The Prayer Labourer
He is only mentioned twice in the epistle to the Colossians (1.7; 4.12) and yet what is said of him commends him as being worthy of consideration. Epaphras home town was Colosse, and from Rome he sends his greetings to the saints there (Col 4.12). He is also mentioned by Paul in the personal letter to Philemon (v.23) which accompanied the Colossian epistle and it is there that we learn that he was a fellow prisoner with Paul in Rome. His name means "Lovely", and it is certainly true that the little written of him is enough to describe a lovely character. He had "a great zeal" for the believers in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. He was not cold and indifferent to others who were serving the Lord; there was a zealous warmth about him to which Paul could testify.
But one cannot fail to note the commendation given to him in respect of his prayer life. He laboured "fervently" for others in prayer, a feature that was clearly seen by the apostle. It should be noted that the word used by Paul in describing his own labours (striving) is the same word as that which is translated, "labouring fervently". He was committed to his service, as was the apostle.
There are times when we encounter brethren and sisters who give themselves over to prayer. Not for them merely a few moments in the morning and evening, but long spells when they labour before God, raising names in His presence and praying for their spiritual growth, for the difficulties, problems and fears with which others are dealing, and for their families and assemblies. They do not engage in this for public acclaim, but occasionally something slips out which lets others see the private work of these worthy servants. Many of them are quiet, unassuming individuals, but they make their mark for God and, although others may not be conscious of it, they are helped by the intercession of these "prayer labourers".
The prayer life of Epaphras was marked by three features. First, it was selfless. He was a prisoner in Rome and could have argued that he was more in need of the prayers of others than they were of his. A prayer labourer is not constantly thinking of what others are not doing for him or her, but of what they can do for others. Such saints are not bowed down with self pity; they have business with God in prayer and their own circumstances are not allowed to reduce their effectiveness.
Second, note that his prayers were far-sighted; his desire was that others might "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God". How all-embracive this is! We pray correctly for those in need, for saints going through times of illness, for those with family difficulties, and for many other matters, but do we pray for the matters which filled the prayers of Epaphras? No doubt all these other issues were mentioned, but the spiritual growth and progress of others occupied a major part of his prayers.
Third, note that his prayers were constant. Paul writes of his labouring always for them in prayer. This does not mean that prayer was the only occupation of his day, but rather that when he prayed these saints were mentioned, they were never left out. There is such a thing as vain repetition, but not all repetition is vain. It is vain or empty when it is the meaningless repetition of a form of words, but Epaphras prayers, while containing the same requests daily, were warm and fresh each time he bowed in the presence of God.
It has often been said that assemblies need workers, and that is true, but it is also a truth not to be ignored that there is great need of men and women of prayer. The helpful intercession of Moses, Aaron and Hur directly affected the battle against the Amalekites (Ex 17.8-16). Your prayers can be equally effective in the work of the Lord today, prayer being offered for those whom you know, but also for those who are not known to you personally. Paul had, as far as we are aware, never been to Colosse, but still he prayed for them (Col 2.1). Assemblies will benefit, saints will be helped, preaching will be more telling if you determine to labour in prayer. It is not an easy task; it demands self-discipline and spiritual determination, but from your room you can touch the lives of saints in areas to which you have never travelled and are unlikely ever to see. It is a great work, without barriers and without restraints. What an honoured epitaph - you had laboured fervently in prayer.