Trekking across Turkey has taken us from the Soganli Valley through the Lycus and Meander Valleys to Ephesus. Along the way we have passed through rich farming land that produces cotton, tobacco and myriad Mediterranean fruits. The Lycus Valley in western Turkey is where three communities of first century Christians lived - in Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 2:1; 4:13). Paul's colleague Epaphras planted these churches, laying a foundation for a bright future, praying that they would 'stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured' (Colossians 4:12). Paul points out that Epaphras is 'one of you' (4:12), indicating that Colossae was his home town and that he was in fellowship in that city. From his Roman prison Paul described Epaphras as 'our dear fellow servant' (1:7a); 'a faithful minister of Christ' (1:7b); 'a bondservant of Christ' (4:12a); and finally 'my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus' (Philemon 23) Twice Epaphras is described as a servant, or slave.
William Hendriksen writes: 'A servant of Jesus Christ is one who has been bought with a price and is therefore owned by his Master, on whom he is completely dependent, to whom he owes undivided allegiance and to whom he ministers with gladness of heart, in newness of spirit, and in the enjoyment of perfect freedom, receiving from him a glorious reward.'
Epaphras was prison with Paul in Rome when Paul sent the letters to the Lycus Valley churches with Tychicus and Onesinus (Col. 4:7-9, 16), as well as the epistle to Philemon. Paul had not been to the Lycus Valley (Colossians 2:1). Epaphras and Philemon used Colossae as base and traveled to the other two cities conducting evangelistic campaigns. The walk from Colossae to Laodicea was about 16 kilometres and from Laodicea to Hierapolis about 10 kilometres. We've been walking daily - along dusty trails and climbing the rocky slopes of beautiful ancient cities like Priene - but not as far as that first century evangelist. Epaphras had taken the long walk to Rome to consult with Paul because he was concerned for the spiritual well-being of the churches in the Valley. Two questions! Are you walking long and well? Eugene Peterson describes the Christian faith as a long obedience in the same direction. 'There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations for Christians called holiness.' How far will are you willing to go with and for the Gospel?
'One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.' (Andre Gide)