Summary: 64th in a series from Ephesians. Our prayer needs to go beyond the superficial and physical and focus on the deep spiritual needs of others.
Let me begin this morning with a confession. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the message I am going to share with you this morning is at least as much for me as for any of you. I’m not really speaking to you this morning out of my own experience as much as I am preaching to myself about where I want and need to be in my own spiritual walk. In fact, I’m convinced that there are many of you here this morning that put this passage into practice in your lives much more effectively than I do.
With that in mind, let’s go ahead and read out loud our passage for this morning:
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 (NIV)
As always, we need to begin by putting this passage in its proper context. In verses 10-17, Paul has exhorted his readers to stand firm against the evil one and then he has described the six pieces of the armor of God that every believer has been given by God in order to be able to do so. And we’ve looked at each of those pieces of the armor in quite some detail in order to understand how to use them effectively against the schemes of the devil.
And, although in many of your Bibles, verse 18 is separated from the previous section by starting a new paragraph, there is no doubt that this verse is connected with the section on the armor of God. That is very clear in the Greek grammar, but there is another connection that is obvious even in our English translations. In verse 17, Paul ends his description of the armor with the “sword of the Spirit” and then here in verse 18, he instructs his readers to “pray in the Spirit”. We’ll look at that connection in some more detail in a few minutes.
Paul is not in any way indicating here that in addition to all the six pieces of armor we are to add prayer, as if it is the seventh piece of armor. But the point he is making is that prayer is woven all throughout the armor. When we arm ourselves with the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness and sandal our feet with the gospel of peace, when we take up the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, we must at the same time also engage in prayer if we are going to be successful in battle.
It is quite instructive that as Paul comes to the end of his letter, his final thoughts deal with prayer. If you or I were to write a letter to someone else in order to try to convince them to take some action, we would make sure that our most significant arguments were at the end of that letter, because that would be what would be most likely to remain in the reader’s mind. And I think that is exactly what Paul is doing here.
Paul has described for his readers their exalted position in Jesus and the tremendous resources that they have in order to live their lives in accordance with who they are in Jesus. He has provided them with everything they need to be an effective follower of Jesus. In fact, I’m convinced that if somehow we lost all the rest of the Bible and all we had was the book of Ephesians, we would have enough to live the kind of life that God wants us to live.
But he closes his letter with this emphasis on prayer because there is a danger that we need to be aware of. Christians who have a knowledge of sound doctrine and at least some success with putting into practice the spiritual principles from God’s Word can easily come to the point where they figure they can live their lives in their own power and they lose their dependence on God. I think that is what Paul was warning about when he wrote to the church in Corinth:
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)
So Paul ends his letter by calling his readers to prayer, because prayer is the antidote to the danger of depending on ourselves rather than depending on God.
In just one verse, just 24 words in the Greek, Paul provides us with one of the most complete teachings on prayer that we can find in the Scriptures. And as we look at this verse, the thing that immediately stands out is how this verse is centered on the word “all”. We’re going to focus on those four “all’s” as we look at this passage together this morning.