Growing in the Mission
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:19a (Holman) Pray also for me,. . .
For a brief moment, Paul now called attention to himself and his own needs. From a dark, dank, dungeon-cell in Rome, he called to his comrades in far-off Asia, “Pray for me.” Paul made this request often. He prayed for the churches, and regularly asked them to pray for him (RM 15:30; CL 4:3; 1 TH 5:25; 2 TH 3:1).
It is amazing that this extremely gifted man asked ordinary people like us to pray for him. Neither cocky nor self-assured, he knew he needed help from Heaven. Jesus cannot use self-sufficient people, for they feel no need for His power.
Paul bore the heavy load all Christian leaders are forced to carry. Pastors, staff members, deacons, Sunday School workers, and other lay-leaders can be most effective only if people–especially the ones they serve–are interceding for them.
Church leaders need extraordinary prayer. Heat is intense at the forefront of a battle. Leaders in the conflict are special targets of Satan. He knows if he can discredit a leader, he discredits all of Christianity in the minds of many people.
Failure of any believer negatively affects our Kingdom mission. The fall of a leader especially dishonors Christ, embarrasses His name, and brings humiliation on our churches, creating heavy baggage for all Christians to carry in the mission.
America’s churches have suffered scandals enough. Too many leaders have fallen. This blood-letting must stop. Pray our leaders will live above reproach.
Christian leadership entails being faithful in inner virtue and outer holiness. However gifted you are, if you are not willing to live a cut above the rest, do not accept a leadership position. I have lived under a double standard all my life, as a preacher’s kid and as a preacher. It has never bothered me a bit. I ask our leaders to accept the challenge of a higher walk, and I ask the rest of us to pray for them.
Eph. 6:19b . . .that the message may be given to me,. . .
In verse 19, Paul asked the Ephesians to pray three requests for him; all dealt with speech. First, he wants his words to be appropriate. One of life’s precious gifts is the ability do the mission well, to identify the mood of an unbeliever, and to be able to say exactly what needs to be said. Paul knew this trait was “given”. It was received, not inherent. Paul was a master of words, yet he knew he needed God’s help to talk right. Even the mighty Apostle depended on God for “the message”.
Though he had pursued the mission 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, do not rush into a monologue, inwardly pray first. Ask God to give us exact words we need to say.
God wants to use our lips to bless others. Our lips ask God for answers to our own prayers. Why not ask God to make our lips the answer to someone else’s prayer, to make our talk a blessing to others? This is not a gift of blarney or the gift of blab. Many talk a lot, but say nothing. The issue is, with God’s help, speaking appropriately. One Sunday I was leaving my home church in Cape Girardeau to return to St. Louis for college. I was sad, thinking no one was noticing my departure. Then Grandma Marshall walked out of the crowd toward me and said, “We love you, Johnny, and we miss you.” The memory of those words refreshes me to this day. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (PR 25:11).
Eph. 6:19c . . .when I open my mouth to make known with boldness,. . .
Paul’s second request is that his words would be bold. Note his humility. He was a man of courage, yet knew he could fall into cowardice any instant. For the mission, Paul had defied mobs, debated kings, confronted storms at sea, faced death in prison. He had looked undaunted, but now we see the truth. He confessed he came to Corinth “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).
Outwardly Paul usually seemed bold as a lion, but inwardly he often shook. A person can look strong and self-composed on the outside while trembling inside.
Life’s victories aren’t necessarily to the strong, but to the fearful who refuse to give in to their fear. Are we afraid? Yes. Do we let our fear paralyze us? No.
Paul desired victory over his own fears. He wanted to utter the truth of the mission without hesitation and without fear of personal inconvenience. He yearned to hold nothing back, whether to earn people’s praise, or to escape their scorn. Paul would soon stand before Caesar’s tribunal, and wanted to speak “with boldness”. He feared he might falter by yielding to his fear. Thus he asked for prayers for him.
Today many of us who want to be sold out to the mission struggle against our own fears. Just when believers most need to be heard from, we fear to speak. We are to speak truth in love: to be diplomatic, and bold in our witness for Jesus.
This hour of need demands of us boldness. Be true to our legacy. Our brave Captain, who pursued the mission with undaunted courage when the arrows flew thickest, does not expect us to be cowardly soldiers. Isaac Watts’ challenges us:
Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?
Eph. 6:19d . . .the mystery of the gospel.
Paul’s third request is that his words would be focused on the mission. He wanted to avoid being distracted, diverted from his appointed course. Paul wanted to keep the main thing the main thing, to remember his main purpose, his primary priority, to make known “the mystery of the gospel.” He desired to tell people how to be saved, to let everyone know the secrets God had revealed about salvation.
Every Christian has three basic spheres of responsibility: holiness unto God, exercising a spiritual gift in the local church, witnessing to the lost. Holiness, spiritual gifts, and soul-winning constitute three basic ingredients of Christian living.
Some wrongly excuse themselves from their mission-obligation to win souls by saying they do not have the gift of evangelism. Evangelism is not a spiritual gift. The Bible refers to the gift of evangelist, an office filled by people who preach effectively to the lost (e.g. Billy Graham, Billy Sunday), but the act of evangelism is not a spiritual gift. God commands all Christians to be a witness, to evangelize.
Since God requires soul-winning of all believers, it is an activity God will empower all Christians to do. What God commands, God will enable. Thus, when we have opportunity to witness, but sense our will withering under Satan’s assault, we must hide ourselves within the power and promise of God for help. When it comes to the mission, Satan always tempts us to be quiet. When we face this trap, we need to retreat into prayer rather than into our pat excuses for not witnessing.
We can become so skillful at reciting excuses that they keep us not only from witnessing, but also from prayer. Often, we are not only not witnessing, but also not praying about witnessing, our excuses having salved and callused our consciences. As we pray for the lost, include in our mission praying, “Lord, use me.”
Unfortunately, I know the excuses well. I have mastered them all. Some excuse themselves from the mission, saying they fear they will drive the lost farther away. Where can we drive them to? Hell number two, or Hell number three?
Many claim they don’t know what to say in a soul-winning situation. We’ll train you. Some do not feel worthy to share. While we soothe our consciences with a false piety and bogus humility, our loved ones are going to a Christ-less eternity.
We sometimes use as an excuse our natural timidity; we are too bashful. Our text waylays this rationalization. Our natural temperament has nothing to do with whether or not we can witness. It hangs only on supernatural empowerment. Failure in the mission is never a failure in personality, but rather a failure in prayer.
The mission of spreading the Gospel was Paul’s greatest accomplishment. Our text reminds us where the power came from–from God. Mission-success was not inherent in Paul. He was not self-confident. Prayer was his key to success.
Effective witnessing has to come from God. No matter how eloquently we speak, or how good our presentation is, only God can make the message effective. We speak to the ear, only God can take the message from the ear to the heart.