Sunday, October 20, 2019
   
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Epaphras: the Warrior, Intercessor, Wrestler

In Colossians 4:12-

13, Paul gives us an example of the kind of prayer that is needed to impact our world and bring about spiritual revitalization in individuals and churches. In these two verses we have a description of the life of a mature and effective intercessor.

Few begin at this level, but this man certainly can be an inspiration of the potential and impact of an intercessor fully committed to this ministry. Verses 12-13 say, "Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13] I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis."

 

As we observe Epaphras' example, we can easily highlight a number of characteristics of an effective intercessor.

  1. His relationship: "...One of you..." This implies he was from Colosse and thus had a personal stake in their spiritual lives. He knew and loved them. I really believe this is an important element. Not all intercession will be for those we know personally, but when this link is present, it provides some extra motivation when the trials of intercession come along. Epaphras was praying for his home church, which may have included family, spiritual mentors, and possibly a pastor who obviously needed Epaphras to pray for him.

     

  2. His attitude: "...a servant of Christ Jesus..." The attitude of service reminds us that the one who serves Jesus will serve others. If you want to be an intercessor, understand it is primarily a service for your Lord. It will translate into direct service to others only because of your love for Jesus. There will be times in intercession when you feel all alone and wonder if those for whom you are praying understand your depth of love and service. Here is where knowing you serve Jesus will count. It will be a great encouragement to know your work is recognized by Jesus and He is with you as you pray!

     

  3. His action: "He is always wrestling in prayer for you..." The verb "wrestling" has given us our English word "agonize." This was primarily an athletic term properly meaning "to contend for a prize," or "engage in a contest," or to wrestle in prayer (Word Meanings in the New Testament, Ralph Earle, Baker Books, p. 113). This is a wonderful picture for us to meditate upon. This wrestling match isn't easy but rigorous and, at times, an agonizing experience as we contend for the spiritual lives of others.
    I received a forwarded e-mail that expresses the cost and rigors of intercession from the perspective of someone praying for Muslims.
    This ministry... exposes us to regular spiritual attacks. It requires regular (daily) prayer on our part. More than ever, I have learned that I (we) must be in daily contact with our Heavenly Father... The prayers of (other) intercessors on your behalf will add to the 'covering' and provide increased protection from spiritual attacks. I would also add that not every attack can be avoided. Sometimes the Lord allows them, to build up spiritual 'muscles,' or to test what has been learned, or to prove our reliability 'under fire'.
    Peter Crowson
    Live Oak, California
    I also received an insightful note from my intercessor—one who specifically prays for me.
    I believe that I have been under the attack of the enemy in health, finances, and job since I have increased my involvement as a prayer intercessor. I do not see this as a fearful thing, but as an opportunity to align myself up with what God wants. I have always been an active doer, and I have a real history of taking things from God and doing it my way. This season of testing is quite an exercise for me, one that I both love and hate at the same time.

    In Gary Thomas' book, Seeking The Face of God, he quotes Teresa of Avila as writing to God in one of her low spiritual points, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so many enemies" (p.159). I have never quite been that brash or honest with God, I guess, but it helps me chuckle a bit when things get a little dim.

    I have shared my concerns of enemy attack with other intercessors, and I have been encouraged by some of their responses. Satan has even deceived himself to think that he has won. Praise be to Jesus Christ the Victorious One!

     

    This is like the account in the sports page after an athletic event. The Heavenly News Chronicle records: "The match was very intense. It appeared for a moment that the enemy would win, but just in time the Lord took charge and infused our intercessor with strength to endure and to win! Praise be to Jesus Christ the Victorious One!"

    You should see the stack of e-mails I have received from this man to remind me of the prayers he is praying for me. I don't know how he knew some things in my life that were not right, but he nailed me on them. I dislike that on the one hand, but on the other hand I appreciate it and love him for it. I know that insight from God and praying for me costs him a great deal. I am very thankful for the wrestling match and the agony of those prayers.

    Now what could possibly require this kind of agony and wrestling for anyone? Some prayers will not require this kind of fight. But if you pray for the items Epaphras did, you will experience some measure of struggle and wrestling.

     

  4. His request is twofold for the Colossians. He wants to see them "...stand firm in the will of God..." and be "...mature and fully assured." This summarizes all that is important. The word "assured" means "to bring in full measure... to fulfill, accomplish... to persuade, assure, or satisfy fully" (Earle, p. 113). What a wonderful goal and prayer for a local church. Can you imagine what the church in Colosse looked like as this prayer was answered? This is the essence of what makes an individual and a church effective.

    Paul continues to give Epaphras something that at first glance seems unnecessary, but we do not know the special circumstances of this church, nor the attitude the people had concerning intercessors.

     

  5. His endorsement: "I vouch for him...he is working hard for you..." How do we know he is a legitimate intercessor? Paul vouches for him that he is working hard for the people at Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. This endorsement also points out the need for all intercessors to be under the spiritual covering of a local church, for the sake of the people and the intercessor.

In the e-mail I quoted from earlier, Peter Crowson also points out this need:

One of the most significant considerations for engaging in spiritual warfare is to ensure that you stay 'under your covering.' Part of that is being under the authority of a local church and pastor and being scrupulously careful about avoiding the possibility ...(of conflict with) those in authority over you.

Paul makes it clear that this man and all like him should have a good prayer resume which includes a good reference. Sometimes intercessors are loners, or gather around themselves other intercessors who become their own authority. In that state they might begin to believe they are spiritually more attuned to God's purposes & plan for a local church or person than is the leadership of that church. As a result, they may undermine that leadership and/or go off on tangents to look for other wars or wrestling matches. By doing so, they leave the care, nurture, protection, and even the laughter and joy of their spiritual covering. Sadly, they also lose their opportunity to influence, and the church loses valuable team members who were contending for it.

Intercessors are like the offensive and defensive lines of a football team, but they too need the rest of the team to be effective. When they leave, or choose not to play because conditions are too difficult or not to their liking, how vulnerable the church becomes—and again, they in turn lose the perspective and gifts of the rest of local body of believers.

Epaphras did not do that. His prayer was centered on the needs of the church in Colosse and its leadership. He was a partner with Paul, and a tremendous help to the whole church and its mission. He did not decide what the mission and ministry of the local church should be; he supported its vision and outreach in prayer. In that context, he could give insight and even correct the leadership because of his relationship with them. This endorsement must also have encouraged the Colossians and Epaphras.

The phrase "working hard," or "zeal" is the translation of zelon, but the oldest Greek manuscripts have ponon. The original meaning of this word was "labor" or "toil." Then it came to mean "great trouble, intense desire." Aside from this passage, the word ponos occurs only in Rev. 16:10-11; 21:4 where it means "pain" or "distress." Most recent translations have "is working hard" (NIV), or something similar.

There is much to be said for this "deep concern" (NASB) (Earle, p. 113). It results in more than convenient or casual prayers. Intercessors work hard at a very difficult task, but their motivation is deep concern. The wrestling of the intercessor includes not only the physical side, but also the emotional. As they pray, they may experience deep pain of the body and also of the heart/soul.

This work, however, will make a significant impact on our world. There is nothing like seeing the victory achieved. The joy after the match is deep, lasting, and extremely satisfying; besides, it creates wonderful praise and worship that flows from your heart and mouth. What joy to see the other side of God's work through your life!

If we see a church or an individual having significant ministry, I believe it is because there is an Epaphras somewhere in the picture (if not many). If you observe someone following Epaphras' example, you will see the life of an athlete—times of personal training and times of intense, painful, and emotional spiritual wrestling. But after the fight is over, you will also see some great rejoicing and victory celebrations. It is worth it all!

Reflect and Share Questions

This can be a self-study or a group study. Feel free to print it out! It is designed to help you hear and apply this teaching to your life and to those you may influence.

 

  1. What excites and scares you about this model of Epaphras?

     

     
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  4. What impact would 50 intercessors have on Hillcrest Chapel's ministry, outreach?

     

     
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  7. What personal training do you think you will need to engage in intercession?

     

     
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  10. What might keep you from seasons of rejoicing after a spiritual wrestling match?

     

     
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  13. Why do you believe your connection to a local church is vital for you as you pray?