August 17, 2014

Who Was Epaphras?

Colossians 4:12-13 12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

As Paul closes his letter to the Colossians, he gives his personal greetings to the churches, and he also passes on the greetings from other who were with him. One of those with him, in prison, was Epaphras – so who is Epaphrus? Well, we should know who he is. Earlier in Colossians, we saw that he was the current pastor to the church at Colossae. Speaking about the gospel, Paul says
Colossians 1:7-8 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
Epaphras was the one who proclaimed, and brought the gospel to the Colossians. The text says, “just as you learned it from Epaphras” and this emphasizes the source where they learned “the grace of God in truth.” So not only does this verse emphasize the ministry of Epaphras, but also Paul’s endorsement of his ministry is implied.
Epaphras is described in Colossians 4:12 as “a bondslave of Jesus Christ.” “Bond slave” in the Greek, literally means “a slave.” Many Bible translations use the word servant because people shy away from using the “slave” word. In the Roman Empire, a bond slave was a person who was owned by someone, and was also dependent upon his owner for everything. He depended upon his master for daily needs, for his food and shelter, for his employment, and supplies for the work that needed to be done. A bond slave had no life of his own, because he was purchased. He was the possession of another. And if we are in Christ, then for us to live, is Christ, as Paul said. We were bought with a price. We are a possession of the Lord.
Back in Col 1:7, Paul says he is “a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” He was a person who was dedicated and dependable in ministry to the church. It was his trust, or faith in Jesus Christ that made him a faithful minister of Christ. A faithful minister trusts in God’s sovereignty, and knows that their work for the Lord produces eternal rewards. 1 Cor. 15:58 says:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

We know more about Epaphras from Phil 1:23 where it says:
Philemon 1:23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you,
As a fellow prisoner, Epaphras may have been arrested by the Romans when he came to visit Paul. That may be why he was not able to return to Colosse.
Paul also says that Epaphras was “…always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”
It is interesting that Paul singles out Epaphras only, among all the other workers, for being the one he praised for his prayer ministry.
Often we will pray for those who are around us, but we forget about those who were previously with us. In our church, we have several people who can’t be with us because of their physical and mental state. But we need to be like Epaphras, and remember to pray for them.
“Laboring earnestly” is from the Greek word agonizomai. We get our English word “agony” from this word. Luke used this same root word to describe Jesus when He was praying praying in the garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:44). The word shows us the great struggle Jesus went through as He was anticipating the cross and praying for His disciples.
We can learn a few things from this word that Paul uses. Paul told us to devote ourselves to prayer in chapter 4, verse 2. Epaphras was an outstanding example of that. The zeal and enthusiasm that Epaphras had for the ministry was much like the apostle Paul’s, because Paul used this same Greek root word to describe his own ministry for the Gentiles and for the Colossian church in Col 1:29 and Col 2:1. Both Epaphras and Paul seem to be following their Lord’s example in prayer:
Luke 22:44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
In 1 Corinthians 9:25, this same word is used to describe the intense competition of athletes in games. And in John 18:36 Jesus uses this word to mean physical fighting:
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Paul used this word often because he depended on the prayers of the church. God hears when his children pray, and Paul knew that. He knew that prayer was one of the ways that God brought about His plans and His purpose in the world.
We often don’t take God’s Word seriously when we read about prayer. Maybe we think prayer is something we can just do as we have time, or when we have exhausted every other possibility. But prayer is one of the ways that God uses to bless His people, and to bring about His will in the world.
James 4:2 says: “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
Prayer is absolutely essential for believers. Any teaching that minimizes the role of prayer is just not biblical.
When we examine the Scriptures, we find that when God’s people were praying, the purpose was to advance God’s kingdom. And that should be a guide for us as well. In our personal prayer life, what is it that we pray for? If we are honest, I think we tend to pray for God to change things in our life. We want Him to make us healthier, we want Him to bless us with more money, we want Him to help us find better friends, or any number of things. But we often don’t think about the fact that God has a purpose for those things in our life. For the believer, those circumstances of our life are part of God’s providence in order to mature us and mold us into the image of His Son. So for sure, one of the things we need to be praying for regularly is spiritual growth and strength while we are going through these difficult circumstances.
Paul prayed for a physical problem he had, and we read about it in 2 Corinthians. But we also see that there was a purpose for that affliction, as well. Verse 7 tells us that the physical problem he had was there to prevent him from having a spiritual problem – that of pride.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me– to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
As we look through the Scriptures, we also see that God promises over and over to answer our prayers. Hezekiah was a man who prayed, and we see what happens when he prays. Hezekiah was the king of Judah (South) just before Israel (North) was taken into Assyrian captivity (700 B.C.).
2 Chronicles 30:18-20 For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD pardon 19 everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.” 20 So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
So Hezekiah prayed for the people, and what happened? The Lord heard his prayers and healed the people. We should remember this. “The Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” Did the Lord heal the people because that was His plan, and He was going to do it anyway? That is not what we are told. It says He healed the people, because Hezekiah prayed.
In 1540 Martin Luther’s great friend and assistant, Friedrich Myconius, became sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his bed he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and sent back a reply: “I command thee in the name of God to live because I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church.… The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God.” Those words are shocking to us, but they were certainly heartfelt. Although Myconius had already lost the ability to speak when Luther’s letter came, he recovered completely and lived six more years to survive Luther himself by two months. Prayer works.
Back to our text, what was it that Epaphras prayed for? That the Colossians “…may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” The word “perfect” is the same word used by Paul in Colossians 1:28, where he states what is on his heart: “That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” This word “Perfect” refers to maturity. It means someone who has reached the goal that God intends for them.
Epaphras’ prayer was specifically for the spiritual maturity of the Colossians. To “stand perfect” means that you are not to waiver in your faith or doctrine. Remember how there were those who were teaching that Jesus Christ is not all you need in your Christian life? You can have a better and more meaningful relationship with God if you have this special knowledge that these false teachers were trying to spread. And during the struggle against these false teachers, Epaphras labored in prayer seeking God’s protection upon them so that they might “stand firm” and be unmoved by the threats and intimidation of these teachers.
Epaphras was the one who had brought Paul that disappointing report of those Judaizers and Gnostic teachers at Colosse. He wanted to return and go back to Colosse with Paul’s letter, but he couldn’t go since he was in prison. But he labored in prayer for them so that they would stand perfect, strong, and mature in Christ.
Epaphras also prayed that they might be “fully assured in all the will of God.” “Fully assured” is from a Greek word meaning: “to carry out fully, or to fully convince, or to fully believe.” Part of the problem that the Colossians had was that they were not fully convinced of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for their lives. They didn’t fully understand God’s design for them in Christ. So Epaphras prays that they might come to a richly satisfying understanding of the truth in Christ. He does not want them to be blown about by false teaching, but to be fully convinced in the truth.
Colossians 4:13 For I bear him witness that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Since Paul had spent some time with Epaphras, he could bear witness to his deep concern for the Colossians and those at nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis. His intense prayers, and his desire for the church’s maturity in Christ must have been a great encouragement to Paul and his co-workers.
It is interesting to see that Epaphras also prayed for believers in other cities. We often don’t even pray for other believers in Greeneville. We should certainly do that, as well as for believers in the cities around us, and for believers in general. We especially need to keep in prayer our missionaries, the Fehls, and others who are on the mission field as well. We need to be in prayer for the persecuted church in China, Iraq, and other places around the world.
Someone pointed out that if “church” is simply a place to us and not “people,” then we will not be burdened to pray. And if “church” is something you do on Sunday in order to soothe your conscience, then, also, we have no sense of prayer burden. But if we realize that we are a one another community in Christ; and that we are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit; and that we are identified as the family of Christ; and that we will spend eternity with each other, then it ought to mean something about the way we pray for one another.
If someone has a low view of the church and its importance in the plan of God, then they won’t give much thought to praying for the church. Epaphras certainly saw his laboring in prayer as necessary for the spiritual strength and growth of these churches. Do we also realize that our faithful praying is necessary for the body of Christ?
We can certainly use Epaphras as an example for our prayers. He prayed for spiritual maturity. Do we pray regularly for our fellow believers in our own body? Do we labor in prayer so that this body might stand firmly in spiritual maturity and fully assured in all the will of God?