Doing By Depending

26 Mar

Epaphras would have been very familiar to the Colossian church.

We know that because Paul says he was one of them.

“Epaphras who is one of you.”

In other words he was from Colossae and was a member of the church. More than a member actually.

He was their pastor.

We get a hint that’s the case when we find Paul saying, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus” because that is a term that Paul elsewhere only applies to himself and to Timothy.

Doulos is the Greek word.

And in a context like this, quote, “it suggests a specific office which carries with it the authority of the master Himself.”

There is a sense in which it is a title of honor actually indicating that Epaphras is an obedient slave of Jesus Christ just like the apostle Paul. Further, you might remember that back in chapter one Paul calls Epaphras a minister of Christ and he says that it was Epaphras who first proclaimed the gospel to the Colossians.

Meaning not only was Epaphras was a member of their church and their pastor, he was the one God used to found the church.

Epaphras and the Colossian church had some history. And yet Paul spends more time in this final portion of his letter commending him and explaining the way he was serving the Colossian church than he does anyone else.

In fact if you look carefully at what Paul says about him you will notice that he deliberately links Epaphras’ ministry with his own. Not only by using term servant of Christ, but also in the way he describes what Epaphras does, the sentiments as one person puts it “almost a patchwork of Paul’s earlier affirmation on his behalf.”

He always, like Paul in 1:3, wrestles like Paul in 1:29, on your behalf in prayer, like Paul in 1:3 and 1:9, that you might stand mature, like Paul in 1:28, fully assured, like Paul in 2:3, in all God’s will like, Paul in 1:9.

Perhaps Paul feels like he needs to clearly commend Epaphras to the church at Colossae, because he knew they were wondering why it was that Tychicus was bringing them the letter and not Epaphras himself, perhaps some of those troubling the Colossians were casting aspersions on Epaphras’ ministry, and perhaps because Paul knows that once you start doubting the character of the messenger it is easy to begin doubting the message itself he is at pains to make clear to the Colossians that Epaphras’ ministry was a trustworthy one and that even though he wasn’t able to be with them, he still loved them and was actually performing an important ministry on their behalf.

He was praying for them.

That is what I want to highlight about Epaphras.

Not just that he was a member of the church and a pastor of the church and the founder of the church, but that when Paul wants to commend Epaphras’ ministry, he highlights his commitment to prayer.

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.”

How committed was Epaphras to prayer? You know a man is devoted to prayer when the apostle Paul is impressed by his prayer life.

This is in fact the only person Paul explicitly commends for his prayer ministry and he does so quite emphatically.

Paul says he is praying for the Colossians. Paul says that he is struggling in prayer for the Colossians, and Paul says that he is always struggling in prayer for the Colossians.

Each word makes it pretty clear, Paul wants them to know, this man is devoted to prayer. But perhaps the word that stands out the most to me is the word struggle. The fact that Paul commends him demonstrates his devotion, the repetitive nature of this verse demonstrates his devotion, and this word struggle demonstrates his devotion.

Epaphras is always struggling in prayer.

The term Paul uses is the Greek word from which we get our English term agonize.

It was the kind of word you might use to describe the hard work of a battle, or especially exhausting physical labor, it has the sense of pain, it has been translated elsewhere, “involving much trouble.” You don’t use the word struggle when something comes easily, you use it when you are dripping with sweat. It is not the word you use when you are going for a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood, but when you are running the Comrades. When Paul says that Epaphras is always struggling in prayer, we’re supposed to imagine him exerting great effort in prayer. It is like Paul is telling us that watching Epaphras pray was like watching an Olympic athlete compete, this man gave it his all in prayer.

Which I find very challenging.

That is the thing.

I would guess there are many of us who could say prayer is a struggle, but probably not as many of us who could say we struggle in prayer.

For other people.

For their spiritual good.

Who could say that we give it our all in pray for other people?

We are talking about being people of influence, so let me ask you:

Do you love people enough to struggle in prayer for them?

Do you believe in God and in His ability to change individuals enough to work at praying for people?

Do you recognize our own need enough to struggle in prayer?

It is funny to me, when we think about making an impact we often think about very public things, we think about doing but God has so designed the Christian life that one of the greatest ways of making an impact is very private and to the rest of the world it looks very helpless, almost the opposite of doing.

Talking to God.

I remember reading the biography of William Carey, a great missionary, accomplished all sorts of things in India and you know, he’s the kind of man even the world understands biographies about; but you don’t hear much about his sister, an invalid, who spent most of her life here on earth in her bedroom because she really couldn’t move about, and you know what she spent most of her time there doing, praying for her brother; which biblically speaking is just as great, if not greater.

The world thinks of the doer as great, but doesn’t look at praying as doing anything.

The world sees you in your room crying out to God for someone else and they think you are doing nothing. You are wasting your time.

But God.

He has a very different perspective.

God has so designed the Christian life that one of the greatest things we can do, is depend. We are doing by recognizing we can’t do.

We are doing by depending.

That’s one of the things I love about Christianity, actually.

When we think about greatness, we are so tempted to think like everyone around us, about our muscles and our strength and what we do and biblically speaking Christian greatness has a whole lot more to do with becoming so aware of one’s absolute helplessness that it forces you to your knees to cry out to God in prayer.

Epaphras was a great man because he recognized his great need.

And that is really true of every great Christian leader.

The greatest leaders are nothing more than just really great beggars.

I just want to put this in bold print.

Some of you think you are not strong enough to really make an impact for Christ in this world, when I wonder if the real problem might be that some of you aren’t weak enough, or at least you don’t recognize your weakness enough.

Epaphras did, that is why he’s on his knees in prayer.

That is the main thing I want to get across.

In the world people think the great person is someone who doesn’t have to depend on anyone but himself. The gospel shows us that the great person really is someone who is constantly depending on someone else instead of himself.

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