17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
I sometimes wonder about the prayers people offer up or ask for themselves. I am reminded of all the furor several years ago around a book that touted the “prayer of Jabez” as the key to personal prosperity and generally getting what we want from God. This is exactly ALL that we know about Jabez:
1 Chronicles 4:9-10
9 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”
10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.
Seriously, that’s all we know about Jabez: he was more honorable than his brothers, and he asked the Lord to bless him, enlarge his territory, and keep him from evil—in his prayer, apparently that meant not hurting others. Nice prayer, but not much to go on. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pray for similar things—you know, to be blessed and not sin. But is that really all we want from this life? How about doing more for others, not just avoiding hurting them? How about glorifying God in all we do? How about…? I could go on and on, but I think you see that while I am glad Jabez got what he requested, it seems to me he aimed a little low.
Anyway, I still wonder about the things people pray for themselves. Do we seek honor or prosperity for ourselves? Do we seek to keep from hurting others? Do we seek peace in our family? Do we seek healing for ourselves or others?
I love intercessory prayers, but the kind of prayer Paul asks from the Ephesians for himself is a bit different that our typical intercession. And this is not the only place he asks for such prayers.
2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; 3 meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, 4 that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
Same prayer, different day. And what is that prayer? That God would embolden him and open doors for him to speak the gospel boldly, “as I ought to speak.”
Think about that for a moment. As Paul reminds both the Ephesians and the Colossians, he is in chains already for being so bold as to speak the gospel, and yet Paul wants MORE boldness! Really?!? Why would Paul ask that?
Because, for all he had already done, Paul knew there was still much to do. For all that he had accomplished for the kingdom of God, in his heart of hearts he still burned to do more for his Lord and Savior. It’s not that Paul felt like he HAD to do more, that all his work would somehow buy him some special place in heaven. It’s just that he knew the Great Commission could not be fulfilled without one key thing: the power of God enabling the apostles and evangelists going into the world.
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
All authority had been given to Jesus, and He passed on to the apostles the authority to make disciples in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Without that authority, without the power given by the presence of the Holy Spirit, there would be no adding to the kingdom of God.
So Paul asks people not for good health or wealth or fame. He doesn’t ask for a closer relationship with his Lord, nor even for spiritual insight. Interestingly, he doesn’t ask that any particular group of people suddenly accept the Lord. He simply asks for the courage and opportunity to make Jesus known to the world.
Note that Paul asks for the boldness to speak “as I ought to speak” and for the opportunity to speak “as I ought to speak.” In some translations, Paul asks to speak as he is required to speak. Paul feels like he hasn’t been bold enough up to now, that he hasn’t had all the opportunities to make the gospel manifest to everyone. He knows that the job isn’t yet finished. The Lord had chosen Paul specifically “to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) So Paul had a long way to go yet, and he knew that only the Lord could enable him to finish the work set before him.
In short, Paul asks that the Lord grant him to be all that the Lord has asked Him to be already, the apostle to the Gentiles and far-flung Jews of the world. Paul asked for others to lift him and his fellow workers up in prayer so that they could keep doing what they had been doing all along, preaching the gospel to all creatures.
Is that our own prayer for ourselves? In the midst of our intercession for friends and family, as we pray for our nation and our leaders, as we lift up our communities and our jobs, do we pray that God would use us to bring the gospel to the world?
I don’t know about you, but as I read these verses today, I was convicted. I realized I wasn’t using my voice as effectively as I might for Christ—certainly not in the way He has called me to do. Certainly, God does not call all of us to be apostles like Paul or Peter, nor does He call all of us to be great evangelists, but He does call us to this:
1 Peter 2:11-12
11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Will people see the gospel in you and the things you say, so that when Jesus returns they will glorify God? Will you speak as you ought to speak—i.e. sharing the gospel in word and deed?
As disciples of Christ, it is incumbent upon us to speak boldly for Jesus, to make Him known to this fallen world. Let us never be satisfied that we have done enough, but let us always seek more for Him. Let that be our prayer now and always, that the Lord will provide us with more boldness and more opportunities to speak His gospel as we ought to speak, and through the gospel to bring more to salvation.
Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have given us Your Word to speak. Like Moses, so often I feel like I cannot speak clearly enough to glorify You and accomplish Your will, and yet time and again I find Your Word upon my lips. Lord God, embolden me every day, open doors for me always, so that I may make the name of Jesus known to any and all. May Your Spirit help me to speak the gospel as I ought to speak, forever to Your glory and praise. Amen.