I Want to be Like Epaphras
As a child, it is common to seek out heroes you would love to be like as you grow up. They become models for future growth and even icons in dreams for the future. I can remember baseball players I wanted to play like when I played little league, musicians I wanted to sound like when I became interested in music, and pastors whom I wanted to emulate when I was called to ministry. We know that the perfect image we are to “grow up” in is that of Jesus Christ. But who can we look to in the Scriptures to follow because of their example of following Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)?
The obvious choices are the heroes of the faith. The book of Hebrews gives us a list of options in Hebrews 11: Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David, and many more are obvious choices listed there. In the New Testament, we think of John the Baptist, Peter, Luke, Mary, Lydia, and Priscilla. And who could deny Paul as being one of the most remarkable followers of Christ? But I want to be like one of Paul’s friends and “fellow servants,” Epaphras!
Epaphras is one of those people you can overlook in your earliest years of reading the Bible (and one of those names you don’t know how to pronounce, so you don’t volunteer to read those verses in Sunday School). He appears in those lists of names at the beginning and end of Paul’s letters. Epaphras was with Paul in prison in Rome, presumably for the same reason Paul was there—proclaiming the gospel of Christ! He was especially influential in the Colossian church and a wonderful example of caring for people.
There are five things that Epaphras did that we should aspire to emulate in our care for people:
- He shared the gospel with them. There is no greater expression of care than this. If we say we care about someone but have not shared the good news of Jesus Christ with them, it is debatable whether we truly care. Paul explains in his letter that he understands that the Colossians learned “the grace of God in truth” from Epaphras (Colossians 1:7). True care for someone includes sharing the gospel with them.
- He continued to be spiritually influential to them. It is not exactly clear to what degree beyond sharing the gospel, but Paul calls him “a faithful minister of Christ on [their] behalf” (Colossians 1:7). He certainly shared the gospel, but he did more. He taught them and encouraged them as any faithful gospel minister would. He helped them bear fruit in the gospel (Colossians 1:6). True care for someone motivates ongoing spiritual care for them.
- He brought them to Paul’s attention for encouragement. Paul makes it clear that he was unaware of the church’s existence until Epaphras traveled 1300 miles to tell him about them (Colossians 1:8). It takes just a little imagination to figure out why Epaphras is with Paul in jail in Rome. Epaphras went to Paul presumably to ask him to write a letter of encouragement to his people back in Colossae. It also does not appear that he is just visiting since Paul calls Epaphras a “fellow prisoner” in Philemon (Philemon 1:23). The result of his visit, and his subsequent imprisonment, is the letter to the Colossians. True care for someone involves getting the best people involved to help them.
- He enlisted others to pray for them. Paul says that since the day they heard about the people at Colossae, they had “not ceased to pray” for them (Colossians 1:9). It is unclear how many were with Paul in prison. He lists eight names of men who were with him, including Epaphras. They presumably gathered in prayer often. I imagine that when they gathered for their prayer meetings, Epaphras was quick to remind them to pray for the people of Colossae. He knew prayer was a priority and wouldn’t let them forget about his people. True care for someone enlists others to pray for them.
- He prayed persistently and vigorously for them. This is the most inspiring thing about Epaphras to me. The word Paul uses here to describe Epaphras’ praying is “struggling” (Colossians 4:12). The word in Greek is the same one used to describe “fighting” or “wrestling.” The passion and struggle that Paul observed as Epaphras prayed for his people demonstrated a tenacity that he could only describe by referencing a sporting event in which two men physically maul one another until one submits. He was praying for their maturity of faith and knowledge of God’s will. He desperately wanted them to know and grow. True care for someone means wrestling in prayer for them.
I often feel the struggle in prayer for people I care about. Sometimes it keeps me up at night as I labor in prayer for a child, for my wife’s health, for a financial burden, or for a desperate need that I learned about recently. I have felt the leading edge of what Epaphras embodied in prayer. But I am not where he was by a long shot. His manner of “struggling” in prayer impressed even the Apostle Paul. When it comes to praying for the people that I care about, I want to be like Epaphras. I hope you do too!
On Sunday nights at the Downtown Campus, we are in a Bible Study series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate. You can listen to my sermon in the series from Colossians 1 concerning Caring for Others with Prayer and how His love can impact people.