In light of this verse, here's my question: Are we expected to follow Epaphras' example? Yes or no?
There are many Christians who say that we do not need to follow the biblical model in our lives. What is required, they say, is what is commanded or taught. According to this line of thinking, we have freedom to follow what is modeled if we choose to do so. However, it isn't required.
If, on the other hand, we believe that Christians are expected to follow what is modeled, then we look to more than just what is commanded and taught. We also look for what people did that was approved of by the apostles.
This takes us back to Colossians 4:12. Notice that Paul does not command Epaphras to struggle in his prayers on behalf of the Colossian church. Paul does not teach us to do this either. His wording toward Epaphras isn't even a direct commendation. It is more of an observation.
Epaphras leaves an example of struggling in prayer for the sanctification of his brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we expected to do the same? My guess is that almost all Christians would respond by saying, "Yes." I would agree with them.
The problem I see is inconsistency in biblical interpretation. Many Christians accept the biblical model some of the time, but reject it at other times. For example, they may say that we should follow Epaphras' example in prayer, but that we don't need to follow the example of churches in that area gathering in homes (Col. 4:15 says, "Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house").
What ends up happening is that many followers of Christ develop a sort of pick-and-choose mentality about what to do with biblical examples as they relate to the Christian life. This, of course, leads to all sorts of subjective ideas about how Christians should live day-to-day. Inconsistency reigns supreme.
We must be consistent in the way we approach the bible. Specifically, consistency is demanded regarding what we do with what is modeled for us. Should we follow it or not? If we say that we should, then we must strive to follow all that is given as an example for us.
For those who say that we do not have to follow what is modeled, then I simply ask that they be consistent. Rather than picking and choosing, they should reject it wholesale. Quite obviously I do not believe this is a good idea, but it at least is consistent.
God has crafted the bible on His terms. We must approach it with humility, understanding that it is God who determines what we are to believe and how we are to live. He has given us both commands and examples to instruct us.