THE PROTECTION OF THE SAINTS AND THE FORWARD PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL DEPEND ON ALERT INTERCESSORY PRAYER
Harold Hoehner: It is important to note the repetition in this verse. Prayer and petition are mentioned four times. This is not tautology but done for the sake of emphasis. It suggests the thoroughness and intensity in regards to prayer. The adjective πᾶς (“every, all”) is also mentioned four times. As believers take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, they should pray at every opportunity, through every prayer and petition, with all persistence and petition for all the saints. In the midst of spiritual warfare Paul emphasizes the vital importance of prayer. Paul certainly modeled this as seen twice in Ephesians (1:15–23; 3:14–21).
Kyle Snodgrass: The NIV translation and paragraph division of 6:18–20 loses the sequence of thought. Prayer (v. 18) is not just the next command given, and while some translations and editions of the Greek New Testament start a new sentence here, this loses the connection with the preceding ideas. As indicated above, the words translated “pray” and “be alert” in verse 18 are participles, not imperatives. Some would connect these participles all the way back to “stand firm” in verse 14 and see them as describing how all the armor is acquired. Theologically this makes sense, but grammatically it is unlikely. The most obvious connection is to “take” in verse 17, which is reinforced by the repetition of “Spirit” in verse 18. The intent is to underscore the demeanor of those who take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. The well-armed soldier in Christ’s army, by definition, is continually praying in the Spirit and alert.
Grant Osborne: Prayer is not a sixth piece of armor but the enabling force that governs the effectiveness of the entire set. The armor is bathed in and consecrated by prayer and draws its power from it. The key term is “all,” which Paul uses four times to stress the all-embracing nature and force of prayer. Prayer is a foundation for all Christian activity, and especially for the holy war against the powers of evil. Prayer becomes a channel through which the presence of God is invited into a situation, and it enhances the almighty power of God that stands behind the individual pieces of armor as they are wielded in spiritual battle.
Andrew Lincoln: Prayer for strengthening from God can be seen as a major way in which believers appropriate the divine armor and are enabled to stand.
Frank Thielman: In order to stand against the strategies of the devil and other evil powers, believers must, in addition to putting on the armor of God, pray with constancy, devotion, and alertness. This new section is tied grammatically to 6:10–20 by the dependence of the two participles in 6:18 on the imperative δέξασθε (dexasthe, receive) in 6:17. Thematically, however, the section begins a new train of thought. The military imagery largely disappears, and Paul now focuses on a straightforward appeal to his readers to devote themselves to prayer for all believers, and especially for him.
I. (:18) THE PROTECTION OF THE SAINTS DEPENDS ON INTERCESSORY PRAYER THAT IS ALL ENCOMPASSING
[Note four repetitions of the word “all“]
A. All Types of Intercessory Prayer Are Essential
- General Requests
“With all prayer“
- Specific Requests
Harold Hoehner: In the wake of an imminent attack, believers are to take up the last two pieces of armor, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. The manner in which this is done is to be in a constant state of prayer and alertness. This is necessary because the battle is superhuman and needs to be fought with supernatural means and power. . .
In the immediate context, praying in the Spirit may well be connected to the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is, on the one hand, God’s spoken word to put his enemies to flight and, on the other hand, the believers’ utterance to God in prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit to aid in the struggle against the evil powers. In the larger picture, however, this context relates prayer to the taking of the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the last piece of defensive armor and the only piece of offensive armor respectively. It is the believers’ cry to God on the occasion of assault. Trust in God’s wisdom is necessary, for he provides the helmet of salvation and enables them to use their swords effectively in defense against the hosts of the wicked one.
John MacArthur: All the while that we are fighting in the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet or salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, we are to be in prayer. Prayer is the very spiritual air that the soldier of Christ breathes. It is the all–pervasive strategy in which warfare is fought….Ephesians begins by lifting us up to the heavenlies, and ends by pulling us down to our knees.
B. Spirit-Directed Intercessory Prayer Is Essential At All Times / On All Occasions
“pray at all times in the Spirit“
Clinton Arnold: To pray “in the Spirit” (ἐν πνεύματι) means to seek the Spirit’s guidance, direction, and help constantly in prayer. The dative case with the preposition is often interpreted as a dative of sphere (“in the realm of the Spirit”), which leaves us with a rather vague understanding of what the phrase actually means. It is better understood as a dative of means, that is, praying “by the Spirit.” The Spirit stands by the side of believers to prompt them to pray, to direct them whom to pray for and how to pray, as well as to energize them in praying for themselves and others. . . Even when we do not know how we should pray, the Spirit is involved in interceding with God on our behalf (Rom 8:26–27).
Andrew Lincoln: The writer is calling for prayer inspired, guided, and made effective through the Spirit. Those who are united in their access to the Father through the Spirit (2:18), who are built into God’s dwelling place in the Spirit (2:22), and who are being filled with the Spirit (5:18) can and should pray constantly in and through this Spirit.
R. C. Sproul: All of our warfare and all of our activity must take place in the context of constant, unceasing prayer. Just as a soldier on the battle line has to keep in constant communication with his general headquarters and his commanding officer, so the Christian who is on the battle line must be in constant communication with his Lord. He might be fully equipped with all of the armor, but if he is cut off from personal communication with his own commander, then he will be isolated and vulnerable.
C. All Perseverance and Alertness Are Required
“and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition“
Harold Hoehner: Prayer causes alertness and alertness keeps believers in prayer. If they are not alert, they do not see the dangers and thus see no need to pray. With the enemy making his assaults, the believers are to be enveloped with prayer and to this end they are continuing to be alert with all persistence and petition.
Frank Thielman: Paul urges believers to give themselves over to prayer with the kind of enthusiasm and zeal normally associated with the committed practice of a craft or trade (cf. Col. 4:2; Acts 1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4).
Stephen Fowl: Every prayer, offered always in the Spirit, should work to keep the Ephesians alert in all perseverance and prayer for all the saints. The notion of keeping watchful and praying will remind readers of the Gospels of Jesus’ admonition to his followers when he presents them with a set of signs for his return. In several textual versions of Mark 13:33, Jesus tells his disciples to “watch and pray,” using the same Greek verbs as in Eph 6:18, because they do not know when these things will happen. In Luke 21:36 Jesus again uses similar vocabulary to advise the disciples to “watch and pray” that they may be strengthened. Although different verbs are used, Jesus in Gethsemane also admonishes his disciples to watch and pray that they may be able to resist the “time of trial” (Mark 14:38 par.). Thus, given the nature of the struggle that Paul has outlined in 6:12, it would be odd if he did not advocate a similar pattern of prayer and watchfulness for the Ephesians.
John MacArthur: Re agrupneo — refers to staying awake or maintaining a watchful sensitivity. This is strategic in prayer to enable one to know what to pray at the right time and not be asleep at the switch. The person praying is to keep this alert vigil “with all perseverance” (proskarterēsis), a quality of steadfast endurance, literally “a holding fast to.”
Early cowboys guarding a herd at night sometimes took drastic measures to keep alert and hold fast to their work. They rubbed tobacco juice in their eyes to keep at their vigil and to stay awake when weary. They did it in the interests of their boss and for the safety of the cattle. Can we keep effectively steadfast in prayer for the sake of our Lord and for the benefit of others?
D. All the Saints Are Standing in Need of Such Prayer
“For All the Saints“
Grant Osborne: Finally, this persevering prayer is to be uttered on behalf of “all the Lord’s people.” True prayer will be comprehensive, enveloping the whole church and including all its needs. Of course, this was easier in the ancient house church, with forty or fifty people, than it is in modern churches with hundreds or even thousands of participants. Still, the implication is that the saints are to be deeply concerned for each other and desire to be involved in each other’s lives, and this includes interceding for the personal needs of those around us. A church characterized by oneness is a praying church.
II. (:19-20) THE FORWARD PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL DEPENDS ON INTERCESSORY PRAYER FOR BOLDNESS OF PROCLAMATION
A. Even the Greatest Evangelists Must Depend on the Intercessory Prayers of Others
“and pray on my behalf“
Clinton Arnold: Paul ends this section by requesting prayer for himself—that he can resist the temptation to be intimidated by his circumstances and that he will be divinely enabled to declare the gospel with boldness and clarity. . .
The term for “chain” (ἅλυσις) “unambiguously indicates the actual chain” by which Paul was manacled to a Roman guard and signaled why he sought prayer for boldness. The insult and shame of imprisonment should be seen as pertinent background to Paul’s request for God’s empowerment to proclaim the gospel boldly. In principle, Paul never wanted to feel shame for the gospel since it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16–17). Therefore, close to the end of his life, he urged Timothy to “not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, nor ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (2 Tim 1:8).
B. Boldness in Proclamation is the Key to the Forward Progress of the Gospel
“that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth to make known
with boldness the mystery of the gospel“
Frank Thielman: This refers to the mystery defined earlier in the letter and contained in the gospel. It is the revelation that Jews and Gentiles are being brought together as they believe the gospel and become part of Christ’s body (3:3–6, 9–10). It is also the revelation that this social unity is part of a cosmic unity that will eventually embrace everything in the heavens and on earth (1:9–10), including “all rule and authority and power and lordship” (1:21). This may have been precisely the element of the mystery that Paul was tempted to leave out of any testimony before a government official.
C. Such Boldness is Appropriate
“for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak
boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Kyle Snodgrass: Because of the gospel, Paul was an ambassador in chains (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20, where Paul describes himself as “Christ’s ambassador”). The word “ambassador” was used of a legate of the emperor. Paul’s claim to being an ambassador is virtually the same as saying he is an apostle. As the representative of Christ, he has been sent with a message. This emphasizes the dignity of his work, but instead of respect and honor, he has received chains and imprisonment (cf. Acts 20:28; 2 Tim. 1:16). M. Barth suggests a play with the word “chain.” On festive occasions ambassadors wore ornamental chains as a mark of the prestige of their countries. Paul’s chain is a fitting symbol of his crucified Lord, but it also underscores the evil of this world. Implicit in this self-description is a message to the recipients not to misread the situation or be embarrassed by his imprisonment.
Stephen Fowl: The great scandal here is that Paul is an ambassador in chains, on behalf of the mystery of the gospel. One can read this as a mark of Paul’s fidelity to his mission. That is, the world, and the powers in particular, is so hostile to God’s economy of salvation that it rightly sees Paul as a faithful minister of that economy and focuses its hostility on Paul. In addition, this image reminds the Ephesians that their witness to the powers is not incompatible with being in chains and that witness cannot be thwarted by their imprisonment.