I was reading the book of Colossians this morning, and Paul’s mention and brief but powerful description of Epaphras caught my attention.
We know that Epaphras founded the Colossian church and it was his report about Colossian heresy to Paul, who at the time was imprisoned in Rome, which prompted him to write this letter.
Now, here are Paul’s words about Epaphras:
Epaphras who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Colossians 4, 12-13.
At a glance, the bit of this scripture which really catches my eye and engages my spirit is: “always wrestling for you in prayer”. As I dig deeper, however, it soon becomes apparent that there are more jewels to be found in this very short and seemingly unimportant piece of scripture.
I think the expression: “It takes one, to know one” is applicable here, as when we read Paul’s other letters and learn about his spiritual journey, we realise he, himself, is a prayer warrior, and as such, is able to recognise the essential traits of God’s mighty intercessors in the person of Epaphras.
There is much to be learnt and applied by the Church today from the character of Epaphras. Not much is said, however, about him in the bible and therefore, one can easily miss the valuable content hidden behind one of the many “unsung heroes” in Scripture, such as this one.
Firstly, Paul tells us that he is “one of you”. This indicates that Epaphras was a member of the Colossian church and because of that, had a personal involvement in the spiritual lives of other members of that church. Paul is reminding the Colossian church to recognise the value and significance of one of its members who is part of the whole; a whole in which the role of each member counts and without which, the body cannot function to its full potential, just like a maimed body would fail to give a 100%. As Epaphras battles in prayer for the spiritual health of the Colossian church, Paul reminds its members to fight for the bond of love and unity through Christ that should exist and shine out of any local church.
Then Paul reminds the Colossians that Paul is a SERVANT of JESUS CHRIST, and in doing so, gives them a stern warning that Epaphras and each and every one of them are ultimately serving One and Only: Christ, the Lord. When we become servants of Jesus Christ, we adopt an attitude of servant-hood which extends not only towards God but towards each other. Recognising the authority of the King of Kings and our salvation through grace should enable us to display and extend Christ wonderful compassion, mercy and forgiveness towards our brothers and sisters in Him. When we fail to do so, it becomes apparent that we are not operating as servants of Jesus Christ but of OURSELVES.
Scripture then mentions the challenging but at the same time, inspirational statement that “Epaphras is always wrestling in prayer for you“. “Wrestling” is a strong word indeed, and it means exactly what it says. Spiritual warriors battle in spiritual warfare and this is no picnic. As they are well in tune with the Father’s heart and with spiritual realities which are not visible to the natural eye, so they fully know the magnitude and danger posed by the enemy they are confronting; they are fully aware of the risks taken when opposing such an enemy, and often are tormented and battle themselves with feelings of helplessness, fear and inadequacy to be taking on such a fierce opponent. Spiritual intercessors of this calibre will often suffer physically and/or emotionally as a result of the enemy’s arrows, which course has been altered as a desperate attempt to stop God’s mighty warriors from owning the ground that has been granted to them since the beginning of times.
Fourthly, let’s look at the substance of Epaphras’ prayers for the Colossians: “stand firm in the will of God….” and “be mature and fully assured”. How easy it is to quit and walk away when things do not turn out the way we hoped or wished. How easy to criticise and be negative when things are not done our way. I know how easy it is to tear down, instead of to help build; to be negative and antagonistic, instead of getting your hands dirty and grafting for something which seems to be going nowhere, for something that stops becoming fun and joyful and turns into a cross one has to bear; it becomes sacrificial. How hard to put down one’s will when we realise it does not align with the will of God. It is neither coincidence then, nor words spoken lightly, when Epaphras’ prayer for the members of his church, is for them to STAND FIRM IN THE WILL OF GOD, for when the going gets tough, the tough stay where they are and fight to defend what has been achieved at great cost with the blood of Jesus; the unspeakable sacrifice of one for ALL. Then we continue with “be matured and fully assured”. Well, we can all recognise what maturity entails when a church is in danger of going down the road of idolatry and of perishing. It requires maturity to build bridges and to maintain them and not walls and isolation that mislead us and subtly take us away from the common goal. The word “assured” means “to bring in full measure…to fulfill, accomplish…to persuade, assure or satisfy fully”. What a wonderful goal and prayer for a local church. And it is in that unity of purpose and strength, as each member works for the good of the whole, that the church brings glory to God and experiences the joy of being part of God’s awesome plan of Salvation for humankind.
Last, but by no means least, Paul draws attention to his endorsement of Epaphras: “I vouch for him….he is working hard for you…” How can we trust that Epaphras is indeed a legitimate intercessor, that he is not acting on his own power and strength, that he is not being blinded by pride and seeking and drawing attention to Himself instead of to God; that he is not displaying false humility in his prayers for his fellow Colossians? No other than the apostle Paul gives him his endorsement, vouches for Him that his motives and heart are right with God; that his prayers are laborious and line up with the will of God for that church, for all His Church. This particular part of the scripture gives us a much needed warning for today’s local church that all intercessors must be under spiritual covering of a local church, for the sake of the people and the intercessor. There is much danger in intercessors becoming loners or gathering around themselves other intercessors who become their own authority. When this happens, these Christians may start to believe that they are spiritually more attuned to God’s purpose and plan for an individual or a church , than the leadership of that church, or any other member of that church who may well be hearing just as strongly and clearly from God. They will often undermine authority and go off on a tangent. In doing so, they will lose their opportunity to function as part of a whole and to play the role that God designed for them as members of that “local” body, and much to their detriment and peril, they will lose the care, nurture, protection and the laughter and joy that their spiritual covering will provide.
NOT WALLS, BUT BRIDGES TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH!