Epaphras: A man of prayer
W. Ross Rainey, Dearborn, Michigan, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
It is difficult to find men of prayer, especially in this busy, fast-moving age. Yet, in every period of man’s hectic history, God has always had those who have spent much time in secret communion with Him, even to this very hour. Without such prayer warriors the church of Jesus Christ would be virtually powerless. If we but knew what we owe as believers to the ceaseless intercession of our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, coupled with the faithful intercession of men and women of God, surely we would be driven to our knees afresh in true praise and thankfulness to our Lord, and, at the same time, avail ourselves more often of the priceless privilege of prayer.
Epaphras was a man of prayer and though his Bible biography is brief, we are reminded of the fact that ‘little is much when God is in it’. Two outstanding things characterize Epaphras:
HIS FAITHFUL SERVICE
It is apparent that Epaphras was brought to know Christ as his Saviour and Lord sometime during the period of Paul’s three years’ ministry at Ephesus, Acts 20. 31. Following his conversion, he was called by God to take the gospel of Christ to the lost. This is the call and responsibility of every true believer. Engaging in the pioneer missionary work committed to him, Epaphras took the message of the gospel of God’s grace to Colossae; then, sometime later, he visited the apostle Paul, who had been imprisoned at Rome. The favourable report which he brought to Paul was a source of joy and encouragement to the beloved apostle, and later he was sent back to Colossae bearing Paul’s letter to the saints in that city.
The Holy Spirit’s sterling commendation of Epaphras is both searching and challenging. First of all, from Philemon 23 he is seen to have been at one time a ‘fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus’ with Paul himself. William R. Nicholson has suggested that Epaphras and Aristarchus may have alternated as the apostle’s fellow-prisoners, Epaphras being such while the letter to Philemon was written, and Aristarchus serving in the same capacity while Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written. Whatever the circumstances may have been, it was indeed an honour to have been linked with Paul as a fellow-prisoner in the Lord. Secondly, linking himself with the Colossian Christians, Paul refers to Epaphras as ‘our dear fellow-servant’, Col. 1. 7. Though such service was often toilsome, tiresome, and tearful, what a blessed relationship this was, something which Epaphras must have truly cherished. Thirdly, Paul refers to Epaphras not only as ‘a faithful minister of Christ’, but as ‘a servant of Christ’, Col. 4. 12. The words ‘minister’ and ‘servant’ have the same root, doulos, which means ‘bondslave’; the same word is used of Christ, Phil. 2. 7. The keynote struck in Colossians chapter 1 verse 7 with regard to Epaphras’ service, is that he was ‘faithful’. How important this is, especially in a day when unfaithfulness abounds. How much steadfast service means in the sight of God! ‘Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful’, 1 Cor. 4. 2. Are you consistently faithful in reading God’s word, in prayer, in upholding the person and work of Christ, witnessing, assembling yourself with the Lord’s people, and in every other aspect of the Christian life?
As a part of Epaphras’ faithful service he had brought back a true report of the Colossian saints’ ‘love in the Spirit’, Col. 1. 8. His declaration regarding the spiritual health of these believers was not exaggerated, minimized, or self-centred. There are times when a big question mark might be placed over certain ‘glowing reports’ which are heard or read. Sadly, it is common to exalt man and his attainments, and preachers in particular need to be on their guard to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ when led to give any report, either spoken or written, concerning what God by His grace has wrought.
We come now to the second outstanding characteristic of Epaphras:
HIS FERVENT SUPPLICATION
At least three significant things characterized Epaphras’ prayer life.
He was persistent
As the apostle Paul draws his letter to a close, he reveals the persistency and the faithfulness whereby Epaphras prays for the Colossian Christians, ‘always labouring fervently for you in prayers’, 4. 12. In other words, there was no letting up or letting down in his prayerful remembrance of them.1
He was persevering
Epaphras prayed things through. Prayer was not a form, but a force in his life. As conveyed by the words, ‘labouring fervently’, which are but one word in the Greek text, he literally ‘agonized’ (agonizomenos, Gk.) in the presence of God, and this for others, 4. 12. How Christ-like this man was!2 Paul uses the very same word in connection with his own prayers on behalf of the Colossian saints, 1. 29; 2. 1.
He was particular
Epaphras did not pray sketchily, but specifically. General petitions will only bring general answers, but specific petitions will bring specific answers, coupled with the blessings which accompany such answers. Epaphras’ particular petition on behalf of the Colossian believers may well be considered from a threefold standpoint. First of all, he prayed that they might ‘stand’. How important it is for the people of God, individually and collectively, to both stand and take a stand.3 Much of the moral chaos, confusion, and corruption in this present age is directly traceable to the fact that no stand is taken for what is right and righteous. Next, Epaphras prayed that the saints might be ‘perfect’, that is, ‘mature’ in spiritual life and growth. Much of the trouble and division which mars and marks God’s people stems from spiritual immaturity. Finally, he prayed that they might be ‘complete in all the will of God’, that is, that they might be fully assured in all their associations with Him, of all that He has promised and certified through His word that He is to them, and of their union in Christ. These things we learn by means of our Lord’s revealed will through the scriptures, and such a petition only serves to stress the importance of reading the word of God day by day, as well as meditating upon it.4
In Colossians chapter 4 verse 13 the apostle Paul attests to the ‘zeal’ of Epaphras in both service and prayer on behalf of the Colossian saints. Though the emphasis is primarily upon his prayer ministry, the word for ‘zeal’ also means ‘labour’, ‘travail’, ‘pain’, or ‘anguish’. It is related that during one of D. L. Moody’s Atlantic Ocean crossings a fire broke out in the hold of the ship. A friend is reported to have said to the famous evangelist, ‘Mr. Moody, let us go to the other end of the ship and engage in prayer’. The heavenly-minded yet down-to-earth Moody replied, ‘Not so, sir; we stand right here and pass buckets and pray hard all the time’.
Such reflects the spirit of Epaphras and his ministry, a man of God who may be looked upon as one of the Elijahs of the New Testament, cp. Jas. 5. 16. God grant that in these ‘last days’ the church of Jesus Christ might be blessed with many more prayer warriors such as Epaphras was in his day. Will you be one of them?
- See also 1 Sam. 12. 13; cf. Luke 18. 1; Rom. 12. 12; Eph. 6. 18; Col. 1. 3; 4. 2; 1 Thess. 5. 17; Jude 20.
- See also Mark 10. 45; Luke 4. 43; 23. 35; John 10. 16.
- cp. Acts 5. 20; 1 Cor. 16. 13; Gal. 5. 1; Eph. 6. 13-14; Phil. 1. 27; 4. 1.
- cp. Col. 2. 2; Heb. 6. 11; 10. 22.