Commentary on Colossians, 4:12-15 (Prayer and House Churches)

Colossians 4:12-15


“12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you, always striving for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”


“Epaphras, who is one of you”


The Colossian Christians probably first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ from Epaphras (Col 1:6-7). He was a minister not only to them, but possibly, also to the churches of Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col 4:13).


“always striving for you in his prayers”


Epaphras labored earnestly and fervently in his prayers for the Colossian Christians. Where he at one time had a ministry of teaching to them, he now had a ministry of prayer for them. We can’t all teach, and we can’t all lead, but we can all pray. There is such a need for Christians who are devoted to prayer. I don’t believe we put the emphasis on prayer that we should – not as individuals, and not within our local assemblies. Along with the teaching of God’s Word, there is no work more important. Prayer is a powerful ministry that changes lives, and changes the course of events.


“that you may stand perfect”


“perfect” (Gr. teleios – 5046)


That which is perfect, lacking nothing.


Many translations render this word as mature, for we can never attain spiritual perfection in this life. However, the following three verses suggest that the word perfect is the correct reading:


“You therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)


“but when that which is perfect has come, that which is in part will be done away.” (1 Cor 13:10)


And do not be fashioned according to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  (Ro 12:1-2)


The word “perfect” in these three verses is the same Greek word that we have in this verse. Jesus is not going to tell us to “be mature as the Father is mature.” God is not merely mature, He is perfect. Also, when the “perfect has come,” it will not simply be mature, it will be perfect. Furthermore, the will of God is not simply mature, or almost perfect. It’s perfect.


Therefore, I don’t believe Paul is going to lower that standard by instructing them (via the prayer of Epaphras) to be merely mature. If that’s all Paul had in mind, then we may tend to let down once we get to the place where we think we’ve grown into a mature Christian. The standard of the Christian life is never below perfection, for Jesus is our standard, and He is perfect. While perfection cannot be reached in this life, that standard of perfection is always to be in view as we grow in spiritual maturity, and in “all the will of God.”


“fully assured”  (Gr. plerophoreo – 4135)


To be fully persuaded (convinced, confident).


Romans 12:1-2 is a great cross reference that I believe helps to explain this verse:


1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service.
2 And do not be fashioned according to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”


As this Romans passage (by Paul) makes clear, we cannot know (“prove”) the will of God, unless we’re living holy lives which are acceptable to God, and walking with a renewed mind (according to the mind of God). This speaks of spiritual maturity, the same as what we have in our text verse here. Thus if we’re walking in spiritual maturity, and continually growing toward spiritual “perfection,” we will be able to be “fully assured in all the will of God.” That is, we can walk confidently, being fully persuaded that we’re walking in the will of God, which itself is perfect.


“13 For I bear him witness, that he has much anguish for you, and for them in Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis.”


“anguish”  (Gr. ponos – 4192)


Pain, anguish.


Used elsewhere only in the book of Revelation:  Rev 16:10-11; 21:4.


I believe this refers back to Paul’s reference to the prayers of Epaphras. Apparently, Epaphras had such a burden for the Christians in Colossae, as well as for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis, that he labored in his prayers for them to the point of anguish. May all of us have such a burden for the spiritual welfare of others that we labor in our prayers for them to the point of anguish! We need to learn to care deeply for others, for both Christians and for the lost. What a difference we could make in people’s lives if we were driven to such passionate prayer for them.


Laodicea and Hierapolis were cities near Colossae. Col 1:5-7 suggests that Epaphras was the one who brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to Colossae (who may have been sent by Paul, Col 1:7), and it’s reasonable to assume that he also had a teaching ministry among them. Since these other two cities were close by, this verse strongly suggests that he had a ministry with them, as well. Epaphras obviously had close ties with these churches, and thus, had a special concern for them.


“14 Luke the beloved physician, and Demas, greets you.”


“Luke”


Mentioned by name only here, and in 2 Tim 4:11 and Philemon 1:24. Here we learn that he was a physician. He was a “fellow-worker” and traveling companion of Paul’s. As a doctor, he no doubt tended to Paul’s many illnesses and injuries for the name of Christ. It’s commonly agreed that Luke was the writer of the Gospel of Luke and of the book of Acts, as there is strong internal and external evidence that lead to that conclusion.


“Demas”


Interestingly, Demas is mentioned in the same three places that Luke is. At the time of this writing, he was a faithful “fellow-worker” of Paul’s, but later left him and went to Thessalonica, “having loved this present world” (2 Ti 4:10).


In our walk with Christ, and in our service to Him, there is always the danger of returning to our old life. The pleasures of this world are constantly beckoning us to come back. The only way to avoid that, is to remain close to Jesus. When we’re enjoying a close walk with Jesus, everything else pales in comparison. It’s only when we begin to drift away from Him, that the world begins to look good again. We absolutely MUST remain close to Jesus. We do that through constant prayer, time in God’s Word, and in serving Him. If we’re occupied with our relationship with the Lord, and with all that’s He’s called us to do, we will always view the world as the dark and sinful and unpleasant place that it really is.


“15 Greet the brethren that are in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that is in her house.”


“Nympha”


Nympha is the feminine form of this name, and Nymphas is the masculine. It’s difficult to determine from the Greek manuscripts which one it actually is. However, nearly all modern translations render this name in its feminine form. Other translations render it in its masculine form, among them being the ASV, KJV, and the NKJV.


“the church that is in her house”


Up until the middle of the third century, meeting in homes for church services was a common practice. There is a divided opinion about house churches today. There is a house church movement building in America, but some are not in favor of it. The only real danger of it that I can see, is that there may not be qualified Bible teachers to lead these churches. If the right qualifications can be determined, then at least doctrinally, they should be ok. However, if they continue to grow in number, that means they will need to open up more homes to meet in, which means there will be a need for more qualified Bible teachers, which may not be easy to find when so many will be needed.


I want to add that house churches must be structured biblically, meaning, there needs to be Elders to lead, and must meet the requirements of 1 Tim 3:1-13 and Tit 1:5-9. I fear that many house churches do not have biblical leadership, and are no more than Bible study groups.


One last thing I want to mention about house churches, is that this is the only option for Christians in countries where Christianity is outlawed. In such circumstances, they must go underground and do the best they can. I suspect that Christians in those situations have some wonderful times of genuine worship and prayer and learning together.