“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 all 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
I like Epaphras. We don’t know a lot about him. He was a native of Colossae (Colossians 4:12), possibly the founder of the church there, and one of Paul’s co-workers, an evangelist to Laodicea and Hieropolis (Colossians 1:7). According to Colossians 1:8, he was the one who told Paul about the Colossian church most likely prompting Paul’s letter there. In Philemon 23, Paul refers to Epaphras as his fellow prisoner, so Epaphras must have been devoted to Jesus and to telling others about Him just like Paul. That’s about all we know.
So why do I like Epaphras. Colossians 4:12-13 reveals a deep life of intercessory prayer. Having just finished Richard Foster’s book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, I’m realizing I’m only scratching the surface of this spiritual discipline, prayer, direct communication with God. I want to learn so much more, so I like learning about those who really get it. I think Epaphras really did.
In verse 12, Paul reminds the Colossians that Epaphras is one of them, a native, while also a servant of Christ. Then he tells the Colossians that Epaphras is always wrestling in prayer for them. Epaphras didn’t just pray for his people once in a while as he happened to think of them. He wrestled in prayer! It sounds to me as if he and God were having it out. I don’t believe the two were really fighting, but I think Epaphras was giving his all to convince His Lord that the Colossians needed His direct attention and help.
- How would you (or do you) feel to know that someone was (is) praying for you like that?
Paul goes on to tell the Colossians exactly what Epaphras is praying for: that they may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I think we often take these words for granted when this is actually a very powerful prayer. In order to stand firm, the Colossians have to choose to do so just as, in order to be saved, an individual must choose to follow Jesus. Epaphras is asking God to get involved in that choosing, to strengthen them from within so that they won’t be tempted to give up or fall. He is also asking God to bring them to maturity—to help them grow up spiritually—and to assure them of their place in His kingdom. This assurance alone gives many the strength to stand firm when testing comes.
Epaphras cared about his people, even, maybe especially, when he was away from them.
- Which of your people do you need to wrestle for in prayer?
In Colossians 4:13, Paul goes on to vouch that Epaphras is working hard for the Colossians and for others he was ministering to. Because Epaphras was with Paul in Rome at the time, it seems to me, perhaps, that Paul was referring to the work of prayer. How often do we take it for granted that prayer is easy? Talking to God is easy, after all. But intercessory prayer is a labor of love and sometimes it is work.
Marriage provides a great analogy. In a healthy marriage, talking to a spouse is easy. I could sit and talk with my husband for hours about every little thing that comes into our minds. Sometimes, though, we have to make plans or solve problems or work through issues. This kind of talking takes work, patience, time, determination, deep thinking, intense listening—and lots and lots of love. This is the hard work of intercessory prayer:
Time spent with God
on behalf of another
for as long as it takes
for clear resolution
according to God’s will
Apparently Epaphras was good at this. We can practice to improve for the good of our people, too.
Lord, please teach us to pray. Help us to work hard, to wrestle, on behalf of the people we’ve come from, the people we love, and whatever people we’re among. Thank You, Lord. Amen.