For I bear him witness that he has a deep concern for you Colossians 4:13
Deep Concern – Is that it? Is “deep concern” what caused Epaphras to agonize in prayer? Even the marginal notes in the NASB only suggest “much toil” or “great pain.” But the Greek is zelon polun, literally “great zeal.” Of course, these days we’re not familiar with the positive sense of zeal. We have disturbing images of zealots. Maybe that’s why the NASB tones down the translation. But it shouldn’t. It’s always better for us to be educated about how the words were used when they were written rather than have the words altered so that they are comfortable for us. So, let’s see how these words describe Epaphras, the prayer addict.
Passionate commitment. That’s what Epaphras exhibits. His prayers display ardor, the intense desire and volitional action needed to bring about the goal. What is the goal? For that, we need to see that zelos is connected to qin’a, the Hebrew word that describes zeal for God and His will. Epaphras pleads that the Kingdom will come on earth. He pours out his heart before God, asking to be used to bring about the Father’s will. He struggles with powers and principalities, wrestling to overcome the evil one who blinds and binds. Epaphras knows that without grace, we are all lost. He has experienced that grace. Now nothing is more important for him than that others know that grace too. Epaphras is addicted to the well-being of others, and he knows that God is the only means to that end.
This is a lot more than deep concern. I have deep concerns about the economy. I have great pain about the people in Haiti and Zambia. I toil over writing every day. But zelon polun is more than this. “Much zeal” starts with a broken heart and ends in Gethsemane. This kind of prayer is the way of the cross.
There are a lot of addicts in this world. Those of us who struggle with our perceived unworthiness, who aren’t always sure of God’s unchanging delight, often pursue anesthetized existence. We block our pain and our fears with power trips, possessions, pleasure, money, shopping, pharmacology, alcohol or a dozen other things that keep us from facing the possibility that we aren’t loved for who we are. We are the ones with a deep, invisible sorrow. We need Epaphras. More than anything, we would like to change places with this man of great zeal. We want to be the burden-bearers, not the ones crushed under a leaden sky.
“What must I do to be saved?” said the jailer. We relationally lobotomized isolationists ask the same question. We must be saved from our private selves. How will that be done? Perhaps the journey begins by kneeling with an prayer addict. After all, we know what it’s like to be addicted. We just don’t know what’s it’s like to be addicted to God.
Topical Index: Prayer