He was writing to a group of people he had never met. He’d heard about them though a mutual friend. As Epaphras spent time with Paul in prison, he told Paul all about this small group in a small town in Turkey.
The last time Paul and Epaphras had talked was in Ephesus. Paul lived there for three years, teaching on the weekends, visiting in homes during the week. Lots of late night conversations, the kind where questions about God show up after the second beer, after the kids are in bed. And sometime during those three years, Epaphras joined in the conversations. He was from Colossae.
No one knows how often Epaphras traveled the 120 miles between Ephesus and Colossae. I can easily imagine that there were several visits as Paul explained the story of Jesus and Epaphras moved from curious to committed to church leader. Epaphras took notes and went home to teach. As people asked questions, he taught the basics he had learned from Paul. When he got stumped, I’m guessing he saved up the questions for his next week of conversation with Paul.
People started meeting in homes, just like in Ephesus. They learned the story of Jesus born, alive, killed, risen and ascended. Just like Paul had, Epaphras called this “the gospel”. Over time, they watched lives change as people heard this gospel and allowed it to affect their lives. The change wasn’t because they acted better, though that was a byproduct. They were aware that somehow, God had rescued them from a sense of darkness and confusion. The feeling of lostness and pointlessness they felt when walking into the local temples was gone. They were somehow part of some new kingdom, one of light.
But now, a few years later, Epaphras went to find Paul again. this time in Rome. It was 1200 miles, not 120. But it was worth the trip.
The questions were more complicated.
I’m grateful for Douglas Moo’s commentary on Colossians. It’s thorough.