Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in the full will of God.
1. His relation to the Colossians. "Who is one of you." A native of their city, like Onesimus.
2. His office. "A servant of Jesus Christ" - a title often applied to the apostle by himself, and once applied to Timothy (Philippians 1:1) - to indicate his considerable services in the cause of Christ's gospel. He was the founder of the Church at Colossae.
3. His love to them. "Always wrestling for you in prayers that ye may stand fast, perfect and fully assured in all the will of God." His love was manifest in his constant and anxious prayers for his flock. Consider:
(1) The manner of his prayers. "Always wrestling for you in prayers."
(a) He was in an agony of prayer for them
) because of the greatness of the dangers that encompassed them;
) because of the fear of his prayers being lost;
) because of the tenderness of his love for them. He was truly "fervent in spirit."
(b) He was always wrestling in prayer for them,
) We must be constant in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
) It maintains fervency of spirit.
) It has the greater prospect of a favourable answer.
(2) The matter of his prayers. "That ye may stand fast, perfect and fully assured in all the will of God." It is a prayer for the stability of the Colossians, in view of the possible dangers of apostasy. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he felt" (1 Corinthians 10:12). "God is able to establish us" (1 Corinthians 15:1). This stability is manifest in two things.
(a) Maturity. "Perfect." Epaphras prays that the flock may stand fast in a complete and universal obedience. This they cannot do without labouring for much knowledge (1 Corinthians 14:20), exercising themselves in the Word of righteousness (Hebrews 5:14), allowing patience to have her perfect work (James 3:1; James 1:5).
(b) Firm persuasion. "Fully assured in all the will of God." There was to be no vacillation or falling away, but a sure conviction of the truth of God's will. The Judaeo-Gnostics made a pretension to a perfection of wisdom, and found its sphere in the secrets of heavenly existence. Believers find it in the sphere of God's will.
4. His zealous labours for the welfare of all the Churches in the Lycus valley. "For I bear him witness, that he hath much labour for you, and for them in Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis." He was probably the founder of all three Churches, which were within a short distance of each other. The apostle commends him to the Colossians that he may increase their respect and love for him on his return from Rome.
II. LUKE. "The beloved physician." This was the evangelist, who had travelled with the apostle on his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1), and then from Jerusalem to Rome two years later (Acts 27:2), and now again was in his company. He was apparently the apostle's only companion at the end of his second imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:11): "Only Luke is with me." He was doubly beloved, both as physician and evangelist, for the weak health of the apostle, both in prison and out of it, needed his professional care.
2. There is here a bare mention of his name, without a word of commendation. Perhaps the apostle had an insight into his real character. His name occurs significantly last of all among the six who greet the Colossians.
3. He deserts the apostle in the near prospect of his end. "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" (2 Timothy 4:10). Yet, at present, he keeps his standing among the companions of the apostle and receives a due recognition. - T.C.
Epaphras, who is one of you.1. If you think of Christianity as a great thought, a transcendental doctrine, a grand conception, you are right; and if you think the preacher is called upon to speak the language of earth in she accent of heaven and expound celestial mysteries, you are right. But this is not all. A man who would describe the present scene as all firmament would be wrong; but a man who omitted the firmament from a landscape would be a fool. It is the sky in a landscape painting that often first attracts attention. There could be no landscape were there no sky. So with this great Christian truth: it is firmamental, but it is the sky out of which our landscape comes — the immeasurable, out of which our units and definite lines are given to us. Christianity is not only the highest metaphysic, it is the most absolute practical teaching and sympathy.
2. What have these personal salutations to do in the Bible? When the apostle began this great letter, he seemed to strike a grand key, and to call the universe to hear. He speaks of One who is the "image of the invisible God," etc. That is grand music. Let that organ roll out its rythmic thunders, and while they charm us make us solemn; but here at the end he begins to talk about Aristarchus, etc. Is he out of tune at last? Does the anthem die off into a mean piping, or is there still sweet music in it, encompassing, not shaking, the high heavens, but making the household glad, filling every room of it with sacred glee.
3. The more Christianity is understood the more will manhood go up in value. Christianity takes us all in charge — women, poor people, the sick. It goes to the merchant and says: "I have seen to-day many poor, sick ones, who want kindly treatment and practical sympathy, and you must give it". Any religion that talks so about men and to men is presumptively a true religion. Christianity has a message from every-man to every other man.
I. "Epaphras, WHO IS ONE OF YOU."
1. Being a native of Colossae he carries it in his heart to Rome. The idea of the Church is domestic. We do not realize that. Our idea of it is approximation without identity, proximity without sympathy, a hebdomadal meeting and a week-long parting, a cold " how do? " without answer being waited for. The poor, simple soul thought you meant it, and was just about to ten you how be did when you jumped into your chariot and drove off. Christ's idea was that of a house, and Paul that of a family — "in whom the whole family," etc. See how these Christians love one another. They have a great respect for one another, a marvellous respect, an official respect; but the old apostolic unity and downright warm love — where is it? And echo answers where?
2. "One of you," though not at home. We think that going from home deprives a man of his proper belongings in the Church. A young man leaves us and goes to New Zealand. Is he no longer one of us? The poor lad's heart ached when the "good-bye" was forced out of him; but now that he is fifteen thousand miles away we say, "He once belonged to us." We want a warmer language and a more affectionate fellowship in God. How large a Church would be if we interpreted its membership in this way, that a man who is in a far-off city is still one of us, and still claims us, wonders what hymns we are singing, and what the text is. We are in danger of degrading the church into a meeting-house, a place of casual association, and of cutting off all those fine living bonds which ought to be independent of time and place, which make Rome Colossae and Colossae Rome, every land a home, and every Christian a brother.
II. A SERVANT OF CHRIST.
1. Are you fond of titles? This is the one the King will give you. It is select, and yet might be universal. Let the noblest envy you. Other titles are sounds, sometimes sounds and fury, signifying nothing. But this signifies to be the slave of Him "who though He was rich," etc.
2. What are the signs by which a servant of Christ is known? Those who are skilled in such things can go through a picture gallery and say, "This picture is after So-and-so." There is a manner that can be but feebly imitated by the most skilful hands. So you cannot mistake a man who has been with Christ. In the early days there were those who took knowledge of disciples that they had been with Jesus. You have been in a garden of spices; I know it; you bring the fragrance with you. You have seen some solemn sight; I know it; vulgarity is ironed out of your face, and it is transfigured. You have heard strange music, and all the meaner elements have been taken out of you. You have been with Christ, and I know it by the tenderness and simplicity of your speech, by the diligence of your service, by the lavishness of your liberality.
III. "SALUTETH YOU." That would not do now. I get letters from Christian friends that I would not send to a day labourer whom I had never seen in my life before. They are too correct to be true, too proper to be good.
IV. "ALWAYS LABOURING FERVENTLY FOR YOU IN PRAYER."
1. I do not know that Epaphras was an eloquent preacher, but he was mighty in intercession. He threw his arms around his native Church, and toiled in prayer for them till his brow was bedewed as with agony, and his whole face lighted up with saintly expectation that he might see the descending blessing. That I can do for my friends. I may not be able to write elaborate letters, but I can pray for them. That you can do for me.
2. What did Epaphras pray for? "That ye may stand perfect — like a ship in full gale." Let that be my posture; no harsh, bitter wind striking me in the face, and making my sea-faring difficult, but a great favouring gale, bearing me onward, all sail set, towards the will of God.
(J. Parker, D. D.)I. HIS OBJECT: that the Colossians might "stand perfect," etc. The will of God has reference —
1. To our perfection in the knowledge of revealed truth. The Bible is a revelation of God's will with respect to us, and is able to make us wise unto salvation. Why has God put it before us but that we should study it. Our Lord reproved His disciples because of their want of due attention to His teaching, and the Hebrews are rebuked for their want of proficiency, and are exhorted to go on to perfection. This perfect knowledge is necessary —(1) To religious usefulness.(2) To progressive and entire sanctification. "Sanctify them through Thy truth."
2. To our salvation from sin. This must be complete before we can enter heaven; but provision is made in the blood "which cleanseth from all sin," and in the grace of the Spirit who "sanctifies wholly."
3. To the graces of the Spirit.(1) Faith. This admits of degrees. There is the weak faith of "babes"; the strong faith of "young men"; the ripe faith of "fathers," when it is perfect.(2) Love. This admits of degrees. I may have a sincere love for God, and yet not love Him "with all my heart"; a sincere love of man, and yet not as myself. But the love set forth in Scripture is "perfect love."(3) Hope. All Christians have this, but not all in an equal degree. It is not every believer who can say with John, "Even so; come, Lord Jesus." That is, however, the "full assurance of hope" for which we should all strive.(4) The passive graces, such as patience, which is to "have her perfect work that ye may be perfect," etc.
4. To our actual conduct in the world. Christ's religion is a practical religion (Titus 2:11-12), and is to assume a perfect form (Hebrews 13:20-21). To bring up His people to this standard God has said, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
5. To our stability and perseverance. Epaphras is anxious not only that the Colossians should be perfect in their conformity to the Divine will, but that they should "stand" in that state to the end of life. It is the end which crowns the work. It is not he who runs well for a season, but he who continues to the end, to whom the promise of life is given.
II. THE MEANS OF SECURING THIS OBJECT — Prayer. From this we learn —
1. That Christians can only be brought to this high standard by God's grace and blessing. Had they been able of themselves, prayer would have been presumptuous. We do not ask God to do for us what we can do for ourselves. But we never can be made Christians but by God — and God can make perfect Christians; and the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit must not be limited.
2. That prayer is available with God for obtaining needful grace. There are some who restrict the power of prayer to its subjective influence. If this were true, prayer for others would be of no avail. I might pray for one whom I love, and my prayer might exercise my benevolent feelings, but the person for whom I pray will receive no benefit. Away with so God-dishonouring a notion. Some of you, perhaps, have near relatives across the sea. Take encouragement. God's arm of power and mercy can reach them. Bring their cases before Him.(1) Notice the earnestness and importunity of his prayer. True prayer is a labour. We ought in prayer to labour for a just apprehension of the Divine character, of the mediation of Christ, of the import of the promises.(2) Notice the connection of prayer with this object — the fulfilment of God's will. The glory of God is dear to every pious heart. Our Lord, therefore, taught us to pray, "Thy will be done," etc.
3. That the honour of true religion is connected with the perfection of Christian character. The world judges of Christians by their conduct
4. That the welfare of Christians is connected with their perfection of character. Spiritual as well as bodily happiness depends on the state of the health.
Labouring fervently for you in prayersI. Prayer is religion in action, and is the noblest kind of human exertion. It is the one department of action in which man realizes the highest privilege and capacities of his being. And in doing this he is enriched and ennobled almost indefinitely.
2. That this view of prayer is not universal is notorious. It is thought an excellent thing for clergymen, recluses, sentimentalists, and women and children generally; that it has its uses as a form of desultory occupation, an outlet for feel ing, a means of discipline, but altogether less worthy of the energies of a thinking man than hard work in study or business.
3. In response to this let those speak who have really prayed. They sometimes describe prayer with Jacob, as a wrestling together with an unseen power, which may last even to the break of day (Genesis 32:24), or with Paul, as a concerted struggle (Romans 15:30). They have their eyes fixed on the Great Intercessor in Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Importunity is of the essence of successful prayer (Luke 11:8; Luke 18:5; Matthew 15:27-28; Mark 7:28-29); and importunity means not dreaminess, but sustained work, and of an energetic character (Matthew 11:12). Bishop Hamilton, of Salisbury, once said that "no man was likely to do much good in prayer who did not begin by looking upon it in the light of a work, to be prepared for and persevered in with all the earnestness which we bring to bear on subjects which are the most interesting and necessary." This will appear if we take an act of prayer to pieces. To pray is —
I. TO PUT THE UNDERSTANDING IN MOTION, and to direct it upon the highest object to which it Can address itself. How overwhelming are the truths which pass before us — a boundless Power, an eternal Existence. Then the substance of the petition, its motives, the issues which depend on its being granted or refused present them selves to the mind, as does the Intercessor who presents our prayers.
II. TO PUT THE AFFECTIONS IS MOTION. The object of prayer is the uncreated Love, and to be in His presence is to be conscious of heart expansion; and when the matter of prayer is blessing for others and not for self, all the best emotions and sentiments are called into play (Matthew 15:8; 1 John 3:21-22).
III. TO PUT THE WILL IN MOTION, just as decidedly as we do when we sit down to read hard, or to walk up a steep hill against time (John 9:31; Matthew 7:21; James 4:7-8; all of which imply that prayer in which the will is not engaged is worthless. That sovereign power does not merely impel us to make the first necessary mental effort, but enters most penetratingly and vitally into the very action of prayer itself (Genesis 32:26). These three ingredients of prayer are ingredients in all real work, whether of the brains or the hands. The difference is that in prayer they are more equally balanced. Study may in time become intellectual habit, which scarcely demands any effort of will; handiwork may in time become so mechanical as to require little or no guidance from thought; each may exist without the co-operation of the affections. Not so prayer. It is always the joint act of the will and the understanding, impelled by the affections; and when either will or intelligence is wanting, prayer at once ceases to be itself, by degenerating into a barren, intellectual exercise, or into a mechanical and unspiritual routine.
(Canon Liddon.)Genesis 32:24-27; Hosea 12:4-5) wrestles and weeps, and weeps and wrestles; he holds his hold, and will not let God go, till as a Prince he has prevailed.
(J. Spence, D. D.)— A spoonful of water sets a hydraulic press in motion, and brings into operation a force of tons' weight; so a drop of prayer at one end may move an influence at the other which is omnipotent.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
That ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.1. There is no kind of qualification to this, no hint that Paul thought that Epaphras was asking with an extravagant expectation. They were no sham prayers; struggles after impossible attainments, but those that he and Paul thought might be realized. Such prayers are in conflict with modern notions, which regard perfection as beyond the range of practical Christianity.
2. What made Epaphras believe that he might ask this?(1) Paul's teaching. "We pray for this, even your perfection." "That we may present every man perfect."(2) Christ's words, "Be ye perfect," etc.
3. Was this an attainment to be expected in this life or the next? In this. Paul wrote that he had not attained, etc., but he appealed to the Philippians on the supposition that he and they were perfect. And so Christ teaches us to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," i.e., perfectly. There is no difficulty here. It is our duty to be entirely conformed to the will of God, and yet see a point beyond our highest attainments, and say, "We must reach that also." Let us consider the purpose of these prayers.
1. It is not that full knowledge and obedience may be achieved at once. This is impossible under the conditions imposed by the flesh, and both will be progressive under heavenly conditions. But we are to act according to our several ability. A child in the alphabet class must not be expected to do the work of the higher forms, either in the school of nature or of grace. It is enough that each does thoroughly what is allotted to it. An infant is perfect, but not in the same sense as a man. So it is in the kingdom of God.
2. It is not that temptation will be absent. Both Paul and Christ were fiercely tempted.
3. It is not that there will be an unbroken flow of joy and peace. No person is capable of being continuously under the same emotions, and alternations of joy and gloom make no difference to our spiritual standing, so long as under both we abide in God. There were changes of feeling in Paul and Christ.
II. POSITIVELY. It is that we may do the will of God as far as we know it. We are not to ordain an impossible standard. Our King distributes to us a variety of talents. Hence the young act differently from the old; men from women; sickly from healthy, and yet in each the love of God may be perfected, viz., in the keeping of His commandments. And these commandments have a wonderful variety, and relate to secular as well as spiritual employments, since all life by the Christian is devoted to God. Do you say that this is an easy kind of perfection? Try it — Or that it is inconspicuous? True, so was Christ's generally. Only on occasions did His divinity flash forth.
2. It is that we may use the means for our fulfilling the will of God perfectly. Epaphras laboured in prayers, which denotes the power from which we are to derive our ability. We must go to God and He will supply all our need: in faith in His faithfulness who has promised, "who also will do it," even sanctify us wholly.
(D. G. Watt, M. A.)
I. OF THE CAUSE or fountain of holiness; so good gifts are said to be perfect (James 1:17), as they are from God.
III. OF ACCEPTATION, not in respect of operation, the Lord accounting our confession of imperfection for perfection.
IV. OF PARTS, though not in respect of degrees; he is perfect in that he hath holiness in every part, though not in such measure. Thus to be perfect is to be sanctified throughout.
V. COMPARATIVELY, not positively. A Christian that makes conscience of all his ways, and can love his enemies, is perfect (Matthew 5:48), in comparison of carnal men, that follow the swing of their own corruptions and affections.
VI. OF TRUTH, though not in respect of absoluteness. Thus he is perfect, because he desires and endeavours after perfection, though in act he attains it not.
VII. OF MEN or common estimation, and so he is perfect that is unrebukable.
VIII. OF THE END, and so he may be said to be perfect —
1. In intention, because he sets perfection as a mark to shoot at (Philippians 3:1.)
2. In respect of duration, because he holds out to the end.
3. In respect of accomplishment, because he finisheth what he under taketh in godliness, or mortification, he doth it not by halves, or in some parts of it, for so to perfect is translated to finish (Acts 20:24; John 4:34; John 17:4).
He hath a great zeal for you
(E. Garbett, M. A.)
(Milner.)It is said of Holy Bradford, preaching, reading, and prayer, was his whole life. "I rejoice," said Bishop Jewel, "that my body is exhausted in the labours of my holy calling."... "Let racks, fires, pulleys, and all manner of torments come, so I may win Christ," said Ignatius.
(Watson.)Reinerius, their adversary, declares "that a certain Waldensian heretic, with a view of turning a person from the Catholic faith (for such he calls the Romish errors), swam over a river in the night, and in the winter, to come to him, and to teach him the novel doctrines."
Hierapolis. — On the north side of the valley of Lycus, opposite to the sloping hills which mark the site of Laodicea, is a broad level terrace jutting out from the mountain side, and overhanging the plain with almost precipitous sides. On this plateau are scattered the vast ruins of Hierapolis. It is here that the remarkable physical features which distinguish the valley display themselves in the fullest perfection. Over the steep cliffs which support the plateau of the city tumble cascades of pure white stone, the deposit of calcareous matter from the streams which, after traversing this upper level, are precipitated over the ledge into the plain beneath, and assume the most fantastic shapes in their descent. At one time overhanging in cornices fringed with stalactites, at another hollowed out into basins or broken up with ridges, they mark the site of the city at a distance, glistening on the mountain side like foaming cataract's frozen in the fall. Like Laodicea, Hierapolis was at this time an important and a growing city, though not like Laodicea, holding Metropolitan rank. Besides the trade in dyed wools, which it shared in common with the neighbouring towns, it had a source of wealth peculiar to itself. The streams to which the scenery owes its remarkable features are endowed with valuable medicinal qualities, while at the same time they are so copious that the ancient city is described as full of self-made baths. An inscription still legible celebrates their virtues, "Hail, fairest soil in all broad Asia's realm; hail, golden city, nymph Divine, bedecked with flowing rills, thy jewels," and (Esculapius and Hygeia appear on still extant coins. To the ancient magnificence of Hierapolis its ruins bear ample testimony. A city which combined the pursuit of health and gaiety had fitly chosen as its patron deity Apollo, the god alike of medicine and festivity, here worshipped as "Archegetes," the founder. But more important, as illustrating its religious temper, is the fact, that there was a spot called the Plutonium, a hot well or spring, from whose hot mouth issued a fatal memphitic vapour, from the effects of which the mutilated priests of Cybele alone, so it was believed, were free. Indeed this city appears to have been a chief centre of the passionate mystical devotion of ancient Phrygia. But in addition to this religious rites were borrowed from other parts of the East, more especially from Egypt. By the multitude of her temples Hierapolis established her right to the title of the "sacred city" which she bore. Though, at this time, we have no record of her famous citizens, such as graced the annals of Laodicea, yet a generation or two later she numbered among her sons one nobler far than the rhetoricians, sophists, millionaires, and princes, of whom her neighbour could boast. The lame slave, Epictetus, the loftiest of heathen moralists, must have been growing up to manhood when the first rumours of the gospel reached his native city. Did any chance throw him across the path of Epaphras, or of St. Paul? We should be glad to think that the greatest of Christian and the greatest of heathen preachers met together face to face. Such a meeting would solve more than one riddle, and explain some strange coincidences in their writings. Drawn by trade, and by its charms as a gay watering-place, a very considerable colony of Jews settled down in Hierapolis, which gave point to a Talmudic complaint, "The wines and baths of Phrygia have separated the ten tribes from Israel." After the destruction of Jerusalem one of the chief settlements of the Christian dispersion was here, which explains how the Phrygian Churches assumed such a prominence in the ecclesiastical history of the second century. Here settled Philip of Bethsaida, the early friend and fellow-townsman of St. John, who took up his abode in Ephesus, and the first apostle who held communication with the Gentiles (John 12:20). Here he died and was buried; and here, after his decease, lived his two virgin daughters, from whom Papias heard several stories of the first preachers of the gospel, which he transmitted to posterity in his work. Papias was, probably, a native of Hiera-polls, of which he afterwards became bishop. He was succeeded by Abercius, and Abercius by the great controversialist and apologist, Claudius Apollinaris, and presided at a council in this city at which Montanism was condemned. At a later ate the influence of both Hierapolis and Laodicea declined. They take no great art in the great controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. Among their bishops there is not one who has left his mark on history. They take only a silent art in the great councils, and more than once wavered in their allegiance to the othodox faith.
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