Epaphras, The Service Of Prayer
Charles Henry Mackintosh
There is a very striking difference between the inspired records of the people of God and all human biographies. The former may truly be said to be "much in little"; while many of the latter may as truly be said to be "little in much." The history of one of the Old Testament saints-a history stretching over a period of 365 years-is summed up in two short clauses-"Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him" (Gen. 5: 24). How brief! but yet how full, how comprehensive! How many volumes would man have filled with the records of such a life! And yet, what more could he have said? To walk with God comprehends all that could possibly be said of any one.
A man may travel round the globe; he may preach the gospel in every clime; he may suffer in the cause of Christ; he may feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick; he may read, write, print and publish; in short, he may do all that ever man could or did do; and yet it may be all summed up in that brief clause, "He walked with God." And right well it will be for him if it can be so summed up. One may do nearly all that has been enumerated and yet never walk with God one hour; yea, one may not even know the meaning of a walk with God. The thought of this is deeply solemnising and practical. It should lead us to the earnest cultivation of the hidden life, without which the most showy services will prove to be but mere flash and smoke.
There is something peculiarly touching in the mode in which the name of Epaphras is introduced to our notice in the New Testament. The allusions to him are very brief, but very pithy. He seems to have been the very stamp of man which is so much needed at the present moment. His labours, so far as the inspired penman has recorded them, do not seem to have been very showy or attractive. They were not calculated to meet the human eye or elicit human praise. But oh, they were most precious labours- peerless, priceless labours! They were the labours of the closet, labours within the closed door, labours in the sanctuary, labours without which all beside must prove barren and worthless. He is not placed before us by the sacred biographer as a powerful preacher, a laborious writer, a great traveller, which he may have been, and which are all truly valuable in their place.
The Holy Ghost, however, has not told us that Epaphras was any of the three; but then, He has placed this singularly interesting character before us in a manner calculated to stir the depths of our moral and spiritual being. He has presented him to us as a man of prayer-earnest, fervent, agonising prayer; prayer not for himself, but for others. Let us harken to the inspired testimony:
"Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently [agonising] for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis" (Col. 4: 12-13).
Such was Epaphras! Would there were hundreds like him in this our day! We are thankful for preachers, thankful for writers, thankful for travellers in the cause of Christ; but we want men of prayer, men of the closet, men like Epaphras.
We are happy to see men on their feet preaching Christ; happy to see them able to ply the pen of a ready writer in the noble cause; happy to see them making their way, in the true evangelistic spirit, into "the regions beyond"; happy to see them, in the true pastoral spirit, going again and again to visit their brethren in every city. God forbid that we should undervalue or speak disparagingly of such honourable services; yea, we prize them more highly than words could convey.
But then, at the back of all we want a spirit of prayer - fervent, agonising, persevering prayer. Without this, nothing can prosper. A prayerless man is a sapless man. A prayerless preacher is a profitless preacher. A prayerless writer will send forth barren pages. A prayerless evangelist will do but little good. A prayerless pastor will have but little food for the flock. We want men of prayer, men like Epaphras, men whose closet walls witness their agonising labours. These are, unquestionably, the men for the present moment.
There are immense advantages attending the labours of the closet, advantages quite peculiar, advantages for those who engage in them, and advantages for those who are the subjects of them. They are quiet, unobtrusive labours. They are carried on in retirement, in the hallowed, soul-subduing solitude of the divine presence, outside the range of mortal vision.
How little would the Colossians have known of the loving, earnest labours of Epaphras had the Holy Ghost not mentioned them! It is possible that some of them might have deemed him deficient in zealous care on their behalf: it is probable that there were persons then, as there are those now, who would measure a man's care or sympathy by his visits or letters. This would be a false standard. They should see him on his knees to know the amount of his care and sympathy. A love of travel might take me from London to Edinburgh to visit the brethren. A love of scribbling might lead me to write letters by every mail. Naught save a love for souls, a love for Christ, could ever lead me to agonise as Epaphras did, on behalf of the people of God, "that they may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."
Again, the precious labours of the closet demand no special gift, no peculiar talents, no pre-eminent mental endowments. Every Christian can engage in them. A man may not have the ability to preach, teach, write, or travel; but every man can pray. One sometimes hears of a gift of prayer. It is not a pleasant expression. It falls gratingly on the ear. It often means a mere fluent utterance of certain known truths which the memory retains and the lips give forth. This is poor work to be at. This was not the way with Epaphras. This is not what we want and long for. We want a real spirit of prayer. We want a spirit that enters into the present need of the Church, and bears that need in persevering, fervent, believing intercession before the throne of grace. This spirit may be exercised at all times, and under all circumstances. Morning, noon, evening, or midnight will answer for the closet labourer.
The heart can spring upward to the throne in prayer and supplication at any time. Our Father's ear is ever open, His presence-chamber is ever accessible. Come when or with what we may, He is always ready to hear, ready to answer. He is the Hearer, the Answerer and the Lover of importunate prayer. He Himself has said, "Ask... Seek... Knock"; "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint"; "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive"; "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God." These words are of universal application. They are intended for all God's children. The feeblest child of God can pray, can watch, can get an answer, and return thanks.
Furthermore, nothing is so calculated to give one a deep interest in people as the habit of praying constantly for them. Epaphras would be intensely interested in the Christians at Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. His interest made him pray, and his prayers made him interested. The more we are interested for any one, the more we shall pray for him; and the more we pray, the more interested we become. Whenever we are drawn out in prayer for people, we are sure to rejoice in their growth and prosperity. So, also, in reference to the unconverted. When we are led to wait on God about them, their conversion is looked for with the deepest anxiety, and hailed, when it comes, with unfeigned thankfulness. The thought of this should stir us up to imitate Epaphras, on whom the Holy Ghost has bestowed the honourable epithet of "a servant of Christ," in connection with his fervent prayers for the people of God.
Finally, the highest inducement that can be presented to cultivate the spirit of Epaphras is the fact of its being so directly in unison with the spirit of Christ. This is the most elevated motive. Christ is engaged on behalf of His people. He desires that they should "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God;" and those who are led forth in prayer in reference to this object are privileged to enjoy high communion with the great Intercessor. How marvellous that poor, feeble creatures down here should be permitted to pray about that which engages the thoughts and interests of the Lord of glory! What a powerful link there was between the heart of Epaphras and the heart of Christ when the former was labouring for his brethren at Colosse!
Christian reader, let us ponder the example of Epaphras. Let us imitate it. Let us fix our eyes on some Colosse or other, and labour fervently in prayer for the Christians therein. The present is a deeply solemn moment. Oh for men like Epaphras-men who are willing to labour on their knees for the cause of Christ, or to wear, if it should be so, the noble bonds of the gospel. Such was Epaphras. We see him as a man of prayer (Col. 4: 12), and as a companion in bonds with the devoted apostle of the Gentiles (Phil. 23).
May the Lord stir up amongst us a spirit of earnest prayer and intercession. May He raise up many of those who shall be cast in the same spiritual mould as Epaphras. These are the men for the present need.
C H Mackintosh