Ephesians 6:18b

Sermon preached on July 11, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In February 1839 a Texas state militia under the command of Colonel John Moore headed into Comanche territory on a seek and destroy mission. They were going to exterminate any Comanches that they could find. They had heard that there was a Comanche encampment on the San Gabriel River, north of Austin. They found that camp abandoned but followed the trail upriver. On the night of February 15 they came upon a sleeping Comanche village. The Comanche's had no idea they were in any danger. They had posted no sentries, their horses were not guarded and they slept comfortably in their tipis, oblivious to the militia creeping up on them. At first light the solders rushed the came, firing into the tipis, shooting blindly at anyone who emerged. They threw open the doors of the tipis or pulled them down and started slaughtering the Indians inside. If it hadn't been far some great tactical mistakes the militiamen made—like not stampeding the Comanche's horses, and not guarding their own horses—they would have wiped out the whole village. As it was, some of the Comanche warriors managed to get to their horses, stampede the Texas militia's horses, and turn the tide of the battle. It was amazing that they survived.

But their great mistake was that they were complacent. They weren't expecting an attack and so they weren't alert. It cost them dearly.

As a Christian, that shouldn't happen to you. You are to be watchful about the enemy. One of the great things that the apostle Paul tells you here is that

you are to pray with alertness.

In John 15:5 Jesus told us that we can do nothing on our own. He said,

"I am the vine; you are the branches.
If a man remains in me and I in him,
he will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing."

All our strength, all our wisdom, all our perseverance comes from God. A few weeks ago we saw that one of the implications of that was that we are to be praying on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Here at the end of verse 18 Paul gives us another implication of all our strength being in God. We are to pray with alertness. Paul wrote, (Ephesians 6:18)

"With this in mind, be alert and
always keep on praying for all the saints."

What Paul is saying here is that we need we need to stay awake. The Greek word that Paul uses here means, (BDAG)

'to be vigilant in awareness of threatening peril'.

This word was used of shepherds who would stay awake and watch over their sheep and so keep them safe from bears and lions. The idea is that we are to be watchful for approaching danger and thus be praying for ourselves and others. We are to be as Charles Hodge writes, (Ephesians p. 391-392)

'wakeful and vigilant, not allowing themselves to become weary or negligent.'

The word is also used in Scripture with regard to the end of the age and how you Christians are to be ready for that. In Mark 13:33 Jesus said to His disciples,

"Be on guard! Be alert ! You do not know
when that time will come."

We see the same thing in Luke's gospel. In Luke 21:36 Jesus said to His disciples,

"Be always on the watch,
and pray that you may be able
to escape all that is about to happen,
and that you may be able
to stand before the Son of Man."

This being alert is connected to prayer. You are to be alert when you are praying. One very simple thing this means is that you are to keep your mind from wandering when you are praying. John Calvin writes, (Sermon on Ephesians 6:18-19)

"no man is so perfect that he does not find this malady by experience in himself, namely, that when we should pray to God, many things cross our minds that set us wandering abroad, insomuch that we shall wonder that instead of continuing in prayer in good earnest, our memory sets us a-wandering here and there."

The idea is that there are dangers all around us so we need to be constantly praying for help against these dangers.

I once saw some video footage from World War II. It was shot a few weeks after the Allied invasion of France. It was taken from a vehicle that was following a jeep. The video started out showing some of the devastation that had taken place from the recent fighting. But it was taken a few days after the fighting was over. Everything was calm, the fighting in that area was over. But then as the vehicle was going down the road, there was a warning sign. I forget the exact wording of the sign, but it said something like,

"Caution, entering area where enemy is present."

It was a sign warning that they were approaching the front lines and that the enemy was there. It was telling them that they had to be really alert in that area, that they might meet enemy patrols, or face enemy snipers, or be subject to artillery fire. In such a zone you had to be really careful or you'd end up dead.

What Paul is telling you is that you are living in such a danger zone. As the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:8,

"Be self-controlled and alert.
Your enemy the devil prowls around
like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

Sinclair Ferguson writes, (Let's Study Ephesians, p 186)

"Christ is building his church on territory that has been occupied by an enemy. Alertness is always essential when living in a war zone."

Are you alert? Do you realize that you're living in a war zone as that the enemy is trying to injure and destroy you.

You'll remember just before Jesus was arrested He said to Peter, (Luke 22:31)

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked
to sift you as wheat."

It's noteworthy that the word 'you' in the Greek is plural in number. Satan didn't just target Peter, he asked for all of the disciples. Satan is targeting the church. He is targeting you. He wants to destroy you. Therefore you have to be alert.

Remember what Paul told the Ephesian elders when he said good-bye to them? (Acts 20:29–31)

"I know that after I leave,
savage wolves will come in among you
and will not spare the flock.
Even from your own number
men will arise and distort the truth
in order to draw away disciples after them.
So be on your guard!
Remember that for three years
I never stopped warning each of you
night and day with tears."

Remember how the angel of the Lord was waiting on the path to kill Balaam? In the same way you can be sure that there are dangers all around you. Some of them may be invisible, but just like Balaam was given a sign from the actions of his donkey, so there will be signs that will tell you that there is hidden danger. You are to be alert and you are to be praying to God to protect you.

John Bunyan tells us about this in his book, Pilgrim's Progress. He tells us that at one point on his journey Christian came to a house where he was able to rest for awhile. There Piety, Prudence and Charity told him about some of the things of the Lord. Before he left,

"they took him, and had him into the armory, where they showed him all manner of furniture which their Lord had provided for pilgrims, as sword, shield, helmet, breastplate, all-prayer, and shoes that would not wear out. And there was here enough of this to harness out as many men for the service of their Lord as there be stars in the heaven for multitude."

Later in the story about Christian going through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We read,

"The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good Christian was the more put to it; for when he sought, in the dark, to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other; also, when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness he would be ready to fall into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for besides the danger mentioned above, the pathway was here so dark, that ofttimes when he lifted up his foot to go forward, he knew not where, or upon what he should set it next. About the midst of this valley I perceived the mouth of hell to be, and it stood also hard by the wayside. Now, thought Christian, what shall I do? And ever and anon the flame and smoke would come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises, (things that cared not for Christian's sword, as did Apollyon before,) that he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon, called All-prayer, so he cried, in my hearing, O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Psa. 116:4. Thus he went on a great while, yet still the flames would be reaching towards him; also he heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro, so that sometimes he thought he should be torn in pieces, or trodden down like mire in the streets. This frightful sight was seen, and these dreadful noises were heard by him for several miles together; and coming to a place where he thought he heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet him, he stopped, and began to muse what he had best to do. Sometimes he had half a thought to go back; then again he thought he might be half-way through the valley. He remembered also, how he had already vanquished many a danger; and that the danger of going back might be much more than for to go forward. So he resolved to go on; yet the fiends seemed to come nearer and nearer. But when they were come even almost at him, he cried out with a most vehement voice, I will walk in the strength of the Lord God. So they gave back, and came no farther.

Bunyan knew our text well. All-prayer is a great weapon.

Do you know that dangers that are all around you? Are you alert to them? They can come upon you at any time, even when you're doing well and working for the Lord.

Yesterday I read about a North Carolina pastor who was relieved of his duties as an honorary chaplain of the state house of representatives after he closed a prayer by invoking the name of Jesus. (Fox.com) Ron Baity, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem had been invited to lead prayer for an entire week. Baity's troubles began when a House clerk asked to see his prayer. Baity said,

"When I handed it to the lady, I watched her eyes and they immediately went right to the bottom of the page and the word Jesus. She said 'We would prefer that you not use the name Jesus. We have some people here that can be offended.'"

When he refused to remove the name of Jesus he was fired.

God bless Ron Baity. I'm sure there was a great temptation to go along with what the clerk suggested and keep his honorary position. But he had the good sense of being alert and he did the right thing.

Are you alert to the dangers around you, to the temptations, traps and dangers that Satan and his minions have for you? So often when we think we're safe, when danger seems so far away, when the solution seems so obvious—that's when danger lurks.

You'll remember how the
Gibeonites deceived the Israelites under Joshua. Joshua and the Israelites had entered the promised land and were fighting against the cities that were there. They had defeated Jericho and Ai. When the Gibeonites heard about it, they decided to try to deceive the Israelites. They pretended to be from far away. They sent representatives to the Israelites and they had moldy bread, worn out sandals and other things to make it look like they had come from a long distance. But it was all a trick. They asked the Israelites to make a treaty of peace with them. In Joshua 9:14 we read,

"The men of Israel sampled their provisions
but did not inquire of the Lord."

The situation seemed so obvious. So the Israelites didn't ask for the Lord's guidance. What a huge mistake they made.

The only way to avoid such mistakes is to be alert and be bringing everything to the Lord in prayer.

What's especially interesting here is that this alertness is related to 'all the saints'.

There are two clauses in our verse that are roughly parallel. A few weeks ago I preached on the first clause, on how we are to pray on all occasions in the Spirit. With regard to that phrase, it is clear that we are to be praying for ourselves. But the second clause contains something new. Paul adds that we are to preserve in prayer, being alert and keep on praying,

"for all the saints".

We should take this to heart because it's so important. John Eadie writes about the Ephesian Christians, (Ephesians, p. 476)

"To their persistent supplication for themselves, they were to join, not as a separate and distinct duty, prayer for all the saints, but rather… in praying for themselves they were uniformly to blend petitions for all the saints."

We Christians are part of one army. We are part of one body. When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. The success of one is the success of all. The defeat of one is something that affects us all.

Yet in practical terms I think this is something that we minimize and think is not that important. I think believe that many Christians today are much too individualistic. We have adopted the attitude of our society and we think too much in individual terms. We focus on ourselves and our growth in grace. It's the age of the rugged individual.

Many times we are unconcerned and unsympathetic about the plight of other Christians. When a particular Christian goes through a rough time and he doesn't handle it well, the natural and extremely evil thing to do is to be apathetic and unconcerned. If we take any interest in them at all it's to look down on them, to speak about them in condescending terms and feel good about ourselves because we don't have that particular problem.

How could we do that? Yet, that's what many Christians today do. As long as they're doing well themselves—everything is good.

There are two ways to we should apply this.

First of all, (and this is an area where I'm personally negligent in, and which I've very thankful for Susan Weidler and others in bringing our attention to)

we should be greatly praying for persecuted Christians in all parts of the world.

Many, many Christians throughout the world are suffering because of their devotion to Jesus Christ. They can't worship freely. They can't do everything in the name of Jesus without being punished for it. They suffer deprivation because of their devotion to Jesus. Many face imprisonment and death.

How often do we lift them up in prayer? How shameful if we neglect them in our prayers. May God forgive those of us who have been negligent in that area and spur us on to be more concerned about our suffering brothers and sisters.

Secondly, this means that you should be praying fervently for those Christians you know.

Consider how the Secret Service watch over a Presidential gathering. Imagine a setting which included the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and other cabinet members, the Senate majority leader, the leader of the House of Representatives and other government leaders. I'm not sure of this, but I'm assuming that in such a situation that the Secret Service would be in charge of overall security. Even though there would be people there who they didn't normally protect, while they were at that gathering with the President, the Secret Service would be protecting them too. If there was an attack in which only one person they were protecting was killed, the Secret Service agents would consider their mission a failure. Even every one of the agents came through the incident unscathed—they would know that they failed.

Do we Christians think in such terms? I think our attitude often is,

"Well, I'm okay. Everything's good."

No. No. No. We are all in this together. We need to be fervently praying for each other. E. K. Simpson writes, (Ephesians, p. 154)

"Proficients in the holy art of intercession are sorely needed by the church of God today…""Entreaty for the welfare of others is amongst the noblest privileges of the Lord's people; and observation bears record that public disasters and private distresses multiply in proportion to the decay of that importunate intercession which prevails to 'move the hand that moves the world to bring salvation down."

This also means that

you are to pray for those Christians who have treated you as an enemy.

Sometimes Christians don't act as they should. In the church you can find jealously, hatred, slander and betrayal. Sometimes other Christians, instead as acting as brothers and sisters to you, will play the part of an enemy to you. They will abuse you, hurt you and at the end of it all, blame you.

You are to pray for those Christians who have treated you like that. You are to forgive them and pray that God would bless them, that He would help them to turn from their evil and get back on the right path.

I've heard it said that when you pray for someone, it's very difficult to continue to be angry with them. When you're praying for someone, it's very difficult not to be forgiving toward them.

Christians, pray for all the saints.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,

this text shows you what danger you are in.

If Christians, God's beloved, need the prayers of the saints, to protect them from the dangers that are all around them—where does that leave you?

Christians, no matter what happens to them, are safe. This is because they are in Jesus. Yet Jesus commands His people to pray for one another.

Christians are praying for you. Yet, you are not in a condition of safety. Quite the opposite, you are in a condition of utmost danger. You don't have Jesus as your Good Shepherd. In a few short moments from now you could find yourself in hell's fires. Only Jesus can save you from that. Go to Him now. Ask Him to save you. Find eternal life and joy today.