The Prayers for the Church in Ephesians – 3
THAT WE MAY BE ALERT WITH PERSEVERANCE
1. The epistle of the church is marked by prayer for the church, and the third case in point comes here as the neglected ending of another long, remarkable sentence...(reading of the text).
2. Notice the focus on praying in verses 18-20. We should understand it in light of the two beautiful prayers for the church we have already considered (1:15-23; 3:14-19).
a. There are certainly some similar lines of thought.
i. God, the Lord, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned as the source of everything, as they were in the first two cases.
ii. A connection with all the saints is assumed here as before.
iii. And, again, the issue is the strength their well-being requires.
b. But this time there is something different.
i. What we have is not a prayer, but an instruction to pray and a request for prayer.
ii. The apostle has been praying for the church; now the church is called to pray for itself.
iii. And there is a personal aspect to it this time. “I’m praying for you, please pray for me, too,” he says.
3. The line that stands out is, “To that end keep alert with all perseverance” (v. 18, ESV).
a. Alertness and perseverance are two qualities not often found together. When we try to be watchful, it’s not long until we are either overconfident or weary. Enduring at being attentive just is not easy.
b. That is especially so when it comes to seeing the work of God, or comprehending the love of Christ, or to praying in the Spirit – the important things.
c. We must, therefore, pray that the church may be alert with perseverance.
1. Persevering in the Struggle
a. Throughout our passage, it is clear that the apostle wants to emphasize the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged.
i. He speaks of it as “our wrestling” (v. 12, ASV). It is a struggle we all share, and not one of us can avoid, because we belong to the Lord.
ii. Our struggle is spiritual. It is not a flesh and blood war like a crusade or an inquisition. Instead, it has to be fought “against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11).
iii. Our opponents are not merely personalities we happen not to like. Neither are they simply our own personal weaknesses. We are contending “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 12) – in the same places where God intends to bless us (2:6), and against the same rulers and authorities to whom God expects the church to make his manifold wisdom known (3:10).
iv. Obviously, the struggle Paul is thinking about is serious. There is something ominous about his mention of “the evil one” (v. 16), “the spiritual forces of evil” (v. 12), and “in the evil day” (v. 13).
b. Is he trying to dishearten us, or what? Actually, just the opposite. He is getting us ready to persevere – to endure with confidence.
i. He is writing about immeasurable power and unsearchable riches and the eternal purpose realized, but at that very time he is “an ambassador in chains” (v. 20).
ii. What will this incongruity make his readers think of their “access with confidence”? That’s why he says, “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is for your glory” (3:13).
iii. Spiritual confidence, the kind the gospel offers, is both realistic about the threat and active in the struggle.
2. The Strength of Alertness
a. The terms the apostle uses describe what he means by “keeping alert.” He wants his readers to “withstand,” “stand firm,” and “stand,” having taken up and put on and fastened every part of the whole armor of God.
i. He means paying attention, being committed, and staying engaged.
ii. The attitude he is calling for a sharp contrast to slovenly discipleship described in Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Scholar Gypsy.”
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly willed,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves have never been filled,
For whom each year we see
Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new,
Who hesitate and falter life away,
And lose tomorrow the ground won today.
iii. In even writing of putting on the armor and standing, Paul is modeling the spirit he is advising his readers to adopt.
(1) He is “in chains” – maybe even chained to a Roman soldier.
(2) But he is thinking of what the Scriptures say about his Lord: “But with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;...Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins....He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.” (Isa. 11:4-5; 59:17).
(3) And, seeing the application, he tells us to wear that same armor!
b. Notice that each part of the armor is a reminder of some threat against which we must keep alert.
i. If we need “the belt of truth,” falsehood, either from without or from within, in what we believe or in what we are, must be a danger.
ii. If “the breastplate of righteousness” is required, wrongdoing is a threat.
iii. If we must have “as shoes...the readiness given by the gospel of peace,” strife is something that may catch us by surprise.
iv. If “the shield of faith” is necessary, the fiery darts of doubt are sure to need to be extinguished.
v. If “the helmet of salvation” is to be worn, low-mindedness will be a problem to be overcome.
vi. If “the sword of the Spirit” must be taken up, ignorance and self-will are always threatening.
vii. Perseverance in the struggle happens through the strength of alertness!
3. Standing upon Our Knees. “Praying” and “keep alert” are participles connected to the verb “stand” at the beginning of v. 14. They are explaining how to do that. We will be “able to stand” when we have the strength and courage and wisdom that comes from the kind of prayer life described by the four “all” phrases in verse 18.
a. Let’s start with the second phrase: “with all prayer and supplication.”
i. “Prayer” is the more general word for approaching God, while “supplication” is the term for specific requests.
ii. Paul is saying that if we are to be strong we must draw near to God with all kinds of prayer – that our prayer life must not be too limited.
iii. We might benefit from the ACTS IS model: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, Intercession, Submission.
b. Now consider the first phrase: “praying at all times in the Spirit.”
i. Since we can pray about all kinds of things, we are to be praying at all times, not just in a crisis (cf. Lk. 18:1; 1 Thes. 5:17).
ii. Lipscomb and Shepherd comment, “True prayer is spiritual and comes from a heart filled with heavenward longings and aspirations....The ordinary habit of the soul should be prayerful, realizing the presence of God and looking for his grace and guidance.”
iii. Just as we take up “the sword of the Spirit,” we pray “in the Spirit.” We live by him and in his realm. Our prayers rise from the depth of our being, and any weakness in our ability to express ourselves is made up for by the Spirit who makes intercession for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
c. Third, “to that end keep alert with all perseverance.”
i. In Gethsemane, knowing what was ahead and trying to prepare his friends for it, Jesus said to the disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
ii. But remember that they were not able to do it; their eyes were heavy and they went to sleep (Matt. 26:43). How human!
iii. “Continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Col. 4:2) is not about trying to twist God’s arm. It’s about faith and patience. It’s about keeping on bringing our hearts in line with God’s will.
d. And finally it says, “making supplication for all the saints.”
i. James once addressed brothers who were asking but not receiving because they were asking amiss, intending to spend it on their own pleasures (4:3).
ii. By contrast, the kind of prayer that gives us the strength to stand is “for all the saints;” it is intercessory prayer for the family of God, the kind that reflects the heart of Jesus (cf. Heb. 7:25).
iii. In fact, Paul requests if for himself in v. 19 – but really, for the cause of the gospel, which gave us all the privilege of prayer to start with!
1. We’ve thought our way through the prayers for the church, and of the church, in Ephesians. Let us use them to pray for us...
a. That we may be lighted up by hope.
b. That we may be grounded in love.
c. That we may be alert with perseverance.