16. Prevailing through Prayer (Ephesians 6:18-24)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
www.jesuswalk.com/ephesians/16_prevailing.htm
Audio (14:27)

Zurbaran, St. Francis in Meditation and Prayer
We prevail by earnest prayer. Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), St. Francis in Meditation (1635-39), oil on canvas. National Gallery, London, 162 x 137 cm. Larger image.
"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.
21Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
23Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love." (6:18-24)

Spiritual Warfare and Struggle

This passage is about spiritual struggle, and though we finished looking at the pieces of the armor in the previous chapter of this study, we have not yet left the subject of struggle.

"For we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (6:12)

The word "struggle" (NIV, NRSV) and "wrestle" (KJV) in verse 12 is Greek pale, from Homer on down, "wrestling," a contest between two in which each endeavors to throw the other and hold him down with a hand on the neck.1 The word is particularly used of prayer in the New Testament. The companion epistle Colossians uses the figure of an athletic event to describe intense prayer also:

"... So that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling (agōnizomai) with all his energy which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling (agōn) for you and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not known me personally" (Colossians 1:28-2:1).
"Epaphras ... is always wrestling (agōnizomai) in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured" (Colossians 4:12).

In Romans also Paul urges his readers to:

"... Join me in my struggle (sunagōnizaomai) by praying to God for me...." (Romans 15:30)

The Greek word noun agōn and verb agōnizomai were first used as "to engage in an athletic contest" and then, generally, "to struggle."2 (We get our word "agony" from this word, though the concept of pain isn't exactly the original concept of struggling.) This word is used in Ephesians 6:12 to set the stage for the battle. The battle instruction concludes with constant prayer (6:18-20). If you've found that intercessory prayer isn't easy, that it is labor, struggle, then you share this experience with the Apostle Paul.

Pray in the Spirit (6:18)

After having taken a look at prayer as "wrestling" and "struggle," let's examine the passage at hand:

"And 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." (6:18)

Verse 18 tells us to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." While one might argue from the 1 Corinthians 14:14-16 that praying "in the spirit" means praying in tongues, the syntax is different here. Instead of using the dative case (perhaps dative of reference) as in Corinthians, in Ephesians 6:18 Paul uses the preposition en ("in" or "by") to refer to the Spirit. The sense in this verse seems to be: "Pray guided by or inspired by or empowered by the Spirit." Interesting, isn't it, that even to pray effectively we need God's help.

Verse 18 tells us to "pray with all prayers and petitions." The difference between "prayers" (proseuchē) and a synonym, "requests" (NIV), or "supplications" (KJV, NRSV, deēsis) is the difference between the generic word for prayer to God, and a more specific word meaning "urgent request to meet a need, exclusively addressed to God,"3 "seeking, asking, entreating, entreaty."4 Notice the repetition in verse 18a of the word "all," giving emphasis to the command to pray "on all occasions" with "all kinds" of prayer. A very strong command indeed!

Q1. (Ephesians 6:18) Why is prayer vital to spiritual warfare? What does it mean to "pray in the Spirit"? 
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Alertness in Prayer for All the Saints (6:18b)

"With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (6:18)

I don't know about you, but sometimes when I pray my mind wanders. Paul's mind must have wandered too, for his exhortation contains two commands:

  1. "Be alert" (agrupneō), "to be vigilant in awareness of threatening peril, be on the alert, keep watch over something, be on guard," then "the state of being alertly concerned, care." We've found after 9/11 that after being at a state of high alert for a while, it's a natural tendency to become lax, to slough off, to go through the motions. Paul warns us that we are at war with the devil and must pray with alertness to Satan's wiles, tricks and feints (Ephesians 6:11).
  2. "Persevere" (proskarterēsis), "firm persistence in an undertaking or circumstance, perseverance, patience."7 We are to "keep on keeping on" with our praying, never flagging with diligence.

I, for one, struggle with this alertness and perseverance in prayer. Maybe you do, too. May Paul's words stimulate us to renewed diligence in prayer.

Q2. (Ephesians 6:18b) Why is alertness in prayer vital to success in spiritual warfare? How is perseverance in prayer important to success? Why do we need this exhortation?
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Paul Request Prayer for Himself (6:19-20)

Having exhorted his readers to pray for "all the saints," now he requests specific prayer for himself:

"Pray 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, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." (6:19-20)

If prayer weren't really that important, Paul wouldn't urge it so strongly. But he longs for their prayers for him, knowing that the prayers of the saints empower him in his ministry. Specifically, he asks for "fearlessness" (NIV), "boldness" (KJV, NRSV), parrēsia, "a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, frankness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank."7 Paul is in prison for preaching on the occasion of his arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-21) and on every subsequent occasion at which he appeared before those who could release him (Acts 23:1; 24:10-21, 24-25; 25:8-11; 26:1-29; 28:31). He asks for prayers that he will not slack off and compromise with fear as he awaits trial in Rome.

This same kind of courage is found in Peter and John (Acts 4:13), which causes their imprisonment. After their release, they pray:

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness (parrēsia)" (Acts 4:28).

If Paul must ask for prayer that he might be faithful to "fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Timothy 6:12) at his trial, how much more should we pray for one another to not only survive and hold our own, but to be fearless in the face of opposition. We must help one another through prayer! Our natural tendency is to avoid pain and persecution, but when we are going through our most difficult struggles, people watch us most closely to see whether our faith is real, or if we are just "fair-weather Christians." God give us boldness rather than a wimpy faith!

Q3. (Ephesians 6:19) Why would Paul request prayer for boldness? Why is boldness necessary in war? What is the opposite of boldness? What happens if this is our accustomed life-posture?
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An Ambassador in Chains (6:20a)

Paul describes himself with the curious and paradoxical phrase: "an ambassador in chains" (vs. 20). The word here is presbeuō, "be an ambassador or envoy, travel or work as an ambassador."8 It refers to one who acts as an emissary, transmitting messages or negotiations, used of envoys, imperial legates, and business agents.9

Paul realizes that when he appears before the Roman emperor for trial, he will do so as the representative of his Government before the Roman court. Paul represents the King of kings and the Lord of Lords, he is the emissary of the Kingdom of God -- and he must not wimp out when he is given his audience.

We, too, are ambassadors, envoys, emissaries of the Kingdom of God. Paul says to the Corinthian church, with a "we" that includes all of us:

"We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." (2 Corinthians 5:20)

To everyone with whom our lives intersect, we are Christ's personal representatives. When we wimp out, when we neglect to identify ourselves with Christ, when we remain silent to avoid ridicule or persecution, we do the King a disservice. Jesus said, "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me" (Matthew 10:40). What an awesome responsibility!

Q4. (Ephesians 6:20) Developing this analogy of an ambassador in a foreign land...  What nation has sovereignty over the embassy and its property? Who does the ambassador represent? What responsibilities does he or she have? How do these relate to being an ambassador of Christ?
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Tychicus -- Personal Matters (6:21-22)

"21Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you." (6:21-22)

As is customary at the conclusion of nearly all his letters, Paul moves to personal comments. He commends to them Tychicus, "the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord" (vs. 21). Tychicus (it's fun to say -- TI-ki-kis -- say it) was probably from Ephesus and was Paul's traveling companion on several occasions. He brings not only the letter to the Ephesians, but also a personal report of how the Apostle is doing to "encourage" the believers there. Notice that Tychicus is not an outstanding preacher or fiery evangelist. But he is "a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord" (Colossians 4:7). You may not be outstanding, but you can be faithful, and you can be one who loves and is loved.

Closing Benediction (6:23-24)

Four words characterize Paul's closing benediction ("blessing") to his readers: Peace, Love, Faith, and Grace:

"Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love." (6:23-24)
Disciple Lessons from Ephesians, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All the lessons are now available as an e-book or printed book for your convenience.

Paul began the letter with "grace and peace" and so he closes it. One of the best known verses in this great letter is probably the classic statement of what grace really is:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast" (2:8-9).

Sometimes in her quest for holiness, the church has de-emphasized grace in favor of a tenuous and brittle righteousness achieved by great effort of the will. But the wonder of God's work through Jesus Christ is his fully free gift of salvation -- undeserved and unlimited grace -- in exchange for heartfelt faith. Amazing!

However, the word used most in this benediction is love -- undying love: "Love with faith from God" (6:23) and "love [for] our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love" (6:24).

May your love be undying love for the One who died for you -- our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer

Father, in this wonderful Letter of Ephesians our eyes have been opened to many things. We pray that you would never let us take these things for granted again. I pray for my fellow comrades in arms and warriors in prayer. For my fellow ambassadors. That we might fight well, pray well, and represent you and your Kingdom well to those around us, until you call us home. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen. 

Key Verse

"And 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." (Ephesians 6:18)

References

  1. Thayer 474.
  2. Agōn BDAG 17; Ethelbert Stauffer, agōn, ktl., TDNT 1:134-140.
  3. Deēsis, BDAG 213.
  4. Deēsis, Thayer 126.
  5. Agrupneō, BDAG 16.
  6. Methodeia, "scheming, craftiness" (Ephesians 4:14; 6:11) (BDAG 625).
  7. The basic meaning of parrēsia is "outspokenness, frankness, plainness." Here it has the extended meaning of "a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, frankness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank" (BDAG 781-782).
  8. Presbeuō, BDAG 861.
  9. Günther Bornkamm, presbus, ktl., TDNT 6:651-683.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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