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Wrestling by Praying (Ephesians 6:18-20)

February 23, 2014 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: This Means War

Topic: Ephesians Passage: Ephesians 6:18–6:20

This Means War

Wrestling by Praying
Ephesians 6:18-20
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
February 23rd, 2014

 

I. An Opportunity with the General

The tent was full of soldiers when the five-star general walked in. Every man stood at attention. Here they were sharing a field tent with the man who had, for all intents and purposes, beat the enemy. Sure, there were still deadly attacks and scattered skirmishes, but every soldier was overjoyed and grateful for the decisive blow that was dealt by the general's operation. The war would end soon, and all of them would be able to go home.

The general warmly encouraged these soldiers to be “at ease” and take a seat. As the men began to relax, the general began to describe the continuing tactics of the enemy forces, as well as the recommended strategies, equipment, and weapons he himself was making available to the men. When he was finished with his presentation, amazingly, he offered to stay for as long as was necessary and answer any questions the men might have. He even offered to consider their personal requests. But oddly, the tent was quiet.

Some men stared blankly ahead, seeming a bit intimidated. Others were carefully pouring over their field manuals and maps. And still others were looking at magazines or quietly chuckling as they shared the latest jokes with the guys in their row. For a group of fairly new recruits, the general was surprised that all of them seemed oblivious to the opportunity that was set before them. In the end, the general's experience, his knowledge, his authority, his resources, none of these things seemed to persuade the soldiers to simply speak up.

I want you to keep that story, that parable in mind as we look together at Ephesians 6. This morning we are concluding our series entitled, “This Means War”.

 

II. The Passage: “Praying at All Times” (6:18-20)

We will focus this morning on verses 18-20, but let me start reading from where we started several weeks ago; that way we can get a better sense of the whole context. Verse 10...

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. [11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. [12] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. [13] Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. [14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15] and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16] In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17] and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God...

And here's where we left off last time...

...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.

Now be careful. Be careful because our tendency is to 'switch gears' at this point because we think Paul is 'switching gears'. He is not. He is still talking about “the whole armor of God”. He is still speaking in verses 18-20 about wrestling against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”. He is still describing for them how it is we can “stand against the schemes of the devil”.

How do these verses connect to what came before? Well, I think the best way to understand this section is to use the opening words as a road map for the rest of what we read in these verses. Look at those opening words again, praying at all times in the Spirit...

Let's break that phrase down into the three parts and see what God is teaching us here.

 

A. “...Praying...” (6:18)

We see from that first word the absolute importance of what the opening parable described. “Praying”...prayer! If as we talked about last week, “the whole armor of God” is nothing more than a creative way to talk about the protection we find in the gospel, the Good News about Jesus, then we need to see that prayer is absolutely central to what Christ accomplished on the cross.

What is prayer? Well in this context, we might say, prayer is going to, talking with, and depending on our heavenly Commander. Prayer is coming to Lord of Hosts, the God of armies. And coming with confidence because of what Jesus did in cleansing us and covering. Hebrews 4 expresses this so beautifully...

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. [15] For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

How do we “draw near...in time of need”? Through prayer! Apart from prayer, we are tempted to make the truths of the gospel into some kind of formula. But through prayer, we are looking to God as our leader in the daily battle. If the gospel brings us to God, than we are most protected when we call out to our heavenly commander. We are acknowledging our desperate need for His experience, his knowledge, his authority, his resources.

Paul expands on this idea of prayer in the second phrase from verse 18. Look at it again: ...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication [or we could just as easily say, with all prayer and petition. Well I think the all here should be understood as something like “all kinds”. The commentator Matthew Henry explains it this way:

...with all kinds of prayer: public, private, and secret, social and solitary, solemn and sudden; with all the parts of prayer: confession of sin, petition for mercy, and thanksgivings for favors received. (Matthew Henry)

This is combined with petitions, those requests that we bring to God for ourselves or others. But Paul tells us more at the beginning of verse 18.

 

B. “...At All Times...” (6:18b)

He writes: praying...AT ALL TIMES in the Spirit. What does Paul mean, “at all times”. Well look for a minute at how Paul uses all in this section. He writes...In all circumstances (16), At all times (18), With all prayer (18), With all perseverance (18), For all the saints (18). There is wideness to the scope that Paul is describing. This is not a niche idea. These are not instructions for “a rainy day”. Just as Paul wants them to “take up” the “armor of God...in all circumstances”, He also calls them to pray “at all times”.

In Luke 18, the writer tells us that Jesus taught His followers “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart”. In I Thessalonians 5:17, Paul instructs his readers to “pray without ceasing”, and in Romans 12:12 he expresses the same idea this way: “be constant in prayer”.

Now, we know from the rest of what is written in Jesus' teaching and Paul's letters that the whole of the Christian life is not to be spent in prayer alone. So what do all of these verses mean? They simply mean that prayer should be a common and consistent part of our lives, manifested in a regular practice of prayer, as well as an attempt to live in a spirit of prayer at all times.

The last part of verse 18 builds on this idea: To that end keep alert with all perseverance... To what end? With “praying at all times” as our goal. What does that require. It requires spiritual alertness and it requires perseverance. As Luke's summary expressed it, “that [we] ought always to pray and lose heart”. Are you persevering in prayer, or have you lost heart? Are we alert, or our spiritual senses dull? The original readers of Ephesians, and Thessalonians, and Romans were no different from us, were they? Paul knew they struggled with regular prayer, a struggle rooted in a failure to be spiritually alert. So he encouraged them in the same way we need to be encouraged.

 

C. “...In the Spirit...” (6:18c-20)

But there's one more part of that opening phrase in verse 18: praying at all times...IN THE SPIRIT. Now what in the world does that look like. At first glance, it almost sounds like something extremely mystical, almost like going into a trance and praying in a higher state of consciouness.

But if we look at how this phrase “in the Spirit” is used in the New Testament, I think we could say that being “in the Spirit” simply means being “under the influence of the Holy Spirit”. Listen to how this makes sense of the following examples...

In Acts 19:21 we read, Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit [or under the influence of the Spirit] to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem...

Paul writes in Romans 8:9...You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, [you are under the influence of the Spirit] if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.

And in I Corinthains 12:3...Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit [no one speaking under the influence of the Sprit] of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit [or under the influence of the Holy Spirit]

In the NT, there are 25 places where the phrase “in the Spirit” or “in the Holy Spirit” is used, and all of them make perfect sense when you substitute the phrase “under the influence of the Spirit”. And that's exactly what Paul is saying here. Remember what Paul has already told the Ephesians about the work of the Spirit in their lives (and God is remind us of this if we belong to Jesus through faith):

He prayed that....that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him...(1:17), and...that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength [remember, “strengthened with power through His Spirit”...to do what?...] to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (3:16-19)

He went on to say in chapter 5...And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, [that is, “let the Spirit influence you”] [19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, [20] giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ... (5:18-21)

So how does all of this apply to “praying at all times IN THE SPIRT”, that is, “praying at all times under the influence of the Spirit”? Well Paul demonstrates what that means in the rest of the passage. Being under the influence of the Spirit of God in prayer means...

...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.

How does the Spirit influence our prayers? By directing us to pray according to the will of God, and not our own will. To pray for what He desires, not according to our own desires. And as we see here, God desires for His church to be built up, and for the gospel to be announced boldly. Another apostle, John, spells this out in I John 5:14, 15...And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. [15] And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. [How? Through the influence of His Spirt].

For them to pray “in the Spirit”, is to pray through the lens the Spirit gives, to not only see what is most important, but to let all our prayers be shaped by what is most important.

 


III. Being Daily Outfitted

So what have we seen? We've seen that “taking up” and “putting on” the “whole armor of God” cannot happen apart from prayer. Why? Because being daily outfitted in the armor is something only God can do in our hearts and minds. What Jesus did on the cross is a finished victory. But practically, living in light of that finished victory is a daily battle. And without our General, we are hopelessly lost.

Let me do this. Let me try to summarize and make practical this whole study in Ephesians 6 by leaving you with three simple suggestions for really living this out:

First, true spiritual warfare begins in your life when you become alert to the true nature of the plot against you. God wants you to stop each day and remember that there is more to your challenges than meets the eye. The rebellious child, the flirty co-worker, the back-stabbing friend, the neglectful spouse, the annoying neighbor, the difficult supervisor, the bitter family member...none of these people are the real issue.

Verse 12: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood...The real plot is carried out by “spiritual forces of evil” who want to use these people and situations to steer you away from Christ and his gospel. When you understand the spiritual threat, you look for spiritual protection.

Second, true protection in the midst of this warfare comes as you daily remind yourself of the content and consequences of the gospel message. Brothers and sisters, you must spend time thinking carefully about what Christ did for you and how that changes everything about how you look at the world. Bring gospel questions to the Bible? Utilize other resources that can help you do that. Do you have problems? Well, then don't simply look for ways to fix your problems. Look for what ways to see your problems through the lens of the gospel.

For example: When we feel unloved by friend or spouse, we often try to fix that by attention-getting tactics, passive-aggressive withdrawal, or bitterness-fueled attacks. But when we look through the gospel, we are reminded that being unloved by that person cannot define us, because our identity, because of Jesus, is rooted in being loved perfectly with perfect love. Therefore assurance of that love empowers us to love, even those who are not loving us.

Third and finally, spiritual warfare is not a formula applied, but a perspective formed through your prayerful dependence on God's Spirit. As we've seen this morning, Paul want to make it clear to his readers, God wants to make it clear to us, that these principles are not “six easy steps to spiritual victory”. This is not a kind of reference manual to use in spiritual combat, “If A, go to page 19...if B, go to page 78.”

No, you and I need to wake up each day and cry out to God, “Father, give me the eyes to see the plot. Father, give me the mind to remember the gospel. Father, give me the heart to embrace your promises. Father, give me the will to stand firm in your will.” (2x) But then, throughout the day, replay that prayer. Apply it in particular situations. Let it reorient you in failure. Give thanks as you see, as you remember, as you embrace, as you discover strength to obey.

You see, this final part about prayer simply connects us back to the beginning in verse 10: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Let's go to our heavenly Commander right now and talk with Him about these very things.