In 52 AD, Paul arrived in the city of Ephesus. It was on the Mediterranean’s northeast coast. It was a large city for that time, about a third of a million. It was his second visit. On the first, a year before, he had stayed only a few days, left his friends Priscilla and Aquila, and gone to Jerusalem. But this time, he was prepared to stay as long as God allowed. He was there for almost three years.
When he first arrived, Paul taught in a synagogue. After three months, synagogue teaching got too argumentative for Paul. He moved to a lecture hall which had free time. He taught there every day. In the rest of his day, he visited the house gatherings that started. He visited individual homes. As he says to the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20, night and day he taught them everything about following Jesus.
Sometime during these three years, a man named Epaphras came to Ephesus from Colossae. It was a much smaller city 120 miles inland to the east.
We don’t know details of his life, but the trade route that ran from the port at Ephesus across Turkey past Colossae suggests that he was in Ephesus on business. Perhaps bringing Colossian wool to market. But somehow in God’s way, Epaphras met Paul. And then he met Jesus.
Epaphras took the good news of Jesus Christ back home with him. And he started to teach what he learned from Paul. People believed. During the next few years a church started in Colossae. Another started in Laodicea, about 12 miles away. And one in Hierapolis, also about 12 miles away.
Epaphras was the leader of this cluster of churches. It’s likely that he went to Ephesus from time to time to learn more, to ask Paul questions, to be mentored.
By 60 AD, the church in Colossae is a few years old. There are some people who are asking questions and influencing conversations. We don’t know all of what they are saying, but at the core are questions about whether Jesus really is all of the good news. And there seems to be some sense that hearing Epaphras say “But Paul said” isn’t enough for people.
Epaphras loves his flock, he treasures the truth, he trusts Paul, he talks constantly with God. And so Epaphras traveled a thousand miles on land and on sea, from Turkey around the coast of Greece and Italy, to Rome. Paul is there under house arrest.
Paul is more than willing to write a letter to Colossae. He’s faced questions before about who Jesus is, just as he’s faced questions about how we are to live, about church politics, about being Jewish. He is passionately convinced that the center of the good news is Jesus Christ. He’s talked about that belief in other places. But this request from Epaphras, to write to a church he’s heard about, prayed for, but never seen, is the perfect opportunity to make that clear.
One day, with Timothy in the room, Epaphras praying in the corner, Paul dictates his letter. He signs it himself. And sends it with Tychicus and Onesimus.
Days later, the courtyard of the house in Colossae where the church meets is full of people, a hundred or so. Everyone quiets as Tychicus stands to read the letter from Paul.