Please read Colossians 4
This morning’s sermon continues the theme of prayer in Paul’s words of verse 19 – 20 of Ephesians 6. Starting with verse 18 that has been our focus the last two Sundays –
18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; 19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
We will have two headings to guide our thoughts
1. Paul’s Prayer. v 19
2. Paul in Prison. v 20
1. Paul’s Prayer. v 19
Leading on from his directions on how to prayerfully wear the armour, Paul proceeds with
19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,
We should notice straight away that we do not find the Apostle Paul requesting prayer for himself, for such things as his physical comfort in the prison nor for his personal health and well-being. We do not hear him saying how dirty and smelly the cell is; nor how smelly the Roman soldier connected to him with a chain is either! We cannot hear him protesting about the food – the lack of it, or the sameness of it. He does not tell us about his rheumatism or other bodily ailments that he was bound to be suffering in such a situation.
Paul does not complain about his loneliness in Rome with few Christians to help him. Nor does he find himself so engulfed by a sea of worldly people who surrounded him there that he was in need of their pity.
But he does ask the Ephesian Christians for their prayers. What does he want them to pray about? What does he require them to write down in their prayer lists at the Church Prayer meeting and in their own devotions for him?
He asks that they pray that he might have boldness in preaching and witnessing, and faithfulness in the proclamation of the gospel to the unbelievers around him, whatever it cost him. Did he pray this because he was afraid, crippled with fear in the midst of an intimidating situation in prison? Was there just a little bit of unbelief creeping into Paul’s soul? The answer is a resounding NO! Paul never seems to be completely satisfied with his efforts as a Gospel minister. Despite his ardent proclamation of the Good news of the Lord Jesus Christ he wanted to be better and better in communicating the truth of His Lord’s death and resurrection. So he asks his brothers and sisters to pray for him – often and faithfully.
Was this an empty prayer? Was the Apostle just filling in the last few sentences at the end of this letter with words that sounded polite? No!
Let us notice the words that the Apostle uses here.
He prays for UTTERANCE. The Greek word is LOGOS – sometimes rendered “word” and usually refers to a saying, an account or speech using words.
Here he specifically means, “words uttered by a living voice.” He wants His voice to produce “the word.”
Elsewhere this word is used in 1 Corinthians 1 v 4
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him (THAT IS THE lord God), in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
The Christians at Corinth were commended for their ability to utter God’s word in those far off New Testament days when the Scriptures were being written under inspiration. Paul further commends the same believers in 2 Corinthians 8 v 7
Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.
Paul prays for utterance.
But was this his own opinions or teachings? Were these utterances the words of a man?
Notice in this 19th verse the next phrase. That
utterance may be given to me.
The Greek words here are most instructive. The verb to give, DIDOMAI, is rendered grammatically here like this “that he may give to me SO THAT I AM GIVEN.” (If you want it technically it is the 3rd Person singular, aorist optative, passive.) What on earth can Paul be meaning?
There is only one meaning – that is that Paul wants God Himself to so come upon him that he may be able to speak God’s word, God’s utterance, the logos, and only God’s word. Paul wants the Ephesians to pray that God would go on giving Paul utterance, and as we have noted, to get better and better at uttering the truth. This human messenger needed his mind to be flooded with divine light and his tongue to be touched with divine eloquence. And when it had been given, that Paul may then open his mouth and boldly speak in order to make known a very special message – more of that in a moment.
We could possibly find it incredible that such a gifted man as Paul should ask prayer for his speaking ministry. After all he was the one that had been called MERCURY in Acts 14 v 8
And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked: 9 The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, 10 Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked. 11 And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. 12 And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.
Paul had a great command of languages – Greek, Hebrew, Latin to name but three. But he still asked for prayer that he might speak faithfully and boldly. John Calvin remarks
“that Paul desired to be able to make a strong and clear confession of the saviour; because when the mouth is half shut, the sounds which it utters are doubtful and confused. To open the mouth is to speak with perfect freedom and without the smallest dread.”
Paul is a great example to us. We should never become so confident in our speaking to people about the Lord that we do not depend on Him for our words. Paul trusted in God’s powerful influence to open his mouth. He could look back at two scriptures that would have encouraged him –
Psalms 81 v 10 I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Ezekiel 3 v 27 But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house.
May we also, as ordinary Christians ministering in our day, be bold to open our mouths with Gospel truth.
Paul was also a man of great courage – but he wanted the Christians to pray that he might have boldness – he did not assume anything – his boldness came from the Lord too.
We cannot skip over the word boldly – it is a fascinating word that means to have freedom in speaking, fluency and confidence. More than this boldly means without any reserve, frankly, honestly, without ambiguity with freedom and a real sense of fearlessness. From what we read in the New Testament and particularly in Acts, Paul was just this kind of speaker! He was so keen to declare the mystery of the gospel, and nothing, not even a prison cell in Rome, would stop him from doing so! What determination!
So what was this message that Paul wished to utter? MOOSTERION EUANGELLIUM – the Mystery of the Gospel. Why is the Gospel described as a mystery? James Strong suggests that the mysterious nature of the Gospel is this –
“Mystery is the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men – but is plain to the godly.”
The plain fact this morning my friend is this. That if you find the gospel a mystery – if you cannot understand and comprehend the way that the Sovereign Lord God deals with sinners, bringing them to faith in His son the Lord Jesus Christ, then you are clearly not saved and the gospel is a mystery to you. God deliberately hides His good news from wicked and sinful men and women for His own purposes – until He chooses to individually reveal the truth to them in a supernatural way.
You are not prevented from knowing the FACTS AND TERMS of the Gospel for they can be understood intellectually. But unless and until the Lord in His sovereign moving of grace opens your heart you will only ever know the Gospel intellectually – and not savingly.
What are the terms of the Gospel, the Evangel?
The Gospel is the Good News of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ the Messiah, the anointed founder of the Kingdom. The Gospel is the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered death on the cross to procure eternal salvation for His people, who make up the Kingdom of God. It is the preaching that declares how He was raised to life and exalted to the right hand of the majesty on high in heaven, from where He will return in majesty one day to complete the kingdom. The Gospel therefore is the proclamation of the grace of God manifested, made plain in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So this is Paul’s prayer – what he asks his brothers and sisters to pray for – that he may be bold to preach the gospel, even in prison. He has told us about the armour. He has directed us to put on the armour WITH PRAYER. And he has told them to pray for ALL SAINTS. He was included in the ALL SAINTS and he asked them to pray for him. This was Paul himself putting on his armour and praying that he might be defended from every attack of the evil one – remembering that Paul was very much in the front line of the battle as an apostle and missionary.
But he needed prayer and he calls upon the Christians at Ephesus and at any other church who would read his letter, to supplicate for him. The devil did not want the Gospel to be preached. He would do anything to shut Paul’s mouth and prevent his utterances from God. Paul knew of God’s weapon – prayer.
Paul’s burden was genuine. He desired to smite the enemy through supplication. He knew that prayer would enable him to continue his gospel work in spite of his incarceration in prison. And he desired others to join him in the prayer process.
However Paul knew a vital principle of prayer. He knew that sometimes God wants us to be part of the answer to our own prayers. It is not good enough for us to expect God to do everything (which in His sovereignty He is more than able to do) and then for us to sit back and do nothing! Some Christians believe this to be the case! But it is a wrong view of prayer and it wasn’t Paul’s.
This principle is vital for us today with regard to our praying to the Lord.
For instance we ask Him to bless the work of the church – the outreach, the visitation, the gathering in of God’s elect – and we pray regularly and fervently – but if we offer excuses when we are asked to serve, when it is suggested that we stand with others in the High Street when the Gospel is being preached; when there are tracts to be delivered then we could be working AGAINST OUR OWN PRAYERS!
Or perhaps we plead with the Lord to save our loved ones – we cry to Him for His mercy and grace to come to them – but if we never speak a word of testimony to them or live consistent lives before them so that they can see what the Lord means to us, again what is the point of praying!
Or again we earnestly plead with the Lord for people whom we know with serious financial problems and needs - but if we won’t dig into our pockets even though we have the means to help them – isn’t that a little futile?
And how many times do we ask the Lord to comfort and encourage those lonely and shut-in Christians – but never go out of our way to pay them a visit or send them a note of encouragement!
Paul was different! He knew how to pray and work – and not to just pray!
Someone has written
Your faith in God is proven when You serve as one who cares; Faith finds a way to love and help Putting action to your prayers.
May the Lord help us to be real praying people who match our prayers with our actions.
2. Paul in Prison. v 20
20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
When the Apostle Paul arrived in Rome he had been chained to a Roman soldier.
Acts 28 v 17 And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. 19 But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of. 20 For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.
Paul often speaks of his chain, referring to the wrist chain that joined him to his Roman guard. The soldiers could take their end of the chain off when they changed shifts – Paul always was bound to keep his end on his wrist. With the free hand Paul was able to write. Whether he wrote all of his own letters or he had an amanuensis for some we are not completely certain. We do know that he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians during this first imprisonment in Rome. If you can remember that far back when we were looking at Ephesians 3 and 4 – the first verses of those chapters have the words “I the prisoner of the Lord.”
Now if you or I were to go to prison, and we were not visiting a prisoner, but were committed to prison by order of a judge, we would have an overwhelming sense of shame. The very thought of prison fills us with a foreboding because we know that people are not sent to prison for walking on the grass! Prison should be associated with a sense of shamefulness – that is part of its deterrent effect.
However Paul was not ashamed of being in prison. He was in prison for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake – he knew that. In fact Paul considered it to be an honour to be imprisoned. That is a paradox – an opposite of what we would expect.
But there is another paradox in this verse – Paul calls himself an AMBASSADOR. To describe himself as an “Ambassador in chains” seems a nonsense. After all an ambassador is a senior person in a country who represents that country’s head of State. In the Roman world of that time one of the most important officials was an IMPERIAL LEGATE. He was the equivalent of the modern ambassador for he represented the Roman Emperor abroad in every province of the Mighty Empire. The Legate had the power to enforce Imperial Policy. He was responsible to no one else except the Emperor. It would seem that the Greek word PRESBEUO is the equivalent to EMPEROR’S LEGATE.
Paul says that he was the Lord Jesus Christ’s legate. He had proved himself to be such a man representing the King of Kings in many places of the world – Athens when he spoke on Mars Hill; Antioch as a leader of the Church; in Paphos on Cyprus; in Philippi, in Corinth, in Crete – in many places he had spoken on behalf of the King of the Universe – he was an Ambassador.
But wait a minute – whoever heard of an Ambassador locked up in prison and it not precipitating an international crisis – if not a war? To put a chain on an ambassador is to insult the government he represents.
But here Paul was in chains – satanically influenced chains – Roman chains, devised by the evil one to silence the ambassador from speaking for His King. Paul was not daunted. Satan could not silence Paul until the Sovereign Lord had decided to stop speaking through Him.
Consider the power in this my friends. You have in your hands this morning the powerful word of God, communicated to His servants – including Paul, an ambassador in bonds. Satan tried to silence him – but four portions of the New Testament that you have in your hands flowed from the utterances and pen of the Apostle while in prison! God is not bound. God is not confined. Satan cannot ever prevent God’s word from being spoken.
But Paul demonstrates to us the need that he felt for the prayers of others because he repeats his request,
“that I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.”
The bold apostle Paul wants people to pray for him – and if Paul needed prayer, how much more do you and I need prayer in our work as witnesses for our Saviour?
It is no accident that Paul uses the term ambassador here. The analogy is a strong one for us as we think of the work of the Ministry of the Gospel. Ambassadors were senior, experienced and utterly dedicated men who were commissioned by their sovereign or emperor to represent him. In Biblical terms the Apostles were ambassadors; those called and equipped as missionaries by the Lord were ambassadors; and those down the 2000 years of the Christian era until today truly called to the Christian ministry were and are ambassadors. Such men need the fervent prayers of the church – they are the objects of Satan’s attacks.
Why did Paul the prisoner ask for prayer?
1. Because he realised the difficulty of the work. He knew that he was assaulting the strongholds of Satan – and we should never attempt any spiritual warfare without prayer.
2. Because he realised the importance of the task of spreading the Name of His master, the Lord Jesus Christ – as an ambassador - and we also need to have a parallel realisation. Gospel work is vital, whatever form it takes. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul says this referring to such called and equipped men –
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. 21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
All of us must pray for the bold proclamation of the gospel by those ambassadors that the Lord has called.
But at the end of the day prayer is more potent in winning souls than the logic and the eloquence of the preacher. If only we knew just how powerful the prayers of God’s people is. How we would be at more prayer meetings, and more often on our knees for the lost people around us! What a challenge these verses are.
May the Lord Jesus make us into those who pray – pray earnestly – pray with the intention of working as well as praying, and to pray so that Satan will not have dominion over us – but that we will destroy his works and resist him with all of our might.