Epaphras: A Biblical Example of Your Responsibility to Help Others Stand Firm in the Gospel

Friday, May 20, 2005

Epaphras:

A Biblical Example of Your Responsibility
to Help Others Stand Firm in the Gospel

Sometimes you simply cannot stand by yourself. I’ve had many moments like this before. I’ll never forget the time I contracted ‘mono’ and was in the bed for six weeks. That was a great weight loss program – I lost twenty pounds those six weeks! And right before my wedding, too! My wedding ring wouldn’t stay on my finger, and my tux didn’t fit any more. During those weeks I recall having to get help from my parents or my brother time and again to even stand up and make it to the bathroom.

I also remember the time when I had just contracted GERD (Gastrointestinal Esophegial Reflux Disease). Yeah, I know. I’ve got a lot of problems. I had to have an emergency procedure where the doctors had to dilate my esophagus because it had shrunk shut. They gave me some valium to cope with the pain. I could hardly walk at all to make it to the car, up the stairs, and into my bed to recover. If my wife hadn’t have had me practically slung around her shoulder I would have collapsed somewhere like a drooling blob. I’m sure your own experiences are rushing to the forefront of your mind at this moment.

If this is the case when a person can hardly stand at all by himself or herself in a physical sense, why is it so different when it comes to standing in a spiritual sense. I hate to be negative again, but it seems most Christians have the spiritual gift of discouragement these days. If it weren’t for a wife, most of us Christian men would have collapsed somewhere like a spiritually drooling blob long ago (and perhaps she still thinks you are!). The fact of the matter is, however, that most Christians don’t encourage one another. And as a result, we are weak spiritually, and we fall far too often. I love what one of my favorite preachers said once on this issue. His name is John Piper and he said that perseverance is a community project.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1 Paul challenged the Corinthians as to whether or not they were really standing firm in the gospel. That’s hard enough work as it is, especially if you are doing it by yourself. But thankfully Paul wrote elsewhere on this concept of standing firm, and in two other places, we find that the strength to do so comes from others. Standing firm then is not only a personal responsibility we carry, according to the Scriptures, but it is also a personal responsibility we are to carry for others as well.

In this post I want to briefly consider one of these texts which contains the example of the weak and frail Epaphras. He was one of Paul’s most beloved friends. He was a partner with Paul in the ministry, and the founder/planter and pastor of the church in Colosse. Yet in the book of Philippians and Colossians we see him as what we could call today a “gopher,", handling various administrative affairs for Paul, an ‘errand-boy,’ as some might call him.

Immediately then we get a sense of what true servitude looks like for a pastor - leaving his post/pulpit if necessary to serve the needs of someone else. Epaphras was so dedicated to his errands that we learn in Philippians 2:25-30 that he almost died in the process of running one particular errand. Out of all his labors we find Paul commending him in Colossians 4:12. “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” (NIV). Wow! I mean that’s just about all I can say to that.

The Colossians were commended in 2:5 for standing firm in their faith. In fact, Paul said he was delighted with how firm they were standing. No doubt this firm stance was because they were holding on tight to the gospel, just as Paul had instructed the Corinthians also in 1 Corinthians 15:2. But according to Colossians 4:12, they were also successfully standing firm because someone else was holding on tight to them in prayer, and that someone was, of course, Epaphras.

Do you ever wonder why a Christian friend or family member has fallen so often to sin and is not standing firm in the faith? Have you ever wished that a Christian friend or family member would take the next step in their Christian maturity and stand even firmer than before? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes,’ then guess what? You can actually play a role in making it happen. That role is the same role Epaphras played – wrestling in prayer. The Greek word here of importance is agonizomenos (pronounced, agoh-needz-ahmenos), which basically means struggle, fight, or compete. A more thorough definition would be “to engage in an intense involving physical or nonphysical force against strong opposition” (Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon). From this word comes our very familiar English words “agony” and “agonize.” It was an athletic word used in the Greek world of Paul’s day to refer to the intense competition an athlete underwent to win a prize. In Colossians, Epaphras was the spiritual athlete. The intense struggle in which he engaged was prayer. And the prize he was after was the spiritual maturity and confidence of the Colossian church. They couldn’t have done it without him.

The wrestling in prayer brings an obvious OT picture to mind which I’m sure your mind has already wandered toward. It is Jacob in Genesis 32:22 and following. There we see Jacob wrestling with God all night and not letting up until he got his prize – a blessing from God. And applying this to prayer, as we should, isn’t it too true of us that we get up off our knees too soon? We get up before we have obtained the prize, the blessing that we were seeking.

Applying this to Colossians 4:12 and then back to our main text of 1 Corinthians 15:1, is it possible that we might stand more firm in the gospel and in our faith and mature much faster if others were wrestling for us in prayer? Turning it around, is it possible that the ones we wish were a little more mature in their faith, might indeed be just that if we struggled intensely in prayer for them, not saying ‘Amen’ until God had answered our prayers?

Isn’t it amazing how so much success rests on so simple a task?

Isn’t even more amazing that we are so prone to neglect such a simple task?

Isn’t perplexing that we gripe and complain about how spiritually immature another person is when we have neglected the simple task of praying for them?

Isn’t it encouraging to know that you can actually wrestle in prayer for another person to stand firm in the faith and actually play a part in the success of their spiritual maturity?

That’s the kind of thing that excites me as a pastor whose job it is to constantly and diligently strive for the maturity of the saints. Let us all strive to be like Ephaphras who understood his personal responsibility in helping others stand firm in their faith, as those who like our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ, have come to serve and not to be served.

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