Summary: The role of prayer in being alert for spiritual battle.
We come to the end of the “practical” half of Ephesians. The first half – well, the first half was filled with glory! Chapter 1, verse 3 introduced the theme well: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” He then, through chapter 3, explicates these glorious blessings that belong to the saints, those who belong to Christ – blessings of security, being sanctified, being adopted, being loved, being forgiven, given knowledge and power, obtaining an inheritance, being sealed by the Holy Spirit, being brought to life, being made citizens of God’s kingdom, knowing the love of God in Christ. Blessing upon blessing.
And then the next three chapters, he expounds on how these blessings should cause us to live as saints called to walk in a manner worthy of this glorious calling. We are to relate to one another in the church in humility, maintaining unity of the Spirit and using our gifts to build up one another into Christ our head. We are to put away the lifestyle and mindset of the old self and instead, put on the new self, created after the likeness of God. Thus, we put away falsehood and speak the truth; we put away anger and speak in a way that builds up others. We put away sexual immorality and vulgar behavior; and instead, walk as children of light. We put away drunkenness and are instead filled with the Holy Spirit.
In Christian households, order is laid out – relationships between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between masters and servants. Everyone is to use Christ as their model.
Finally, Paul explains who the enemy is and what the warfare entails that is waged against Christians to prevent them from walking the glorious walk. The enemy is the devil and his hosts, who scheme against the saints. The believers then are to stand firm against them, using the armor of God which protects them against the temptations, deceptions, and accusations that are thrown at them.
Now he concludes with a crucial command for them to be successful – pray.
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, 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.
1. Consider the context in which we are to pray. We are praying as a means of keeping alert in our ongoing spiritual warfare. We remain alert by praying.
2. Consider the means of praying. We are to pray in the Spirit. Whatever exactly the phrase “in the Spirit” means, certainly it entails praying in the right spirit, seeking to align our prayers with the mind of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 is helpful in understanding this concept. There Paul writes:
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The context is Paul explaining how he has received knowledge and wisdom that is of God and which cannot be discerned without the work of the Holy Spirit; furthermore, that we, because we are in the Spirit can now understand what is taught about God. One could, even as a regenerated believer, approach Scripture with the mindset of a person who thinks like the world and thus without understanding. Likewise, one could pray with a worldly mindset that keeps him from praying in line with the Spirit of God and from benefitting rightly from prayer. Remember, Paul has set up a contrast all along for his readers to no longer walk as Gentiles darkened in understanding but rather in the light of the Lord.
3. Consider first the type of praying. James Boice liked to teach prayer through the acrostic ACTS. A good prayer includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. That is a healthy prayer. But Paul’s focus here is on supplication, which he uses as an interchangeable synonym for prayer. We are to make supplication; we are to petition God, asking him to grant our requests.