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Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Colossians 4:12-14

12 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. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s mention of his only Jewish friends in ministry in Rome: Aristarchus, the Gospel writer Mark (John Mark) and Jesus Justus.

Paul continues writing about his other friends in Rome, beginning with Epaphras, one of the Colossians and a servant — doulos — of Christ Jesus, who greets them; he is praying most fervently — painfully — for the Colossians so that they stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God (verse 12).

Epaphras is sometimes confused with Epaphroditus.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states they are the same person:

Epaphras (v. 12), the same with Epaphroditus.

However, they are two different men.

Part of the confusion lies in the fact that Epaphras is a shortened form of Epahroditus.

Bible Hub has this quote from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (emphases mine):

A contracted form of Epaphroditus. He must not, however, be confounded with the messenger of the Philippian community. He was with Paul during a part of his 1st Roman imprisonment, joining in Paul’s greetings to Philemon (Philemon 1:23). Epaphras was the missionary by whose instrumentality the Colossians had been converted to Christianity (Colossians 1:7), and probably the other churches of the Lycus had been founded by him.

Bible Hub also cites Easton’s Bible Dictionary, which says that the name Epaphras means ‘lovely’ and that he probably founded the church in Colossae:

Lovely, spoken of by Paul (Colossians 1:7; 4:12) as “his dear fellow-servant,” and “a faithful minister of Christ.” He was thus evidently with him at Rome when he wrote to the Colossians. He was a distinguished disciple, and probably the founder of the Colossian church. He is also mentioned in the Epistle to Philemon (1:23), where he is called by Paul his “fellow-prisoner.”

Some translations say that Epaphras was ‘always labouring fervently for you in prayers’ instead of ‘always struggling on your behalf in his prayers’.

Henry’s commentary describes Epaphras’s prayers, which involve throwing one’s heart and soul into them:

Always labouring fervently for you in prayers. Epaphras had learned of Paul to be much in prayer for his friends. Observe, 1. In what manner he prayed for them. He laboured in prayer, laboured fervently, and always laboured fervently for them. Those who would succeed in prayer must take pains in prayer; and we must be earnest in prayer, not only for ourselves, but for others also. It is the effectual fervent prayer which is the prevailing prayer, and availeth much (Jam 5 16), and Elias prayed earnestly that it might not rain, v. 17. 2. What is the matter of this prayer: That you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Observe, To stand perfect and complete in the will of God is what we should earnestly desire both for ourselves and others. We must stand complete in all the will of God; in the will of his precepts by a universal obedience, and in the will of his providence by a cheerful submission to it: and we stand perfect and complete in both by constancy and perseverance unto the end.

John MacArthur tells us more about the man who had told Paul about the false teachers in Colossae:

This I call the “man with the single passion.” I love this man. I am going to get a corner in heaven with him and talk to him, because he’s a man after my own heart. If I could pick a pastor out of the New Testament and go be in his church, I’d pick this guy.

Verse 12: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,” – and, incidentally, he was the founder of the Colossian church, and most likely its pastor – “greets you.” And you say, “What was he doing there if he was the pastor of the Colossian church? Why was he in Rome?” Because he had come to Rome to tell Paul the trouble that the errorists and the false teachers had brought to the Colossians. And Paul is writing this letter to the Colossians in answer to what Epaphras has told him; and he wants to stay awhile and spend more time with Paul. So Paul says he sends his greeting …

He’s always laboring fervently for you – how? – in prayer.

The word “laboring fervently,” I want to hit this because it reiterates what I told you about chapter 4, verse 2, about perseverance. Listen, laboring fervently is the word “to agonize.” He was on his knees agonizing, in a prolonged, intense, effectual, fervent prayer. It says “always laboring, working at it, agonizing in prayer.”

This is what we’ve been talking about. Prayer is not simply flipping up little thoughts to God; it is agonizing, it is struggling, it is wrestling with God like Jacob, and saying, “I’m not going to let go until You bless me, God.” It is the word used in 1 Corinthians 9 of an athlete who runs a long race and beats his body to make it go – drives it, agonizes it.

You want to hear something interesting? This same word in John 18:36 is translated “fight.” “He fights for you in his prayers. He wrestles with God for you. He persistently struggles with God for your blessing.”

In Romans 15:30 Paul says, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, for the love of the Spirit, that you fight together with me in your prayers to God for me.” Again he uses the same word.

In Luke 22, the same word appears in verse 44, 1 think it is. You can see the meaning of it there comparatively. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Jesus prayed with such agony and such strain and such persistence, that He began to ooze blood.

Epaphras prayed like that. He prayed in an intense, spiritual wrestling with God. And when it says in Acts 6:4 that the apostles gave themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word, that’s what it was. They were like Epaphras; they prayed, and they wrestled with God for the lives of people.

I think we give up too easy. I don’t think we know the meaning of that. We say, “Ah, I’ve worked on so-and-so, they don’t come around.” Maybe we’ve never known what it is to pray the way they prayed.

Paul says that he can bear Epaphras witness — confirm undeniably — that he has worked hard for the Colossians as well as those in Laodicea and Hierapolis (verse 13).

In Henry’s and MacArthur’s translations, ‘great zeal’ is used in that verse.

MacArthur says:

Now listen to this, “He is always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. And I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” Those are the two cities within a ten-mile radius of Colossae. “He’s one of you. He’s your pastor, your founder.” What a man. It says, “He’s a servant of Christ, doulos again, a slave.

But verse 13 says, “I bear him witness, he has a zeal.” The word “zeal” incidentally should be translated “pain.” “He has great pain for you.” In fact in Revelation 16:10 and 11, and Revelation 21:4 the word is used to speak of intense pain. “The man is in intense pain over you. He hurts for you.” I’ll tell you, people, that’s a pastor’s heart. He hurts

Now this guy’s got the view of the ministry. This is it right on the nose, man. Every pastor in the world should have this same desire, that his people be mature and convinced in their mind and assured that this is the truth. And only when they’re mature will they be assured, because Paul says in Ephesians 4, “It’s spiritual babes and children that are knocked to and fro about with every wind of doctrine.”

And so Epaphras had one desire: “I want to make them mature, so that when they’re mature they’ll be fully assured of the truth, and these false teachers won’t have an affect.” How do you make them mature? “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, that the man of God may be mature, thoroughly furnished to all good works.” It is the Word that brings maturity.

Epaphras, I know from that, believed in teaching God’s truth. He wanted his people mature. He wasn’t satisfied that they were there, he wanted them grown up. He wasn’t satisfied that they gave their money; he wanted them assured that the truth was the truth, so they wouldn’t fall into error, because he cared, because he loved them. What a man. I call him Epaphras, the man with a single passion.

Epaphras, the man with a single passion, that his people be mature. He was right on. Ephesians 4: “And he gave some apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and teaching pastors, for the maturing of the saints, for the work of the ministry.” He was a prayer warrior, and he had a single passion, that the people be mature.

You can imagine what a blessing he was to Paul. Can you imagine what an encouragement he was to all the other guys working with Paul to see this guy praying like that, day after day after day; and to see Paul praying day after day after day, night after night after night? Can you imagine the impact that the lives of those two men had on everybody else? And he knew what he was praying for: for the maturity of the saints.

You know something? Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to get past their broken legs and their bodily diseases, and get praying for what really matters. You know that? It’s fine to pray for physical things. But sometimes that’s an excuse, I think, almost a cop out for not really laboring about people’s spiritual welfare. I know I feel guilty about a failure to do that. I don’t know why it is, but it’s so easy not to do that.

Paul tells the Colossians that Luke, the beloved physican, greets them, as does Demas (verse 14).

He is talking about Luke, the Gospel writer and the author of Acts.

Henry says:

This is he who wrote the Gospel and Acts, and was Paul’s companion. Observe, He was both a physician and an evangelist. Christ himself both taught and healed, and was the great physician as well as prophet of the church. He was the beloved physician; one who recommended himself more than ordinary to the affections of his friends. Skill in physic is a useful accomplishment in a minister and may be improved to more extensive usefulness and greater esteem among Christians.

Paul had bouts of ill health during his life and to have his personal doctor around while he was a prisoner in Rome must have been a great blessing.

Acts 20 records Paul’s first meeting with Luke, who was probably from Troas in Asia Minor. Luke stayed with the Apostle through to his imprisonment in Rome. In fact, some passages in Acts are written in the first person.

Like Henry, MacArthur also thinks there is a special calling for physicians in ministry:

He was Paul’s personal physician. I love this; this just thrills me. Here was a man who had a specialized talent. He was a doctor; that’s what he did. But it’s interesting to note that on Paul’s first missionary journey he was sick all the time. And it’s interesting to note that when he went on his second journey, he took Luke. He felt the need of a personal doctor, so he took him along.

God’s work needs specialists, folks. Everybody doesn’t have to go to seminary. There are some people who can do something else and fit in. And you say, “Yeah, but I mean you might get stuck doing that all the time.” Listen, I don’t know what he gave up. He may have given up a lucrative practice, if practices were lucrative in that day, I don’t know. But he must have been kind of fun for Paul to have along, because he was an educated man, a cultured man; so was Paul.

And they must have had some great interaction. I’ll bet they were just bosom buddies, because when Paul was dying, in 2 Timothy, he says, “And only Luke is with me.” I mean they were close. He knew every pain and every scar on the body of Paul. He was his pal, and his doctor. And he calls him “beloved physician.” I like that.

Luke is a great illustration of a man who had a specialty to offer. Now watch. And he gave his specialty to God, and God took his specialty and gave him back a privilege he never dreamed would even happen. Do you realize that Luke wrote fifty-two of the chapters of the New Testament? I’d say that’s significant. Wouldn’t you? Hate to do without him – the whole book of Acts, and the gospel of Luke.

You say, “How did he get to do that? How did he get such a glorious task?” Because he had a specialty, and he gave it to God, and God took him where he was and used him where he never dreamed he could be used. He is living proof of Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think according to the power that works in us.” God takes people with special talent and gives them the ability to do things they never dreamed they could do; and that’s the way He works.

Demas’s ministry had a sad ending.

Henry says that the timeline can be confusing and lead to speculation:

Whether this was written before the second epistle to Timothy or after is not certain. There we read (2 Tim 4 10), Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world. Some have thought that this epistle was written after; and then it is an evidence that, though Demas forsook Paul, yet he did not forsake Christ; or he forsook him but for a time, and recovered himself again, and Paul forgave him and owned him as a brother. But others think more probably that this epistle was written before the other; this in anno 62, that in 66, and then it is an evidence how considerable a man Demas was, who yet afterwards revolted. Many who have made a great figure in profession, and gained a great name among Christians, have yet shamefully apostatized: They went forth from us, because they were not of us, 1 John 2 19.

MacArthur thinks that Paul wrote this before Demas abandoned the ministry:

This is the fly in the ointment. “And Demas greet you.” I call Demas the man with a sad future. This is the last man in the photograph, and he’s a sad man. Oh, here it isn’t sad. He says, “Demas greets you.” And at the end of the book of Philemon it talks about Demas: “My fellow worker.” Man, it sounds good; good ol’ Demas, hanging in there. He’s been around. I think he was around at least two years. I do know that he was with Paul in both imprisonments. That’s substantial commitment.

But there’s a sad thing about him, because it says in 2 Timothy 4:9, Paul says to Timothy, listen to this: “Do your diligence to come shortly to me;” – now listen – “for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed to Thessalonica.” Isn’t that sad?

Yeah, he says, “Demas was around the first imprisonment, Demas was around the second imprisonment, my fellow worker. But he left me, because he loved the present system.” So he went to Thessalonica. He abandoned Paul because he fell in love with the world.

You know something? There are some of those kind in everybody’s ministry, that’s right. Jesus had His Judas, and Paul had his Demas, and all of us have the same kind. They’re all there somewhere, and they show up, and it’s sad. And what’s so sad about it is the privilege and the opportunity and the learning, the exposure that they had somehow never caught. And those are the people I know in my own life, those Demas[es] that have been in my life; those are the people that haunt me, because I don’t understand it. But it’s comforting to know that you can’t be a winner all the time, that even the best are going to have those that fail. And like Paul’s heart, they’ll break our hearts, and we’ll never forget; and the scars will be deep, and the questions will always be there.

MacArthur concludes:

Well, that’s the picture: a man with a sad future, a man with specialized ministry, a man with a strong commitment, a man with surprising future, a man with a sympathetic heart, a man with a sinful past, and a man with a servant’s heart. Quite a team, isn’t it? That’s the Pauline Evangelistic Association. Headquarters: jail, Rome. A great bunch.

Paul has messages of his own to deliver. More on those next week in my concluding post on Colossians.

Next time — Colossians 4:15-18


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