A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:13-20. 3). The armour of God (continued).
Pray *also for me*, Paul begged (verse 19). He was wise enough to know his own need of strength if he was to stand against the enemy, and humble himself enough to ask his friends to pray with him and for him. The strength he needed was not just for his personal confrontation with the devil, however, but for his evangelistic ministry by which he sought to rescue people from the devil’s dominion. This had been a part of his original commission when the risen Lord Jesus had told him to turn people ‘from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God’. (Acts 26:18). Hence the spiritual conflict of which he was aware. Moreover he had not left the battlefield now that he was under house arrest and unable to continue his missionary expeditions. No, there were those soldiers to whom one by one, each for a shift of several hours on end, he was chained, and there were his constant visitors. He could still witness to them, and he did so. There must have been other individuals beside the fugitive slave Onesimus whom he led to faith in Christ. Luke tells of Jewish leaders who came to him at his lodging ‘in great numbers’, and who heard him expound ‘from morning till evening’ about the kingdom and about Jesus. ‘Some were convinced,’ Luke added (Acts 28:17, 23-24). Thus Paul’s evangelistic labours went on. For ‘two whole years’ he ‘welcomed all who came to him’, he proclaimed ‘the kingdom of God and…the Lord Jesus Christ’, and he did it ‘quite openly and unhindered’ Acts 28:30-31).
It is those last few words which we need specially to notice. For ‘quite openly’ translates the Greek phrase ‘with all *parresia*’. The word originally denoted the democratic freedom of speech enjoyed by Greek citizens. It then came to mean ‘outspokenness, frankness, plainness of speech, that conceals nothing and passes over nothing’, together with ‘courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank’ (AG). And this is precisely what Paul asks the Ephesians to pray that he may be given. Freedom is what he longs for – not freedom from confinement, but freedom to preach the gospel. So he uses the word *parresia* twice (first as a noun, then as a verb) in the expressions *opening my mouth boldly* (verse 19) in preaching the gospel, and *that I may declare it boldly*, as I ought to speak (verse 20). The good news he announces he still calls the *mystery*, because it has become known only by revelation, and centres on the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ; and the two major qualities he wants to characterize his preaching of it are ‘utterance’ (verse 19) and ‘boldness’ (verses 19-20).
The first of these two words seems to refer to the clarity of his communication, and the second to his courage. He is anxious to obscure nothing by muddled speech and to hide nothing by cowardly compromise. Clarity and courage remain two of the most crucial characteristics of authentic Christian preaching. For they relate to the content of the message preached and to the style of its presentation. Some preachers have the gift of lucid teaching, but their sermons lack solid content; their substance has become diluted with fear. Others are bold as lions. They fear nobody, and omit nothing. But what they say is confused and confusing. Clarity without courage is like sunshine in the desert: plenty of light but nothing worth looking at. Courage without clarity is like a beautiful landscape at night time: plenty to see, but no light by which to enjoy it. What is needed in the pulpits of the world today is a combination of clarity and courage, or of ‘utterance’ and ‘boldness’. Paul asked the Ephesians to pray that these might *be given* to him, for he recognized them as gifts of God. We should join them in prayer for the pastors and preachers of the contemporary church.
It was for the gospel that he had become *an ambassador in chains* (verse 20). Earlier in the letter he has designated himself both ‘a prisoner’…on behalf of you Gentiles’ and ‘a prisoner for the Lord’ (3:1; 4:1). Thus he gives the gospel, the Lord and the Gentiles as three reasons for his imprisonment. Yet these three are one. For the good news he preached was of the Gentile’s inclusion in the new society, and it had been entrusted to him by the Lord. So by communicating it in its fullness he was being simultaneously faithful to the gospel itself, to the Lord who had revealed it to him and to the Gentiles who received its blessing. His faithfulness to these three had cost him his freedom. So he was a prisoner for all three. Perhaps now he was sometimes tempted to compromise in order to secure his release. For ‘imprisonment brings its own special temptation to bow to the fear of man’. But if so, he was given grace to resist. ‘Paul thinks of himself as the ambassador of Jesus Christ, duly accredited to represent his Lord at the imperial court of Rome’. How could he be ashamed of his King or afraid to speak in his name? On the contrary, he was proud to be Christ’s ambassador, even if he was experiencing the anomaly of being an ‘ambassador in chains’. It is possible even that he deliberately plays on this paradox. Markus Barth writes: ‘The term “chain” (*alusis*) signifies among other things the (golden) adornment(s) worn around the neck and wrists by rich ladies or high ranking men. On festive occasions ambassadors wear such chains in order to reveal the riches, power and dignity of the government they represent. Because Paul serves Christ crucified, he considers the painful iron chains as most appropriate insignia for the representation of his Lord. What concerns Paul most, however, is not that his wrist may be unchained, but that his mouth may be opened in testimony; not that he may be set free, but that the gospel may be spread freely and without hindrance. It is for this, then, that he prays and asks the Ephesians to pray too. Against such prayer the principalities and powers are helpless.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.