Three Final Thoughts
July 30, 2017 | Randy Smith
Three Final ThoughtsEphesians 6:18-24
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
We have arrived at our final sermon in the book of Ephesians. If you have been with us from the start, I trust you have been convicted, challenged and encouraged. Though I often feel this way after I preach through an entire book in the Bible, considering the past 16 years here at Grace I believe this study through Ephesians has been my favorite to date.
The first three chapters explained the greatness of God and the greatness of our salvation in Christ. Then the final three chapters gave specific instruction as to how we are to conduct ourselves. Only six chapters, just over 3,000 words, but as far as comprehending the Christian life and knowing what it means to live for Christ, this inspired letter even exceeds our highest expectations.
So how does the Apostle Paul wrap up this masterpiece in verses 18-24? I see it as a cascade of three thoughts. The past discussion of spiritual warfare leads to thoughts about prayer - the first cascade. People who pray will love others - the second cascade. And people who love others will desire their very best in Christ - the third cascade. And as you can see in your bulletin, those three thoughts form our outline this morning.
1. Spiritual Warriors Pray
The first cascade, spiritual warriors pray, verses 18-20.
While it's not linked with a piece of Roman armor, it's almost impossible to imagine doing spiritual warfare without the practice of prayer. Without prayer it's impossible to say we are depending on God in the spiritual battle. One author said, "Prayer is foundational for the development of the other weapons." Another commented, "Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer." Prayer is the very spiritual air the soldier of Christ breathes.
So therefore, Paul, after concluding his instruction on spiritual warfare in verses 10-17, reminds us about the need to fight the devil with prayer. Yet though he ties it to spiritual warfare, he also gives the subject of prayer, in a sense, its own category. The reason being is because prayer is always an essential responsibility for the Christian in all areas of life.
John MacArthur said, "Ephesians begins by lifting us up to the heavenlies, and ends by pulling us down to our knees. 'Don't think,' Paul concludes, in effect, 'that because you have all these blessings and resources that you can now live the Christian life without further help from God'" (Ephesians, p. 378).
I often get a lot of specific questions on the subject of prayer. Many of those questions are answered in verse 18 from the Word of God as Paul emphasizes certain components of prayer. Four out of five of them are highlighted with the four-time repeated use of the word, "all."
First, what is prayer? According to verse 18, among other things (praise, adoration, thanksgiving, confession), prayer is petition. What does petition mean? Petition is bringing special requests before God. We know the physical posture and position of prayer is not as important as your content and especially our heart's condition before the Lord - personal, fervent, reverent, thoughtful. And when our heart is right before the Lord, we find ourselves coming to God with the right motives and asking for the right things in our petitions. And part of asking for the right things is asking specifically. These are the components of a good prayer petition.
Second, when should I pray? Verse 18 says we should "pray at all times." We call this being in the continuous spirit of prayer. Obviously we are not always offering up specific petitions to God 24 hours a day, but we are always God conscience and always existing with a feeling of communion with Him. Paul was getting at this in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 when he said to "pray without ceasing." There is never a bad time to pray and never a matter in our lives that should go without prayer. As we read here, we should "pray at all times."
Third, what is the manner in which I should pray? According to verse 18, we should pray "in the Spirit." That simply says we are always in union with the Holy Spirit. For example, He helps us pray consistently with Christ's will. He reminds us to pray in Christ's name. He provides for us the thoughts and words in prayer. He checks our motives. He assists us to approach God with holy lives.
Fourth, what I the attitude of prayer? Verse 18, "Be on the alert with all perseverance and petition." The attitude of prayer is always one of commitment. I see the words "alert" and "perseverance" in my translation. It's a spirit that sees needs, especially spiritual needs, that require God's assistance (i.e. overcoming sin, thanking and praising God throughout the day, witnessing opportunities, etc.). And it's the attitude that keeps praying persistently over those needs without growing weary. To use the armor imagery, it's standing alert ("standing firm") in the battle, trusting and keeping open lines of communication at all times with your commanding officer. Persevering prayer!
And fifth, who should I pray for? Of course all people (unbelievers, government, enemies, church leaders, etc.), but Paul at the end of verse 18 singles out "all the saints." In other words, our prayers should be primarily concentrated on meeting the needs of other believers.
This, among other things, is what we try to accomplish on Wednesday nights here at the church. Of course we pray for physical needs, but we focus on spiritual needs as those are the greatest concern. Of course we pray for all people, but we focus on believers, especially the believers in this church and the missions we support.
An interesting and important thought at this point. Oftentimes we hear people ask for prayer for themselves. Obviously that is fine, but what we see Paul do here is not initially ask for prayer for himself, but rather for other Christians. We agree that the Christians life is "others before me," but for some reason the topic of prayer often gets a pass. If we think about it, we mainly ask for personal prayer and the content of our personal prayers often revolves primarily around ourselves. We're all guilty of a preoccupation with self and sadly it's most often seen in our prayer lives. It's the "Can you pray for me?" versus "How may I pray for you?"
Let's remember, where was Paul when he wrote these words? He was a prisoner in jail (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). And his first prayer request is for other believers. What an incredible love for others that transcended his personal needs! Prayer is the most loving thing we can do for another. Paul showed that love. And what faith Paul had in the power of prayer!
Now in verse 19, Paul eventually does get around to asking for prayer for himself, but it's not for a physical ailment or the common things we normally request in prayer. As a matter of fact, it's worth noting that he doesn't even ask for his release from prison.
What does he ask for? Verses 19 and 20, "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, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak."
Remarkable! It's not about what Paul deems is best for himself. It's about what Paul deems is best for God and God's cause. This is the heart of a genuine Christian. You ask, how did he get this heart? That heart can only come from God and it comes through doing what Paul commanded in verse 18. He believed in a continual life-line with God in prayer. He practiced what he preached. And what developed from that was a heart after God's own heart.
Specifically in verses 19 and 20, Paul's concern was the lost without Christ. So he wants prayer for himself, but it was only that he might effectively witness to the lost. People made in the image of God and created to enjoy fellowship with Him were bowing down to the idols of false worship, existing on borrowed time until the hourglass expires and they are eternally separated from their Creator.
Paul saw himself, verse 20, as "an ambassador." And ambassador is term used for a representative of someone else. Often the high ranking dignitary would not go everywhere himself, but send an ambassador to represent him both in word and conduct. Paul viewed himself, as should we, as an ambassador of Christ. It was an esteemed position. And this is a solemn responsibility we all share. We are to show Christ to others and speak on His behalf.
The irony behind this is the fact that the ambassador would seek to mirror the honor and status and prestige of the one he represented. Paul represented God (the highest dignitary possible) and he was, as he says in verse 20, "an ambassador in chains." Normally that would be an insult (like a guy on death row representing the President), but Paul took it as a badge of honor because his chains clearly represented his commitment to Christ and willingness to suffer for His name. Paul offered no apologies.
Paul's desire, that while he was being punished for sharing Christ with others (talk about the temptation to keep your mouth shut - spiritual warfare!), that he would continue to speak of Christ "with all boldness" and use the right words as he opened his mouth to proclaim the Gospel. And Paul knew that as mighty in Christ as he was, in order to do this effectively he needed the prayers of the church. This was his primary prayer request.
2. Prayerful Hearts Love
So the first cascade was from spiritual warfare to prayer. Now from prayer we cascade to love - our second point. Humble devotion to Christ naturally leads to prayer. Then we find ourselves developing a heart of love. And then that love is expressed in the desire (as we saw) to pray for others and also show that love in tangible ways. So how can Paul do that when he is in prison? Very simple! He will send the church in Ephesus a gift, one of his most prized traveling companions. He will send them (verse 21) a man named Tychicus.
Tychicus is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. He was from the province of Asia (Ac. 20:41) and was found often with Paul, especially during the later years of his ministry. In verse 21 Paul calls him "the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord."
Imagine being incarcerated as an innocent man. What comfort Tychicus must have brought Paul to have a "beloved brother" and "faithful minister" by his side. Yet Paul desired to send his dear friend, Tychicus to Ephesus. For what reason? To express his love for the church. You ask, how?
One, verse 21, so the church "may know about [his] circumstances, how [he] is doing." After all, Paul did ask for personal prayer. Why not send a personal report through Tychicus? Additionally, no doubt the church was concerned about Paul so Paul would add to his burden by relieving their burden (cf. Phil. 2:25-30). Paul explains that in verse 22. "I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts." The man in chains sought to comfort others!
Another reason Tychicus was sent is that it is believed he actually delivered this letter to the Ephesian church. This again gives evidence of Paul's trust in Tychicus. He was truly (verse 21) a "faithful minister" in the Lord.
3. Loving Hearts Care
And then to our third and final cascade. Paul demonstrated his loving heart through the sending of Tychicus and he also demonstrated his loving heart by desiring God's richest blessings on the church. Let me take you to verse 23, our final point, "Loving Hearts Care."
The closing verse in Ephesians sounds similar to many of Paul's benedictions in the letters he wrote. Just before signing off, he asks God to bless the church with peace, love and grace. This is not an indiscriminate blessing to all people, but rather, verse 24, only to "those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love."
The mission we've been given is to reach the world for Christ as His ambassadors. Yet we must not neglect, as many Christians do, in our effort to reach the lost our responsibility to love the saved. A love for the church. A love for "those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love" (verse 24). A desire to see God use us if possible to bless them with His peace, love and grace.
Spiritual warriors pray. Prayer leads to a heart like God's heart. Hearts like God's heart will love - love those without Christ and especially love those in Christ. So as we close this magnificent study in Ephesians, may this church always be a community of peace, love and grace. For that is evidence that God is among us and in us (Jn. 13:35).