Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 March 3, 2019
“Contending for the Saints”
The Lord, via the Holy Spirit, teaches us much from this greetings and salutations section at the end of Colossians. Last week we learned, from Mark’s life, that when you’ve blown it, God’s grace is greater still. Next week, God willing, we shall learn or recall an important truth from the life of Archippus, a worker in the Colossian church. This week, we learn from Epaphras how to contend for the saints—that is, for God’s covenant people in Christ. Let us give our attention, then, to the public reading of God’s Word in this place—in order that He may have His rightful glory and we may have His intended benefit for us.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Recall, that Epaphras, himself from Colosse, is the human founder of the church there—perhaps a short time after he responded favorably to the Gospel during Paul’s third missionary journey (ca. A. D. 55-57). Now (ca. 60-62) Epaphras is with Paul in Rome. In fact, he is Paul’s fellow prisoner (Philemon 23). Both are in bonds for the sake of Christ, but we learn from the Philippian correspondence that even some of Caesar’s household are in Christ and greet the Philippians (Philippians 4:22). Indeed, this imprisonment, which Epaphras shares with Paul, serves to advance the Gospel (Philippians 1:12)—and that despite all expectation.
With Epaphras now re-introduced to us, let’s note his ongoing prayer ministry for the church at Colosse—and for those at nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis as well. Paul writes that Epaphras always struggles (Greek agonidzomai [agwnizomai]) for them in his prayers. The word struggle is a good choice by the translators of the English Standard Version of the Bible. The Greek word implies an intense struggle against force, either physical or non-physical. It also implies something akin to athletic contest, with emphasis upon effort. To struggle as Epaphras does in prayer is to strive to do something with great intensity and effort. Note the common threads running through this fluid Greek verb: struggle, intensity, effort. This is the general tenor of Epaphras’ prayers for the Colossians and the surrounding area.
Paul testifies furthermore that Epaphras works hard (or has pain, Greek ponos [ponoV]). This pain that Epaphras accepts as he intercedes for the Colossians, among others, is both continuous and intense—and it involves considerable distress to himself. Lest you think that all this great effort, protracted struggle, and considerable are mere spiritual exercises, look at the ends unto which Epaphras prays.
He prays that the Colossians may stand mature in all the will of God. Maturity in all the will of God, as used here, implies a certain completeness in Christ—in which the Colossians lack nothing (cf. James 1:4). A mature believer in Christ Jesus is an experienced believer. He is no new convert, and he has walked with Christ for a long time. Moreover, he is a seasoned believer. He knows the providential ups and downs that attend life in Christ—and he rejoices in the high times even as God sanctifies the low times to his use. This is Christian maturity.
Epaphras also prays that the Colossians may stand fully assured in all the will of God. One thus fully assured trusts in the Person, promises, and providence of Jesus Christ. He is not shaken easily by providential wind, for he has endured such winds before—and he also knows Him Who stills the storms. Moreover, such a Christian is a bulwark for others in their trials. When less experienced, less seasoned Christians feel buffeted along life’s way, the mature, fully-assured Christian is a precious minister to that buffeted soul.
That which Epaphras was is that which the Holy Spirit calls us to be. First, we can pray in like manner as Epaphras. We cannot do this, of course, in our own power, but God makes us able by His Holy Spirit. Therefore, we can “get after it” in prayer. We can struggle, and hurt, and expend considerable effort—for God by His Spirit enables us. Second, we can pray concerning like matter. We can pray, in ever-widening spheres, for maturity and full assurance in all the will of God for Christ’s people. Let’s look briefly now at those spheres.
We can pray for one another here at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church. May each of us be able to stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God—for this is the will of God for us. We also can pray for our church, considered in the aggregate, as we relate to our town, our county, and our surrounding area. May we, in these troubled times, be a place of refuge for those troubled by the times—and by a host of other things as well. May they who come find us seasoned, and assured, and a source of great comfort and strength to them as we point them to the Savior. We also can pray for the Church on earth. Now is not the time for Christ’s Church on earth to be anything less than experienced, seasoned, and deep in Jesus. May the Church on earth be, in miniature, what Jesus is consummately—a shelter in the time of storm. May we, one and all, contend for the saints in a manner agreeable to God’s Word and pleasing to Him.
 For the range of meanings associated with agonidzomai and ponos, I am indebted to Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).