Colossians 4:12-13

Epaphras: An Example of Prayer

Colossians chapter 4 verse 7 through to verse number 18: Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts. With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you, they will make known to you all things which are happening here. Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you. With Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision. They have proved to be a comfort to me.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you and those who are in Laodicea and those in Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that likewise you read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." This salutation by my own hand, Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.

Father, we come before You now, asking that You would send the Holy Spirit to strengthen our hearts, to draw us into Your truth, to raise our affections as we sit under the teaching and preaching of the Word of God. That the things that we hear would stir our soul, stir our conscience, that we would be a people that pursue You and seek after You, as the deer pants after the water brooks. Help our soul, O God, to long after You, and we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Well, we're here at the final greetings, and last week we did consider the general considerations, if we could say, of this final greetings, looking at Paul's companions and the people with whom Paul ministered and what was important to Paul and what wasn't really important to Paul about the people that he ministered, the things that he made much of, the things that he didn't make so much of, and we learned about Paul's ministry, how and whom he ministered with. But today, we're going to move from the general to more of the specifics, and I'd like to this week and next week just deal with two people that are mentioned here that are given particular emphasis as examples for us. The first of those is Epaphras, which we will consider this morning.

Now, several weeks ago, we looked at the call to prayer in chapter 4 verses 2 to 6, and we considered also that God wants us to pray as an instrumental means by accomplishing His purposes in the world. And we don't get very far before Paul starts to give us an example of one who prayed. And so, you have this encouragement to the church to pray for the advancement of the gospel, you have this encouragement to the church to continue always in prayer and use prayer as God has given for it to be used as a means by accomplishing His ends. Yet, Paul goes now to give us an example of one who really obeyed those commands, who really did continue earnestly in prayer, and his name is Epaphras.

He was one who lived in the city of Colossae, or should I say, he was one who was from the city of Colossae, that was his place of origin in the province of Asia Minor, and he lived in, he was born in this city, and he lived in this city for some time. And if you remember back to our Bible studies, one of the first Bible studies we had in the book of Colossians, Paul had not ever come to Colossae and had not been there, but the Bible teaches us that Epaphras was there and made known to them the gospel. And so, there in the city of Colossae, in a town of popular trade, steeped in Gentile paganism and steeped in legalism, there was a person there that was from the city, although the Bible teaches us at this time he was not living in the city, but at the same time, the Bible teaches us that he was working in the city.

I want you to think about that for a moment. Here's a man that's from the city, currently not living in the city, but working in the city. So, how does that work? Does he have some emissaries that are going and doing his business, some representatives? Well, no. The Bible teaches us that this man was working in the city by means of prayer. He was one who never left Colossae in one way, although he wasn't there physically, his heart was there, his prayers were there, he was with them in spirit, if I could say, and still laboring among them, and that in prayer. And it wasn't just in the city of Colossae, but the passage teaches us that it was the whole Lycus Valley, which included Hierapolis and also Laodicea, that this man was laboring in.

He was one who appeared before God for the saints there in the Lycus Valley. He was the one who frequented the throne of grace, bringing the names of the people of those churches, the names of the saints of that area before the very throne of God, and he was tarrying in prayer for them, as a watchman who never held his peace until God acted and made, as it were, Jerusalem a praise in the earth. He was one who was committed to the restoration and the growth of God's people, and that through prayer.

Now, his name was Epaphras, and what do we know of him? Well, in chapter number one, if you'd like to turn there just for a moment of this epistle, in verse number six to seven, Paul talks about this hope of the gospel which came to the believers there at Colossae. It says, "which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth." What does verse seven say? "As you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf."

And Paul lets us in to understand just a little bit about Epaphras, that he was the one from whom the church at Colossae learned the gospel, which makes us think that Epaphras perhaps was an evangelist, or he may have even been a church planter of the church there at Colossae, which is most often believed. One who is described in this passage as a faithful minister of Christ, and he was one who is also described in chapter 4 verse 12 as one who was "one of you," which would indicate his place of origin, that he was a native of the area, just like Onesimus also is called "one of you." He was one who was a faithful minister of Christ, who was had his origin there in the city, but he is also described in chapter 4 verse 12 as a bond servant of Christ, one who was a slave of Jesus Christ, one who was under the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ, whose life was bound to Christ, one who had a master, a commander, a king, not one who was independent, being as it were, who did not submit to anyone, rather one who understood that he was joined to the Lord, and his relationship to the Lord was one of service, a bond servant, a slave of Christ.

And the Bible presents us with this man, who was a faithful minister and bond servant of Christ, as one who was particularly concerned about the people's condition at Colossae, and one who, burdened by that concern, prayed. Look what it says there in verse number 12: "Epaphras, who is one of you, a bond servant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers." And the Bible presents to us that this man is a man who always labored fervently in prayers for you, for the believers there at Colossae, and those words show us really the depth of this man's commitment to these saints, the depth of this man's love for these believers.

Note the word "always," as if giving us insight to the fact that this man always prayed for them, meaning that he persevered for these believers. He was concerned, persisted, and continued, appearing before God for them regularly, perhaps daily, we're not sure, but the idea that he was always praying for them means that he was persistent in his prayer for them. Secondly, we are told that he labored fervently for them, which means if he was always laboring fervently for them, that means there was a sense in which he was always working for them. And the idea of laboring is actually the word where we get our English word "to agonize." It's "agonizomai," which is the idea of an athlete who, by strenuous activity, runs his race or wrestles his opponent. And the idea is that there's, in the sense of in athletics, there is a sense of agonizing. It's not casual. It's not right when someone's in an athletic contest. There is a sense in which there is sweat, blood, and tears, as is common to our cultural language today. The idea is that he was one who was laboring fervently, and he strove, striving earnestly in his prayers. He agonized for them. He agonized for them always. And he says he agonized always for them in prayers, and he said this he did for you.

So not only was this man always working, but he was always working in prayer, not for himself, but for the Saints there in the Lycus Valley. The Bible says that this man was not, it shows us this man was not primarily concerned with himself. He was one who was concerned about those people that he was ministering to, the "for you" of the Lycus Valley people. Paul says, "I testify to you that this man prays for you. He not only prays for you, he always labors and agonizes in prayer for you." The Bible teaches us that this man was, therefore, sacrificial.

And is there ever such a great demonstration of love for God's people than to labor in prayer for them in their trial of affliction or even just for their growth in grace? In fact, the Bible teaches us in this verse 13, in this same passage, "For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis." He's a man that had a great zeal for the people of God, and that great zeal was demonstrated by an earnest striving for them in prayer.

I just want us to see who this man was and what his manner of praying was because it's set forth for us as an example here in this passage. And what that teaches us about Epaphras is that he had a deep affinity for the people of the Lycus Valley. Now, we see his example of prayer, not only the fact that he prayed in this manner as always laboring fervently and sacrificially, but we see the goal and the end of his praying. What was he praying for? Why was he praying? What was his intention? What did he want to accomplish by means of prayer for the people there?

Well, look with me in verse number 12 and consider what it says. It says, "Epaphras, who is one of you, a bond servant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." You know, Epaphras was a man not only who labored fervently and sacrificially in prayer for these people, but he was a person that had an intended goal in mind. And in fact, that intended goal perhaps was part of the rising up of the zeal in his heart, the concern. What was he trying to accomplish by praying? And the Bible teaches us that the goal and end of his praying was not for their material prosperity, as it were, nor necessarily for their natural or social relations, as it were, but he was concerned primarily about their relationship to the will of God.

Now, let me just say that their relationship to the will of God involves those things, no doubt. God doesn't want us not to pray for the physical well-being of people. But what Paul lays emphasis on here, as an example for us, is this man was primarily concerned and burdened that the will of God might be fulfilled in the people of the Lycus Valley. He was a man that was concerned deeply for the will of God. In fact, what is important to realize is that every blessing that comes to us comes from the head of the, comes through the stream from the head of the will of God, if I could say that.

If you look at the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy chapter 28, we have the children of Israel standing on Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, pronouncing the blessings and the cursings for the people of God, the children of God, the children of Israel. And what ends up happening is it's a revelation to us, not just of blessings and cursings, but of blessings and cursings that will arise because of our relationship to the will of God. They were simply saying, "If you observe all the things which God has written for you, then you will have blessing. If you refuse all the things that God has written for you, then you will have cursing." And what that shows us is that there is a relationship between blessing and cursing in relationship to our obedience to the will of God, if I could say that. That the blessing of God is connected to obedience to God and submission to the will of God.

And what Epaphras understood, so as to desire the best end for the people of God, and that is their submission to the will of God. Now, his prayer was, I don't believe, a vain repetition, whereby he went through the names of all the people in the Lycus Valley and, at the end of those, just added this: "I pray for so-and-so, that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. I pray for so-and-so, that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." I don't think Paul did that. Epaphras did that for hours on end. I believe what the Bible is teaching us here is not the specific words of his praying, but the intent and purpose and goal of his praying. And so then, when we understand that, we can understand what he probably specifically prayed for.

But there are two things here that he was concerned for in his praying that really shaped his prayer, and that was, firstly, that they might stand perfect, and secondly, that they might stand complete in all the will of God. Now, the idea of standing perfect is the idea that they would have a steadfastness in their Christian maturity. The idea of perfect is a maturity, and Paul was concerned that these people would be steadfast in Christian maturity, that they wouldn't be necessarily like a toddler that's learning how to walk. You know what that's like. I don't know yet what that's like, but I've seen what it's like. I will soon have to catch my son and try and keep him from falling, but maybe the falls will help him. I don't know. But for some of you that have kids and have seen them go through infancy to the stage of being a toddler, you see how they may stand up and do these little steps forward and then tumble. That would be what we would call walking in immaturity. That's the immature walk. That's the legs that aren't strong. That's the legs that don't really know how to stand and aren't firm and aren't fixed.

But what the Bible is saying here, when he's praying that they might stand perfect, what he's simply saying is that they wouldn't be like immature Christians that are like toddlers just learning how to walk and falling, but that they would rise up and grow and be mature, full-grown Christians that know how to stand, that know how to walk, that are secure in their Christian maturity. I don't know about that, but that is a great privilege for anyone who has walked with the Lord for any point of time and has labored in their growth with the Lord, to come to a place where you're growing in maturity. There's a stability about their faith, a stability about their walk.

And what Epaphras was concerned about is not just people being converted and brought into the kingdom, but that those that have been brought into the kingdom would learn how to stand in maturity and live out the Christian life according to the will of God in the kingdom of God. And secondly, what he also is praying for is that they would not only stand perfect, but they would stand complete. And the Bible teaches us that the word "complete" that is used here, it means to be filled up full, and that means complete. Like, you got a cup, you fill it full, and it's complete. You can't add any more to it.

And so, what is the reference here that's being referred to? He's not only praying that they will be secured in their maturity, but that they would be filled up full and complete, if you just recount just for a moment what the Colossians is all about, is that they would realize the fullness and completeness that they have in Jesus Christ. The idea of what Paul is saying is that Epaphras was praying in reference to their satisfaction. He was concerned that they would be filled up full in a sense of satisfaction, that they would come to the place where they would not only be mature, but they would be a people that are fully secured and fully assured that the ground upon which they stand is the most solid ground and the best ground, and therefore they need to look nowhere else but to Jesus Christ.

He's saying, "I pray that they would stand perfect and complete," and he says, "in all the will of God," that their maturity and that the fullness of their satisfaction was all to have its ground in the will of God, that they would love God's law, that they would love God's commandments, that they would love that which God has designed and desired for His people. The prayer of Epaphras mirrors that of Paul, that they will be filled with the knowledge of His will, that they would walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, that they would be a people that would realize that there is nowhere else to go for satisfaction but Christ, and that there is nothing better than to do that which God has designed and to do that which God has desired.

And this is what he was zealous for, this is what he was concerned for. The prayer summarizes the entire epistle. He's essentially praying for what Paul was writing for. Paul was writing for their completeness in Christ and that they would grow in maturity and not look to philosophies or empty deceits or traditions or legalism for spiritual grace and maturity, but they would look only to their completeness in Jesus Christ. And Paul was writing for this and laboring for this, but there was another man there working with Paul who was praying for this and laboring in prayers with Paul for this very end: laboring that they would be mature, laboring that they would be complete in Christ, laboring that they would not look anywhere else but to the sufficiency that is in Jesus Christ. You see, the heart of Christian maturity is a mind that is fully persuaded of the sufficiency of God's will. If you want to see a mature Christian, there are two things to consider. Firstly, their heart—a mature Christian's heart is concerned for the will of God, and they know and understand that the best place to be is in obedience to God in His will. But also, a mature Christian is one who not only is fully assured that the will of God is best, but he is one who, by his life, lives out and demonstrates that the will of God is best. This is what it means to really be truly mature.

It is the baby Christian who is first learning of the grace of God that battles with the idea of, he sees Christ and he sees his sins forgiven, but when he's confronted with issues in his life, he's constantly challenged, "Do I, do I take the wisdom of God or the wisdom of the world? I used to do things this way when this situation arose, how am I to respond now?" And he's wrestling through this. It's the mature Christian that is settled and understands like Jesus, "My meat," or "My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work." That sentence that came from the lips of our Lord is impregnated with, with a determination, with an assurance. Here the Lord Jesus says, "My food, my daily sustenance, is to do the will of God and to finish the work that He has given Me to do." What if we could say maturity? What perfection? What stability? Talk about a solid rock upon which His feet was planted, even though when He was faced with death, even though His face with derision, even though He was faced with, with, with people deserting Him, here we have the Lord Jesus Christ whose face was set like a flint, and He was not moving because He was persuaded in a perfect way, being God Himself, that His will and God were one in that way, that they were united as one. He knew that what "My Father's given Me to do is best, and I'm going to do that for the glory of the Lord." That is the epitome of Christian maturity—what resolve, what determination and firm conviction! What we learn here is that Epaphras was one who was praying for the church that they might be this way.

As we consider some applications for us today, I want us to begin first and foremost by thinking of what Epaphras is actually doing here. Here is a man that is in a room somewhere getting alone, talking to the invisible God concerning the sanctification of a people that are far away from him. Think about that for a moment—a man that cannot just send a text message to them, cannot give any, give a phone call to see how they are doing because they don't have that kind of technology there. There is nothing that he can do in his own ability by means of speaking or by means of visiting immediately in any way that can help them grow in grace and knowledge, that can help them be more mature. But he is there in a room, if it were, in some place praying and beseeching God for their sanctification, for their spiritual maturity. Was Epaphras agonizing for nothing? Was he doing what is thought of by modern philosophy today, that prayer is just some kind of crutch for, for us that we just want to, you know, vent and that's what, that's what, that's how Christians just vent, you know? They've got a bad problem or they're stressed about something so they just vent. Or did Epaphras have a richer understanding of prayer because it seems to me that Epaphras understood that by means of prayer these people would grow in sanctification, Epaphras understood that prayer wasn't about himself necessarily venting, necessarily letting things out, necessarily as a crutch, but he knew that prayer was, as it's called here, a work. It was a labor. In fact it is a labor that is most often neglected by the Church of Jesus Christ that was most employed here by Epaphras himself. Makes you wonder. It makes you wonder here is Epaphras who believes sincerely that God is the sanctifier of His people, that God is the one who changes hearts, that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. And so when he gets alone with God and prays for the people of the Lycus Valley, he's praying understanding and knowing that by means of prayer there could be an effect of holiness and effect of righteousness and effect of godliness, a stability that would come into the people of God's life. He understood that the more that he sought God fervently, the more God would invade their lives with His grace and with His will. And he was zealous for that and he was burdened for that and he was concerned for that. And and we just have to ask ourselves, the people of God, this very question: How do we respond to the immaturity of the Church of Jesus Christ today? How do we respond to the immaturity of believers in our lives? All of us are surrounded by Christians, whether they're in church, whether our friends, whether our family members. We who profess to know Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are part of the body of Jesus Christ. And we get frustrated, we look at other Christians and we get frustrated. Why aren't they mature? Why don't they do it, living the way they should be living? How can the Christian do this and be like that and behave like that? And yes, true. But dear people of God, stop for a minute. What did Epaphras do when he saw, when he was concerned for the maturity of God's people? He prayed. He prayed. Here, Epaphras recognizes that frustration, discouragement, and all these things will accomplish nothing for the sanctification of God's people, but he realized that if he got down on his knees and served them in prayer, that this would serve to their Christian maturity.

When we are confronted with immature Christians that frustrate us, whether it's our children, whether it's our family, whether it's our friends here they gather together or even friends that are Christians that belong to other churches, the last thing we usually do is labor fervently for them in prayer. We're quick to complain using a thousand words speaking to the air in frustration. How much of those words do we direct in prayer to God for them? How much of those words do we bring before the Lord and say, "Lord, I know You see what I see. Lord, I'm zealously concerned for the condition of Your people. And Lord, I'm gonna labor fervently in prayer for them, that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." Dear Christians, is our faith so weak to not believe that our prayers in the hands of an Almighty God can accomplish great good in the lives of God's people? Prayer is the last thing that we resort to sometimes when we're confronted with the immaturity of God's people around us, but it should be the first port of call.

We should not have that weak faith that that thinks that, "Are you know this is not going to work unless someone gets in their face and tells them something." We need to believe that the very God who gave them a new heart is the very God that can continue to sanctify them and transform them by the grace of God. We need to come to believe that the very God who created a hunger and thirst in righteousness in our hearts and in their hearts can continue to create a hungering and thirsting in righteousness in their lives. We need to believe that the, that the God that, that is, that is the God who sanctifies us is the God that, that who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. And intercession therefore should not be the last port of call but the first port of call when we see the need of the declining people of God.

And I think the very same thing was seen in the passage that was just read to us earlier today in the life of Daniel. Here is a man that sees the people of God in captivity, in under the judgment of God due to their sins, and he's concerned for them, zealously concerned for them. And he's crying out with great expression, "Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord," listen, he's not saying, "They have sinned," he says, "We have sinned. God, help us. Restore us. Forgive us. Oh Lord." It's not because our own righteousness, but it's only by Your mercies that we come to You in prayer. Revive us, build us up, strengthen us. You see, Daniel understood that even though the people of God's duty is to respond in repentance and to turn to the Lord, he understands this, that it is God who makes the change. It is God who sanctifies. It is God who revives. It is God who restores. It is God who raises the dead. And therefore he prays. He prays fervently for them continually for them. And I would just say to you, dear people of God, that the Church of Jesus Christ today needs more intercessors, more men and women who will stand like Epaphras there, maybe not in the assembly themselves, they may not be able to be there, but stand in prayer before God bringing the people of God before the throne of God for their sanctification and growth—a people that is zealously concerned with the righteousness and holiness of God's people, a people that are desirous to see revival, a people that are desirous to see restoration, to see God move and breathe once again life into His people. And it is our duty as God's people to catch that vision, to bear that zeal, to bear that burden, and to seek the Lord for such.

It was William Gurnal who said this, he said, "When God intends a mercy for His people, He stirs up the spirit of prayer in them. Fervency unites the soul and directs the thoughts to the work at hand. It will not allow diversions and denies all foreign thoughts seeking to intrude." That's when you fervently pray. Look what he says here. He says, "Pray fervently or you do nothing. Cold praying is no more prayer than a painting of fire is fire. How can prayers that do not even warm your own hearts move God's? A fervent prayer will never find a cold reception with God. Elijah's prayer called fire down from heaven because it carried fire up to heaven." And I think there's a lot of truth in this.

I think this, this statement is, I find it very challenging. "How can prayers that do not even warm your own heart move God's?" And I just feel that unless we see that by means of prayer, that the declining state of God's people may be restored by means of prayer and God responds in prayer to that, until we catch the vision of Epaphras, we'll never find ourselves seeking God as we ought to seek Him. It would just be a matter of routine and ticking the boxes as we go through our prayer time in the morning or as we just go throughout the day. But my question, dear people of God, is does your eye affect your heart when you see the struggling saints of God? Does it drive you to realize, "Lord, move. Lord, work. Lord, stir." Or is it an occasion for, for, for complaint and for murmuring when we see the struggles that are in the dear loved ones and in the lives of the people that we love most? Does it drive us to our knees in prayer saying, "Lord, I know that You are able. I can only do so much. My words can only mean so much. My hands can only perform so much. But Lord, if You would but step down in mercy and touch this person's life, all shall be new." And I believe Epaphras understood that, knew that. And so even miles away from this place, he would besiege God earnestly for them, continually in prayer for them, realizing that they will stand perfect and complete in the will of God, yes, by means of praying.

And deep people of God, the most comforting thing in all this is that even though our intercession is weak and even though our intercession falters, there is one great Intercessor who stands over heaven and earth and sees His people and pleads daily for them. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, not the intercessor of the Lycus Valley alone, but the One who intercedes over His Church, who on His shoulders and on His heart carries us before God, before the throne of God daily, praying, "Oh Lord, that they might be one even as We are one. That You would sanctify them through Your truth, because Your Word is truth." Here, high priests die, but He is a High Priest that lives forever, whose prayers will never fail, whose knees never grow weary, who is never lost before, for words before the throne of God. By Him all who come to Him will be saved to the uttermost. They will find rest and salvation forevermore in His arms. He will bear them up as He bore Peter in the time of temptation. And when they fall, He will pray for them that their faith will fail not.

My dear friends, all our prayers are only effectual due to the One who stands there before God for us, who makes intercession for God's people. It was Daniel who could pray in confidence, not because of his own righteousness, but because of God's mercies. And so we can pray in assurance for God's people, that Christ is also praying for His own people, that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. And so Christians, pray. Pray that God would stir us. Pray that God will move us to obedience. You say, "What should I pray specifically?" Well, you think about everything that is the will of God. Here you have it, and pray it verse by verse for the people that God has put in your life because He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we could ask or think according to the power that works within us. To Him be glory in the church throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.


Joshua Koura

Colossians 4:12-13