Epaphras: An Example for Prayer

In closing his letter to the Colossians, Paul gave some greetings, including one from Epaphras: “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” (Col 4:12 ESV).

As simple as this verse is, it gives us some helpful points in how Epaphras prayed for others and how we can pray for others today.

The first two points involve being consistent and diligent in prayer.

We should always pray for others.

Epaphras obviously did not literally pray 24/7. Paul’s “always” means that Epaphras constantly prayed for the Colossians as he had the opportunity to do so. We should look for times to pray for others and consistently make the most of these times.

We should strive in praying for others.

To “strive” or “struggle” in prayer is to work hard at it. The Greek verb here is agōnizomai from which we get our English verb agonize. To agōnizomai can mean performing as an athlete (cf. 1 Cor 9:25) or even fighting in battle with weapons (cf. John 18:36), both strenuous activities. Prayer for others should receive our diligent efforts all the same.

The next three points involve the content of our prayer.

We should pray for others to persevere.

Epaphras prayed for the Colossians to “stand” in two ways, “mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” While the tense of this verb suggests to some that Epaphras is thinking of something future (“may God make you to stand”), it is more likely that he prays for the Colossians to presently stand as they ought (thus, “may you stand”). Paul often uses the word stand (histēmi) with reference to the Christian holding to or persevering according to some aspect of his Christianity (cf. Rom 11:20; 14:4; 1 Cor 7:37; 10;12; 15:1; 2 Cor 1:24; Eph 6:11, 13, 14).1

Technicalities aside, we should pray for our fellow believers to persevere, especially in maturing as Christians and knowing the will of God.

That being said…

We should pray for the spiritual growth of others.

To be “mature” has the idea of being morally perfect. The Greek word teleios is elsewhere incompatible with a love for riches (Matt 19:21) and the misuse of the tongue (James 3:2). The word can thus describe God Himself (cf. Matt 5:48). Whatever the area of maturity may be, we should pray for our fellow believers to grow as Christians.

We should pray that others would confidently know God’s will.

Last, to “stand… fully assured in all the will of God” has the idea of knowing and being convinced of what God’s will is, thus allowing one to stand firm in it. Paul more or less prayed for the Colossians accordingly earlier in his letter, that they would “be filled with the knowledge of his will” and thus “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:9–10 ESV). Paul and Epaphras occasionally prayed together, to be sure, and it comes as no surprise to see that Epaphras prayed like Paul for the Colossians. We should pray for other believers in this same way.

Just a short description, but a great verse to give us an example for prayer—may we all pray like Epaphras!

  1. The verb histēmi in Col 4:12 is an aorist passive subjunctive. For a futurist understanding that gives weight to the passive tense, see Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC 44; Dallas, TX: Word, 1982), 254. For an explanation as to why a present understanding of histēmi is best, see Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 344. []

Philemon 4–7: An Example Prayer by Paul

Philemon 4–7 is a prayer by Paul for Philemon, an example for us as to how we can pray for others today. We will look at these verses briefly, only to focus on Philemon 6, which is a wonderful part of this prayer but difficult to translate and piece together.  Here is the text:

4I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” (Philemon 4–7 ESV)

Verse 4 is easy enough, showing Paul’s gratitude for Philemon, as is verse 5, which is the cause for his thanksgiving—during his first Roman imprisonment, Paul heard about Philemon’s love and faithfulness for the Lord Jesus and the saints. Philemon loved Jesus and others and was therefore faithful to both, giving Paul cause to thank God for him, especially since Paul had been somehow involved in the conversion of Philemon (cf. Phm 19).

Coming to verse 6, “and I pray” is supplied to clue us in that, in addition to Paul’s thanksgiving for Philemon in verse 4, Paul is praying for a specific request for him as well. Let’s take this prayer, phrase by phrase.

“that the sharing of your faith” – “sharing” is from koinōnia, the NT word for “fellowship,” meaning something that people shared or had in common. What Paul, Philemon, and others at Colossae (cf. Col 1:2; 4:9; Phm 10) “shared” was “faith.” It is primarily Philemon’s “faith” that is in view in verse 6 (“your” is singular).

“might become effective” – “might become” expresses the subjective tense of the verb, a typical way of expressing prayer for what hopes one will happen. “Effective” is an adjective but has to do with the idea of good works. The word comes from energēs, from which we get our English word energy. We see that Paul prayed that Philemon’s faith would somehow result in good works among others with shared his faith.

“in the knowledge of every good thing that is in us” – Here we find the guide for the outworking of Philemon’s faith—“the knowledge of every good thing,” a knowledge that is found in the Word of God. This knowledge concerns “every good thing” found in the context of believers—“ that is in us.” Thus, Paul prayed for Philemon’s faith to result in good works among others as guided by the knowledge of God.

“for the sake of Christ” – The motivation for “every good thing” that Philemon could do was not for his own glory but that of his Lord Jesus Christ.

Understanding verse 6 in this way is supported by Paul’s recollection in verse 7—Paul himself remembered how other Christians were refreshed by Philemon’s love, which in turn gave joy and comfort to Paul who heard about this love. What little we know of Philemon, he had opened his home to the church in Colossae (Phm 2), would lodge Paul in the future (Phm 22), and would forgive and perhaps even free his slave Onesimus who had wronged him in some way (Phm 17–20). In the context of the whole letter to Philemon, Paul likely prayed this prayer as he did so that Philemon would forgive Onesimus, his newfound brother in Christ, obviously a good thing to do.

Putting the related text in parentheses, a bulleted paraphrase of Philemon 1:6 could look something like this as a prayer we could pray for others today:

I pray that…

  • your faith in God (your faith)
  • which is shared with the people of God (sharing)
  • and guided by the Word of God (in the full knowledge)
  • would produce good works for God (may become effective in…every good thing)
  • among the people of God (that is among us)
  • for the glory of the Son of God (for the sake of Christ)

Whether forgiving someone or whatever else the good thing may be, let us pray for one another that we, too, would live out our faith by doing good things among God’s people as guided by the Word and all for the glory of our Savior.

When Belief in Christ Breaks the Home Apart

2015.03.14 - Gesina ter Borch - echtelijke ruzieIn Mark 6:4, Jesus is rejected by His listeners in Nazareth and quotes the well-known proverb: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

Notice how He specifies three groups and narrows the group each time―hometown, relatives, and household. Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected by His family for the gospel He preached and is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” accordingly; He is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Whether the temptation was frustration, anger, or whatever―Jesus was tempted to react sinfully towards His family for their rejection of Him. It is no surprise that “he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:6), but He did not sin, an example for us today.

Jesus warns us elsewhere that our belief in Him sometimes breaks a home apart: “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt 10:36; cf. 10:34–35). But, as we love Him more than those who hate Him (even family members), we lose our lives for His sake and find life eternal by bearing such a cross (Matt 10:37–39). The proof of this love is often shown in difficult day-to-day choices that we make as we interact with these family members. Jesus shouldered His family’s dishonor and continued to preach the gospel.

Jesus’ sympathy in this situation encourages us all the more to “hold fast our confession” of Christ and “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” in prayer (Heb 4:14, 16). Even when family rejects you, continue to confess Christ and ask Him for grace and strength to endure.

We should also pray for our family members who reject Christ that they would come to believe. Jesus’ family once said “He is out of his mind” (Mark 7:21), and later it says, “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). However, we find out that they believed in time. Those praying in the Upper Room before Pentecost were the apostles, “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Speaking of missionary travel, Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Cor 9:5).

Mary always believed in the truth about her Son (cf. Luke 1:28, 38), but her sons did not at first (John 7:5), and all of them at least occasionally misunderstood Jesus during His earthly life. Nonetheless, all came to properly understand Him in time, and His brothers even became evangelists for the gospel they once rejected. As we pray for grace to interact with the lost we love so much, we should also pray for their salvation to see what God may do in time.

Prayer and the Local Church

This little blurb hardly scratches the surface of a theology of prayer. Nonetheless, let it be a little reminder to heed the call to prayer in your personal life and the life of your church.

The Book of Acts records several instances that show the early church as an example for us to be just as devoted in prayer today as they were then. Of the small band of believers just before Pentecost, it was said, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). Likewise, just after Pentecost, among other things, “they devoted themselves to . . . the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Instead of meeting the practical needs of the saints, the Twelve stated, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). When Peter was in prison and the church feared his martyrdom (Acts 12:1–3), “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5), throughout the night (cf. Acts 12:6–11), and so they were at “the house of Mary . . . where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12).

Just as the Bible describes how Christians prayed, it also prescribes how Christians should pray. Since we are God’s house (1 Tim 3:15), we will incur God’s anger if we are not a people of prayer (cf. Isa 56:7; Matt 21:12–13). The church must pray for the needs of its members (Eph 6:18), and the church must pray for unbelievers as well (1 Tim 2:1–7). Men should lead in times of corporate prayer (1 Tim 2:8), and women should participate in prayer as well (1 Cor 11:4–5). The church must pray for the advance of the gospel (Acts 4:29; Col 4:3; Eph 6:19), and, as mentioned above, prayer must be a priority for those lead the church and who speak the Word of God (Acts 6:4).

Has the Spirit has moved in you to be more mindful of prayer due to your consideration of the handful of Scriptures quoted and referenced above? Do you attempt to be with our church during its times of corporate prayer on Sundays and Wednesdays? Not everyone can make it every time the church gathers for prayer, but when considering whether we are really unable to come or not, we must remember that some people find excuses to avoid the work of gathering for prayer, and others find the excuse of a time for prayer to avoid whatever would get in its way. Let’s pray to God that He would help us to fall into the latter of those categories and that He would help our churches to be people of prayer.

How to Pray for Yourself and Others to Give the Gospel

Paul asked for prayer multiple times in multiple letters. Here are two passages that act as examples to instruct us how to pray for ourselves and others to give the gospel.

Ephesians 6:18–20

Pray for the words to say when giving the gospel.

Paul encouraged the Ephesians to persevere by “making supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:18) and also himself as he gave the gospel (Eph 6:19). He asked them to pray “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19). We should pray that we and others would be given the words necessary to give the gospel when an opportunity presents itself to do so.

Pray to have the appropriate boldness when giving the gospel.

Paul requested pray that he would open his mouth “boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19). He repeats this request and asks the Ephesians to pray “that I may declare it [i.e., the gospel] boldly, as I ought to speak.” We should pray for ourselves and others to speak the gospel as we ought to speak―with the boldness necessary for actually speaking it to others.

Colossians 4:2–6

Pray for the opportunity to give the gospel.

Paul requested that the Colossians would “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word” (Col 4:3). This word was “the mystery of Christ,” that is, the gospel that speaks of salvation through Jesus Christ (Col 4:3). We should pray that God would give us and others the opportunity to share His gospel.

Pray that the gospel would be clearly given.

Paul also requested that the Colossians would pray “that I may make it [i.e., the gospel] clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Col 4:4). However we speak the gospel, we must speak it clearly, and we should pray that we and others would do so.

Pray that the gospel would be presented with grace.

Paul goes on to instruct the Colossians to walk wisely in a world of unbelievers (Col 4:5). Lifestyle differences would provoke discussion, and when speaking with unbelievers, Paul states, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col 4:6). We should pray that our speech would be marked by the grace that should characterize our entire lives.

 

What is prayer? Prayer ends with Amen.

Call upon God, adore, confess,
Petition, plead, and then declare
You are the Lord’s; give thanks and bless,
And let the Amen confirm the prayer.
~Isaac Watts

The ninth and final item of prayer in this poem by Watts is the Amen, that which confirms the prayer. Watts describes Amen as “a Hebrew word that signifies truth or faithfulness, certainty, surely, etc.” One standard lexicon defines Amen as a “strong affirmation of what is stated,” and offers translations such as “let it be so” and “truly” (BDAG, p. 53). In other words, we confirm that all we have said in our prayer is so or shall be so, that it is true or shall be true in God’s gracious plan for our lives.

Watts explains that the Amen at the end of our prayers “implies these four things.” First, we believe the truth of what we have said about God and ourselves in our prayers to him. Second, we indeed hope that our requests would come to fruition and that they would be so. Third, we reaffirm that we will act as we have pledged to God we would do. Fourth, we assume that God has heard us and will answer our prayers according to His perfect will.

This is my last of nine posts on Isaac Watts’ method of prayer. To download a print copy of A Guide to Prayer or to read it online, go to http://www.prayermeetings.org/Isaac_Watts.html.

What is prayer? Prayer is declaration.

Call upon God, adore, confess,
Petition, plead, and then declare
You are the Lord’s; give thanks and bless,
And let the Amen confirm the prayer.
~Isaac Watts

The eighth item of prayer in this poem by Watts is blessing, that is, we should bless God in prayer.

Watts is precise to define blessing as something distinct from praise, adoration, and thanksgiving. He explains blessing God as taking place in two ways.

First, we bless God by gladly acknowledging His attributes and glories to Him in prayer. To quote Watts, this means “mentioning the many attributes and glories of God with inward joy, satisfaction and pleasure.” We enjoy telling God who He is, and by doing so, we bless Him.

Second, we bless God by telling Him we wish these excellencies to continue forever and revel in the fact that our wishes will be so. To quote Watts again, this means “wishing the glories of God may forever continue, and rejoicing at the assurance of it.”

Some of our more well-known passages illustrate the words we could echo in blessing God:

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21)

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24–25)

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

What is prayer? Prayer is giving thanks.

Call upon God, adore, confess,
Petition, plead, and then declare
You are the Lord’s; give thanks and bless,
And let the Amen confirm the prayer.
~Isaac Watts

The seventh item of prayer in this poem by Watts is thanksgiving: “give thanks.” Numerous passages in the Bible command us to give thanks to God, and 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is all-encompassing: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Are you in Christ Jesus? Do you desire to do the will of God? Whatever your circumstances may be, give thanks to God. Watts explains thanksgiving in prayer as taking place in two ways.

First, we should thank God for the good He gives us apart from our having asked for such. Among the infinite blessings He grants to us, we can thank Him for being made in His image and the means of salvation that were provided for us as sinners who could do nothing for ourselves. We can thank Him for daily protection and His countless mercies which are new every day. We can thank Him for food, shelter, and clothing and the luxuries of life beyond these simple things with which we should be content.

Second, we should thank God for the good He gives us in answer to our specific requests in prayer. We often think to pray when we are in need and desire His help in some way. But how often do we stop and think to look back and see how He has specifically answered our prayers? Some people keep a written list of prayer requests and keep a column next to the requests to record when they have been answered. Others keep journals. At the least, we should pause in prayer to reflect upon how God has been good to us, note where this goodness is in specific answer to prayer, and give God thanks accordingly.

What is prayer? Prayer is declaration.

Call upon God, adore, confess,
Petition, plead, and then declare
You are the Lord’s; give thanks and bless,
And let the Amen confirm the prayer. ~Isaac Watts

The sixth item of prayer in this poem by Watts is what he would call profession or self-dedication, or, to use the word from the poem, declaration: “declare you are the Lord’s.”

In his Guide to Prayer, Watts explains declaration in prayer along four lines. First, in our prayers to God, we speak to Him what it means for us to be His children. In doing so, we can describe ourselves in all the ways that Scripture describes us as those who are savingly related to Him. We acknowledge and describe our relationship to Him.

Second, we can specifically describe what took place when we were first saved. We remember the darkness and sin from which we were saved and declare that we are new creatures who are meant to be more conformed into the image of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Third, we can reaffirm our relationship to Him. We renounce in the present whatever sins may have defiled our relationship to Him or idols that may have clouded our attention from fixing ourselves upon Him. We reaffirm who God saved us to be and commit ourselves again to living out His grace.

Fourth, we can declare what we will be in the future. Not only is there a point when salvation began, and not only does God continue to work His sanctification in our lives thereafter, but we will also be wholly rid of sin and finally sanctified when Christ comes again. We will be glorified and spotless. And we can ask God to make us now what we will be then because the Spirit that glorifies us then is at work in us for our salvation even now.

What is prayer? Prayer is pleading.

Call upon God, adore, confess,
Petition, plead, and then declare
You are the Lord’s; give thanks and bless,
And let the Amen confirm the prayer. ~Isaac Watts

The fifth item of prayer in this poem by Watts is “plead.” Watts explains pleading as “arguing our case with Him in a fervent yet humble manner.” We state a specific request and present arguments to God as to why He should grant such a thing. These arguments are appeals to God that are based upon His desires as communicated in His Word. Whatever the issue may be, we bring it before God and plead. We plead according to our desires, dangers, and sorrows.

In pleading to God, we can appeal to His nature and attributes. We ask for mercy because He is merciful. We ask for good things because He is good. We ask for grace because He is gracious, and so on.

We can appeal to God according to our relationship with Him. We can claim Him as our Father and ask Him to give what is good to His children. We can claim Him as Creator and ask Him to sustain us. We can claim Him as king to protect us from His enemies who live in His domain.

We can appeal to God according to His name and honor. When great things take place that direct people’s attention to Him and His power, His name and honor are magnified. We should pray that God would save the lost, work through us, and do that which makes Him amazing in the eyes of all.

We can appeal to God according to how He has worked in the lives of His people in the past. When we go through trials, we can appeal to how God has delivered others in the past as David did long ago: “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (Ps 22:4–5). We should also remember that deliverance may not be the removal of a trial but the grace to sustain its difficulty.