Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Pertinence of Prayer

Ephesians 6:17-20

Delivered 03/08/15

In our study last week we looked at the armor of God, and I said that putting on the armor of God was the same as putting on Christ. "Put on" in Ephesians 6:11, is from the Greek enduo, which means: "to put on clothes," or "envelope in." It has the idea of a garment which is wrapped around oneself. So believers are called to put on the armor of God, which is to put on Christ as a garment, which means that we are to play the part of Yeshua. He is the armor of God. Yeshua is our full armor, capable of protecting us from every trial and situation we face.

The last verse we looked at last week was:

And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17 NASB

The last piece of armor is the "sword of the Spirit." The sword is "of the Spirit" in the sense that it is produced by and given to us by the Holy Spirit. This sword is said to be "the Word of God." This reminds us of Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NASB

Here the author uses the Greek word logos, which is used mostly to refer to the written Word. In our text in Ephesians 6:17 Paul uses rhema, which usually has the nuance of the spoken word. But the spoken word is the written Word used verbally and precisely to apply to a specific situation. This is not mysticism or subjectivism, where you feel that a certain word is from the Lord. Rather, Paul is talking about the skillful, careful application of Yahweh's written Word to a particular situation. Let me give you an example of what rhema is not:

'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 NASB

This verse is often picked out of its context and used individually as a promise from Yahweh. Back up one verse to see the context and audience:

"For thus says the LORD, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. Jeremiah 29:10 NASB

Yahweh is assuring the exiles of Judah that His long-term plan is good, and that He has not abandoned them. Yahweh has plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you [the exiles of Judah] a future and a hope.

The content of rhema is not different from logos, although in some instances rhema may denote actual communication of the content. Each time a believer verbally defends Christian ideas on the basis of the words of the Bible, he is wielding the sword of the Spirit. The verbal expression and intellectual expression of the Word of God is the rhema of God.

Paul's use of the word rhema here instead of logos might have some significance. As Gordon Fee writes: "While these words are near synonyms, and therefore, can often be used interchangeably, rhema tends to put the emphasis on that which is spoken at a given point, whereas logos frequently emphasizes the content of the 'message.'"

Fee continues: "If that distinction holds here, then Paul is almost certainly referring still to the gospel, just as he does in Romans 10:17, but the emphasis is now on the actual 'speaking forth' of the message, inspired by the Spirit. To put that in more contemporary terms, in urging them to take the sword of the Spirit and then identifying that sword with the 'word of God,' Paul is not identifying the 'sword' with the book, but with the proclamation of Christ, which in our case is indeed to be found in the book." (Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence; Hendrickson Publishers, 1994; , p. 728-729).

So the sword of the Spirit can apply to preaching, writing, debates, and ordinary conversations in which the Christian presents and defends the biblical world view, and refutes unbiblical beliefs. The sword of the Spirit refers to intellectual presentations and arguments whose form and content are derived from Scripture.

Sad to say, but the Church today has lost the power of the sword in that it has diminished the preaching of the Word. Paul warned Timothy about this danger. After commanding him to preach the Word, he explained:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NASB

Believers, if the Church is to have any power, it must return to the Word of God. Every great revival in Church history has been sustained by a return to the expository preaching of God's Word. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had replaced the preaching of the Word with the ritual of the mass. They kept the Bible from the people. When the Reformation began through a return to God's Word, the Reformers sustained it through faithful expository preaching of the Word and by translating the Word into the common languages. The Reformers all were committed to solid expository preaching.

Later, the Puritans sparked renewal in large part through their commitment to preaching as the pastor's primary task. J. I. Packer states, "To the Puritan, faithful preaching was the basic ingredient in faithful pastoring." He then cites from John Owen, who wrote, "The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word…. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor." (A Quest for Godliness [Crossway Books], p. 283).

This emphasis is not only lacking in our day, but also is under direct attack. The seeker friendly church movement has deliberately downplayed the expository preaching of the Word and replaced it with shorter topical sermons along the lines of using God and the Bible to help meet your felt needs. When looking for a church home, expository preaching of the Word should be at the top of your criteria. Saints need to be feed the teaching of the Word of God.

When it comes to evangelism, if you want to see someone trust Christ, don't have them pray the "sinners prayer,"get them into God's Word. One of the most effective Gospel "tracts" that you can give to anyone is the Gospel of John. John plainly stated his purpose in writing his Gospel:

but these have been written so that you may believe that Yeshua is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. John 20:31 NASB

If the Holy Spirit inspired John to write his Gospel so that people would believe in Yeshua the Christ unto eternal life, then we must use it for that purpose.

To use the sword of the Spirit effectively, we must saturate ourselves with the Word by every possible means. You must become intimately acquainted with the book. And to do that you must read it repeatedly, study it carefully, and memorize it often. We must also meditate on it, thinking about what it means and how it applies to our life.

Believers, we must pray that the church of Yeshua will once again arm itself with the rhema of God and use it to bring our culture to faith in Christ. Speaking of prayer, let's look at the next verse:

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, Ephesians 6:18 NASB

Since Paul mentions prayer here some people wonder if it represents another piece of armor. But since he does not say that it corresponds to any piece of armor, we should not assume that he still has the armor metaphor in mind, although the military imagery indeed continues.

In the original Greek, Ephesians 6:18 does not begin a new sentence. It connects with verse 17 like this: "Take the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit." So Paul is saying, Take the Sword...praying. Prayer is the power that wields the weapon of the Word. So believers are urged to take the Sword of the Spirit by prayer and maintaining alertness.

Prayer is a fundamental discipline of the Christian life, along with Bible study, fellowship, and witnessing. These are the basic disciplines that a Christian should be involved in to promote spiritual growth.

John Bunyan said (source unknown), "You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed." Prayer should be the first thing that we think to do when we're aware of a need.

I know that the only reason Yahweh has enabled me to persevere as a pastor for 32 years is His grace that has come to me through the prayers of His people and through my own desperate cries to Him for help. I don't think that a week goes by without my feeling overwhelmingly inadequate for this ministry. And that keeps me on my knees crying out to Him for help with each verse I attempt to expound.

Paul mentions prayer four times in this verse to emphasize the priority of prayer. He uses three different words: proseuche, deesis and proseuchomai. The word "prayer" is proseuche, which points to the general privilege of prayer and lays stress on prayer as an act of worship and devotion to God. It looks at prayer as an approach to God from a recognition of our need and inadequacy, and of God's omnipotent ability to meet those needs. Both uses of "petition" are the word deesis. It means petition, supplication, or request; it stresses the sense of need. The word "pray" is from the verb proseuchomai, which was used from the earliest times to suggest communication with deities, whether in the form of a vow or petition. Paul also uses the word "all" four times in verse 18. It is all prayer...at all times...with all perseverance...for all the saints.

Paul tells the believers to "pray at all times"; this phrase is literally, "at every opportunity," or "on all occasions." It's the same idea as:

pray without ceasing; 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NASB

The Greek word translated: "without ceasing" was used of a hacking cough and of repeated military assaults. Someone with a hacking cough does not cough every second, but rather he coughs repeatedly and often; its not a sporadic thing. It's not out of the blue, but it's habitual. It's not an isolated act; literally, it means: "in every season of life, always praying."

Ivor Powell says: "Periods of anxious prayer are only known when a doctor suggests a visit to the hospital. When trouble looms on the horizon, or when people are about to lose something they eagerly desire to retain, then they besiege the throne of grace asking for divine intervention! Afterward they go on a vacation, blissfully forgetting that their heavenly Father would dearly love to see a little more of the people whose voices are heard only when the need becomes frightening."

The truth of the matter is, when things are going well there is little use of prayer for many of us. But prayer is to be the constant practice of the believer's life.

Arthur T. Pearson wrote a biography on that great Christian, George Mueller. One day Arthur Pearson was sitting with him, talking to him about the great provision that God had brought for Mueller by his faith and his prayer. As they were talking together about God their provider, Mueller was writing a letter, and Pearson noticed that he was having difficulty within the nib of his pen, it didn't seem to be working right. Right in the middle of their conversation together, Mueller bowed his head in prayer and prayed to God for a few moments. Then he began writing again, and Pearson asked: 'What were you praying about?' Mueller said: 'Well, perhaps you didn't notice I was having trouble with this pen point, and I haven't got another pen point, and this is an important letter, so I was asking the Lord to help me so that I could write it clearly.' 'Dear me,' said Pearson, 'a man who trusts God for millions of pounds also prays about a scratchy pen point.'

That's what Paul's talking about here, a way of life. Not just praying about the big things, but praying about all things at all times. Praying is to be a constant communion.

Thomas Kelly, in his book, Testament of Devotion, says this: "There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we can be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of our external affairs — but deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, in song and in worship, and a gentle receptiveness to the divine breathings of God."

Prayer is not something we don't understand, I think everybody knows that prayer is talking to God. We know what it is; we just don't do it. Why is it that we, as God's children, spend so little time in prayer with our heavenly Father? Why is there so much prayerlessness in American Christianity? I think we spend so little time in prayer because we don't really believe that prayer actually works. Since we don't believe that it works, we spend our time doing other things.

Why is it that we don't believe that it works? Although we all know what prayer is, I think very few know what its purpose is. Probably, most folks would say that the purpose of prayer is to get God to do something. We view it as a kind of a spiritual nagging, perhaps thinking that if we keep bugging God about something, He'll do it for us. Does that describe your view of prayer?

If that is your view of prayer, it is little wonder why you don't spend time praying. Just what is the purpose of prayer? Let me give you a definition of prayer that changed my prayer life; Prayer is a declaration of our dependence. Every time I pray, I am saying, "Yahweh I need you!" We ask God's forgiveness because we know we are dependant upon Him to forgive. We thank Him in prayer because we know that whatever we are or have has come from Him. We petition Him because only He can give us what we need. We know that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and prayer is humility in action. It is saying, "Yahweh I can't do this, so I come to you acknowledging my need."

While prayer is something we are to do throughout our day, it is also something that we will do very little of if we fail to plan to pray. Prayer is so important, so vital to the life of Christians, that they must set apart a regular time to pray.

Asahel Nettleton, one of the great leaders and preachers during the 2nd Great Awakening, began a sermon with this statement: "There is no duty in Christianity, the practice of which Christ and the apostles press upon us more frequently, than prayer. Amidst all the absurdities and heresies which have sprung up in the Christian world, we know of none who have dared to deny the duty of prayer"(Asahel Nettleton: Sermons from the Second Great Awakening, 205).

"With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit"—what does it mean to "pray in the Spirit"? Praying "in the spirit" does not refer to praying in tongues or to praying emotionally. There is certainly nothing wrong with getting emotional in prayer as we sense our desperate need, but this is not what Paul means by praying in the Spirit.

Soren Kierkgaard, the Dutch theologian of the mid nineteenth century, started this subjective movement that most of the Church has been swept away by. Kiekgaard said: "It really makes no difference WHAT you believe, the HOW is all that matters. If you are really passionate, if you really have a zeal, that is all that is important. What you believe—really doesn't make any difference." We see this everywhere in the Church today mindless passion! Kierkgaard used the illustration of an Orthodox Lutheran and a Hindu. "The Orthodox Lutheran prayed to God, but he had no passion. He just prayed according to knowledge." Keirkgaard says this is useless to God. But if you take a Hindu praying before an idol, if he prayed with passion, he would, in fact, be praying to the true God—even though he had no knowledge of God. Kierkgaard's buzz phrase was, "Infinite Passion." He said that we encounter God by zeal. His teaching has infected the modern Church.

Praying in the Spirit is to pray in dependence on the Spirit, in accordance with God's word. The Spirit will never lead us to pray contrary to the will of God as revealed in the Word of God. To pray in the Spirit is to pray according to God's revealed will in His Word.

"Be on the alert with all perseverance"—the Greek word for "alert" literally means: "to be sleepless," to keep awake! As Paul uses it here, it means: "a watchful attention to spiritual matters." These words, "be alert," tie in with the military analogy. You're a sentry on duty.

The Greek word for "perseverance" is proskarteresis, and it is used only here in the New Testament. It means: "persistence." It means: "keeping on, an earnestness toward a thing." This word carries the idea of being on the alert. The verb form of this Greek word translated: "perseverance" is often linked with prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2). It means: "to devote yourself constantly to it." You don't give up when you don't see immediate results. You wait on the Lord.

Who are we to pray for? Paul says, "for all the saints"—we are to be praying for each other. Do you see a believer who is suffering? Pray that their eyes will be on the Lord, and that they won't let the trial embitter them. Do you see a believer who is depressed or discouraged? Pray that they will put their trust in God and His salvation. Do you see a Christian husband and wife who are having conflict? Pray! Do you hear of church members at odds with one another? Be alert and pray!

As we come to verses 19 and 20, Paul makes a personal request for prayer. Just as he started the Epistle in chapter 1 with praying for the saints of Ephesus, and praying for the believers and all their needs, he now asks them to pray for him. This is important, because it tells us what he is most concerned about:

and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, Ephesians 6:19 NASB

Paul says, "Pray on my behalf"—remember Paul is in prison! What would your prayer request be if you were in prison? "Get me out of here"! Or if I can't get out of here, at least get me a mattress or something, or a pillow I can put my head on, or a decent meal! But Paul didn't ask that God would free him, or make him more comfortable, or make him safe, but what does he ask for? "That utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel." Robinson states, "It is not, as our Authorised Version renders it, 'that I may open my mouth'; but rather 'that God may open my mouth.'" If you look at his other Epistles, you find that he asks them to remember him in prayer. He does it at the end of Romans, he does it at the end of Colossians, at the end of first and second Thessalonians. He asks them, personally, for prayer . And every single occasion, except perhaps for one, he asks, not for his needs, not for his personal benefits, but for the advancement and the spread of the Gospel and the Kingdom of Yeshua the Christ.

In effect, his prayer was for more boldness in proclaiming the Gospel, yet it was his boldness with the Gospel that had landed him in jail. Prison hadn't diminished Paul's zeal; he was asking for prayer so that he could be bolder than ever.

Yeshua's disciples, when threatened by the Jewish leaders, prayed this same prayer for boldness. Peter and John were put in jail for preaching, and the next day were brought before the Sanhedrin, and they preached to them the Gospel of Yeshua the Christ. The court deliberated in closed session for a while and then commanded them to no longer speak in Yeshua's name, to which Peter and John promised civil disobedience. The court threatened them and let them go because of the people. Peter and John returned to a group referred to as "their own companions." They reported all that had happened to them and all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. They commanded us not to tell others about Yeshua! These threats, coming as they did from the highest civil authority, had the force of law. Obedience to Christ would from here on be costly as they shared with other believers what had happened, and this led to corporate prayer:

And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, Acts 4:24 NASB

The first response of this group of believers was to turn to God in prayer. Is prayer your first response in difficult situations? Do you understand the importance of prayer?

Notice how they prayed, "O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM." Isn't that interesting? They don't cry out, God help us, protect us from the Sanhedrin. They begin their prayer by affirming God as the Sovereign Creator of all things. Now, after five verses of proclaiming the glories and sovereignty of God, we have two verses of petition:

"And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, Acts 4:29 NASB

The believers pray, "Now, Lord, take note of their threats." In other words, Peter and John had told them about the threats mentioned in verses 18 and 21. In verse 18 the priests and elders demanded that Peter and John "not speak or teach at all in the name of Yeshua."

And so they pray, "Grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence." The Greek word for "confidence" here is parrhesia, which means: "free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance." This is the same word used in our text that Paul prays for. They understood that persecution would naturally incline men to draw back, to soften up on the message which they preached. Thus, the prayer for boldness and confidence was an admission of the fallibility of Christians.

When is the last time you prayed for boldness? They did not ask to be delivered from persecution. They did not even ask that God judge or punish their opponents. They were more concerned about their mission than their comfort. Believers, we can learn something from this! Do you live with a consciousness of the mission our Lord has given to each of us as ambassadors for Christ to a lost world? These were simple people who were given the responsibility to carry the Gospel into the world—the same responsibility which each one of us has received from the Lord, as well. I believe all of us can join with these brethren in praying for "boldness" in speaking the Gospel.

Have you ever been in a prayer meeting where all the requests seem to focus on everyone's health problems? But if that is the main focus of the prayer time, it reveals that we're too focused on ourselves, not enough on God's Kingdom.

They didn't pray, "God, make sure that nobody else threatens us; make sure that nobody persecutes us." They understood this was going to cost them. They just said, "God, give us the confidence, give us the boldness to step it up and to accomplish the mission."

Are you frustrated with God's response to your prayers? Why not evaluate the motive and content of your requests? Are they so that God's purpose can be advanced and so that people can be influenced by Yeshua—or are they primarily for your safety and comfort? Try asking God to give you opportunities and boldness to mix it up with people about the Gospel. Try asking God to empower you to be more genuinely loving toward a difficult person.

Their prayer was to be abundantly answered. From Acts 5:12-16 we learn of the amazing miracles that constantly occurred, reaching out far beyond Jerusalem, as those who were sick flocked to Jerusalem in order to find healing:

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:31 NASB

This shaking of the place is God's symbolic answer to these disciples' prayer. He is saying to them, in this figurative way, that He would shake Jerusalem and the world by the message these disciples were proclaiming. Less than forty years after this event, the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by Roman armies; the authority of the priests was broken in the city; and finally the entire nation, the religious theocracy of Israel was shaken, and the people were dispersed throughout the nations of the world.

Their prayer was answered, they spoke the Word with boldness. Their boldness was a gift from God received through prayer; it was not something that they tried to work up in themselves. They were dependant upon God to give them the power to do what He had commanded them to do.

How often do you pray about your boldness in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ? Most of us are so consumed by desiring "things" that we give little attention to praying for opportunities, boldness, clarity, and passion in presenting Christ to a lost world. Brethren, we must pray, each one of us, about our own mission of spreading the Gospel! We all need boldness.

When you read through the Book of Acts, you don't get the impression that Paul was lacking in boldness! In fact, he was in prison because he had boldly proclaimed the Gospel to a mob that had attempted to kill him! When you read what he had endured for the sake of the Gospel, it seems that nothing could stop him (2 Cor. 11:23-29). So why was he asking prayer for boldness in witness? Paul wanted to proclaim the Gospel boldly and clearly to Caesar. So he asked for prayer.

Believers, we need to pray for missionaries, evangelists, pastors, and Christian leaders to be fearless and uncompromising when it comes to the Gospel. Pray for me! Spurgeon was once asked the secret of his great success. Although I'm sure we could identify many other factors, he replied simply, "My people pray for me."

for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:20 NASB

He says that he is an ambassador—and you know that an ambassador is a diplomat, and they're granted diplomatic immunity, they're not allowed to be arrested, they are not allowed to be imprisoned. This is the paradox here; in fact in the Greek it's a title given to the Legate of the Emperor—an ambassador and diplomat of the Roman Emperor, he's using these words! They're not allowed to be imprisoned, they're not allowed to be harmed—but the irony is that the great ambassador of the King of the universe is in chains! There seems to be a bit of a play on words on that word "chained," because an ambassador in those days would have worn a big gold chain, and I believe Paul is saying: "And look at the chain I have."

It's amazing that Paul did not ask for prayer that he would be released from prison or for prayer for his health needs. Rather, he asked for prayer that he would proclaim the Gospel boldly and not miss any opportunities. While it's all right to pray for your personal needs, Paul's example here, as well as the Lord's Prayer, teach us that our primary focus in prayer should be furthering the Kingdom of God, not making ourselves more comfortable.

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