God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: God’s New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians(LX) The Full Armor of God (4): Praying for Preachers

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on November 5, 2006

Ephesians 6:19-20

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The Lord’s Day
Evening

November 5,
2006

Ephesians 6:19-20

God’s
New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LX)

The Full Armor of God (4):

Praying for Preachers

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. Please be seated. If you have your Bibles, I’d
invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 6. We are now at the penultimate sermon
in this series on the Book of Ephesians. One more to go! Tonight we’re looking
at the end of the passage that deals with the armor of God.

We’ve been going through that section in Ephesians
that has to do with the full armor of God. The last time we were together in
this book we began to look at the prayer that was designed to undergird the
whole of the armor that God has appointed for believers to wear.

Tonight we’re looking specifically at Paul’s
prayer request for himself
, because at the end of that section in which he
exhorts Christians to pray always and to pray with all prayer and petition at
all times in the Spirit, he goes on in verses 19-20 and asks for a prayer
request for himself. Paul is particularly interested that the Ephesians not only
pray for one another and for all believers, but that they pray for him.
Especially he is concerned that they would pray for him to have boldness and
clarity when he preaches the gospel. (And I find that quite extraordinary for
the Apostle Paul — asking for these friends in Christ, a congregation that he
had been called by God to plant and shepherd and feed — that he would ask them
to specifically pray for him that he would be bold and plain…bold and clear in
his preaching.) But I believe that if we look at these verses closely, we can
actually find six specific petitions in them. I realize that he is explicitly
asking for two prayer requests, but even in the way he asks these prayer
requests, I think there are six things that remind us how we ought to pray
for ministry.

Now let me say that there is a certain awkwardness
in my preaching this text before my own congregation. I love to go preach this
text before other congregations, to encourage them to pray for their
preachers, but it feels just a little selfish for me to preach a whole sermon
about how you can pray for me. So let me say very quickly that I’m concerned
that we as a congregation would be prepared to pray for all faithful ministry
along these lines. So you may well have connections with other faithful
congregations in this city or state or nation, and this would give you an
outline for how to pray for the ministers that are serving in those particular
places. I am prayed for better than I deserve here at First Presbyterian Church,
and so this is not a plea, it is not a jeremiad, it is not a remonstration with
you to pray more faithfully, but it’s an encouragement for all of us as to how
we ought to pray for gospel ministry.

So let’s go to God in prayer, and then let’s hear
His word.

Heavenly Father, thank You for directing us even
as to how we are to pray for preachers and for preaching, and for gospel
ministry. And we pray, O God, that as we study this great passage tonight that
we would be moved to greater faithfulness in prayer. We ask this in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Hear the word of God:

“..And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given me in the opening of my
mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an
ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to
speak.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul, in the course of
requesting two specific items of prayer from the Ephesians for his ministry,
points us to the urgency of prayer for ministers, the solemnity of preaching the
gospel, the goal of preaching the gospel, the aim of preaching to reach the
hearts and consciences of those who are the hearers of that preaching, the
importance of lifting up Christ, and of always proclaiming the gospel in
preaching, and even the obligation of preachers to preach in season and out of
season with regard to their own personal trials and tribulations. I believe that
there is a petition for each of those six things that will inform and strengthen
your prayer for gospel ministers, so I’d like to work through them with you
tonight.

I. Christians are to faithfully
intercede for ministers (19a) {The Urgency of Prayer}

First, notice verse 19, and the very first few
words that the Apostle Paul utters: “Pray on my behalf….”
This is quite
an extraordinary request. Even the Apostle Paul wants to be prayed for with
regard to his gospel ministry. He says ‘Pray for me. Pray particularly for me,’
and it tells us something about the urgency of prayer for ministry that he would
utter this request. This is a reminder that Christians are to faithfully
intercede for their ministers. Here is the Apostle Paul…let me say that again:
the Apostle Paul…the one who has been lifted up into the third heavens
and has been shown things which a man is not allowed to say…the man who met
the Lord Jesus Christ personally on the road to Damascus, and was called by Him
personally in the gospel ministry…is asking the Ephesian Christians (who had
never been to the third heavens, who had never seen Jesus Christ face to face)
to pray for him. Now, surely, if the Apostle Paul needed prayer for gospel
ministry, the rest of us chumps need prayer for gospel ministry! If an apostle
can plead with a congregation to faithfully intercede for him, surely all gospel
ministers deeply need prayer in order to carry out their tasks. Paul
consistently places emphasis on prayer. If we were to turn to Romans 15:14-33,
we would find him making a similar request from the congregation in Rome. But he
does this because there is an urgency about his ministry that requires an
urgency in prayer, and so there is an urgency in his request for prayer from the
congregation.

It’s also interesting that there is a mysterious
personal relation in all intercession. When we pray for one another, it knits
our hearts together; so when a congregation prays for its minister, it knits the
heart of the congregation with that minister. William Law, a famous Christian
from many years ago, said “There is nothing that makes us love a man as much as
praying for him.” And so we’re knit together in a joint ministry when we
intercede for gospel ministry.

I for three years had the privilege of studying in
Edinburgh, Scotland, and during that time attended a congregation called the
Holyrood Abbey Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland was a large and mixed
denomination. There were theological liberals who were very radical, and there
were gospel-believing, gospel-preaching, Bible-believing evangelical pastors in
that congregation as well. And on the prayer board in the Fellowship Hall of
Holyrood Abbey Church, there was a list of the names of every evangelical
minister in the Church of Scotland. And on Saturday night [yes, Saturday
night!], when they would gather as a congregation and pray from 7:30 to 9:30,
they would pray through that board in the Fellowship Hall so that every
evangelical minister in the Church of Scotland would know when he climbed the
steps of the pulpit the next Sunday morning that at Holyrood Abbey Church in
Edinburgh, and at Gilcomston South in Aberdeen, and at Sandyford Henderson in
Glasgow, and the various other evangelical churches that had a Saturday night
prayer meeting, that he had been prayed for. And very often I heard the report
of friends of mine who were evangelical men, but they were serving in liberal
congregations, saying that it was the only thing that enabled them to walk up
those steps on Sunday morning — knowing that those congregations in Edinburgh
and Aberdeen and Glasgow and elsewhere were praying for them by name on Saturday
night, that their ministry would be approved by God and upheld by God and
blessed by the Holy Spirit; and our hearts were knit with those men. I didn’t
know most of the men that were up on the bulletin board. Some of those men are
now serving in those various congregations, and I feel a closeness to them even
though I haven’t met them, because I was there praying along with the
congregation for them. And so, praying for gospel ministry knits our hearts with
the ministers.

But you know, interceding for the gospel ministry
also carries with it a mysterious personal blessing.
I‘ve quoted to you many
times Samuel Rutherford’s great word that “I never have run an errand to the
throne of grace [intercede for someone else] when I have not fetched back a
blessing for myself.” That is, when we are going to God in prayer deliberately
to pray for someone else -not for ourselves, but for someone else — that God in
His great love and mercy sends us back not only having heard our intercession
for our brother or sister, but also with a blessing for ourselves. And so we
ought to pray for ministers and ministry with an urgency because of the
importance of the task and the greatness of the need.

II. Christians are to pray for
their ministers’ earnestness and faithful consistency in proclamation

And that leads us into the second petition that I
think we find here, and again you see it in verse 19. Notice how Paul asks for
prayer: “Pray on my behalf that utterance may be given to me in the opening of
my mouth”
— and it’s that phrase that I want you to latch on to – “in the
opening of my mouth,” or “whenever I open my mouth.”

Now, that phrase is a phrase of particular
importance in the Old Testament prophets. When the Old Testament writers are
getting ready to record something really, really important that an Old Testament
prophet was going to say, how will they often introduce those speeches or those
prophecies from the Old Testament prophets? “And he opened his mouth and
said….”
Now, obviously unless one is a ventriloquist, you have to open
your mouth to say something, but that is not what the writer of Scripture is
talking about. Of course you have to open your mouth. It is a formal
introduction whereby the reader is being told something really, really important
is about to be said; listen up close, because the prophet is “opening his mouth”
not to speak his own words, his own ideas, his own opinions, but the word of the
living God to your ears and heart. And so when the Apostle Paul says “I want you
to pray for me in the opening of my mouth,” he is reminding you of the solemnity
of the task of preaching.

Do you realize that every time — every time, without
fail! — that the word of God is preached, that great issues of eternal moment
are being decided? The word of God is never preached when one of two, or both of
two, things occur: Either hearts are drawn closer to God and prepared for
everlasting fellowship with Him, or hearts are hardened against God and His
gospel, and an eternal decision of tremendous and terrible consequences is
sealed more and more. And those things happen every time the gospel is preached,
and all of us need to feel the solemnity of that, not just preachers. Every
Christian needs to understand that every time that Derek gets up here, every
time that Brad gets up here, or Billy, or I get up here to preach — every time
our ministers get up and preach the gospel, it may be the last time that some
people in our congregation ever hear the word of God. Within hours some of them
may be standing before their Maker.

You know, it becomes so routine for us. We’re going
to go to church on Sunday. And it’s good to have that in our mind and ingrained
in our schedule, but none of us (James reminds us) can simply say “I will do
this” and “I will do that.” It’s always “God willing.” And who knows…who
knows…how many of us who are a part of the congregation this week will not be
here next Lord’s Day to hear the word of God? And so it is a tremendously
sobering and solemn thing to proclaim the word of God, and therefore Christians
need to pray for their ministers’ earnestness and faithful consistency in
proclamation, because the opening of the mouth to proclaim the word of God is a
solemn thing.

Richard Baxter used to say, “I preach as though
never sure to preach again; as a dying man to dying men.” Martin Luther
expressed this same sense of the solemnity of preaching when he said, “I preach
as though Christ were crucified yesterday, rose again from the dead today, and
is coming again tomorrow.” That’s the solemnity, the urgency with which he
preaches, and yet John Owen rightly says, “It is easier for a minister to bring
his head to preach than it is his heart to preach,” and so we need to pray,
“Lord God, bring the minister’s heart to preach. Bring to bear on him a sense of
the solemnity of what he’s doing, so that Your word is glorified and honored,
and Christ is exalted and the people of God sense the significance of what is
going on.” And we ought to pray for ministers and ministry because of the
solemnity of the work.

III. Christians are to pray for
their ministers to be given a divine supply of truth (19b)

But there’s a third thing that I want you to see
as well, and it’s again found right there in verse 19.
We’ve already read
through the words twice, that here Paul says, “Pray for me, that utterance may
be given to me.” Literally, “…that words would be given to me.”

Now, this again surprises me, because the Apostle
Paul in Acts 14:12 so impressed the pagans with his oratorical ability that they
were calling him Mercury, the messenger of the gods. I’ve never understood the
Christians in Asia Minor who didn’t think that Paul was that good of a preacher,
because the pagans thought that the man was a god, his words were so powerful.
And yet the Apostle Paul, with his great command of language, begs that these
Christians in Ephesus would pray to God that words would be supplied to him,
that utterance would be given to him, because the Apostle Paul understood that
mere human oratory and rhetoric cannot bind up the brokenhearted or raise the
dead again. Only the Spirit of God can do that. Only the word of God can do
that. And so the best ministers, the very best ministers, need prayer. In fact,
the better they are rhetorically, the better they are in their abilities to
speak and to hold an audience captive, the more prayer they need that they won’t
rely on those native abilities, they won’t rely on their own capacities and
their cleverness and their intelligence, but that they would rely upon the
Spirit of God and speak the word of God plainly.

Plain preaching, our Reformed forebears used to say,
is what we need. And this is so important because the goal of preaching is
supernatural, and things of this world cannot produce or realize that goal. Only
the Spirit, and what words does the Spirit want to use? The plain words of God.
And so the Apostle Paul says ‘Dear Ephesians, pray for me, that God would give
me the word that He would have me to speak, so that the word of God is spoken
plainly.’

IV. Christians are to pray for
holy boldness/Gospel freedom (rooted in the fear of God) in ministers’ preaching
(19d)

And fourthly, again in verse 19, notice that the
Apostle Paul asks that we would pray that he would “make known with boldness the
mystery of the gospel.”
And notice again in verse 20 he’ll repeat this
request: “…that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” In
other words, the Apostle Paul wants to speak boldly and fearlessly the truth,
and so he asks that Christians would pray that he would be given holy boldness,
that he would be given gospel freedom rooted in the fear of God in his
proclamation of the truth.

No man ought to be in a pulpit who fears man more
than God, but most preachers struggle with precisely that temptation. There
always exists in ministers the temptation to fear people and their opinions, to
tremble before them, to curry favor with them with their words and with their
preaching, rather than fearing God. And here is the Apostle Paul saying
‘Ephesians, pray that I would have such a fear of God that it would give me
gospel freedom in proclaiming the word of truth to you.’ Here is Paul — he was a
man of great courage. This man was beaten; this man almost died on numerous
occasions for the sake of the gospel; and yet he’s praying that he would be
given courage in proclaiming the truth.

It reminds me of John Knox, when Regent Morton stood
over his now-unmarked grave and spoke words of eulogy about John Knox. I think
the greatest compliment that that man who was the leader of Scotland at that
time (that was given John Knox) were these words: “Here lies a man who neither
feared nor flattered any flesh.” And of course there was a great truth to that.
In Knox’s proclamation he was fearless, and he certainly flattered no one. And
yet Knox himself says that he struggled mightily with the fear of man, and with
man-pleasing. C.S. Lewis many years ago wrote an essay when he sort of mocked
John Knox about that. He said no, there’s never been a man who misunderstood
himself more than John Knox, if he thought that he was a man-pleaser and a
man-flatterer, and wasn’t bold enough. But I suspect that John Knox knew what he
was talking about, because in every minister there is a temptation to tell your
people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear, because
sometimes telling the people of God what they need to hear is not conducive to
the sustainability of your employment! And here’s the Apostle Paul saying
‘Christian, if you love God and if you love me, pray that I will tell you what
you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Pray that I’ll be given freedom to
preach the word that your hearts need for their everlasting good, not what will
make is pleasant for a while now.’

We need to pray for ministers that they would be
given freedom based on the fear of God, a holy boldness in the declaration of
the truth.

V. Christians are to pray for
their ministers to make known the Gospel (19e

And then the apostle goes on to make a fifth
request: that we would pray for him to make known the mystery of the gospel.
That he would make known the mystery of the gospel…that he would preach Christ
crucified, that he would have a gospel focus in his preaching, that there would
be gospel faithfulness in his preaching, that there would be gospel content in
his preaching.
And he’s saying here and reminding us again that Christians
need to pray for their ministers to make known the gospel, because it’s so
tempting to do something else.

You know in our day and age there are voices on all
sides saying that the gospel will not work. The liberals long ago decided the
gospel wouldn’t work and they needed to update the message, but now even in the
evangelical world there are voices from all sorts of people saying ‘Look, people
aren’t interested in hearing that any more. We need to talk about things that
immediately touch their daily lives’ — as if one’s eternal destiny was not a
practical issue; as if being what God created you to be is not a practical
issue; as if the way in which God has redeemed a multitude of men, women, boys
and girls from every tribe, tongue, people and nation to Himself by the blood of
Christ is not a practical issue; and yet there are many, many people that
believe that. And so more than ever we need Christians praying for their
ministers to preach the gospel: salvation by grace alone, through faith alone,
in Christ alone; to lift high the cross; to show men and women and boys and
girls the way of salvation, the only way of peace; because there is a danger in
ministers of preaching peace where there is no peace, or of simply preaching
moralism. And so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Would you pray for me that I would
not forget to preach the gospel.’

Now, again, that’s Paul who has challenged
the Galatians: “If I or anyone else ever come to you proclaiming another gospel
other than that which I proclaimed to you, let me and they be accursed.” And
he’s saying ‘Ephesians, would you remember to pray that I would preach the
gospel.’ If Paul needed that, I certainly need that prayer, and every gospel
minister needs that prayer.

But do you see how that prayer even sets an
expectation in your heart that the gospel will be proclaimed? So that even in
the praying of that for the preacher you’re anticipating the gospel itself being
held forth to the people of God in the preaching of the word. And so we need to
pray for ministers for a gospel focus and a gospel faithfulness in all the
proclamation of the word.

VI. Christians are to pray for
their ministers’ endurance under tribulation (20)

But finally there’s this — and again, it’s not an
explicit prayer request, it’s almost a passing comment, isn’t it?
The
Apostle Paul (you see it there in verse 20) says, after asking the Ephesians to
pray for him that utterance might be given to him in the opening of his mouth,
to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, notice this passing
remark: “…the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.”

The Apostle Paul in passing just reminds them a
little bit of the trials that he has undergone for the sake of the gospel, and
in doing so he is saying to them that he wants to be faithful even in chains to
the Lord Jesus Christ; and in reminding them of that he is actually reminding
all Christians to pray for their ministers’ endurance even in seasons of trial.

Show me a faithful preacher, and I’ll show you a man
that God has broken one way or the other. Show me a man who is a preacher worth
his salt, and I’ll show you a man whom God has softened his heart by various
kinds of trials. They’re different in every man, but God has His way because He
wants shepherds who love His people and who know their own sins and know their
need of grace, and there’s only one way to do that: you have to break the heart
of the shepherd. And if that is the case (and it always is), then Christians
need to pray for their ministers, for all who are in gospel ministry, that they
would endure those losses and crosses, those trials and those tribulations,
those things that God has appointed, that they might be tender and faithful
shepherds, ministers of the word of God.

You know, Martin Luther had this provocative way of
saying things, and in the middle of his sermon on Psalm 5, he pauses and he says
this: “A minister is not made by reading books, but by living and dying and
being damned.” (Now, as I said, Luther had a very provocative way of saying
things! But you understand what he’s getting at.) He’s saying that ministers are
made in the crucible. That’s where God makes ministers. So you pray for those in
gospel ministry, because you can be sure that one way or another God is going to
get to His servants in order to make them fit instruments in order to proclaim
the gospel. And so C.H. Spurgeon could speak to the minister’s fainting spells.
He went through seasons when he did not feel capable of carrying on the
ministry, when he didn’t feel equipped to carry on the ministry; or Samuel
Rutherford will love his congregation in Anwoth, but he’ll be sent half-way
across the country to Aberdeen and held in exile there, far away from his
people, and his heart will be broken; or Jim Boice will be at the very height of
his ministry, and he’s diagnosed with cancer and three months later he’s gone.
But God has His ways, and God knows what He’s doing. We as Christians have the
privilege in joining together to pray for those faithful gospel ministers even
in their times of trial.

So, my friends, I want to encourage you. Use this
outline for gospel ministry. Perhaps you’ll want to pray for the pastors in the
home congregations that you grew up in. Maybe there’ll be a cycle of faithful
ministers across the United States in our own denomination and elsewhere, or
even around the world, that on Sunday mornings or on Saturday nights you’ll want
to make it a regular routine to pray through these petitions for them: that they
might be faithful, proclaim the gospel boldly, fearlessly, and clearly. What we
need in our day and time is a ministry with boldness and clarity, in utter
reliance upon the Holy Spirit. These petitions, my friends, will prepare our
hearts to receive precisely that kind of ministry, if we pray as well that they
will be instruments in God’s hands for crafting precisely that kind of ministry.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. Make us
faithful to pray for gospel ministers and ministries; and make our hearts to be
knit with faithful ministers of the word, that we might co-labor with them in
the work of lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We ask this in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

Would you stand for God’s blessing.

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away.
Amen.

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