetheless, as the Lord had blessed him with favor in Potiphar’s house (Gen 39:1–6), the Lord gave him favor in the prison as well (Gen 39:21–23).

“Some time after this,” Joseph interpreted the dreams of his fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker (Gen 40:1; cf. 40:5–22). The baker was hanged, and the cupbearer lived. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” for “two whole years” (Gen 40:23–41:1). Joseph’s thirteen years of suffering and patience would soon come to an end.

Compassion, Mercy, and Blessing

We have already seen God’s compassion, mercy, and blessing in the midst of Joseph’s suffering (cf. Gen 39:1–6, 21–23). Now we see again as his suffering and patience end.

Now “thirty years old” (Gen 41:46), Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams of a coming abundance and famine, resulting in his promotion over Egypt with only Pharaoh over him (Gen 41:14, 44). Joseph was given a wife and had two sons, their names indicating that he had forgotten hardship and saw his life as fruitful instead (Gen 41:50–42).

He blessed Egypt by gathering stores in “seven years of plenty” and dispersing it in famine (Gen 41:53, 57). Over the next “two years” (Gen 45:6), Joseph provided for his family as well, revealing his identity in the end (Gen 42–44). Though sent to Egypt by sinful brothers and Midianite traders, Joseph looked back and saw God’s providence instead: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5).

Joseph was reunited with his father Jacob that he had not seen for twenty-two years, and they lived together in Egypt for seventeen years (Gen 46:29; 47:28). He received his father’s blessing (Gen 49:22–26), and he forgave his brothers in full (Gen 50:15–21). Joseph echoed to them his life’s refrain: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20). Joseph lived for another fifty-four years and died at age 110 (Gen 50:26). His years of compassion, mercy, and blessing were many more than those of suffering and patience.

Lessons for Us Today

God puts us through suffering as we encounter various trials from time to time. When He does, we must be patient to let Him accomplish whatever His purposes may be, whether we know these purposes in time, in full, or neither. As we are patient, God will show compassion, mercy, and blessing—in this life, perhaps, and certainly forever in time to come. May God help us to persevere like Joseph whenever suffering comes our way.

How to Raise a Worthless Child

By | September 15, 2022

The book of 1 Samuel begins with a contrast between Samuel and the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. Whereas Samuel would grow to be a godly boy and young man (cf. 1 Sam 1:28; 2:11, 18–21, 26; 3:19–4:1), Hophni and Phinehas were very sinful.

Notice the sins of these sons. They were generally “worthless men” and “did not know the Lord” (1 Sam 2:17). They showed themselves irreverent bullies and gluttons by eating sacrificial meat with its fat and taking it by force (1 Sam 2:13–16; cf. 2:29; Lev 3:17; 7:22–27). They slept with the women who helped at the tabernacle (1 Sam 2:22). They refused to listen to rebuke (1 Sam 2:25). As it was still Israel’s era of rule by judges, perhaps the lawless spirit of the day encouraged their sins as well (cf. Judg 21:25). It is no surprise, then, to find their sin described as “very great in the sight of the Lord” and that “it was the will of the Lord to put them to death” (1 Sam 2:25). As promised, they died on the same day, and God exterminated Eli’s descendants from the priesthood altogether (1 Sam 4:1–22; cf. 2:27–36; 1 Kgs 2:26–27, 35).

Notice also the sins the father. He honored his sons above God by refusing to restrain them from their blasphemous life described above (1 Sam 2:29; 3:13). In fact, he joined their sins by fattening himself with the meat that his sons so wrongfully took (1 Sam 2:29). Hophni and Phinehas would answer for their own sins, but Eli would answer for letting them live unrestrained. When he learned his sons had died, he “fell over backward,” and the fat from his unrighteous diet was too much for his elderly spine to sustain—he died when he hit the ground (1 Sam 4:18).

Parents, if you’d like a primer on how to raise a worthless child, follow the example of Eli. Let your children’s sins run wild, and even participate in some of them yourselves. As you train your children to go such a way, as with Hophni and Phinehas, they will not depart from it when they are old (cf. Prov 22:6).

But, obviously, no Christian parent would ever want such a thing. Instead, we desire to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Col 3:21; Eph 6:4). From morning to evening, we want them to hear the words of God (Deut 6:7). We hope that they would listen to our instruction and follow our guidance even when we are old (Prov 1:8; 23:22). As God is gracious, we would even hope that our households might teach others by example (cf. 1 Tim 3:4; Titus 1:6).

May God be with each of our families to raise our children as we ought, and may they each come to the knowledge, joy, and growth of their salvation in Jesus Christ.

Forsaking Sinful Ambition and Fostering Humility Instead

By | September 15, 2022

Imagine telling a group of people that you had a month to live. Instead of comforting you, some of them ask for your most valuable possessions, angering the others because they didn’t ask first. Or, imagine that after your death, everyone started looking for your wallet or figuring out who would take your television. As a police chaplain, I’ve seen some interesting responses to the news of someone’s death.

Jesus experienced something like this once upon a time. For a third time in Matthew, He plainly told His disciples that He would be murdered and raised from the dead (Matt 20:17–19; cf. 16:21; 17:22–23). In response, James and John asked through their mother for special places in his kingdom, and Jesus promised them suffering instead (Matt 20:20–24). The ten were angry with the two brothers, prompting Jesus to teach them all that greatness to God is achieved through humble service, prizing the needs of others over self (Matt 20:25–27). The superlative example of such humility is the Son of Man. He gave his life as a ransom for many and now sits exalted with the Father on high (Matt 20:28; Phil 2:9).

In this story, the disciples show us how deeply sinful ambition roots itself in our souls. Jesus had recently taught the disciples to humble themselves like children (Matt 18:3–4) and to turn no one away from Himself (Matt 19:13–14). Twice, Jesus taught that many who are first would be last and the last first when He sits on His throne (Matt 19:30; 20:16). He even promised the twelve prominent places in His kingdom (Matt 19:28). Yet still, James and John excluded the ten to ask for first place next to Jesus on His throne.

Lest we proudly look at the disciples and say, “Ah, but that’s not me,” one author reminds us, “One of the problems with pride is that we can see it in others but not in ourselves” (Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins, p. 105; e.g., Luke 18:9–14).1  We can repeatedly hear God’s words on pride and still fail to see our sin. Instead of asking God for His kingdom to come, we ask in advance for nice seats when it does (cf. Matt 6:10). Maybe we even want His kingdom to wait so we can build our own little kingdom right now. And, like James and John, maybe we even ask God to help us along the way. How desperately wicked our hearts can be (cf. Jer 17:9–10).

Remember this—God hates pride and opposes the proud (Prov 8:13; Jer 50:31; Jas 4:6). He prizes humility and rewards it in time to come (cf. Jas 4:10). Jesus said as much to James and John.

So how can we be humble?2

First, live for God’s will and not your own. His will for us to know Christ and His salvation and to continue a life of obedience to Him (Col 1:9–10). Not only do we humble ourselves in repentance when we initially come to Christ, but we continue to put on humility as we walk in Him (Col 3:12; cf. 2 Kgs 22:19).

Second, prize God’s glory and not your own. When we see ourselves for who we really are and God for who He is, we are undone by our sin and the glorious holiness of our God (e.g., Isa 6:5; Ezek 1:28; Rev 1:17).

Third, even in what you have and do, boast in the Lord and not yourself. Acknowledge His mercy in salvation and thank Him for every good gift (1 Tim 1:15; James 1:17). Your circumstances, skills, and salvation—all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him, so to Him be the glory, not you (Rom 11:36; cf. Deut 8:17–18; Isa 26:12; 1 Cor 3:7; 4:7; 15:10).

Fourth, serve others and not yourself. We saw this in the words and example of Jesus, and the letters remind us to honor others more than ourselves (Rom 12:10; Phil 2:3). Jesus washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:14–15) and died for us all on the cross (Matt 20:28). He serves as our High Priest (Heb 8:1) and will serve us in time to come (Luke 12:37). What an example we have in Him.

Humbles yourselves before God, and He will exalt you time. Think on these things over and over and let them have their way. As we saw with the disciples, we can hear from God repeatedly on this matter, only to sin again. We must come to Christ and clothe ourselves with Him, humility and all. As we do, may He put our sinful ambition to death and help us to humbly serve like Him.

  1. Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins (Carol Stream, IL: NavPress, 2010), 105. []
  2. All of the thoughts to follow are spurred from “Chapter 6: Humility,” in Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs, CO. NavPress, 2008), 67–80. []

A Ministry of Integrity: 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12

By | September 8, 2022

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians briefly describes how the messengers delivered the gospel with power, Spirit, and conviction (1 Thess 1:5). Paul describes his ministry again in detail in 1 Thess 2:1–12. Several themes stand out.

First, in speaking about himself and his fellow missionaries, Paul’s primary concern was to uphold the integrity of the gospel of God. He spoke of “our coming to you,” which involved “boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:1, 2). It was “our appeal” which stemmed from being “entrusted with the gospel,” and “so we speak… words… to share with you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:3, 4, 5, 8). In doing so, Paul says, “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you” (1 Thess 2:12).

Second, pointed to God Himself as the source of their ministry. He mentions God nine times in the course of this passage. They had “boldness in our God” to preach “the gospel of God” as “approved by God” so as “to please God” (1 Thess 2:2, 4). With “God as witness” (1 Thess 2:5, 10), they spoke “the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:8, 9) so that the Thessalonians would “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:12).

Third, concerning all of the above, Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they knew the integrity of their missionaries, and so did God. These reminders are several: “you yourselves know… as you know… as you know… God is witness… you remember… you are witnesses, and God also… for you know” (1 Thess 2:1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 11).

Fourth, this integrity was shown in various ways. God sent them as messengers (1 Thess 2:4, we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel) and gave them the message to speak (1 Thess 2:2, the gospel of God). They therefore spoke it boldly (1 Thess 2:2) because they spoke “to please God” and not men (1 Thess 2:4). Their integrity was also shown in their perseverance, overcoming their persecution in Philippi and Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:2), as well as working to provide their own funds while being in Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:9). Finally, their integrity was marked by love. Serving their “brothers” (1 Thess 2:1, 9), they were gentle and loving like a mother, providing instruction like a father (1 Thess 2:6–9, 11).

Fifth, seeing what their integrity was, we are assured of what their ministry was not. It was “not in vain… not from error… not… from impurity… not… from any attempt to deceive… not to please man… never… with words of flattery… never… with a pretext for greed… nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others… not… a burden to any of you” (1 Thess 2:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9).

Just as Paul, Silas and Timothy, may God help His messengers today serve with this same integrity.

 

All quotes ESV

Discerning the Will of God

By | September 1, 2022

What is the will of God? Will He tell me? Can I find it? How do I figure it out? These questions press upon us when we need to make significant decisions, and I’ve found it helpful to speak of God’s will in the terms you find below.

Decree: God decreed all things in eternity past, whether good or evil.

God decreed all things in the counsel of His will in eternity past (cf. Eph 1:11). Everything that happens is His will by His decree. Whatever His reason may be for allowing evil, we know that He glorifies Himself in His justice and wrath and power against evil, and we know that Christ conquered sin and death on the cross and will come again to rid the world of evil and its effects once and for all.

Desire: God desires only the good and never desires evil.

God neither exercises nor causes evil, but, in the mystery of His will, He does permit and allow it (cf. James 1:13). He does not desire anyone’s eternal death but rather their salvation (Matt 18:14; John 6:39–40; 1 Tim 2:3–4; 2 Pet 3:9). People’s own lusts are what cause them to wander from His desire (James 1:14–15).

Disclosure: God discloses His desires and only some of His decree.

God does not tell us everything (Deut 29:29), but he tells us everything we need to know. By obeying what He tells of His desires in His Word, we can be blameless and carry out every good work that He has for us to do (Ps 119:1; 2 Tim 3:15–17).

Direction: God directs us to carry out His good desires.

God has many ways whereby He directs us to carry out His desires. First, God gives us His Word to tell us what we ought and ought not do (cf. Rom 12:1–2; 1 Thess 4:3; 5:17; 1 Pet 2:15; 4:2; 1 John 2:17). Second, God directs us as we are already obeying His Word (cf. Ps 119:105). Third, His Spirit prompts us to obey His Word with what choices lay before us (Eph 5:17–18). Fourth, His providence arranges our circumstances as they are, limiting our choices to a degree (e.g., Matt 26:39). Fifth, others direct us through admonition and counsel (Prov 11:14; 20:18; Rom 15:14). Sixth, God uses prayer to direct our way (Col 1:9; 4:12; 1 John 5:14). Seventh, as we delight in Him, He gives us desires in keeping with His will, influencing our decisions (Ps 37:4; Matt 11:30). In these ways, God directs us to make decisions in keeping with His desires.

Decision: Take God’s direction and decide what you believe is in keeping with God’s desired will.

Discerning God’s direction, we make decisions as necessary. We do not do nothing, and we realize the future is in God’s hands, however wise our decisions may be.

All quotes ESV. Articles by Pastor Huffstutler are at davidhuffstutler.com.

Why God’s People Need Passionate Preaching

By | August 25, 2022

One of the reasons that Paul expressed thanks to God for the Thessalonians was that he knew God loved them and had chosen them for salvation (1 Thess 1:2, 4). Paul based his knowledge of God’s love and choice on their exemplary conversion (cf. 1 Thess 1:6–10). He also based this knowledge on how the gospel came to them. He knew God chose them “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:5).

Exploring some points of how the gospel came to them, we are encouraged along the way.

First, the gospel came “in word,” which was absolutely necessary. How else would they know the gospel but through the words of a gospel preacher (cf. Rom 10:14)?

Second, by connecting the next phrases with “not only… but also,” Paul emphasized how the gospel came through him, Silvanus, and Timothy—“in power,” “in the Holy Spirit,” and “with full conviction.” In other words, it was not the Thessalonians who are described in 1 Thess 1:5 (though it is certainly true that they experienced God’s power, Spirit, and conviction as they heard the gospel; cf. John 16:8–11). Rather, it was Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy who are described in this verse. Just as they gave the gospel in word, so also their word was accompanied with power, the Spirit, and conviction. These phrases describe their preaching.

Third, this “power” was maybe seen in miracles just as Paul tells the Romans of “the power of signs and wonders,” made possible “by the power of the Spirit of God” (Rom 15:19). If so, Paul tells us something that Luke did not in Acts 17:1–9. Another option, however, is to understand this “power” in terms of God’s supernatural work in in their preaching. This power came from the Holy Spirit who granted them “full conviction,” a Spirit-given certainty that their gospel words were unassailably true. (Again, this is something for those who hear and believe as well—cf. Col 2:2.)

Fourth, if we were still wondering who is in view in 1 Thess 1:5, Paul ends the verse by describing his company one more time: “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” They there the kind of men whose word was described in terms of power, the Spirit, and conviction.

Like the Thessalonians, we are assured of God’s love and choice of us when we faithfully live the Christian life (cf. 2 Pet 1:10–11 with 1 Thess 1:4, 6–10). And, as we just saw, we are assured further when we recount how a messenger gave us the gospel in power, the Spirit, and conviction. The gospel can do a saving work in spite of an unworthy preacher (cf. Phil 1:15–18), but it can be all the more effective when preached with power, the Spirit, and conviction.

1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Timeline of Acts 16–18

By | August 18, 2022

Acts 15:36–18:22 records Paul’s second missionary journey in AD 49–51. Paul and Silas were the only two when the journey began (Acts 15:40–41). Timothy joined them in Lystra (Acts 16:1–5), and Luke joined them in Troas as well (Acts 16:10, notice Luke says “we”). The four went to Philippi, apparently left Luke behind (cf. Acts 17:1, “we” becomes “they”), and arrived in Thessalonica in AD 49.

While in Thessalonica, Paul spent three Sabbaths in the synagogue (Acts 17:2). During this time, Paul worked as a tentmaker (1 Thess 2:9; cf. Acts 18:3) and received financial gifts from the Philippians as well (Phil 4:16). This need for funds implies a longer stay than just three weeks, maybe two or three months. Whatever the case, some unbelieving Jews made the situation so dangerous for Paul and Silas that the believers sent them to Berea (Acts 17:10). These same unbelievers came after Paul in Berea, so the brothers sent him by sea to Athens (Acts 17:14–15). Paul then went to Corinth where he stayed for eighteen months (Acts 18:1; cf. 18:11). It was during this time that Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians in AD 50 or 51.

When the Berean brothers sent Paul to Athens, Silas and Timothy stayed behind (Acts 17:14–15). They later met Paul in Athens, and Paul and Silas sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (1 Thess 3:1–5). Paul then went to Corinth while Silas went to Macedonia, the region of Philippi and Thessalonica (cf. Acts 18:1, 5). Perhaps Paul sent Silas to check on the Philippians as Timothy checked on the Thessalonians. Wherever Silas went, he and Timothy eventually returned to Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5). Timothy returned to Paul and Silas, so it seems that Silas had returned first (cf. 1 Thess 3:6).

Timothy’s return to Paul and Silas in Corinth prompted the first letter to Thessalonica (1 Thess 3:1–10; esp. 3:6). As people continued to travel between the two cities, Paul wrote to them again, perhaps when the carrier of 1 Thessalonians returned. He took care to note that this second letter was indeed from him (2 Thess 3:17; cf. 2:2). After his time in Corinth, he eventually returned to Antioch where he had left for this missionary journey (Acts 18:18–22; cf. 15:35).

Paul would visit Thessalonica time and again. He sent Timothy and Erastus to them in AD 54 (Acts 19:21–22). He returned and stayed three months in AD 55 (Acts 20:1–6; cf. 1 Cor 16:5). He experienced persecution there again but met Titus and received their money to help believers in Jerusalem during a time of famine (2 Cor 2 Cor 1:16; 2:13; 7:5; 8:1; 9:2, 4; 11:9). He would see them later in AD 64–65 (cf. 1 Tim 1:3).

What Was the Ministry of Archippus?

By | July 28, 2022

Colossians 4:17 records Paul’s charge to Archippus: “And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’” What was this ministry that Archippus was to fulfill?

Archippus was the son of Philemon and Apphia, and their church met in their house (Philemon 1–2). Being a son, he was likely not old. However, being given a ministry significant enough that a whole church would call him to fulfill it (“say to Archippus”), he was likely not very young. Perhaps he was in his 30’s or 40’s like Timothy and Titus (cf. 1 Tim 4:12; Titus 2:6–8, 15).

“Ministry” could refer to many things, and being a “fellow soldier” (Philemon 2) could indicate participation in the gospel ministry in some way (cf. Philippians 2:25). Digging further into the New Testament, however, perhaps can gather a few clues to suggest specifically what this ministry may have been, though we cannot be certain.

First, this ministry was something that Archippus had “received in the Lord” and something that he had to “fulfill” in the context of the Colossian church. Paul did not directly tell him to fulfill his ministry but told the church to tell him so, holding him accountable to his task. If his role was pastoral, this would be akin to a church holding its pastor accountable to lead them in the Lord.

Second, Paul similarly commanded Timothy, “Fulfill your ministry,” a command that involved regularly preaching the Word and evangelizing the lost (2 Timothy 4:5; cf. 4:1–5). Moreover, Paul’s title for Archippus as “our fellow soldier” might correspond to Timothy’s ministry as Paul told Timothy to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” with an “aim to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:3–4). If these parallels between Archippus and Timothy are so, Paul could be telling Archippus to serve as a Christian leader in the Colossian church.

Third, Epaphras, the pastor who began the church in Colossae, had left to join Paul in prison, so perhaps Archippus was leading the church while Epaphras was away (cf. Colossians 1:7–8; 4:12–13).

Fourth, Tychicus and Mark were leaders in the early church and would join Archippus and the Colossians for a time (Colossians 4:7–10), likely encouraging them from the Word as well. However, Tychicus would also travel to Ephesus, and Paul only says to welcome Mark. The brief but firm command to Archippus alone at the close of this letter and that among other notable individuals seems to suggest some sort of significant ministry in the Colossian church.

Summarizing the above, it could be that Paul wanted the Colossian church to call upon Archippus to fulfill his God-given pastoral ministry among the Colossians while Epaphras was away. Archippus was to be a good soldier of Christ who preached the word, suffered as necessary, and gave the gospel to the lost.1

  1. See especially William Hendriksen, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (New Testament Commentary 6; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1964), 197–99. []

Epaphras: An Example for Christian Leaders Today

By | July 21, 2022

A little digging in Colossians discovers some details about Epaphras, a minor character in the New Testament, but a main character in Colossae and an exemplary leader for us today. Two passages tell us about him, Colossians 1:3–8 and 4:12–13.

A Faithful Evangelist (Colossians 1:3–8)

Paul reminded the Colossians they learned the gospel from Epaphras, noting him to be “our beloved fellow servant” and “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf” (Colossians 1:7; cf. 1:5). Epaphras may have been saved through Paul’s ministry in Ephesus and then taken the gospel to Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). The church was probably about five years old.

Visiting Paul 800 miles away from Colossae (Acts 28:30–31), perhaps Epaphras asked about how to deal with the false teachers in Colossae (cf. Colossians 2:4). Epaphras encouraged Paul with news that the gospel had borne fruit in Colossae, provoking Paul to thank God (Colossians 1:8; cf. 1:3–6). God blessed the faithful work of Epaphras as an evangelist and church-planting pastor.

A Prayer Warrior (Colossians 4:12)

Illustrating how Epaphras was a slave of Christ Jesus on their behalf, Paul told the Colossians how Epaphras struggled for them in prayer (Colossians 4:12). He prayed specifically that they would stand mature in their Christian walk and be fully convinced of what they knew to be the will of God for their lives in Christ Jesus (Colossians 4:12; cf. 1:9). Given the content of the whole book up to this point, Epaphras likely prayed that they would truly know Christ as their Savior and that their union with Him empowered them to live the Christian life, not rules or regulations. Epaphras deeply desired a united body of believers who found their fellowship in Jesus Christ and not the methods of man. He prayed for all of these things.

A Persevering Pastor (Colossians 4:13)

Paul strongly affirmed that Epaphras had “worked hard” for the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and brothers in Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). Literally put, he had “much labor” for them, “labor” being an unusual Greek word for work that is only used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe anguish and pain in judgment (Revelation 16:10, 11), an experience unknown to God’s people in time to come (Revelation 21:4). If Paul meant to shade the work of Epaphras with this connotation, then his labor and work had been difficult, sometimes painful, perhaps being the result of unique burdens placed on him in the service of three churches (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:28).

Whatever the case, Epaphras worked hard, and perhaps his work had more struggles than the usual evangelist and church planter, even in the few years that he had been there. Archippus had maybe filled his role for now (Colossians 4:17), and Tychicus and John Mark would encourage the church as well (Colossians 4:7–9, 10). Epaphras persevered at the side of Paul, perhaps to accompany him back to Colossae once he got out of prison.

Three Characteristics of Followers of Jesus

By | June 30, 2022

Sometimes people never get quite out of the gate to follow Jesus. They see the benefits and blessings of serving Christ and speak of doing so themselves, but they lack true commitment and either stay or stray away. I’m sure we could rifle through Scripture to discover a hundred characteristics of true followers of Jesus, but I’ll limit myself to three as found in Luke 9:57–62.

In this passage, the theme is clearly why people fail to follow Jesus. Whether people say they will follow Jesus (Luke 9:57, 61; “I will follow you”) or somehow respond to the command to do so (Luke 9:59; “Follow me”), Jesus rebukes each one for a hidden or apparent obstacle that keeps him from truly following his Lord. Stated positively, they could have followed Jesus if they were marked by sacrifice, sincerity, and solitude, characteristics that should be true of us as followers of Jesus today.

  1. Sacrifice (Luke 9:57–58)

The first man took the initiative to declare, “I will follow you where you go” (Luke 9:57). However, we assume that he went nowhere in light of a rebuke from the Lord. Jesus saw holes for foxes and nests for birds but nowhere to lay his own head (Luke 9:58). Given the urgency of his task, his resources would be meager, and his followers would sacrifice with him.

  1. Sincerity (Luke 9:59–60)

The second man received the command, “Follow me,” to which he gave a seemingly noble excuse: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Luke 9:59). Perhaps his father was not yet dead, and he desired to settle his affairs before leaving, inheritance and all. But Jesus would have none of it. The spiritually dead could handle the physically dead, and this earthly task was lower on the list than proclaiming the kingdom of God (Luke 9:60). Whatever the excuse might be and however good it may sound, there is no excuse for heeding the call to follow Jesus and leaving everything behind. If we sincerely desire to follow Jesus, we will cast the best of things aside for the better task of following our Lord.

  1. Solitude (Luke 9:61–62)

The third man proclaimed, “I will follow you, Lord,” but with this caveat, “But let me first say farewell to those at my home” (Luke 9:61). Jesus replied with a farming metaphor to call for a singular focus: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). In the context of earthly relationships, if we find it hard to sever ourselves from a comfortable society that fails to follow our Lord, we will never truly follow him ourselves. This initial loss of relationships is difficult, but we gain the society of our Lord and all those who are found in him.