Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ephesians 6:18-20

18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

In what is often excluded from the armor and weaponry section, Paul, in reality, includes prayer as an offensive weapon. In fact, for Paul, prayer is the weapon that one cannot do without. As Calvin says, “This is the true method.” Paul calls for militant intercessory prayer for two people. First is the group of people known as saints, or believers, and second is Paul himself, in his ministerial role. In v18 alone, he uses all/always four times; we are to pray on all occasions (in good and bad circumstances), with all kinds of prayers (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication), always (at all times – Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “The one urge that a Christian must never resist is the urge to pray.”) and in perseverance (never quit praying), for all the saints (believers everywhere, as a priority, but not to the exclusion of unbelievers, especially those in leadership positions).

In v19-20, Paul asks for specific prayer on his behalf. Plainly, you can see that he desires two things: first, he wants words from God whenever he opens his mouth; second, he wants to be fearless in his declaration of the mystery of the gospel. In asking his audience to pray these two specific things for him, Paul teaches us several other truths that we ought to consider. Let’s notice those things now:

First is the urgency of prayer for ministers. If the Apostle Paul needs prayer, certainly our pastors need prayer. When we pray for others, we bond to them in our hearts, and we come to love them more. And they are blessed and strengthened and encouraged by and through our prayer for them, whether they are in earshot of our prayers or not. We ought to pray for our pastors.

Second is the humbling power of the gospel message. Paul asks for prayer that whenever he opened his mouth, God’s Word would be proclaimed. That’s a reminder to the Old Testaments prophets, who literally spoke only what the Lord told them to say. Paul wanted to be like that. Ligon Duncan says, “God is never preached when one of two, or both of two, things occur: Either hearts are drawn closer to God and prepared for everlasting fellowship with Him, or hearts are hardened against God and His gospel, and an eternal decision of tremendous and terrible consequences is sealed more and more. And those things happen every time the gospel is preached, and all of us need to feel the solemnity of that, not just preachers…Paul understood that mere human oratory and rhetoric cannot bind up the brokenhearted or raise the dead again. Only the Spirit of God can do that. Only the word of God can do that. And so the best ministers, the very best ministers, need prayer. In fact, the better they are rhetorically, the better they are in their abilities to speak and to hold an audience captive, the more prayer they need that they won’t rely on those native abilities, they won’t rely on their own capacities and their cleverness and their intelligence, but that they would rely upon the Spirit of God and speak the word of God plainly.” Therefore, we ought to pray that our pastors would speak God’s word.

Third is the boldness with which the mystery of the gospel needs to be proclaimed. Twice Paul mentions the importance of preaching fearlessly. No doubt there are many pastors who do not proclaim the full gospel, the hard truths, because they are afraid, afraid of losing attendees, afraid of differing opinions on certain issues, afraid of criticism, afraid of being ushered out by some congregations that pay to hear what their itching ears want to hear. Thus Paul treats fearlessness as a great asset and covets prayers on his behalf for it. And we ought to ask God to give our pastors the words we need to hear, rather than what we want to hear, and to bless them with boldness and fearlessness before men.

Fourth is the mystery of the gospel that needs to be proclaimed. The goal of preaching the gospel is to reach the hearts and consciences of those who are the hearers of that preaching. And they need to hear about Christ; they need to see Christ exalted in the crucifixion that atoned for our sins and did away with the wrath of God and our guilt once and for all that believe on Him with saving faith. So Paul wanted his audience to pray that he would preach the gospel, not some watered-down practical tip of the week. And we ought to pray that our pastors would preach the gospel as it ought to be proclaimed.

Fifth is the obligation of preachers to preach in season and out of season with regard to their own personal trials and tribulations. Paul was an ambassador in chains – literally imprisoned while writing this letter. A faithful minister is one whom God has softened and broken down to build back up. Martin Luther said, “A minister is not made by reading books, but by living and dying and being damned.” In other words, Paul asks for prayers for his faithfulness even in difficult times of trials and persecution. And we ought to pray for our pastor not to be overly sheltered from hardship but to endure it and be faithful through it, because a pastor is a shepherd who needs to know where his flock is and has been.

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