Epaphras

FFF 12:2 (Feb 1966)

Epaphras

W. Ross Rainey

A Man Of Prayer
(Col. 1:7-8; 4:12-13; Philem. 23)

Real men of prayer are not often found, especially in this busy, fast-moving, “jetomic” age, which age an anonymous wit has summed up as follows: “Hurry, worry, and bury.” 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. Apart from 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 afresh be driven to our knees in true praise and thankfulness to our Lord, at the same time availing 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.” Tradition relates that James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus, was called “Camel Knees” because of his calloused knees as a result of long hours spent in prayer, and Epaphras might well be thought of as another “Camel Knees” of the Bible.

Actually, two outstanding things characterize Epaphras, the first being:

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 experience, he was called by God to take the Gospel of Christ to the unevangelized. In one sense, this is the call and responsibility of every true believer. Engaging in the primitive missionary work committed to him, Epaphras took the message of the Gospel of God’s grace to Colossae, then sometime later visited the Apostle Paul who had been imprisoned at Rome. The favorable 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 of that city.

The Holy Spirit’s sterling commendation of Epaphras is both searching and challenging. First of all, from Philemon 23, he is seen at one time to have been a “fellowprisoner 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 honor 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 fellowservant” (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” (Col. 1:7), but as “a servant of Christ” (Col. 4:12), the words “minister” and “servant” having the same root, doulos, which means “bondslave” (the same word is used of Christ in Phil. 2:7). The keynote struck in Colossians 1:7 in regard to Epaphras’ service is that he was “faithful.” How important this is, especially in a day wherein unfaithfulness abounds, and how much stedfast 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, prayer, 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-centered. There are times when a big question mark might be placed over certain “glowing reports” which are heard or read in these days when it is so common to exalt man and his attainments, and we preachers in particular need to be ever on our guard to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” when we are led to give any report, either spoken or written, concerning what God by His grace has as wrought. Selah.

We come now to the second outstanding characteristic of Epaphras and that which the Spirit of God chiefly underscores through Paul’s pen — namely:

His Fervent Supplication

At least three significant things keynoted 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, by saying, “…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 (see 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).

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 (cf. Mark 10:45; Luke 4:43; 23:35; John 10:16)! 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 three-fold 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 (cf. Acts 5:20; 1 Cor. 16:13; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 6:13-14; Phil. 1:27; 4:1)! 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” (contr. 1 Cor. 3:1; Heb. 5:12-13), that is, “mature” in spiritual life and growth. A good bit of the trouble and division which mars and marks God’s people stems from spiritual immaturity. Any thought of sinlessness is out of the picture here. Such a state this side of glory is impossible for the believer in Christ, plus the fact that the word for “perfect” is never used in the New Testament in regard to sinlessness. However, those who are making progess in the things of God should, while not sinless, sin less. 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 (cf. Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11; 10:22).

In Colossians 4:13 the Apostle Paul attests 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” meaning “labor,” “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 truly 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 (cf. 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?

Even while preparing this article a letter came to me from a close friend and fellowlaborer in Christ, assuring me of his prayerful remembrance. Enclosed with his letter was a copy of a poem which serves as a fitting postscript to our study of Epaphras. It was written by Marianne Farningham and is entitled, “Pray One for Another”:

“I cannot tell why there should come to me
A thought of someone miles and miles away,
In swift insistence on the memory—
Unless there be a need that I should pray.

Too hurried oft are we to spare a thought,
For days together, of some friend away;
Perhaps God does it for us, and we ought
To read His signal as a call to pray.

Perhaps, just then, my friend has fiercer fight,
Some overwhelming sorrow or decay
Of courage; darkness, some lost sense of right;
And so in case he needs my prayer, I pray.

Friend, do the same for me! If I unsought
Intrude upon you on some crowded day,
Give me a moment’s prayer, in passing thought;
Be very sure I need it; therefore pray.”