By Lane Corley
Epaphras is an unsung hero in the New Testament. He’s mentioned only a few times. He started and led churches in three significant cities. He made Paul’s list of faithful companions in Colossians 4. That’s where we learn the most about him. His character has stuck out to me this past year as a model for life and leadership. Who was Epaphras?
A Faithful Friend
As Paul wrote to the Colossians, he called Epaphras “one of you.” Making him a hometown hero of sorts. Paul also calls him “dearly loved” signaling that his reputation was thorough as a friend to all.
How faithful was Epaphras? Well, Paul calls him a “fellow prisoner.” So he was faithful even to the point of voluntarily going to jail with Paul. Tracing his story, we see that Epaphras was one of several companions who traveled to Rome to be with Paul during his imprisonment. This speaks of his love for Paul and his willingness to sacrifice his own life for his friend and the gospel, as his alliance with Paul would have made him a conspirator in Paul’s supposed crimes. So he was a Faithful Friend through thick and thin.
Faithful friendship modeled by Epaphras can be as simple as following the One Another’s in the New Testament. And Epaphras’ friendship included the hard ones: Carry One Another’s Burdens, Suffering with One Another, etc.
Who has known my faithful friendship through thick and thin?
Paul calls Epaphras a “faithful minister” and a “faithful servant.” And he reminds the Colossian believers that they “learned it (the gospel) from Epaphras” Col 1:7. This tells us that Epaphras likely started the church in Colossae. Later in chapter 4, Paul says that Epaphras also “works hard” for churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis, two neighboring cities to Colossae.
So, Epaphras was faithful to Jesus’ Great Commission. He made disciples as he went and where he lived. People heard the gospel first from him. As a Disciple of Christ, He leveraged his relational network along with the word of God and the Spirit’s work in the world, and people were saved, groups and churches were started, and eternal destinies were changed. That’s what disciple-makers do.
If you are a Christian, Jesus wants you to be a Disciple Maker. Who has learned the gospel from me? is a question we should ask as we think about Epaphras. It should be a personal ministry. And not just for the super spiritual or classically trained. Beginning a disciple-making ministry can be as simple as this:
- Make a list of friends who are far from God.
- Pray for them every day.
- Initiate Gospel conversations with those who express spiritual interest.
- Gather them around God’s word to learn the Gospel.
- Teach them to reach their friends too.
- Simple churches may be formed as obedience to the Great Commission happens.
Epaphras did this in Colossae, then possibly in Laodicea – about 9 miles away, and Hierapolis – about 25 miles away. Imagine the three cities closest to yours having a new witness to the gospel, born out of your disciple-making efforts.
Probably what Epaphras, if known, is most known for, is his life of prayer. His life could be the subject of a book called How to Be a Prayer Warrior. That’s really what the verses in Colossians 4 emphasize for us about his life.
Four words in Colossians 4:12 summarize for us the Epaphras model for prayer that we should all seek to emulate – He was “always wrestling for you.” And Paul tells us what he prayed for: 1) so they will stand, 2) so they will grow, 3) so they will know God’s will. Epaphras prayed for strong, mature, knowledgeable disciples.
In verse 13, Paul continues to describe Epaphras’ life and prayer acknowledging that he “works hard” for the believers and has “deep concern” for their well-being.
Could these descriptions be used to label my life as a prayer partner? Always, Wrestles, For You, Works Hard, Deep Concern. Who have I wrestled/struggled for in prayer? Honestly, compared to Epaphras, my prayer life has been inconsistent, weak, selfish, and apathetic.
How to Be A Prayer Warrior:
Looking at Epaphras as a model for prayer, how can we become prayer warriors?
1. Commit to Pray Everyday, All Day – “ALWAYS”
Research has shown that only 15% of Christians pray every day. Maturing Christians have a daily time to meet with God. Do you have time set aside to meet with God, to pray, to listen? If not, make that time today.
2. Devote Energy and Attention to Prayer – “WRESTLING”
To describe prayer as wrestling is to say that this is the kind of prayer that is focused and attentive. This is not praying on the way to work in the car. Or just a rote prayer before meals. Or a quick prayer before an important meeting.
Wrestling, struggling, and fighting in prayer is to set aside everything else and focus the energy of your heart and mind on a need and beg God for a solution, an answer, a breakthrough.
Jesus said to go into your private room and shut the door. Jesus went up on a mountain to pray. He was talking about wrestling and struggling in prayer.
Prayer warriors don’t do drive-by praying. They devote time, energy, and attention to prayer.
3. Take Prayer and the Needs of Others Personally – “DEEP CONCERN” – “WORKS HARD”
To be a prayer warrior, you need to prioritize your deep concerns. There are so many things lobbying for our deep concern. Politics, Pleasure, People. The disciple-making, prayer warrior is deeply concerned about the souls of people around them, about the glory of God, about obedience to the Great Commission. Deep concern is where your prayer life is defined. If we’re not prioritizing our deep concerns around the deep concerns of God then we’ll never become prayer warriors. Epaphras was deeply concerned for the needs of his fellow believers and it drove him to pray.
I long to be the kind of friend and disciple-maker that prays like Epaphras. Don’t you?
- Faithful Friendship – Who has known my faithful friendship through thick and thin?
- Disciple Maker – Who has learned the Gospel from me?
- Prayer Warrior – Who have I wrestled/struggled for in prayer?