In Ephesians 6:18-20, Paul closes his commands to stand firm and to put on the armor of God with a call to prayer. Much of what Paul includes in this call to prayer is surprising. It is causing me to rethink some of my ideas about prayer, especially as it relates to ministry.
First, Paul calls on us to pray as the way to advance in the spiritual battle.
We might expect Paul to write more about using the shield of faith or the sword of the Spirit. Instead, clothed with the full armor of God, we engage the battle by prayer. We often engage in activities other than prayer, but for Paul, prayer is the activity.
Paul’s second concern is to pray for others.
We must “be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” We might expect Paul to command us to pray for ourselves, especially given that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (v. 12). Although he does not rule out prayer for ourselves in the spiritual battle, the main thrust of our praying must be for our fellow soldiers who are also engaged in the battle. As much as the spiritual armor is individually applied, we never fight the battle alone. We stand in the evil day only as our brothers and sisters in the faith stand and they stand through our prayers.
Paul is not finished challenging our expectations. If I were in jail as Paul was, I would pray that God might secure my release. I would want my freedom most of all. Also on the top of my prayer list would be safety and comfort while I was in jail. I would want the guard I was chained to be extremely generous and kind. “Please, Lord, if you would, provide adequate meals and a warm bed. Oh-and help me to be strong spiritually in this ordeal!”
Instead, Paul asks that when he proclaims the mystery of the Gospel (not if), that he would have the words to speak (utterance) and that he would do so boldly (used in verses 19 and 20).
His priority, even in chains, is to proclaim the Gospel, and to do so without intimidation.
He had prayed for the Ephesians – that they would understand and appropriate the Gospel. See Ephesians 1:15-23 and Ephesians 3:14-19. As one who has understood and appropriated the Gospel, he asks them to pray that he might make its wonders known without fear.
Why would Paul make such a request for speech rather than for release? I think it is because he knows that he is an ambassador of the King of Kings. An ambassador must represent his king in the way the king sees fit. Paul’s king (Jesus), told him to proclaim the Gospel (Mat 28:18-20; Acts 9:1-19). Commitment to his job description as ambassador requires him to proclaim the Gospel. Prayer from others on his behalf will enable him to do so with clarity and conviction.
Are we ambassadors? 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 indicates we are.
Will we be so convinced of our ambassadorship that our main prayer request will be courage and clarity in proclaiming the Gospel?