A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 4/2/00
Having instructed the Ephesians in the use of whole armor of God, the Apostle would have produced only a well-equipped martial mannequin, unless he add the final ingredient without which neither shield nor sword avails at all: "With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit." What Luther said of Reformation we might say of any front in the spiritual battle: "Prayer must do the deed." The armor of God is only effective when the soldier is led and empowered by the God of the armor. Therefore we need to look closely at the role that Prayer plays in all of this, first its Practice (v. 18), and then its Purpose (vv. 19-20).THE PRACTICE OF PRAYER Paul gives us four aspects of the kind of prayer he wants us to add to our armament. It should be CONSTANT "At all times," v. 18b. In 1 Thes. 5:17, he says to pray "without ceasing." But how do we do this? A former camp counselor of mine once made a very practical suggestion: "When you finish your devotions in the morning as you start the day, don't say 'Amen.'" That way, you think of the conversation with God as ongoing. Even though you may be focusing on something else, it is done in the context of an ongoing relationship in which God is present, and the conversation can be picked up again at any second. Why is this important if we are to be effective as Christian soldiers? The need, the spiritual warfare, and the relationship do not cease, so therefore the prayer should not cease either. COMPREHENSIVE "All prayer and petition," v. 18a. The phrase in Greek means "all kinds of prayer." Praise, confession, adoration, supplication, intercession, communion--all should be ongoing in our relationship with God throughout the day. THEOCENTRIC "In the Spirit," v. 18c. What does "in the Spirit" mean? It means by means of, in the sphere of, or with reference to. How does this relate to prayer? Surely it is a way of expressing what Paul sets forth in his extended treatment of the role of the Spirit in prayer in Rom. 8:22-27. The Spirit helps us when we do not know how to pray, groaning with prayers too deep for words, so that we intercede for all the saints according to the will of God. In other words, prayer is not just about what's on OUR minds. It includes the silence that allows the Spirit to redirect us--sometimes on a level so deep as to be pre-articulate--toward what is on HIS mind. PROACTIVE rather than reactive: "Be on the alert," v. 18d. Too often our prayers are simply us reacting to our felt needs, or to the problems that are right in front of our noses. We should rather be on the lookout for what is affecting "all the saints." We should be educating ourselves about the big issues facing the Church, about the issues facing our fellow Christians in their own lives, and then making those concerns part of our prayers. THE PURPOSE OF PRAYER (vv. 19-20)
We are to pray for boldness in proclaiming the Gospel, for our leaders, and for ourselves as well. But it seems strange to me that Paul should make such a request. When I read this verse I am reminded of Lt. Saavik asking Capt. Kirk for "permission to speak freely." "Self expression does not seem to be one of your problems," he replies. Nor was it one of Paul's. If you trace his career through the Book of Acts, it is apparent that he was not exactly a shy person. In Acts 9:20-22, as soon as he was converted, he immediately started proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah in the synagogs of Damascus. In 20:20, 27, he says he did not shrink from declaring anything. And on trial before the Sanhedrin, he is accused of "reviling God's high priest." He was not shy--in fact, he had a real gift for dominating any scene with his mouth! So why does he ask for a boldness that he apparently had no lack of?
The lesson in this is that we need prayer for our areas of strength as well as of weakness--perhaps more so. We are going to pray about our weaknesses anyway, but the temptation to operate in the flesh comes in the places where we are gifted. Yet apart from Christ, even there, we can do nothing of lasting spiritual value, and will probably do more harm than good.
His ultimate prayer request then is for boldness for the Gospel. Why is this such a critical need if we are going to wield the spiritual armor effectively? Well, we live in an age in which making any absolute truth claim whatever is considered the ultimate social blunder. Even worse, in response to this the Flesh manufactures a caricature of godly boldness that is horribly ugly, producing people who think hand-lettered road signs reading "Turn or burn!" are a good way of attracting people to Christ, preachers who think spirituality can be measured by decibels, etc. Both factors make us shy away from being open about the Gospel. For the word translated "bold" is parresia, which means openness, frankness--all the cards on the table, nothing to hide, no reason to hide it, therefore an ability to speak freely.
What we need in other words is the ability to speak the truth in love naturally and without forcing it, clearly but without arrogance or judgmentalism. Does this come naturally to you? No? It doesn't to me either. But is the need of it one of the primary staples of our praying? Hmmm. What Paul is saying is that it should be, that if we want victory in spiritual warfare, it had better be.CONCLUSION
If indeed to the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Footgear of the Gospel, the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, we add all prayer and petition, in the manner and for the purpose that Paul prescribes; If we pray constantly, comprehensively, spiritually, and proactively; if one of our central desires is to speak the Word boldly as we ought to speak; then indeed we will walk worthily of our calling. Then, speaking the truth in love, we will grow up in all things into Christ. And then indeed there will be glory to God in the Church and in Jesus Christ to all generations, forever. Amen.
Here endeth the Lesson.