Prayer for the Bold Proclamation of the Gospel (Ephesians Sermon 53 of 54)
October 02, 2016 | Andrew Davis
Prayer, Evangelism, Two Journeys
I love studying church history. I love looking back at what our brothers and sisters in Christ have done in the past, learning its lessons, and just seeing the movements of the Spirit of God at different times. One of my favorite groups is the Moravians. Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf was a German nobleman who was living a selfish life. At some point he was convicted by a painting of Christ crucified and a caption below it, which said, “All this I did for you. What are you doing for me?” He was convicted by that and began to use his estate and his money to bless refugees in Europe who were fleeing various scourges and afflictions and wars. He drew a community together, at what came to be known as Herrnhut, for refuge, and to do them good in Christ’s name. The community grew there. But after a number of years, there started to be deep divisions, bitter divisions, among the people.
They came from a lot of different backgrounds, and they were humans. They were sinners, and there was strife and there was discord. So, Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf called on his community, in 1727, to extended sacrificial prayer. Within a short amount of time, a revival broke out there in that Moravian community, what they later called the Golden Summer, the summer of 1727. They began to give themselves in extraordinary ways to fervent prayer. They had the idea, based on the way the sacrificial system worked in the Old Testament, that the fire would never go out from the altar, that they should start up a prayer chain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and just continue. They had twenty-four people sign up for one-hour sifts to carry it through that first week. It continued on. That prayer vigil continued on well beyond the first week, even well beyond the first year, to last well over one hundred years, unbroken.
Now, some of you who love sports, you talk about the unbreakable records. Friends, that’s an unbreakable record of unbroken prayer. It will never be topped again. I think, actually, in the end, it lasted one hundred and twenty years, non-stop; twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Six months after it started, Count Zinzendorf called on the people to begin praying for missions, to pray that their community would be a force for world evangelization for missions. Now, you have to understand, at that point there really wasn’t any formal pattern of Protestant missions. This is a little less than seventy years before William Carey. There had been Jesuit missionaries that went out in the name of the Roman Catholic Church, but there was no organized, sustained pattern of Protestant missions. So this was pretty much unheard of, this bold evangelism thrust. They began praying for the West Indies, for the sugar plantations where there were many slaves working, for Greenland, for Turkey, and Lapland, and other places, Turkey being dominated by the Muslims. Praying that God would use their community for missions.
The next day, twenty-six Moravians stepped forward, willing to serve wherever the Lord called on them to serve. They were the first of an unprecedented missionary thrust linked to this fervent twenty-four hour prayer chain. The two went together. Over the next sixty plus years, the Moravian community sent out over three hundred missionaries. Moravians would hold funerals for those that they were commissioning, because they assumed that they would go and die in the service of Christ. Think about the boldness, and the courage, and the tears that would be shed as they would hold funerals for people and commission them and then put them on ships and send them off. Some, as is well known, went to the plantations in the West Indies and enslaved, indentured themselves to win the slaves for Christ. The level of boldness, courage, and self-sacrifice was incredible.
They are just one of many examples in church history of the indissoluble link between fervent prayer and bold evangelistic outreach. That’s going to be the focus of the sermon today as we look at Ephesians 6:19-20, especially. Over the last number of weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to look at this final section of Paul’s great letter to the Ephesians. He finishes with a focus on spiritual warfare. It culminates in his command to pray in the Spirit for all the saints, and then these verses in which he encourages, or urges, them to pray for him as he shares the gospel. So, we have learned about spiritual warfare. Look again at Ephesians 6:10-13. There, it says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
We have learned about this invisible spiritual warfare that we Christians have to wage. We have invisible powerful enemies: Satan and his demonic rulers and authorities and powers in the heavenly realms. This is the nature of our warfare that Paul talks about here, “We wrestle not with flesh and blood.” So there’s wrestling, a warfare, that we have to go through. As I’ve said, week after week, I believe every Christian greatly underestimates this spiritual warfare. I think it’s true even still. You can hear dozens of sermons on spiritual warfare and still vastly underestimate the power of Satan and demons in your life every day and the need that you have to obey these verses. Remember how I organized and gave you the focus of those three commands that Paul’s calling for us. First, be strong in the Lord, draw close to Jesus. Have a sense that you cannot fight on your own. Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Secondly, put on the full armor of God. We talked about each part being put on with prayer. We looked at them. We looked at the belt of truth, and the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. And we talked about the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit. We talked about these six elements, and how it’s not good for us to just, in a very vague general sense, prepare. We’ve got to get ready for spiritual warfare. These words focus our minds on doctrinal truths about our salvation to get us ready in a very effective way to fight Satan, to stand firm against Satan. We put these things on with prayer.
Then we focused on prayer, the need to pray and to get ready, and having done all of these things praying in the Spirit, to stand, to stand firm. We’re not going to give in to the temptation. We’re not going to crumble. We’re not going to melt. We’re gong to stand firm and resist the devil. We focused on prayer, what it means to pray in the Spirit. We talked first about praying in the Spirit. I looked at the Book of Revelation and looked at the various themes there: focus in Christ, the mediator; God and throne, the sovereign King over all the world; the vision of Babylon and seeing the wickedness of this world system; and then the future glory of the church. These four themes are valuable for praying in the Spirit. We’re going to think about that. Praying in the Spirit just means to pray for things the Spirit wants us to pray for in power, or in the manner, or demeanor, that the Spirit gives. Praying in the Spirit.
In all of this, I want you to see the link between spiritual warfare and the two infinite journeys that God has given us to make progress in. We are called on, first, to make progress in Christ’s likeness in holiness. We are to make progress and become more and more conformed to Christ. Secondly, we are called on to take the gospel to those who are not yet believers in Christ, even to the distant lands who have never heard of Jesus. We’re to take the gospel to the lost, to the perishing, and boldly see the advance of the kingdom of God. These two journeys, the internal journey of sanctification of holiness, and the external journey of worldwide gospel spread, both of them will be bitterly opposed by Satan. So it’s right for us to think of warfare prayer in light of both of those. There’s going to be warfare prayer for personal holiness. And friends, there’s going to be warfare prayer for gospel advance. That’s what I want to focus my attention on here. I want to keep verses 19-20 in the context, the overall context, of spiritual warfare.
Look against at verses 19-20. Paul prays. He says, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Now, the basic idea of this sermon is this: without warfare prayer, the gospel would not advance. Therefore, we should seek prayer partners for ourselves to be bold and faithful in sharing the gospel. That’s the sermon in a nutshell. Part of the logic of the message is, if Paul needed prayer for boldness, how much more do you and I? And we’re going to talk about that. But if he needed that, we need it, I would say, even more. It’s what we’re going to talk about.
Prayer and Evangelism are Inseparable
If Paul Needed Prayer, How Much More Do We?
So prayer and evangelism are absolutely inseparable. Paul was continually seeking prayer for evangelistic outreach from the churches that he planted, from individuals that he knew. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 is an example. He says, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.” That’s prayer for the external journey, prayer for the gospel to spread rapidly and be held in honor. We see the same thing in Romans 15. In Romans 15, there’s an extended request for prayer that Paul has for the Roman church, a church he’d never met. Hoping to be there, to go there someday, he wrote the Book of Romans in lieu of his ministry. He says, “I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:15-16)
In other words, I’m like a priest with a duty. My job is to go to Gentile cities and towns and preach the gospel so that they, the Gentiles, might become an offering to God through faith in Christ. He said, “That’s my ministry, that’s what I’m called to do.” Now, he says, in Romans 15:20, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’” He said, “I want to go to distant lands, that’s my calling.”
In Romans 15:24, he says, “I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey to Spain…” And then he says in Romans 15:30-31, culminating it, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.” Paul did this all the time. He was continually asking people horizontally, “Pray for me in my witnessing, pray for me in my evangelistic ministry.”
Paul was very well aware that the gospel advance to the Gentiles would be bitterly opposed by Satan and his demons. He says at one point, “We wanted to visit you again and again, but Satan stopped us.” So he has a sense of satanic opposition. He was acutely aware of his need for prayer, so he regularly solicited prayer from churches and individuals for the success of his gospel ministry.
As I’ve said before, and I’ll probably say at least one more time, if Paul needed prayer for boldness and evangelism, how much more do you and I? Paul was, I think, the boldest, most consistent, most faithful witness for Jesus Christ in the history of the Christian church. I don’t think there’s anybody that can top him. Paul had a track record and a habit of boldness. He had seen fruit from his boldness. He had seen the effectiveness of his boldness. So he had all of those things going for him. He had a habit of boldness and a track record and pattern. He had clear results from his boldness. Everything was wired. He said, “I really need prayer for boldness.” We have, for the most part, none of those things. We don’t have the habits of boldness, it seems. We don’t have that track record. We don’t have a pattern of fruitfulness and this boldness. We don’t see what it will do, and we’ve been through this many times before. We need it even more. That’s the basic logic of this sermon.
Prayer and Gospel Advance Have Always Gone Together
Throughout church history, prayer and gospel advance have been woven together, from the very beginning of the history of the church. In Acts 1 and 2, we see a clear indication of that. In Acts 1, the church is there after Jesus has ascended to heaven. The church is there in the upper room. They’re praying and waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit that the Father had promised. They’re up in the upper room and they’re praying. They’re together and they’re praying together. Then suddenly, on the day of Pentecost, there came a sound like the rushing of a violent wind that came from heaven and filled the whole room where they were sitting, a sound like a hurricane. First it was sound, then it was the sight of flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And all of them spoke in other languages as the Spirit moved them. A crowd gathered because of the sound of the rushing wind. They didn’t know what it was.
There was a crowd there anyway, because it was a Jewish festival, the festival of Pentecost. So there’s huge crowds, and they gathered near that house. They poured out. The church poured out, empowered by the Holy Spirit. They spoke the Word of God boldly. The apostles preached, and Peter preached, and everyone from all over the world heard them speaking in their own languages. Three thousand were added to the number that day. Three thousand were baptized into the church of Jesus Christ.
So, prayer led to bold pouring out of evangelistic activity. You see the same thing in Acts 4. Peter and John went up at the time of prayer, and they healed a very well-known beggar. A crowd gathers; they preach; they’re arrested; and they’re brought in at the beginning of aggressive persecution, but it’s a mild level at that early stage. The Jewish Council, the same ones that had condemned Jesus, were now ready to condemn Peter and John and the whole church. But they weren’t ready yet to arrest him, or punish him, or whatever. So they just warn them not to preach in the name of Jesus. That was not going to happen. But the question is, what did Peter and John do? They immediately went back and gathered the church together at the end of Acts 4. They had a fervent time of prayer. They prayed scripturally. They prayed based on the sovereignty of God. The things that had happened in that city! But they asked God not for removal of persecution. No, not at all. They said, “O God, give us boldness and power to preach in the name of Jesus and to perform great signs and wonders.”
God answered their prayer and they spoke the Word of God boldly. Many more people were brought to faith in Christ. So again, we see fervent corporate prayer leading to evangelistic boldness. We see the same thing again and again throughout church history. In Acts 10, Peter is at the house of Simon the Tanner by the sea. He’s praying and he’s hungry. He has a vision of a sheet let down with all kinds of nasty, unclean animals. He’s told, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat.” Three times he’s told, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” God’s getting him ready to go and preach the gospel to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert won to Christ by the preaching of the church.
He goes there. He crosses the threshold as a Bible-believing Jew. He felt he wasn’t supposed to go in there, but God showed him that he should go. He preached to Cornelius, this Roman centurion, and all of his assembled Gentile friends and family. And the Holy Spirit is poured out on them. That was the beginning of Gentile evangelism that’s been basically going on for twenty centuries, ever since. It wasn’t long after that that the church in Antioch gathered, predominantly at that point Gentile. They were gathered by the ministry of those that went out and began to speak to Gentiles. There started to be a church growing there in Antioch. In Acts 13, while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, while they were together praying, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” And so, the Holy Spirit, in answer to prayer, set apart Paul and Barnabas for Paul’s first missionary journey. So, the church is moving out, the gospel is spreading. They go to Cyprus. They go to Asia Minor. Paul goes on three missionary journeys that dominate the Book of Acts. It’s specifically an answer to prayer.
As a matter of fact, on one of those missionary journeys, Paul didn’t know what to do. He’s blocked in. He didn’t know where to go. And in prayer, he has a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come over and help us.” So the Holy Spirit guided him through prayer. Again and again, and even once the New testament era ended, we have the same pattern. Just study church history. You’ll see. God’s people gather together for prayer; they’re empowered by the Holy Spirit; and then they move out in new ways to share the gospel with the lost.
We just see this again and again, this pattern. For example, in the sixth century, we have a Celtic missionary named Columba, who gathered a community around him on the tiny windswept island of Iona, near Scotland; a small, bleak, barren, foggy island battered by the storms of the sea year-round. Iona became a glowing center of biblical Christianity, of Celtic Christianity, and a launching pad for missions across Europe. It went on for centuries after that. Columba himself led by example. This is one of my favorite stories from missionary history. Columba went to the fierce Northern Picts of Scotland. Some of the fiercest people that have ever been brought to Christ, these Scottish Highlanders. Terrifying. The Romans couldn’t conquer them. Scary people. Columba went and sat outside their Citadel. He could not gain entrance, and did not realize how close they were to killing him. That’s just what they did. He sat outside the gates and fasted and prayed that he’d have a hearing with King Brude. What a name, Brude.
Finally, probably just to get rid of him, the king, instead of killing him, calls him in. Eventually, Columba led him and his inner circle to Christ. It spread out from there. Many of those Picts came to faith in Christ and became themselves evangelistic missionaries to that region of the world. It’s incredible. It’s happened again and again. Go ahead. Even beyond Harwood, even beyond the Moravians. The Moravians sent missionaries to the New World. They went back and forth on ships. One of those times, the Moravian missionaries were going back to Europe, and John Wesley was on board with them. There was a terrible storm. It looked like the ship was going to sink in that storm. The Moravians were singing and praising God, ready for heaven. John Wesley wasn’t, and he realized, essentially, that he was unconverted. He had had lots of Christian orthodox training, but he didn’t know Christ, not the way these Moravians did.
Eventually, he came to a genuine faith in Christ. He was part of a Holy club there at Oxford. George Whitefield was also part of that with his brother Charles and some others. They gathered to pray. They’re praying together, in 1738. By this point, George Whitefield had begun preaching. He had gone across to the colonies and then come back. They’re having this prayer time. He had a gift of evangelism, but God had something far bigger than that. On December 8, 1738, they went to a Christian meeting in Fetter Lane. They spent time in prayer for the spread of the gospel in England. These are in Wesley’s journals. Then they prayed again seventeen days later, on Christmas Day, praying until four in the morning for the spread of the gospel in England. Over three hundred believers were there praying until four in the morning.
But the greatest of these prayer meetings happened on New Year’s Day, 1739. As they prayed until three in the morning, suddenly the Holy Spirit was poured out on the group so astonishingly that everyone there immediately fell on the ground and began crying out in worship to God. “We praise thee, Oh God! We acknowledge thee to be the Lord!” Whitefield wrote in his journal these words, “Sometimes whole nights were spent in prayer after that. Often we have been filled as with new wine. And often we have seen people overwhelmed with the divine presence and crying out, ‘Will God indeed dwell with men upon the earth? How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God. This is the very gate of heaven!’”
Well, after that series of extraordinary prayer meetings, there came an awakening so great, the first great awakening, that there’s never been anything like it before or since. It spread all over England, all over Northern Europe, and throughout the colonies, leading to the salvation of tens of thousands. A couple of generations later, in August 1806, in western Massachusetts, there was a sudden thunderstorm that drove five students from nearby Williams College to rest under a haystack and under a lintel to find shelter from the storm and to pray. What had happened was, they began discussing a geography lesson that they had had at the college that day. They began praying for the distant lands that they had just learned about in reference to the geography. Samuel Mills was among them, and others. God led them powerfully to have the idea of the first American Mission Board being formed.
One of their students was Adoniram Judson. He was the first American missionary. He and his wife Ann “Nancy” were sent to Burma. This Haystack Prayer Meeting became a fountain of missions in the US for decades after that. The Judsons had converted to Baptist theology and so the Congregational mission sending agency that had sent them cut them off. Luther Rice came back and started a Baptist mission sending agency, which eventually led to the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board, which is something that we contribute to.
FBC: We Need to Pray for Evangelistic Fruit!
Samuel Mills, who was part of the Haystack Prayer Meeting, gave his entire life to recruiting foreign missionaries. Five men under a haystack, praying in a rain storm, and the world gets changed. This happens from time to time. So let me speak plainly. First Baptist Church, we need to pray for evangelistic fruit. We need to pray in a fervent, powerful, spiritual warfare kind of sense, that the Gospel would spread from us to reach Durham, and rally in Chapel Hill, and influence to the ends of the earth, even to distant lands, in ways we can’t even imagine. We need to pray like that.
For years, we have recognized that FBC has amazing opportunities to spread the gospel in this booming region. People are flowing into this area from all over the country. Indeed, from all over the world, they are coming here to live. What are our responsibilities? What are our opportunities in reference to that? There are thousands of college students coming to study at the great universities that are around here. Duke, NC State, UNC Chapel Hill, NC Central, and Durham Tech. We’ve got thousands of college students, and most of them are unchurched. Most of them are lost. We see refugees coming in, or just people from other countries. For example, the Gujarati that we have adopted, working with James Cooper. We have adopted them to plant a church among the Gujarati. They are extremely hard to reach in India, but they’re here. And we can reach them. They’re here in Morrisville.
We have undocumented aliens that are here working in our community. We have refugees that have come in, even from Iraq. I’ve been able to meet a family recently, so glad to meet them, delighted, and a chance to reach out with the gospel to people who come from this area. We have great medical care here. We have great hospitals, research hospitals, so people with dread diseases come from all over the country, indeed from all over the world, to receive medical care here. Medical professionals come to work here. We have an opportunity to share the Gospel with them. We’re an urban center. We live in an urban area. We can reach the urban poor. We can be a voice for racial reconciliation in this state, and indeed in this nation. We have opportunities.
But for all of that, I think we do not see a corresponding or a proportional evangelistic fruit. We don’t see the fruit that we would love to see. That we should see, really. My friend Mark Dever has been pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church for several decades now. On Sunday evenings, they gather together and they have a Sunday evening service. They have their small groups scattered throughout the week, but they have a Sunday evening service. It’s basically just an evangelistic testimony and prayer sharing time.
People from all over that group come to say, “Hey, I’m trying to reach my boss. I’m trying to reach a co-worker. There’s a neighbor who just moved in, named so and so, we’d love to have them over and we need prayer. We would love you guys to pray for us for that.” This kind of stuff is going on, what we would call a culture of evangelism, of getting prayer for evangelistic projects that God has laid on our hearts for people that we’re trusting God for.
Now, I don’t think that we at FBC believe the facts of the gospel any less than they do at CHBC. I don’t think so. I think we really believe the facts of the gospel. I think we believe that people have to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved. I think we would assent that we know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is beautiful and true and powerful. We know that. So why don’t we share it more? Well, I can only conclude that Satan has done a beguiling work of deception on our hearts that will look very different to us on judgment day. We need to fight spiritual warfare battles to become more effective evangelistically. If we just maintain the status quo, we will not be effective evangelistically. But if we fight, and fight together as a body of Christ, as we hold each other up and pray with and for each other, we will be more fruitful evangelistically. I think that as Satan especially works on our hearts in reference to fear of man, we fear other people, what they will do to us, what they’ll think of us. The Lord has shown us again and again how we can overcome fear of man, and, in a powerful love for Him, share the Gospel.
The Mystery of the Gospel
Start with the Message… What Paul called the “Mystery of the Gospel”
What I want to do is look at the details of Ephesians 6:19-20, and see how we can learn for Paul’s Gospel. So look toward the end of the section. There, he says, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.” This is going to give me an opportunity to summarize what we’ve learned from the Book of Ephesians. We’re almost done. Next week will be, God willing, the last sermon that I’ll preach in Ephesians.
I don’t think any book more clearly unfolds the depths and the glories and the beauty of the gospel, other than the Book of Romans, than does Ephesians. I think those two stand towering above all the other books of the Bible, in terms of clarity on the depths of doctrine that is linked to the gospel. So, the mystery of the gospel. Why does Paul call it a mystery? A mystery is something that was hidden for long ages past, in God, but has now been revealed and made known by the Spirit. That’s what he means by mystery. Look at Ephesians 1:3-7. This is the very beginning of the epistle. We’ve had opportunity to look at it a number of times. This is they mystery of the gospel. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the one he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sin.” So, putting it simply, before the foundation of the world, God chose people by name, to be, finally, in the end, perfectly holy and blameless forever in His sight in heaven. So before the foundation of the world, He chose them to be eternally saved in Christ. In love, He predestined those people to be adopted as His sons and daughters. That’s what it says.
Now, this is a mystery. We’ll never fully understand this. The depths are infinitely beyond anything that we can comprehend. But this is true. He did all of this for the praise of His glorious grace, that He would get glory and praise from a multitude, from every tribe and language and people and nation, worshipping Him. That’s why He did it. And He gave Christ to be our savior, that by Jesus, by the shedding of His blood on the cross, we have redemption, forgiveness of sins.
Oh, how sweet is that blessing! Think about it. All of your sins, past, present, and future, cleansed by the blood of Christ. His final purpose in all of this was to bring all of the fractured, destroyed elements of His creation together under one head and make them one in Jesus, to bring together the fragmentation grenade of sin, bring it together and make it one in Christ. The book also reveals how individual sinners are saved. How are they saved? Look at Ephesians 1:11-14. It says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Look at verse 13: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Do you see that? What that means is that individual sinners are made right with God by hearing a message that’s proclaimed and believing in it. At that moment, they are forgiven. They are drawn into Christ. They receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and they’re part of the work of God.
Now, in Ephesians 2, we learn the condition of those we’re trying to reach, out of which we’re trying to reach them. Here’s where you get to the spiritual warfare. Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sin, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” See all that past tense language? You were, you were. That’s what you were. That’s what they are now. They’re enslaved by Satan, now. They’re disobedient to God’s laws, now. They are, by nature, objects of wrath, now. We were like that. We were rescued out of that. But they are now in Satan’s dark dungeon. Do you not see, then, the spiritual warfare aspect about this?
Jesus said He is like a powerful warrior with armor and weapons, and He’s defending His house. I would say dungeon, He’s defending His dungeon. And we have to put on the armor of God and be instruments of God’s sovereign grace and come and rescue the perishing. That’s our calling. That’s what we’re called to do. Satan is powerful, but God is more powerful. Look at Ephesians 2:4, “But God, because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” This is the mystery of the Gospel. “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” That’s the mystery of the Gospel.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In the rest of the chapter, he talks about this beautiful spiritual temple that’s rising and becoming more and more glorious all the time, rising and becoming more and more glorious. Those are the good works we’re supposed to do, the good works of spiritual gift ministry within the church, and then evangelism reaching out, that builds the church. It’s beautiful. We are called on to reach out with the Gospel. We are called on as Paul was. He calls himself an ambassador in chains. So maybe we can be ambassadors unchained, at least for now. Unchained. We are ambassadors for Christ.
Praying for Frequent Opportunities
Paul’s First Request Implied: LOTS of Opportunities
What did Paul pray for specifically? Look at it with me. He prayed for frequent opportunities. Verses 19-20 say, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me.” Do you see that? “Whenever I speak, I want to speak for Christ.” So, frequent opportunities. I think that’s where we fail a lot of times. I think we dabble in evangelism, but we don’t do that broadcast sowing of seed. We’ll take out a single precious seed and put it in one place. It’s as if, well, God can do amazing things, and you can lead a person to Christ that way. It does happen. But we, I think, are called on to be “whenever we open our mouth” kind of people. Frequent opportunities. Lots of opportunities.
Paul Was an Ambassador in Chains
Paul calls himself an ambassador in chains. We are called on to be Christ’s ambassadors. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 says, “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors.” Listen to this, “As though God himself were making his appeal through us… be reconciled to God.” So we get to be ambassadors. We are kind of like an enclave of heaven, a colony of heaven. We get to speak for the king. We get to be those that speak the Gospel boldly in a surrounding hostile territory. We get to be ambassadors.
Praying for Spirit-Given Words
Need for WORDS…
He also prays for spirit-given words. Look at what he says, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me.” Words. I need words. Is that what we need? We need words.
I heard one of the most foolish slogans I ever heard in church history. I don’t know who said it. No one knows. Listen to this, “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.” Ever heard this one? It’s about people that are really into social works, all that “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.” What in the world? I remember somebody, I think it was Tim Keller, said, “It’s like saying, ‘Feed the hungry. Use food if necessary.’” What in the world does that even mean? Friends, let me just say it simply. Words are necessary. You need to speak. You need to say things to lost coworkers and neighbors and friends and family. You need to speak. But Paul says, “I need to know what words to say.” Now, Paul is not saying, “I need to reinvent the gospel every time.” The gospel is set. It’s done. Nothing’s going to change it. But the articulation of the gospel is going to be different every time.
Need for Spirit-Given Words
There are going to be different situations into which you’re going to speak, and you don’t know what their situation is. So feel helpless. You should feel helpless. Feel weak. Feel like you don’t know what to say. What’s the best way to get this timeless gospel message across specifically to this hurting, broken, enslaved sinner? How do I do it? So Paul said, “Pray for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me [by the Spirit of God].” And Jesus said, “When they arrest you, don’t worry about what to say. At that time, it will be given you what to say. For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Ask for that. Oh God, give me spirit-filled words! Spirit-given words. Why? Because faith comes by hearing the message. That’s how they will be saved.
Paul says in Romans 10:13-15, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” That’s words. “And how can they preach unless they are seen?” We have got to preach the gospel. We need spirit-given words. He prayed for boldness. He prayed for courage, just simple fearlessness. Look again at 19-20. He says, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
Praying for Fearlessness
The Centerpiece of Paul’s Request for Prayer: FEARLESSNESS
Fearlessly. Paul prayed for fearlessness. We are paralyzed by fear of what people will think. Paralyzed. I remember one time, and I have told this story before, but it’s very poignant for me. I’ve frequently been paralyzed by fear. I remember there was this one guy I used to work with that was so gruff. His name was Ron, and he was the foreman of the assembly, part of the floor. He was a tough-looking guy. He was tough, and I felt the Lord leading me to share the Gospel with him. And I’ll never forget that paralyzing fear I had of crossing the floor at lunch to share with Ron. I remember peeking around the corner and there he was at his workbench, eating alone. Perfect opportunity.
I remember going to a friend. I said, “I really want to share with Ron.” And he got these big eyes like, “Share what?” He knew what I meant, but he was trying to clarify. “So would you pray for me?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll pray for you.” Wow. Because I mean the guy was, he was gruff. And I remember saying, “All right, I’m going to put a fleece down.” I was so afraid. I said, “All right, I’m praying that if he is still sitting at his bench eating his sandwich, that means You want me to share with him.” God wants me to share with him whether he’s eating a sandwich or not. But there he was right in the middle of a bite. I’ll never forget that. My heart sank. But I remembered that Marty, my friend, was praying for me. I went around and I could barely speak to this guy. You know how Paul says, “I was with you in weakness and fear and much trembling.” I gave him a tract and I said, “I’m a Christian.” He said, “I know.” And I said, “Well, I just think you need Jesus too.” And I hand him a tract. That was all I could manage. I don’t know what happened with that. I don’t know.
Example from My Own Life: Outreach in Salem
But I’m telling you, fear is powerful in many, many ways. I remember an outreach that I was trying to organize in Salem. I don’t want to go into the details. It was a Halloween outreach and I was paralyzed that entire workday by the fear of leading a group of people to go do street evangelism in Salem that evening. But I was memorizing Isaiah 51 and it changed my life. It changed my heart. That was the night of the perfect storm, the Halloween storm.
I’ve told you guys this story before. Isaiah 51:12-16 is a powerful antidote to fear. He says, “I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor? The cowering prisoners will be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread. For I am the Lord your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is his name. I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand – I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’” Isaiah 51. If that’s not a remedy to fear, I don’t know what is. How could I fear what people will do? We went out and had one of the greatest evangelistic outreaches I’ve ever had in my life.
Amazing that Paul Felt the Need for Prayer
Paul felt the need for prayer very much. He felt it to the end of his life. At the end of his life, even then, he was afraid that, having been delivered to be in front of Nero, he would fail to share the Gospel with Nero. I’ll never forget this. It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen about the apostle Paul. He said this, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed to all the Gentiles. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” (2 Tim 4:16-18)
The attack is Satan’s attack to get Paul to wimp out at the finish line of his life and his ministry. He didn’t. God gave him strength and he was bold. So again, I’m going to say, if Paul felt the need to ask for prayer in boldness, how much more do we? I have a missionary friend who served for many years in Izmir. He’s now stateside working on mobilizing missionaries. He said that Satan’s fear is (I love this image) like the banner that’s held by cheerleaders at the homecoming football game that the football players run through to take the field. Have you ever seen that before? They just run right through. Satan puts up this wall of terror and you just run through it. It’s like, okay, that wasn’t so hard.
What are they going to do to you? What’s the worst thing they could do to you? Torture you and kill you, right? Paul calls that light and momentary. And if they do do that to you, you will receive a hero’s welcome to heaven. It happens to a very few. Instead, what usually happens is we’re afraid somebody might sneer or snarl a little bit, or intimidate us, or that we might be disadvantaged at work or something. God has called on us to do this.
Praying for Clarity
Paul also Prays for CLARITY
Finally, Paul prays for clarity. This is from Colossians. I’ll say it quickly. Then, I’ll apply it to you guys, and it will be done. It says, “Pray also for us, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I’m in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” (Col 4:3-4) We just need to make it clear. Let’s make the Gospel clear and plain to the people that we’re sharing with.
To the Unsaved… it is you that we’ve been thinking about!
Application. I’ve been making it all the way through. It’s just simple. First, I just want to say something to the unsaved. I know that there are people here today that are outside of Christ. I know it. You need to know that God, the God who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them, wants a relationship with you. He created everything, but He especially created people, in His image. He made laws by which they are to walk in His sight, and be holy in His sight, and love each other.
We have sinned against Him. We have violated those laws. We have not loved Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind. We have not loved our neighbors. We are sinners, and we deserve to die, not just physically, but eternally in hell. God knew we couldn’t save ourselves, so He sent Jesus, born of a virgin, who lived a sinless life, who was truly a human being, but truly God the Son. He did signs and wonders, but especially, He died in our place on the cross. The wrath of God, the justice of God, poured out on Him, so that we sinners might be, in Christ, the righteousness of God and exchange our sin on Jesus. He died. His righteousness was given to us, and we live. You need to repent and believe in Him. Just by hearing that message and believing, your sins will be forgiven. That’s the gospel.
Use Home Fellowship as a PRAYER BASE for FBC’s Evangelic Thrust
Now, if you came in here as a believer in Christ, a member, the application for you is simple, too. Get friends to pray for you. Get projects, people, that you’re doing. It could be a specific pattern of ministry. It could be something you’re doing with an elementary school or something that could be an urban ministry. It could be international connections. It could be just people that you’re getting to know and they’re getting to know you, and you would love to share with people at a coffee shop that you go to, or the supermarket, or at the workplace, or in your neighborhood. You could say, “I want to reach our neighbors. We just don’t know them. Could you pray that we’d have an opportunity to get to know our neighbors?”
I would urge specifically that you use Home Fellowship for that. Each of you in Home Fellowship should have five people that you are praying for, lost people that you’d like to have opportunities for. That will be a form of accountability for you. Pray these kinds of things, say, “Give me opportunities to share. Give me boldness. I’m a wimp. Give me courage that I don’t wimp out.” You may be a college student, and say, “I want to reach my dorm. I want to reach the people on my floor with the gospel. Will you pray for me that I would make friends for the gospel? I want to share with them, but I’m afraid. Will you pray that I would proclaim it fearlessly, as I should?” Ask for those kinds of prayers and let’s see what God will do.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank You for the chance we’ve had to hear Your word and to be moved by it. Lord help us. Forgive us for our weakness. Forgive us that we fear other people more than we fear You. Forgive us that we love what other people think more than we love You. Help us to love the lost, as You do. I pray that the love of Christ would constrain us and compel us to share. Help us to see more and more people water-baptized and then discipled and trained in the Christian faith. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.