18 To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 6:18b-29 ESV
Paul ended his description of the armor of God with a call to prayer, strongly advising his readers to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (Ephesians 6:18a NLT). Constant communication with the Father is essential for our spiritual survival. Prayer is not simply a tool we use to get what we need from God. As Paul will show, it is not to be used for our own selfish desires either.
Throughout this letter, Paul has been addressing the great doctrine of the church, the body of Christ. In chapter one, Paul addressed Christ’s headship over the church, having earned that role through His sacrificial death and resurrection.
And he [God] put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22 ESV
And all believers are members of that body because they share a common faith in Christ, and that faith was a gift provided to them by God, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). The church was and is the mysterious or previously hidden idea that God would miraculously join Jews and Gentiles into one body.
…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross. – Ephesians 2:14 ESV
It was God who made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). And it is through the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). It was Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian believers would “know the love of Christ” and be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). Paul knew that God had a divine plan for the church. He also knew that the future success of the church, including all those who would later become a part of it through faith in Christ, was totally dependent upon the work of God and for the glory of God. That is why he ended his prayer in chapter three with the words:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV
The body of Christ, the church, is a powerful force, but only as long as it remains dependent upon God. It is a God-ordained agent of change in the world, but only when it stays committed to the will of God and connected to the power God has made available through His Spirit. When we lose sight of the fact that God saved us and placed us within the context of the body of Christ, and begin to see our salvation as something individualistic and isolated, we miss the whole point. A self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me attitude has no place within the body of Christ. Even the armor of God is of little use to the Christian, if he wears it in a futile attempt to act as a one-man army.
As Christians, we must come to grips with the fact that we are in this battle together. Even the best-equipped, most highly trained army, without unity, will fall to its enemy. And without constant communication with and obedience to its commander, even the mightiest army will fail. So, Paul calls Christians to prayer.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. – Ephesians 18 NLT
There is a sense of camaraderie and unity in his words. We are to pray not only for ourselves but for one another as well. We should desire that each and every believer on the planet lives in the power of the Spirit and according to the will of God. The body of Christ requires members who are healthy, whole and committed to the cause of Christ. That is why Paul even asks for prayer on his behalf.
And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. – Ephesians 6:19 NLT
Paul knew that he needed the prayers of the saints in order to stay committed to the call given to him by God. He coveted their prayers. And he longed that they would pray for one another.
What more selfless, loving thing can we do than pray for God to protect, guide, strengthen, and embolden our fellow believers. We must realize that our strength, while provided by God, is found in our unity with fellow believers. It is together that we form the powerful force that can dramatically alter the landscape of the world in which we live. Solitary soldiers, even though well-armored, will have little impact “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). So, we must pray. We must seek God’s face, determining to know His will, lifting up our fellow soldiers, and resting in His divine strategy for ultimate victory.
Not surprisingly, Paul asks his flock in Ephesus to pray for him. He is writing his letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before the emperor. But Paul doesn’t request that they pray for his timely release. While there’s little doubt that Paul longed to be set free so that he could continue his ministry, he also saw his confinement as a God-ordained opportunity to share the message of Jesus Christ with a “captive” audience. In his letter to the Philippians, he mentioned those he had been able to lead to faith in the household of Caesar.
The brothers who are with me send you their greetings. And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household. – Philippians 4:22 NLT
Paul had been busy while under house arrest in Rome. He had been bemoaning his circumstances or complaining about his sorry lot in life. No, he had been spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone.
I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. – Philippians 4:12-14 NLT
Paul was an equal-opportunity evangelist. He was ready, willing, and able to share the gospel with Jews, Gentiles, Romans, freemen, slaves, guards, and even emperors if given the chance. No one was “safe” when Paul was around. So, instead of asking that his friends in Ephesus pray for his release, he asks them to pray that he will “keep on speaking boldly for him” (Ephesians 6:20 NLT). He desires strength, endurance, and a fearlessness to boldly proclaim Christ even in the face of possible rejection and ridicule.
Paul knew that he would need just the right words to speak in each situation. He was totally dependent upon God to provide him with just the right message at just the right time. Paul didn’t preach a one-size-fits-all kind of gospel. He allowed the Holy Spirit to custom-fit the message for each individual. That is why he asks that the Ephesians pray that God would give him “the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike” (Ephesians 6:19 NLT).
Paul didn’t ask for release from confinement, but instead, he asked for Spirit-empowered communications skills. He wanted to make the most of his time while under house arrest. He viewed his situation as part of the sovereign will of God, and not as some kind of difficulty from which to escape. He was in God’s hands and what he desired most was the Ephesians’ prayers so that he might have God’s help in proclaiming the news of God’s Son.
Paul‘s prayer request reminds me of the words of an old hymn that echoes the same sentiment. Oh, that we would have the same perspective as Paul and share his desire to be used by God no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Voices of truth thou sendest clear;
And while the wavenotes fall on my ear
Everything false will disappear
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with thy children thus to share
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.