This is the last in a series of three posts on Ephesians 6:10-20, the passage that the Life group that I’m a member of is studying. In the passage Paul portrays the Christian life as warfare against Satan using resources supplied to us by the Lord. In this post I’ll consider the final three verses,in which Paul encourages us to pray as well as putting on the armour of God to stand against Satan and his forces. The post consists of two parts: comments on the passage and the questions on it that the Life group will discuss.
18 [P]raying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. 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.
I’ve quoted the passage from the English Standard Version. The Biblical quotations below are also from it.
Comments on Ephesians 6:18-20
In preparation for leading our Life group’s study of Ephesians 6:18-20, I reread Philip Yancey’s Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006) besides consulting my commentaries on Ephesians. In its opening chapter Yancey confesses, “I write about prayer as a pilgrim, not an expert.” Similarly I’ll be leading the study (and making this post) as someone wanting to learn more about prayer and to improve my prayer life rather than as an expert on prayer.
Having warned the Ephesians about the need to stand against the schemes of the devil and encouraged them to put on the armour of God to make that stand, Paul reminds them of the need to accompany their doing so by “praying … keep[ing] alert.” The importance he places on prayer in resisting Satan is shown by his not identifying it with a piece of armour and by the amount of space (three verses) that he devotes to it.
This praying should be done “at all times in the Spirit.” “At all times” is literally “at every opportunity” and indicates that believers should pray continually because they are always under attack by Satan. “In the Spirit” reminds us that the Holy Spirit indwells all believers (Romans 8:9) and is willing to help them pray as they should (Romans 8:26-27). It doesn’t refer to speaking in tongues since not all believers are expected to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30).
Moreover it should be done “with all prayer and supplication.” The word translated “prayer” is the comprehensive word for prayer addressed to God, the variety of which is often summed up by the acronym ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving,and supplication. “Supplication” generally refers to specific petitions made to God, the kind of prayer that Paul devotes the rest of the passage to. In other words, believers’ lives should be enveloped by prayer and those prayers should include petitions for help in their struggle against Satan.
“To that end keep alert with all perseverance” is a reminder that the reason why believers need to pray and keep alert is that they are under attack by Satan and that, since his attack is an ongoing one, they must persist in praying and keeping alert. The KJV’s having “watching” instead of “keep alert” reminded me of Jesus’ telling Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38).
However believers are not to pray only for themselves. All members of the body of Christ, even its leaders, are under attack by Satan and could benefit from intercession by others on their behalf. Thus Paul adds “making supplication for all the saints, and also for me.” James illustrates the power of our praying for others when he encourages his readers to “pray for one another, that you be healed” (James 5:16).
Paul specifies two things that he wants the Ephesians to pray about for him, the first being “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth … to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.” Regarding “the mystery of the gospel,” Matthew Henry wrote, “Some understand it of that part of that part of the gospel which concerns the calling of the Gentiles, which had hitherto, as a mystery, been concealed. But the whole gospel was a mystery, till made known by divine revelation; and it is the work of Christ’s ministers to publish it.” Commentators still disagree on which it refers to but whichever it does, Paul viewed himself as commissioned by God to proclaim it and asks the Ephesians to pray that God will give him the right words as he proclaims it.
He also asks them to pray “that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” He may have had in mind his witnessing to his visitors (Acts 28:30-31) or he may have been thinking of the time when he would face his Jewish accusers before the Roman tribunal. Surprisingly he doesn’t ask the Ephesians to pray for his release. After noting this, Albert Barnes observes, “Why he did not we do not know; but perhaps the desire of release did not lie so near his heart as the duty of speaking the gospel with boldness. It may be of much more importance that we perform our duty aright when we are afflicted, or are in trouble, than that we should be released.”
Questions on Ephesians 6:18-20
1. Why do you think that Paul added a command to pray to his encouraging us to put on the armour of God to stand against Satan and his forces?
2. What instructions on how to pray does Paul make in verse 18?
3. What did Paul ask the Ephesians to pray for him?
4. Why do you think Paul asked them to make this prayer for him?
In the Life group we’ll consider question 1 before beginning our study of Ephesians 6:18-20.
Next week I’ll begin a series of five posts updating my November 3 and 10 posts, “Some Books on Open Theism” and “Some Websites and Blogs on Open Theism.”