Connected Through Prayer

The Point:  Support your church with prayer.

Pray at All Times in the Spirit:  Ephesians 6:18-22

[18]  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,  [19]  and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,  [20]  for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.  [21]  So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything.  [22]  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.  [ESV]

[18-22]  “Introduction. In his concluding appeal of 6:10-20, which catches up many of the theological and ethical concerns of the letter, Paul describes in cosmic terms believers’ responsibilities as they live in the world. Using the sustained imagery of a spiritual battle, he depicts the Christian life as a struggle against supernatural evil forces. Believers are urged to recognize the nature and dimension of the conflict and stand firm against the devil and his hosts who are arrayed against them [11,13,14]. Although Christ has already defeated these foes [1:20-23], they continue to exist and are still active in attempting to separate His followers from Him. In order to be strong against this supernatural, cunning, and powerful opposition believers need divine protection and equipping. Paul lists some of the specific pieces of armor they need to put on [14-17] if they are to stand firm against the powers. These weapons include the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, having feet fitted with a preparedness to announce the gospel of peace, and the shield of faith, by which they will be fully protected against every kind of assault rained upon them by the evil one. Further, believers are to lay hold of the helmet of salvation, by which they are protected against evil attack, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, in other words, the gospel as proclaimed and made powerful by the Spirit. The third section of the letter’s final exhortation [18-20] makes it clear that appropriating God’s armor in order to stand firm in the battle requires a life that is dependent on God in prayer. Only then will they remain alert and keep at bay spiritual sleep and complacency. Their prayer will also include offering petitions on behalf of all believers, and especially the apostle himself, that in the midst of his imprisonment he may be given utterance to proclaim the mystery of the gospel boldly and clearly. This passage with its call to stand firm forms an appropriate conclusion not only to the section of ethical admonitions but also to the letter as a whole. [18]  Prayer is given greater prominence within the context of the battle with the powers of darkness than any of the weapons listed in verses 14-17. This is evident because, first, verse 18 is closely related to what has preceded through two participles which stress the need for continual praying in the Spirit and for keeping alert with perseverance and petition. These participles are best connected with the main exhortation, stand [14], rather than with the imperative take [17], and underscore the point that standing firm and praying belong together. Secondly, prayer itself is not identified with any weapon. The military metaphors are limited to verses 14-17, while calling on God for strengthening in the way believers stand firm and appropriate the divine armor. Thirdly, Paul elaborates on the theme of prayer by using cognate words and synonyms to describe the activity, and underscores its importance by employing the word all four times in verse 18: believers are urged to pray at all times … with all prayer and supplication … with all perseverance … for all the saints. Finally, this emphasis on prayer is extended further in verse 19, where the apostle requests intercession for himself that he might effectively use the spiritual weapon of the sword of the Spirit, that is, the gospel. Paul wants his readers to understand that prayer is foundational for the deployment of all the other weapons, and is therefore crucial if they are to stand firm in their spiritual struggle. He has already shown his concern for them by praying that they might know the greatness of God’s power [1:15-23], and be strengthened by it so as to grasp the dimensions of Christ’s love for them and be filled with all the fullness of God [3:14-21]. The apostle wants them to realize that a life of dependence on God in prayer is essential if they are to engage successfully in their warfare with the powers of darkness. In the first clause the readers are encouraged to stand firm praying with every kind of prayer and petition. The first noun rendered prayer, though used on occasion of prayer in general, regularly occurs in both Old and New Testaments to signify petition. In Paul it often has the meaning of petition for others, that is, intercession. The second word, rendered supplication, came to be used exclusively in the New Testament of a prayer addressed to God, especially a petition or supplication. Here the word is used synonymously with the first. The two elements are then taken up separately: first, praying at all times in the Spirit, and then making supplication for all the saints. The effect of this accumulation of terms for petitionary prayer (a verb and two synonymous nouns) is to underscore emphatically the importance in the Christian’s warfare of believing and expectant prayer. Believers are to pray continually because their struggle with the powers of darkness is never ending. And their prayers are to be in (or by) the Spirit, that is, inspired and guided by the same Holy Spirit through whom they have confident access to the Father [2:18]. As those who have been built into God’s dwelling place in the Spirit [2:22] and who are being filled by the Spirit [5:18], they are to pray to the Father, prompted and guided by the Spirit. This has to do with specific requests offered through the Spirit by every believer involved in the spiritual warfare. Even when we do not know what to pray as we ought, the Spirit comes to our assistance and intercedes for us with unspoken groanings that are perfectly in line with the will of God [Rom. 8:26-27]. To be committed to this kind of prayer believers need to stay alert. Such vigilance is to be accompanied by perseverance and prayer for all the saints. The exhortation to ‘watch and pray’ was part of early Christian tradition which derives from the teaching of Jesus, who encouraged His disciples to be vigilant in the light of temptation [Mark 14:38] and in view of His unexpected return [Luke 21:34-36; Mark 13:32-37]. Here Paul is not simply describing believers’ general stance of being watchful and prayerful at all times. Nor is he speaking of attention and engagement in prayer as opposed to humdrum and lethargic praying. Instead, the term used here, ‘be alert, vigilant’, together with its synonym, ‘stay awake, be watchful’, was employed regularly in catechetical contexts of the children of light being awake and renouncing the spiritual sleep of the darkness of this age, with their minds directed towards Christ’s coming and the consummation of the hope. The concept of wakefulness had an eschatological character to it, and it seems reasonable to assume that the apostle is here encouraging his readers to be alert in expectation of the Lord’s coming [cf. 1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20]. Perseverance and prayer are linked elsewhere in the New Testament [Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2]. Here believers are to persevere so as to overcome fatigue and discouragement, and not to fall into spiritual sleep or complacency. They are to intercede for all the saints, that is, for those with whom they have been joined in the new community of God’s people [cf. 1:15; 2:14-18; 3:8]. The spiritual warfare about which the apostle has been speaking is one in which all believers, both individually and corporately, are engaged; they need the intercession of fellow Christians if they are to stand firm in the thick of battle. The fourfold all in this verse (at all times … all prayer and supplication … all perseverance … all the saints) underscores in a most emphatic way the significance which the apostle gave to such mutual intercession. [19]  In addition to encouraging his readers to offer petitions for all God’s people. Paul specially requests them to intercede for himself. He desires that, in the midst of his imprisonment, he may be given utterance to proclaim the mystery of the gospel boldly and clearly. He was aware that divine resources were needed in the spiritual warfare for this ministry that sought to rescue men and women from the devil’s control. At the end of his letters, Paul often asks for prayer for himself and his colleagues, particularly in relation to their ministry of the gospel [Rom. 15:30-32; 2 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:3,4; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1,2]. Here the language is similar to that of Colossians 4:3-4, although the differences probably reflect the varying historical circumstances of the two letters. Petitionary prayer is now requested for Paul’s ministry to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. God has graciously made known to all believers the mystery of His will, particularly His intention to sum up all things in Christ [1:9-10]. This mystery was also disclosed by revelation to the apostle, and his task is now to enlighten all about it [3:3-6,9]. Central to this mystery is the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in the one body of Christ [Eph. 1-3], a feature that appears to be significant for the specific circumstances apparently alluded to in verse 20. If the apostle’s own grasp of the mystery is due to God’s grace [3:2,7,8], it is no less true that he needs divine assistance in its proclamation. So he asks his Christian readers to pray that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly. The passive may be given indicates that this word will be graciously provided by God so that Paul may be given the right word for him to speak when he opens his mouth to declare the mystery of the gospel. Paul is not suggesting that the substance of the mystery was still a puzzle to him, still less that he was seeking some fresh revelation. Earlier in Ephesians he spelled out the content of this mystery which has been revealed to him [1:9,17-23; 3:3-10]. Rather, like every nervous preacher, he desires the freedom of the Spirit in order to express it freely, clearly, and boldly. The expression opening my mouth boldly appears in contexts of solemnity where a grave or important utterance from God is about to be made. This request would have particular point if Paul was in detention in Rome awaiting his appearance before the supreme tribunal and might have the opportunity of bearing witness before Caesar himself. The result of God’s giving the apostle the right word to speak is that he will make known the mystery of the gospel boldly or clearly. There is some difference of opinion whether Paul is referring to boldness or clarity here and in verse 20, where the cognate verb appears. A good case can be made, on semantic and contextual grounds, for both meanings. As a result, some render the expression with two words, boldly and clearly. Perhaps it is in anticipation of facing the imperial tribune that Paul wants to present the mystery of the gospel with courage and clarity. The mystery in itself signifies the hidden nature of the divine plan; the gospel is the external manifestation of that plan to the people affected by it. Colossians and Ephesians show clearly that this gospel is for everyone. It has been revealed openly, and it is to be proclaimed openly. [20]  Paul has become an ambassador for the mystery of the gospel. In his earlier letters he had written of himself as Christ’s ambassador through whom God announced His message of reconciliation [2 Cor. 5:20]. Now, in the context of his prayer request, this lofty term for an accredited representative is used again. He is an ambassador on behalf of God, who has entrusted him with a commission to make known the mystery to the Gentiles [3:2,7,8]. His task is to proclaim to them the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery [3:8,9]. However, what is ironic, if not contradictory, is Paul’s self-description as an ambassador in chains. The notion of a prisoner functioning in such a role during this period is apparently without precedent and contradicts the status, honor and prestige characteristic of ambassadors. But Paul’s chains refer not only to his imprisonment; they also testify symbolically to his calling. His chains indicate that he is under obligation and are therefore his credentials as an ambassador. If the historical context is that of his appeal to Caesar, then his imprisonment in Rome serves to open the door for him to address the emperor or his prefect. What he would have little hope of achieving otherwise, Paul might do as an accused prisoner, that is, as an ambassador in chains. This may help to explain Paul’s surprising response to his circumstances. Instead of expressing feelings of self-pity or resentment, or of requesting prayer for his release from prison, he revels in his mission. Paul did not hide, apologize for, or defend the fact of his imprisonment. His sufferings were not to be a source of disappointment for his predominantly Gentile readers; rather, these afflictions were for their glory and led on to his intercessory prayer for them [3:13,14]. Paul’s ministry to them was a gift of God’s grace [3:7], and his desire to speak with boldness and clarity, which he mentions again in verse 19, is appropriate for one who is an ambassador. His life was wholly under God’s control and direction, even to the extent of his imprisonment as Christ’s accredited representative. Divine necessity is laid upon him to proclaim the gospel [1 Cor. 9:16-17]. Let him announce the mystery of the gospel freely and boldly, for that is how he ought to make it known. What was the result? If 2 Timothy 4:17 is recounting the hearing of his appeal, then, although no one came to support the apostle, the answer to the prayer requested here was: the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. [21-22]  Tychicus will be Paul’s messenger to inform the congregation about his personal situation. The expression you also may well refer to letters sent to other recipients, such as Colossians, which were also delivered by Tychicus. At this time he may well have been the apostle’s special envoy to the churches of provincial Asia which had been established during Paul’s Ephesians ministry. In Acts 20:4 he is mentioned as a native of the province of Asia who was with Paul in Greece and journeyed with him to Troas at the end of the third missionary journey. He accompanied the apostle to Jerusalem when the latter took the collection from the Gentile churches to their needy Jewish brethren in Jerusalem. According to 2 Timothy 4:12 Paul sent him on some undesignated mission to Ephesus, while later he planned to send either him or Artemas to Crete to take Titus’ place [Titus 1:12]. Along with several others he appears to have been closely associated with Paul during the latter stages of his ministry, and is likely to have been known to the recipients of the letter. Tychicus is commended as the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord. In this context the term brother means not so much ‘fellow-Christian (though Tychicus was obviously this, and the term has this meaning in verse 21) as ‘co-worker’ or ‘helper’. The full expression underscores the close collegial relationship he had with Paul and his proven track record of ministry in the cause of Christ. Such qualifications were important for the task entrusted to him, namely, to convey news of Paul to the readers and to strengthen and encourage them in a ministry that was consistent with the apostle’s concerns expressed in the letter.” [O’Brien, pp. 483-492].


Questions for Discussion:

1.         In 6:10-17 Paul has been describing the spiritual warfare that confronts every true believer. Paul lists the specific pieces of armor that will enable the believer to stand firm against these spiritual powers. Then in 18-20 Paul discusses the importance of prayer. What role does prayer play in our spiritual battle: Why is prayer crucial, foundational, and essential for our spiritual warfare?

2.         What does Paul teach us about prayer in verse 18? Why does he repeat the word all four times? What is the significance of the two present participles: praying and making supplication? What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? Why does Paul command us to keep alert with all perseverance? Seek to apply verse 18 to your prayer life.

3.         Instead of asking for his release from prison, what does Paul ask his readers to pray for him in verses 19-20? What does this tell us about his priorities? Pray for this boldness and clarity for your pastor, teachers, missionaries, etc.


The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Ephesians, Frank Thielman, BENT, Baker.

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