Sunday, March 8, 2020


What does it Mean to “Pray without Ceasing?”

Ephesians 6:18-20

In the previous two posts we have seen what it means to pray in the Spirit and the purpose of prayer. We came to understand that even though God knows our needs even before we ask, our prayers to God are still a valuable part of our Christian lives.

We also saw a quote by Jesus when he was teaching his followers to pray: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:7-8 NAS)

I do not know specifically what pagan Gentile religion Jesus was referring to, or if it was perhaps a common practice for the pagans to believe that the more they repeated a prayer, the more effective it would be.

It is certainly not difficult to imagine that it was generally done in this way, since there still seems to be a propensity among people who are trying to show themselves religious to believe that the more repetitions that they make of a prayer, they more likely it will be that God will hear.

Jesus told his followers that this is not necessary, since God knows our requests. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we need not be persistent in our prayers. There is a difference between persistency and mere repetitiveness. Jesus also once told a story concerning the importance of perseverance when it comes to prayer.

In his example, instead of using a Roman soldier as a comparison as, we saw Paul do in teaching about the armor of the Lord, Jesus used as an example that of an unrighteous judge. The point in both of these examples is not that the soldier or the unrighteous judge exemplify any type of virtue to us, but only that we should see that even these people of the world can demonstrate something to teach us.

The story of Jesus goes like this: 

In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected men. There was also a widow in that town who kept appealing to him, “Give me justice against my adversary.”

For a while the judge refused, but later he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God or respect men, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice. Then she will stop wearing me out with her perpetual requests.”  

After he had told the parable, Jesus added:

“Listen to the words of the unjust judge. Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He continue to defer their help? I tell you, He will promptly carry out justice on their behalf. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:2-8 BSB)


Devotion to Prayer

 “Pray with every kind of prayer and petition,” Paul instructs his readers in his letter to the Ephesians. He then adds, “Pray at all times.”

He means that our prayers are to be continual prayers. They are not meant to be simple, one-time requests that are given, and then more-or-less forgotten. Paul is speaking of supplication that is to be a continual practice.

It is the same attitude that the prophetess Anna had in the days of the birth of Jesus. It is written of her that she “Never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers” (Luke 2:37 NAS).

It is the same attitude as the apostle Paul himself had when he thought of his friend Timothy, writing to him “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day” (2 Timothy 1:3 NAS).

How are we to pray “at all times?” Is this even possible? What does Paul mean by saying that we are to pray “with all perseverance?”


Praying with Perseverance

As we have done numerous times before, we have the ability to look at other writings of Paul to read what he has said on the same issue to the other churches who received letters from him. The apostle actually wrote quite extensively on the subject of prayer, and what the regularity of our prayers should be.

For instance, he wrote to the church at Rome to be “persistent” in prayer (Romans 12:12).

To the Colossians he said they were to be “devoted” to prayer and to be watchful (Colossians 4:2).

He instructed the Philippians that “in “everything” they should let their requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).

And to the church at Thessalonica— “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).


Each of these words may have a slightly different connotation, but they all indicate to us that our prayers need to be a regular part of our days.

In order to pray in such a consistent manner, it is obvious that not every prayer needs to be accompanied by a formal routine or ritual. Every prayer does not need to be made kneeling beside our bed, or even bowing your head and folding your hands. Certainly it is good to have such times as these, and it is important to do so.

Throughout the New Testament, we see numerous examples of Jesus and the early believers as they dedicated certain times during their days for prayer. The gospel writer Luke seems to indicate that this was a regular part of the life of Jesus when he writes, “He would frequently slip off into the wilderness to pray” (Luke 5:16).

But prayer is as much a manner of living as it is a specific act. We will see this when as we continue with Paul’s request and see for whom he is asking prayer. The life of consistent prayer has much in common with the life of a saint.


Who are the “Saints?”

The specific request that Paul is making for the prayers of the people is that they would pray for the saints. “To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints.” Paul says.

When Paul speaks of praying for the saints, he of course is not referring to the men and women whom some churches have elevated to the special category of “sainthood.” The origins of the word for saint[1] actually refer to someone (or even something) that is set apart by God and for God.

The word saint is a special designation for a person who lives for God instead of for any self-serving purpose, such as the drive to make money so that they can buy many things, or any other similar worldly pursuit. A saint is one who has instead dedicated himself or herself to serve God.  The designation of saint is perhaps Paul’s favorite word in his salutations for the people to whom he is writing his letters.

To the Christian brothers at Rome: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7 BSB).

To those at Philippi: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1 ESV).

To the Colossians: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae” (Colossians 1:1-2 BSB).

The salutation of Paul’s that perhaps best defines the manner in which he uses the word is found in his letter to the Corinthians: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:1-2 ESV).

To be sanctified[2] is what makes a saint. Sanctification is the act of being set apart (or setting one’s self apart) from the quests that the people of the world seek. The sanctified person is set apart instead to follow after a life with God. This is the manner in which a person is sanctified to God, and by which he or she becomes a saint.


The Prayer Life of the Saint

A saint in this sense has some commonality with the concept and with Paul’s admonishment that we should “pray at all times.” Just as it is not practical or even possible for one to focus and to concentrate exclusively and solely for the purpose of prayer during every minute of the day, so a saint, in his or her service to God, must nevertheless also be involved with some everyday activities of the world. They must go to school or work, for instance, they must shop for groceries or drive the taxi or milk the cows. Even though their service is not toward monetary matters, they must handle money in their everyday affairs.

Nevertheless, the end-game of the saint is always the same. The saint serves God. There is no thing or no one who has a greater value to the saint than does God. Even when involved in everyday and worldly affairs, the saint is continually assessing the value of what he is doing to growing in his life in the ways of God.

It is much the same as praying without ceasing. Even when we are not actively praying, we remain in an attitude of prayer. Our inward thoughts and conversation are directed toward God.

Everyone has some sort of inward conversation that they carry on almost continually. Most people talk to themselves when alone, even if not audibly. Some people might talk to their cat. Some people might talk to their mule.

The saint talks to God. It is praying without ceasing.


Prayers for the Saints

The Apostle Paul is known as one of the most effective Christian evangelists ever to have lived. He carried the message of Jesus Christ to a great many parts of the then-known world. Nevertheless, even though he was greatly burdened for the people of the world, in his writings, he seems to be chiefly concerned for those believers of the church, that the “saints” (as he called them), would remain faithful and strong in the Lord.

“Let us not grow weary in well-doing,” He wrote to the Galatian church, “For in due time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to the family of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10 BSB).

“Be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,” he writes to the Ephesians.

For the man whom we call “Saint Paul,” his definition and designation of who is a saint is any person who has been sanctified or set apart by Jesus Christ and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, indeed in all of his writings, his chief purpose was to encourage and to build up the saints, so that they may walk in a manner worthy of their calling.

Every day we are faced with the many needs and the many problems of the people of the world. These we also bring before the Lord in our prayers. But we must remember also to pray for the saints. It is these, our own brothers and sisters, who face difficulties similar to what we experience. We are citizens of the kingdom of God living in an alien land and needing the strength of the body of Christ to sustain us.


Prayers for Paul

Along with the prayers for all the saints, Paul reminds the Ephesians to pray also for him. His request was simple; “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, divine utterance may be given me, so that I will boldly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20 BSB).

In calling himself “an ambassador in chains,” this is the third time in this letter that Paul mentions his imprisonment (also 3:1 and 4:1). Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he wrote this letter to the Ephesian church. He was imprisoned for at least two years in one form or another, including house arrest. He probably was imprisoned more than once.

We do not know at what point of his imprisonment that he wrote this letter, but since he mentions it quite frequently, it perhaps was in the beginning part of this time and he was still becoming accustomed to the situation. Indeed, the fact that Paul felt the need to ask for prayers that he would have the boldness to speak the gospel seems to indicate that he was not yet comfortable with what he might expect in the prison in Rome.

When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi some two years later or so, we think he was also probably in some prison of Rome. In that letter, Paul seems much more seasoned with the situation where he was. To the Philippians, Paul sends his greetings from all the saints who were with him there in Rome, and especially mentions those saints “of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22).

I take it from this statement that Paul had had many conversations with his guards prior to writing the letter to the Philippians, so much so that at least some of the guards and perhaps others had become believers. It is difficult to say the time that had elapsed in between the writing of these two letters, but it seems that in the letter to the Philippians, he had grown much more accustomed to his situation.

To the Ephesians, Paul used a description of his guard to illustrate the points that he was making concerning the armor of the Lord. But in his letter to the Philippians, there were at least some of Caesar’s household who were involved enough with Paul that they wanted to send their greetings to their unknown Christian brothers in Philippi.

To the Ephesians, Paul asked that they pray that he would be bold enough in his imprisonment to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. By the time he wrote to the Philippians perhaps two or three years later, he was sending greetings on behalf of the people of Caesar’s own household who had come to believe in the mystery of the gospel.

I do not think that we are reading too much into this to assume that the prayer that Paul had asked of the Ephesians were answered. Paul had been able to overcome any hesitancy that he may have at first felt to be able to speak with boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel.


What Paul Did Not Ask

One thing that we should notice is what is not in Paul’s request for prayer. He did not ask the Ephesians to pray that he might quickly be released from prison, or even that his time in prison might be made less harsh in some way.

Despite the difficulty of being incarcerated, and despite the fact that he had been imprisoned based on false charges made against him, Paul viewed this time as something that had been given to him by God, and he would use it for the purpose for which God intended.

There was no complaining by Paul, no whining over his present situation. There was only the desire to live in a way that would bring glory to God.

As we have made our way through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, one matter that has been consistently apparent is that the Apostle was growing in his reliance on the sovereignty of God. Those troubles and hardships that came to him in his ministry for the sake of Christ did not seem to weaken his faith, but indeed strengthened it. Paul was even growing in his life with Christ in the midst of his unjust incarceration in a dark and dank prison.

So content did Paul learn to become throughout his walk with the Lord that by the time he wrote his letter to the Philippians, he could say this:


I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 NAS)

The Mountaintop Perspective

This is the life of the saint. It is a life that sees the hand of God in every aspect of living. It is a life that understands that after all the glitz and glitter of the world has rotted away or has been destroyed, the foundations of God will remain.

The life of a saint is a life that can live with contentment no matter what these present years bring, because the one dedicated to God knows that whatever sufferings or difficulties may come in the present, these problems can never even be comparable to the glory that one day will be revealed. It is a life that has viewed the world and this present life from the mountaintop of God’s understanding, and has come to appreciate a new perspective.

This brings us almost to the end of the letter to the Ephesians. All that Paul has left to write are some final greetings. 

[1] Hágios – properly, different (unlike), other (“otherness”), holy; for the believer, (hágios) means “likeness of nature with the Lord” because “different from the world.”

The fundamental (core) meaning of 40 (hágios) is “different” – thus a temple in the 1st century was hagios (“holy”) because different from other buildings (Wm. Barclay). In the NT, 40 /hágios (“holy”) has the “technical” meaning “different from the world” because “like the Lord.”(Strong’s concordance, Greek reference number 40 – hágios) 
[2] Hagiázō – from hágios, “holy.” (Strong’s concordance, Greek reference number 37 – hagiázō)

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