Nonresidential training: Epaphras and Hall of Tyrannus
Paul covered a lot of ground during his journeys but he just could not be everywhere at once. It was common for him to mention in his letters his desire to visit a place, but he just could not at least for the time being. By his third missionary journey Paul had come up with a way to multiply himself and that was the school at the hall of Tyrannus.
At Tyrannus Paul could pour into disciples and they could go out and cover all the places Paul would never have the time or health to reach. With this strategy Paul could even be in prison and the work would carry on.
There is no record in the book of Acts of Paul ever preaching the gospel in Colossae. For this reason we have to look for clues about how the church started in Colossae and Philemon and make some assumptions from what happened during Paul’s two years just outside of Ephesus.
Colossians is one of Paul’s prison epistles and most scholars believe Paul wrote this letter during his Roman imprisonment about 61AD. Paul mentions in Colossians 1:17 that it was his close associate Epaphras who preached the gospel in Colossae. The work in Colossae probably started during Paul’s third missionary journey when he set up a training center at the Hall of Tyrannus outside of Ephesus.
And so it is commonly accepted that one of the disciples at the hall of Tyrannus who was instrumental in starting churches in cities Paul never reached was Epaphras. Paul said, “You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf” (Colossae 1:7-8).
Epaphras was the key man for the Asian tri-city area of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis. Paul said “I vouch for Epaphras that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Colossians 4:13. Epaphras probably started the Laodicea church that met at Nympha’s house (Colossians 4:15) and the Philemon church that met at either Philemon’s or Archippus’s house (Philemon 2).
Epaphras was the ideal disciple/church planter to carry the gospel and start the church in Colossae. He was a local son of the Colossian soil. Epaphras could have made the one hundred mile journey back and forth from Ephesus to Colossae with relative ease. His fellow Colossians were also making that same journey all the time. They would be going from the smaller city of Colossae to the big port city of Ephesus for trade and supplies.
Epaphras would learn from Paul how to proclaim the gospel and start churches and raise up leaders. Paul uses the 2 Timothy 2:2 strategy at the hall of Tyrannus. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others”. Paul rises up Epaphras at the Hall of Tyrannus.
After spending some time at the Tyrannus School Epaphras would head up river or along one of the Roman Roads to Colossae and put what he learned into practice. When he reached Colossae he would teach what he learned to Archippus. Epaphras learned from Paul and he in turn raised up Archippus to lead the Colossian church (probably it happened this way at Colossae). Paul is raising up multi-generational leaders. Timothy is even on the scene when Epaphras is in Rome with Paul (Philemon 1, Colossians 1:1).
The hall of Tyrannus strategy worked brilliantly because both Paul and Epaphras are together in prison in Rome and the work is carrying on. Of course the churches at Colossae and Laodicea certainly do face threats from prevalent outside harmful philosophies. Paul is trying to steer the churches clear of their harmful influence in writing the Colossian letter. The church at Colossae has a powerful prayer warrior in Epaphras who regularly intercedes for them too.
The distance and trip from Ephesus and Colossae are very practical. On the other hand the meeting up in a Roman prison of Paul and two Colossians of Epaphras and Onesimus is striking. What were Epaphras and Onesimus these two Colossians doing with Paul in Rome? No one can answer for sure but it seems that Onesimus the escaped slave of Philemon was “free” to travel back to Colossae with Tychicus and Epaphras was not.
Whatever reason Epaphras came to Rome is uncertain but that he brought news to Paul of the growing spiritual fruit and love in the Spirit is certain (Colossians 1:6). Epaphras also brought news of the threats of heresy facing the church in Colossae. Paul is writing to protect the church from the threats of philosophies that diminish the supremacy of Jesus. The letter to Colossians very clearly articulates the supremacy of Jesus and his total sufficiency for salvation. Tychicus would carry the letter back to Colossians and take Onesimus back to Colossae. The Colossian letter was to be read in all the churches in the area.
Paul could impact leaders who came for training at Tyrannus Hall that Paul could not get to. In addition to this training center that ran for two years Paul arranged for a seven day leadership training event in Troas for Thessalonian leaders Aristarchus and Secundus. (Acts 20:6) The Hall of Tyrannus training center trained church planters and leaders in a way Paul could make a huge geographic and multi-generational impact.