Background Verses: Colossians 1:7-8 and 4:12-13
All of us struggle with weighty decisions from time to time. Those issues that tend to keep you awake at night. Whether matters of the heart, matters of health or matters of the soul, we find comfort when we know there are friends and family praying for us. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have found an element of peace after being told by a friend that they have lifted me up in prayer.
Last night I found myself reading through Colossians within that frame of reference. Here is a first-century church, a group of people from diverse backgrounds, Greek and Jew, master and slave, rich and poor, gathering regularly in someone’s home to hear the gospel proclaimed and to be taught how they should live as followers of Christ in a world that follows a very different moral compass…a church struggling to stay on the right path when those among them are preaching and teaching a tarnished truth blending convenient portions of pagan, Jewish and Christian teaching into a hybrid belief system lacking substance.
Yet, there are good people in the church, trying desperately to hang on to what they have been taught and what they believe. They’re hanging on while their faithful pastor Epaphras serves in Rome offering love and support to an imprisoned Paul, Christianity’s foremost missionary.
Imagine the Christians in Colossae, gathering quickly at a friend’s home. They’ve just been told that Tychius and Mark, two men well-known in the region for their association with Paul and their pastor, have arrived in town bearing a letter from Paul. Men and women of faith gathering in anticipation.
Erastus ducked his head through the door,
out of breath from his dash across town.
Eyes darted from face to face,
Slapping a back in greeting.
Clasping hands with those
not seen since they last gathered for worship.
Many others already sat in boisterous conversation
around the walls of the tidy villa.
Permeating the room was an air of
Across the crowded room,
quietly visiting with the man of the house…
Two men he had never met.
Known only by reputation.
Though they looked tired from their journey,
they laughed easily.
Comfortable in their companionship .
with those in the room by the
fellowship of faith.
Introductions are made.
the elder of the two men took a step back,
yielding to Mark,
the younger of the two messengers.
Erastus liked him immediately.
A calm tone and quiet voice.
A warm smile that spoke volumes
and revealed his heart.
“I have a letter from Paul,” he said,
“and a word from your pastor.”
Mark began to read.
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
when we pray for you because
we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus…
the love you have for all God’s people–
the faith and love that springs from the hope stored up for you in heaven…
The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world–
just as it has been doing among you
since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.
You learned it from Epaphras,
our dear fellow servant,
who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,
and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.”
Warnings about the false doctrines that
wage war against their souls.
Words that inspired him to stand fast.
Hold true to what he had been taught.
I have to believe Paul’s message met its intended purpose. False teachers had peppered them for months with a new doctrine that sounded right, but felt terribly wrong. Yet, the boldness of their arguments tempted them to abandon what they had been taught by their beloved pastor.
Those individuals who listened to the words read to them by Mark had to find reinforcement and reassurance in their fledgling faith.
Yet, as powerful as Paul’s words might have been, I can’t help but feel there was an unsung hero buried in the text of Paul’s letter. A name that captured their attention and strengthened their resolve by the simply sound of his name and the reminder of his love for them.
The tone of Mark’s voice changed.
Clearly, the letter was drawing to a close.
Erastus had been lost in thought,
Staring at the floor.
His mind hearing,
but not locking on to the closing words
until the sound of a familiar name
jolted him from this thoughts.
“Epaphras, who is one of you and
a servant of Christ Jesus,
The men seated around him,
looked at each other and grinned.
The salutation was like balm on a sunburned back.
“Epahpras is always wrestling in prayer…
praying that you will stand firm in all the will of God,
mature and fully assured.
He is working hard for you.”
Erastus squared his shoulders.
Leaned back against the wall.
Closed his eyes.
Prayed for the kind of strength for which his pastor prayed.
Faith’s great turning point in his life.
Epaphras was a man of faith who loved his congregation. He saw them not simply as sheep to feed, but friends to love. A man who felt the burden of responsibility to develop their immature belief into a deep abiding faith that sustains. So, every day…every day…he lifted them up to the Father. Notice the words Paul used. “Always wrestling in prayer.” He never failed to remember his people in Colossae. The prayer was never casual, but deep and heartfelt. Praying as if God might not hear unless his prayer sprung from his gut…fearful that if he did not intercede, God would not know how desperate their situation might be. Incessant. Insistent. Impassioned.
Not only did he pray frequently and deeply, but his prayer was specific. Not given to pious platitudes. The prayers were pointed…that they might “stand firm in all the will of God.” Continuing in their belief, finding in Him righteousness as a model for life; finding in Him strength as a mechanism to cope with any disinformation they might hear. Asking that they be…unwavering in their faith and their understanding of God’s grace and what he desires of them. That their faith might discern his perfect wisdom and desire for their lives. Instilling in them…the truth of what they believe and how that belief is translated into practice. Inspiring them to…demonstrate the courage of their conviction even in the midst of abuse and persecution.
I find value in the life of Epaphras, this unsung bible hero, who cared so deeply for the spiritual security of his friends and neighbors that his spirit groaned in passionate petition for his people. May I be blessed with that kind of prayer warrior lifting me up as I deal with life that God has laid before me. May I be that kind of prayer warrior for those I love and those I serve.
Source: The Searcher