Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
For the St. Louis Ministers Conference, March 4, 1996
Eph. 6:18a “Praying. . .”
The figurative language of being dressed in armor is over, but Paul, though passing from metaphor to literal speech, is still discussing how a Christian stands fast in the conflict. God’s armor is useful only when used in fellowship with God.
If I had my life to live over, I would spend more time in my younger years mastering the discipline of prayer. Oh! how I wish I had read more biographies of prayer warriors and more books about prayer. I am overwhelmingly conscious of a need for more power in my prayers, but I find myself a middle aged man possessing what I feel to be a child’s grasp of prayer. I should be approaching maturity in prayer, but am instead just beginning. I am playing “catch up,” and I do not like it.
Dear preachers, we must give ourselves to prayer. Once fully clad in armor, turn first, not toward Satan, but toward Christ. He grants us an armory we can employ against Him. He is willing to be overthrown, to be solicited into the conflict, to be reverently “commanded” as it were. He seems to say, “Now that you have My armor, come wrestle with Me first. Let us strive together. You shall win, and I shall surrender to you My power in answer to your prayer.” God waits to be taken.
In the day of battle, the time of danger, sound an alarm in the ears of Heaven. Lay hold on God. “Keep not silence, and give Him no rest” (Isa. 62:6-7). When Satan attacks, we have freedom to send distress signals, specific requests for help. The devil cannot sever our communication line with God, but we can fail to use it.
The Knights of Charlemagne once unnecessarily suffered a terrible defeat. Reinforcements were waiting nearby, but Roland, the commander, was too proud to ask for help. All he had to do was blow his horn, but he refused to, and as a result his men were massacred. Warriors, blow the horn of heaven. Call God to your aid. Even the mighty Apostle Paul knew he needed the help provided by prayer.
Eph. 6:19a “And for me,. . .”
From a dark, dank, dungeon-cell, he calls to his comrades, “Pray for me.” This extremely gifted man asked ordinary people to pray for him. No cocky, self-assuredness lodged in his breast. He knew he needed help from Heaven.
Early on, I learned the importance of praying for preachers. When I was a boy, Brother Ollie Zimmerman, one of my childhood Sunday School teachers, would pray often, “Bless our pastor as he stands behind the sacred desk.” Another common prayer was, “Hide our preacher behind the cross.” In my seminary pastorate, Dee Hamilton would pray, “Father, as Bro. John preaches, let the words come from You through him to us.” Hidden behind the cross, standing behind a sacred desk, words from God through the pastor to the sheep–these prayer images are deeply emblazoned upon my heart.
Pastors, pray to be kept from the danger of sliding slowly down the slope of carnality. Preachers who foul out do not usually go directly from doing good things in the Spirit to falling into open sin. They first go from doing good things in the Spirit to doing good things in the flesh, and then fall into open sin. The first failure is in becoming self-sufficient, rather than depending on God for strength.
Eph. 6:19b “. . .that utterance may be given unto me,. . .”
In verse 19, Paul asks the Ephesians to pray three specific requests on his behalf, all dealing with speech. First, he wants his words to be appropriate. One of life’s most precious gifts is the ability, in any given situation, to perceive with tenderness the mood of a sensitive moment and then to be able to say exactly what needs to be said. Paul believed this trait was “given,” something received and not inherent within. Paul was a master of language, his vocabulary was staggering, his words masterful–think of I Corinthians 13 and Romans 8–yet he knew he needed God’s help to talk right. Even the mighty Apostle depended on God for “utterance.”
Though in the ministry for years, Paul was still as dependent on heavenly empowerment as the day his work began. We never grow too big, too strong, too smart, or too old to need God’s help in knowing exactly what to say. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in this matter. As we talk with others, when a tender moment comes and extra sensitivity is sensed in another person, do not rush into a monologue, pray first in our inner self. Ask God to give us the exact words we need to say.
Eph. 6:19c “. . .that I may open my mouth boldly,. . .”
Paul’s second request in verse 19 is that his words would be bold. He wants frank, fearless, confident freedom in speech. Oh! dear saints, today’s churches are locked in a struggle against their own fears. Just when the Church needs to be heard from the worst, she is afraid to speak. We need to be diplomatic, to speak the truth in love, but I fear we have become too diplomatic, sidestepping too many issues. Not wanting to offend or be fanatics, we are not giving the world a clear signal. Our message is often garbled.
Our crying need is for boldness, a boldness which must begin in the pulpits. Pastors must be willing to don the mantle of brave leadership. When pastors are hesitant, uncertain and unclear in the pulpit, the sheep are left to wander aimlessly through a maze of complicated ethical and moral issues. The pastor’s role is not to try to force his views on others. People decide for themselves what to believe; the pastor seeks to help his people recognize the truth. A pastor must sense from his people a liberty to speak freely, to proclaim truth as he understands it. It is unfair to say a pastor who speaks boldly on an issue is seeking to cram his beliefs on others. Anyone who thinks otherwise has not been a Baptist as long as I have. Since when did a preacher’s words in the pulpit force anyone in the pew to agree with him?
Bold speech is a vital part of our preaching heritage. Bunyan was ordered not to preach, but did so anyway. For years he stayed in Bedford prison. His wife and blind daughter were at home, the jail door was left unlocked, the jailer said he could go home on condition he would not preach, but Bunyan said, “If I leave, I will begin preaching before I reach yonder hill.” Boldness was Bunyan’s hallmark.
Eph. 6:19d “. . .to make known the mystery of the gospel,”
Paul’s third request in our text is that his words would be, in addition to appropriate and bold, focused. He wants to avoid being distracted, diverted from his appointed course. Paul longs to stay focused, not scattered. He wants to keep the main thing the main thing, to remember his main purpose, his primary priority.
When it comes to soulwinning, Satan always tempts us to be quiet. When faced with this trap, retreat into prayer rather than into our pat excuses for not witnessing. I know the excuses well; unfortunately, I am a master of them all.
We can become so skillful at reciting excuses that they keep us not only from witnessing, but also from praying about witnessing. Our excuses salve and callus our consciences. When praying for the lost, include in our prayer, “Lord, use me.”
Spreading the Gospel was the Apostle’s greatest accomplishment, and our text reminds us where the power came from–from God. Success in soulwinning was not inherent in Paul. He was not self-confident. Prayer was his key to success. Failure in witnessing is never a failure in personality, but rather a failure in prayer.
Church leaders need extraordinary prayer. The heat is intense at the forefront of a battle, for leaders in the conflict are special targets of the devil. Satan knows if he can discredit a leader, he discredits all of Christianity in the minds of many people. The failure of any preacher negatively affects all the rest of us. The fall of a leader dishonors Christ, embarrasses His cause, and brings humiliation on churches, creating heavy baggage for all Christians to carry.
Our churches have suffered scandals enough. Too many leaders have fallen. The blood-letting must be stopped. Pray for fire from Heaven to purge away any hint of evil, that we may stand without reproach before the world and the church.