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 all the will of God. – Colossians 4:12 ESV
We all struggle with prayer at times. It comes with the territory. Prayer can be hard. But the kind of struggle we’re going to talk about in this blog is something a bit different than finding prayer hard to do. The word Paul uses in the Greek is agōnizomai and you can see that it is where we get our English words agony and agonize. In Paul’s day it was a word typically used when referring to someone entered into gymnastic games. It had to do with competition, contending, fighting, or laboring against an opponent of difficulty. It also carried the meaning “to endeavour with strenuous zeal.” So when Paul said Epaphras was “always struggling” in his prayers on behalf of the believers in Colosse, he wasn’t inferring that Epaphras had a hard time praying. He meant that this young man’s prayer life was marked by agonizing effort and energetic zeal. Paul had evidently seen and heard him pray. He had been an eye-witness to the determination and dedication behind the prayers of Epaphras. I have a feeling his prayers were much more than just “Lord, would you bless the people in Colosse.” He didn’t just ask God to be with them and watch over them. Paul says that the overriding theme of his prayers was that they would “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”
Epaphras was a Greek who had become a follower of Jesus Christ and had played a significant role in helping to establish the church in Colosse. “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant” (Colossians 1:5-7 ESV). Epaphras had a vested interest in the health of the church in Colosse. He wanted it to thrive. So he prayed for “God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God” (NLT). His was not just a short, sweet prayer offered on a one-time basis, but an ongoing, persevering petition that was accompanied by an intense desire to see God answer. Epaphras wanted to see them mature in their faith and grow in their knowledge of God’s will for them. It is essentially the same prayer Paul prayed for them at the very beginning of his letter. “So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 NLT). And Paul gave the end result that would accompany God’s answer to his prayer: “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:10 NLT).
Paul and Epaphras both knew what the believers in Colosse needed. They needed more of God. They needed God to mature them by revealing His will to them. They desperately needed to know what God wanted them to know and do. With that knowledge and the Holy Spirit’s help, they would have what they needed to live lives that honored and pleased God.
Do we agonize and labor prayerfully for that to happen among the believers with whom we worship and serve? Do we go to the mat with God, pleading that He will reveal His will to our loved ones and friends, asking that He make them strong and perfect? Are we concerned enough for the spiritual maturity that we pray fervently and repeatedly that they know and follow the whole will of God? For Epaphras, praying for his friends in Colosse was a labor of love. He did it gladly. He did it tirelessly. Because he was not going to be content until he saw God’s answer in the form of lives that pleased and honored Him. We could stand to struggle a bit more in our prayer lives. Not with prayer itself, but in the content and focus of our prayers. We should so desire what God desires, that we are not content until we see His will done in the lives of those we love. God’s desire for each of His children is their growth in Christ-likeness. He wants to see them mature. He wants to see them living within His will. We should want the same thing. And we should not stop praying for it until we see God’s answer appear in transformed lives that bring glory and honor to Him.