I believe we have the first prayer request of Paul for himself today? At least the first request in our series so far. Paul has been praying prayers of Thanksgiving. His prayer life has been full of gratitude for the good things God has done, is doing and will continue to do. But today, we get to look at his first prayer request, and I think it will surprise you. Paul writes, Eph. 6:18-20 “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. 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.”
He asks that people pray for him to share the gospel fearlessly. That same prayer request is echoed in Col 4:3-4 “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” Paul wants, not to be strengthened while he is in prison, he doesn’t ask for them to pray for him to be declared innocent, or that he is released from prison, NO, he asks for them to pray for the words to speak so that he can declare the gospel.
In a world where prayers are offered for everything from the sick pet, to the lost job, but rarely are they offered for the courage to proclaim Christ clearly and effectively, Paul’s prayer life sets us an example to follow. Paul redirects our focus on the truly important things of our earthly sojourn: Speaking Christ. Christ is the penultimate, everything revolves around him. It might not be the Lord’s will to heal us; it might not be the Lord’s will to provide us a job right now, he very well may be teaching us humility and to seek everything from his hand instead of from our labor, but it most definitely is the Will of God that the name of Christ be proclaimed. Listen, John 6:29 “Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”” The work, the one universal, overarching plan of God to which he has set all his energy, power and purpose, all his focus, everything he has, is this ‘that men believe in the one he has sent.’ Romans 10:14-15 “ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”” Paul’s prayer for words to be given in order that he may speak is a prayer we can be assured God will answer.
It is God’s will to make known the name of Christ. We often quote this passage from Ephesians, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…” And yet we sorely take it out of context, almost as if we are adjured to toss up [Confetti toss] anything which comes into our minds and those God likes he keeps up there in heaven and those he doesn’t fall back to the ground like confetti after the party, a sad reminder of a hope unanswered. But that isn’t what Paul is saying in this passage. Do you remember what comes before this passage in Ephesians 6:18-20?
It is the great passage about putting on the ‘full armor of God.’ Let’s read it to refresh our minds on the context of our passage: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God [PUT ON CHRIST] so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 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. 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” (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Put on Christ and Pray to succeed in the Christian life! What is the context of this prayer request? It is the great cosmic battle between God and his adversaries being played out in this world, in your life and mine. It is about Satan desiring to make you the seed that is choked by the weeds, or the seed that is snatched up on the path or the seed that withers in the sun. He doesn’t desire you to reproduce a crop of 30, 60, 100 fold. He wants you to be crippled and impotent in your faith. He desires to so overwhelm you, to so over-power you with circumstances, to so instill fear into you that your faith is hidden under a bushel and your root is destroyed.
But will he win? What? Will he win? No! Because Christ has conquered death – This is the mystery of the Gospel – Christ died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous. We have been reconciled! Christ has destroyed the works of the devil. Christ has taken the sting out, and given us a spirit of love, power and a sound mind. So when the attacks come, when the cosmic battle continues to wage on our little front, we stand firm by putting on the armor, and by praying, by staying united to God. We keep watching for those places where the battle is waging and the skirmishes are being played out, we keep examining the horizon of our life and seeing where we are lax, and we pray for Christ to be formed in us, and we pray for the ability to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel. The devil wants nothing more than to keep you and me silent. He hates it when we proclaim Christ fearlessly. He hates it when we proclaim Christ boldly. He hates it when we proclaim Christ openly even in the midst of the battle. Yet this is Paul’s request – pray for me to speak!
Boldly we must proclaim Christ. Fearlessly we must proclaim Christ. Openly we must proclaim Christ. If Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” If we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, incidentally that is the same word as our ‘fearlessly’, then we can easily pray for the words to speak Christ in this world. Which is more terrifying, the throne of God, or the sphere of the world? But since the throne of God has been conquered in Christ for us, the sphere of the world is nothing. Let’s pray and speak!
I love Paul’s prayer request, he doesn’t just ask for fearlessness, he asks for words to be ‘given to him’ whenever he opens his mouth. He asks for God to take over his tongue, to tame the beast which sets whole forests ablaze, but which also praises God. He asks for people to pray that the bridle of God would be put into his mouth so that when he speaks, it is not he speaking but Christ speaking through him. Wait that is the same thing Christ prayed isn’t it? “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19-20). So Paul is praying the very words of Christ back. His prayer life is grounded in the Words of our Lord.
Paul is concerned about the gospel going forth even in the midst of his personal trial, his personal struggle, his imprisonment. He wants opportunities to share it boldly. He wants to share it freely and frankly with everyone he comes into contact with. He wants to freely express the errors of every other belief in order to annunciate the mystery of Christ reconciling the world to himself: slave and free, male and female, Jew and Greek. All are invited freely into Christ to partake in his benefits and his blessings.
Why is this so important? Why is it so important that Paul prays and asks for prayer to be given the words to share boldly about Christ? I believe that Philemon 6 can shed some light on this for us. In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the NIV says, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Paul is saying that in sharing our faith, in communicating boldly about Christ, in allowing God to speak his words through us, we gain a great understanding in the good thing we have in Jesus. Have you ever thought about that? When we speak about Christ, our insight, our knowledge, our assurance is built up and prospered. We come to realize new things about the gospel, things we hadn’t seen before.
I am constantly amazed when I speak with others about Scripture, when I study a passage at 3 Trees or engage in dialogue with seekers, how much Christ speaks through me, how much he expands my understanding of the good things we have in Christ. Take a few weeks ago, I was reading a passage with a friend of mine from Colossians 1:19. The passage says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” This person said it was a passage, which was used to support universalism and free will. Now I will be honest, at first glance I was taken aback and thought, “You are right.” But as I continued to declare fearlessly the Gospel: Christ chooses us, though not every one of us, God enlightened me on the passage. It is about the fact that Jews and Greeks, anyone can be reconciled to God by the efficacious calling of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we share the gospel, our understanding of the gospel grows and deepens. It expands and we gain greater assurance. So I urge you today, expand your prayer life to be like Paul. Pray for words to be given you to speak fearlessly, to speak boldly, to speak plainly and publicly of the mystery of Christ, so that your understanding of God’s gracious gift and treasure may expand. Pray also for me, that I may speak plainly, boldly, fearlessly and publicly of the mystery of Christ born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucified, died and buried, descending into hell, being raised on the 3rd day and ascending to heaven so that now he sits at the right hand of God almighty interceding for us and judging the living and the dead. Pray for me, pray for one another, pray for yourself, for it is God’s will and this is one prayer we can be assured God wants to answer. To testify to his Son forever and ever. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Amen and Amen.