The following post comes from notes I taught from this past Sunday. The focus was on how the church body is connected specifically through prayer. What does that look like and mean. The passage is Ephesians 6:18-22.
Connected (and Conquering) in Prayer
6:18-20 praying 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, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
The Immediate Context
Our lesson from the lifeway study we’re doing is called ‘Connected in Prayer’, and is the final in a 6-part series on what it looks like to be a member of the church body.
A few days ago I was sitting down with Buddy Kinsey, and we were looking over a book I was loaning him. I advised him to read the table of contents and the preface carefully. These would provide him with the roadmap and context for his reading adventure. The same is true for us this morning. We need the context in order to correctly see what Paul is saying to us.
I am starting this lesson in the middle of a chapter, picking up the exposition some years later from earlier notes, I think it would be wise to take a step back and look at both the immediate context as well as the wider lens.
The immediate context is that Paul has been exhorting the Ephesians to take up their spiritual armor. The context of our lesson on prayer comes in the midst of Paul’s exhortation to fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons. Let’s go back and read verses 12 and 13:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
So when we enter into this discussion on prayer, and what it means to be “connected in prayer”, we need to be thinking how Paul is thinking, which is that we are connected because we are on the front lines of a battle for souls.
We are priest-kings or priest-warrior kings you might say, fighting a battle that is raging all around us. God does not send us into battle without proper attire, or without the right weaponry.
This is more than just an analogy. It is tempting to think of this as merely an analogy for the Christian life and the many ups and downs it takes along the way. But I would caution you that in this case, analogy actually transcends reality. Paul uses analogy to transcend what we cannot see to help us understand what is really real (so to speak), to help us see the stakes, the players, and get a better understanding for our role in the battle.
The Wider Lens
Now, the battle is for a kingdom. There are many battles that are taking place, and have been multitudes more since Christ won the definitive crisis point in this war. You see, there has been a war raging since Adam took that bite in Eden. The war is for a return to Eden, and the stakes are the souls of men and women like you and me.
The war is both physical and spiritual. The spiritual directly affects the physical, it always has. The people of Israel did not enter Canaan because of their sin. It was what was inside that kept them from getting what was physically waiting for them – the Promised Land. The same is true today. You sin because of what is first conceived in your hearts. Spiritual and physical are bound up together.
This goes for the larger scene – the wide lens – as well. What Adam did spiritually cost him physically. It cost him Eden. The whole earth has been suffering under the weight, the burden, the death grip of sin. But all of that changed when Christ came.
Look back at how this developed for a moment…
Genesis 3:15 and 49:8-10 – These passages provide the grounding for the story. They show us that immediately after sin was born into this world, God told us of a time that one day the scepter would arise in the house of Judah, and that it would usher in a time of victory and great blessing.
Throughout the OT God’s people were fighting physical battles, but when they were victorious they conquered in the strength of the Lord – they relied on Him to go before them before every battle. We see the parallel with what Paul is calling us to today. For example:
Deuteronomy 34:9 – Joshua was full of the Spirit before leading his people to great victories in Canaan just as Moses had been led out of Egypt by God’s miraculous work.
Judges 6:34; 7:15 – Gideon was “clothed” in the Spirit and “worshiped” God before his greatest victories.
1 Samuel 17:45-47 – David conquered the overwhelming power of giants, not with might of his own, but by the power of the Lord which came from being filled with the Spirit of God.
1 Kings 18:36-40 – Elijah’s Spirit-filled prayer to God called down fire from heaven and consumed the enemies of God.
Yet none of these men were able to usher in the kingdom of God. None of them could vanquish the sinfulness that beset the people and truly deliver God’s people from the peril of eternal death.
Where they failed, Jesus would succeed.
Now, honing in on our passage, look at the close connection between the work of Jesus and what Paul is calling us to here in Galatians 6.
First: Be Filled with the Spirit
Luke 4:14 – Jesus is filled with the Spirit before he goes out to proclaim the kingdom of God (Mark1:14-15).
Ephesians 6:10-11, 17-18a – First we must rely on the strength of God’s “might” and put on the full armor of God, praying all times in the Spirit, taking up the sword of the Spirit.
Second: Proclaim the Kingdom (fight the battle)
Luke 4:18-19 – Jesus proclaims his mission and preaches the gospel after it is noted that he is in the Spirit. What He does He does in the power of the Spirit, for “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” He says.
Ephesians 6:12, 18b-19 – Similarly we are to fight against the “rulers and authorities” and “the cosmic powers” by keeping alert, with all perseverance and supplication for the saints and our leaders.
You see the parallel here. We are in the midst of a cosmic battle to expand the kingdom of God. His work will one day come to a finale with the restoration of all things. We are ministers of reconciliation – reconciling man to God. Work like this requires a power that is not of this earth.
This is the scope of what we are talking about and what Paul is talking about in this passage. That is why he took pains to elevate our minds to these truths in verse 12.
Therefore our hope is in Christ, who has inaugurated Spiritually will be consummated physically and geographically. In the beginning He started with geography and moved to humanity, now He has started with humanity and is moving toward geography – toward a day when all things will be made new.
The great victory He achieved on the cross, and His subsequent triumph over the grave, inaugurated a time when His kingdom would expand throughout the whole earth.
That is what this passage on prayer is about – it falls in the context of battle.
Paul not only instructs the Ephesians on how to pray (in the Spirit, alert, and with perseverance), but tells what to pray for as well (the saints, and himself for boldness).
Let’s first look at the “how.” There are two separate things he seems to be saying, praying continually and praying in the Spirit. But they are, in fact, intertwined. Because prayer that is not in the Spirit is merely empty words projected at the sky with little hope of being answered.
Our prayers ought to be saturated by what the Spirit would have us say – they ought to be full of His words, overflowing from a heart that is grateful for what God has done for us in Christ. Furthermore, it is God who makes these prayers powerful. The Bible describes the Spirit and our Lord Jesus as interceding on our behalf in this way.
There are a few key passages that speak of the Spirit’s role in prayer, and of Christ’s role in our prayers:
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:22-25)
We are able to pray in the Spirit, and have those prayers ushered into the throne room of God by the Lord Jesus Himself. They are cleansed, as it were, by the Spirit’s own translation. It is as though the Holy Spirit makes our prayers holy in order that they might be found pleasing in the sight of the most holy God.
Listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
Prayer is primarily a spiritual thing. We are sending the message of our hearts to the throne room of the Mighty God. The Creator sits upon His majestic throne and the incense of our prayer reaches His presence because Christ and the Spirit have interceded for us. Therefore, even in our daily prayer, there is much going on that we don’t even see in order that our mumblings are purified and the intentions of our heart are translated to the holy God.
And in the context of battle, it is so much better for our prayers to reach the one who sits above the trenches, who controls the chessboard, who ordains the move of every living things. He is the great God and King. Let us appeal to the one who sits above the heavens, above the battles we fight. The one who ordains the beginning from the end.
Tom Schreiner talks of the importance of the Spirit’s assistance in this age:
During the present evil age believers are beset with weakness, for often they lack certainty about what God’s will is. Hence, they are unsure about what to pray for. The Spirit comes to the aid of believers, interceding for believers as they groan.
Elsewhere he states…
It is weakness in prayer that Paul zeroes in on, an the Spirit’s help in prayer is the answer to our weakness.
…most scholars now agree that the weakness of believers lies in the “content” of prayers. The do not know adequately what to pray for…because of our finiteness and fallibility we cannot perceive fully what God would desire.
Indeed, verse 27 indicates that he intercedes for them according to God’s will, that is, he articulates the will of God in his intercession.
Furthermore, Paul’s expectation is that we are continually in prayer. Elsewhere he says this:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19)
John MacArthur points out that, “To pray at all times is to constantly set our minds ‘on the things above, not the things that are on the earth’ (Colossians 3:2).”
We’ll talk more about “continual prayer” in a moment…
Question: Given the importance of prayer, what methods or techniques have helped you incorporate prayer into your every day life?
Next Paul emphasizes four points – these are the “what” of his message here on prayer. They correspond to the following…
- To keep alert
- To pray with perseverance
- To make supplication for other saints
- To pray for their leaders like him, Paul, that he might have boldness
- To Keep Alert is to be thinking with sharpness and with a clear mind about life and whatever you would be praying about. This is battle language! Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray in Matthew 26:4 right before being confronted by Roman soldiers. Stay Alert! You are in battle! Also, in another way, by keeping alert we are faithfully anticipating His second coming.
In the Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers, there is a battle scene where the heros Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are fighting ferociously and are outnumbered. They are desperately trying to last through the night until the great wizzard Gandalf the Grey will come to their aid with additional reinforcements.
During the course of the battle, the trio are acutely aware of each other’s needs and make daring and courageous moves to help each other throughout the battle. At the same time, they are ever watchful of the distant hilltop, waiting for the sunrise to bring their salvation. In the end, Galndalf appears on top of the hilltop with a brilliant flash of light, and the battle is won in short order.
It is an attitude of anticipation, and awareness – both of the battle needs of those about us, and of the reality that He will come back soon and we should be watchful of the morning sunrise.
- This closely corresponds to praying with perseverance. Jesus exhorted persistent prayer in his story of a man who had visitors come to him by night. The story is as follows:
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:5-10)
Here the man is persistent in his requests, and eventually he gets what he is seeking. This story reflects the heart of God who wants His children to come before Him continually. He is shouting through this story: come and sit on my knee! Come and tell me of your troubles! Come and praise my name, exalt and worship me, for I have made you for this very purpose.
- Paul then addresses the importance of supplication for other saints.
Question: When you think of “supplication for other saints” what comes to mind? Who most often comes to mind?
Warren Wiersbe points out that the prayer of intercession can be used in ways we would not normally think. He says, “Intercession for others can bring victory in our own lives. ‘And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends’ (Job 42:10).”
John MacArthur points out that many times we don’t get serious about prayer until someone we love falls ill, or we are going through a difficult time ourselves. But we are to pray all the time, and continually keep others in mind. “Sensitivity to the problems and needs of others, especially other believers who are facing trials or hardships, will lead us to pray for them ‘night and day’ as Paul did for Timothy (2 Timothy 1:3).”
It is a great privilege to pray and intercede for others in the church. It connects you to them, and really invests you in their lives. My experience has been that praying for others helps me better identify with them and love them as Christ has called me to.
- Lastly, Paul requests for prayer for himself. This really caught my attention because of what Paul asks for. He wants them to pray for him to have boldness so that he will declare the gospel clearly “as I ought to speak.”
This reminded me of the situation in Acts right after Peter had been released from prison:
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31)
Their request matches Paul’s here in Ephesians, and it reveals a recognition of two things: 1. God’s awesome power in their midst and 2. The weakness of their own frame.
Paul exhibits two characteristics of great leaders. They are humble and they are dependent on God’s power. They know God is working and they want to be a part of that.
We ought to take this as a great reminder to pray for our leaders in the church. That they would have boldness to declare with clarity the gospel message.
6:21-22 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.
Paul was aware that the early church was in its infant stages and these babes in Christ needed encouragement. Paul was their spiritual father and he knew they wanted to know how he was doing.
As a leader, Paul was a very transparent man. He was honest with them about how things were really going. Some religious leaders of our day pretend that they are far above all others. This is not the way we see Paul interacting with the church in Ephesus. He is eager to share with them all the details of his trials and encourage them to pray for him as he shares the gospel.
This principle applies to all of us though, even in a smaller group within the church body. We must confess our sins to each other, admit our weaknesses, and share our victories and joys. That is part of living in true community with others. Likewise, we know that transparency comes with trust. And trust is earned by steadfast love and faithfulness. Let us show these things to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and bear one another’s burdens in love.
So the study question we are looking at is: how prayer connects members of the church.
This is now evident.
We are called to battle. As image bearers being renewed from within, we are engaged in a great spiritual battle to conquer creation for the kingdom. It is an invisible kingdom. It is the kingdom of God. As priest-kings engaged in battle, the creation we subdue is not physical land, but people who are branches being grafted into the Tree of Life, our Lord Jesus (Romans 11). We snatch them as brands plucked from the burning (Zechariah 3:2). They are souls of dead wood being made into new creations by Christ, who is the first born of all creation (Col. 1:15). As heirs to a kingdom, we war as representative kings in the spiritual cosmic realms (6:12), and conquer by the power of the Spirit by His word and prayer (6:17-18).
In this way we also function as priests to our God. Interceding for our fellow brothers and sisters by lifting holy hands; and as our prayers rise they find their way into the holy habitation of our God, as incense rising before his throne (Is. 6). A sweet fragrance, and a pleasing aroma (2 Cor. 2:15) all made possible by the Spirit and the Son; our great High Priest, who not only defeated death and Satan, but continuously lives to make intercession for us all (Hebrews 7:25).
 Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), Pg.’s 484-485.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1998), Pg. 443-444.
 John MacArthur and Jr, Ephesians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986), Pg. 380.
 John MacArthur and Jr, Ephesians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986), Pg. 381.