SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 6 December 2020
Sermon Text: Ephesians 1:15-19
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I. Praying for the church
II. Praying for the needy
III. Praying for the strong
IV. Praying without ceasing
A prisoner wrote a letter to a church and greeted all of that congregation. Despite his discouraging and hopeless situation, he encouraged that church, telling them that he always prayed for them, thanking God because of their faith in Jesus. That prisoner is Paul the Apostle, and his letter we’ve opened and read a minute ago, the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians. This amazes me. If any of us was locked up in a prison, his letter to his friends would’ve been filled with griefs over his tough luck and requests for prayers. Hardly could he care for the situations of his friends, let alone encourage or comfort them.
What perplexes us even further is that Paul describes himself, about the end of his letter, as an ‘ambassador’ of the gospel of the Lord Jesus ‘in chains.’ He is fully aware of his situation – he’s not a fool nor a lunatic – and he asks the members of the Ephesian church to pray for him not to be freed from his imprisonment, but to continue declaring the gospel boldly in his imprisonment. Hardly can we find in this letter any sign of a prisoner’s sigh or discouragement or despair. Nowhere do we find any sign of Paul desiring to be released and freed. He doesn’t seem to care for being either freed or bound; he only seeks others to pray for his preaching of the gospel of Jesus. Instead of sigh or despair, we find in this letter joy, hope, vigour, love, blessing and so forth.
Paul’s main concern seems to be on strengthening those of the Ephesian church. He embraces them in his heart day and night, and prays for them always. This is why he says in our passage in ch. 1 that he does not cease to give thanks to God for them. What a man of prayer! What a man of love for his fellow believers!
Paul not only prayed for the Christians in Ephesus, but also of every other churches. Places like Phil. 1:3-5, Col. 1:3-8, 1 Thess. 1:2-3 and more tell us that Paul prayed for all believers of all churches. Whether he was imprisoned or free, there’s only one concern in his heart and that is the spiritual welfare of his fellow believers in Christ’s Church.
This concern, this pattern, of Paul is, as he claims in 1 Cor. 10:31 and 11:1, a part of his imitation of Jesus his Lord. His concern for those believers at Ephesus and all other places is after the pattern shown in the life of Christ. In a word, Jesus did and so does he. Day and night, the only concern of Jesus was to save sinners, thus, prayed for them always. So is Paul praying always for his fellow Christians everywhere even in his imprisonment.
In effect, Paul urges and challenges us to embrace one another in heart and pray for others by which we imitate him who has imitated Jesus the Lord. That’s what he means in 1 Cor. 11:1 when he says this: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
This is why I’d like us to consider ‘praying for one another’ as an important area of our life in the Father’s house, the church of Jesus Christ. As we’re the members of this house, of this family, we ought to embrace one another in our hearts and pray for each other. Doing so is the most direct evidence of our oneness in Jesus. It is like what blood does in a human body. Every cell, every part of human body remains where they are, but every cell is intimately connected to the rest of the body through blood that runs through veins and arteries. Each of us in the Father’s house are so closely united through prayers for one another. Jesus taught us this and Paul reminds us of the Lord’s teaching.
So, if a local church seems to be cold and loveless, that body of Christ lacks blood circulation – that is, prayers for one another – like a person whose heart pulse rate is so low that his body is cold and weak. If any local congregation seems to be lively and welcoming and caring, that church members are praying for one another daily and their invisible and inaudible prayers go and come continually and actively among members and that warms the entire body up.
There’s more to our praying for each other. When we give ourselves to prayers for our brothers and sisters, we experience growth in faith and its daily application. We may be lifted up out of the deep ditch of selfish prayer; our spiritual eyes may be opened wide to see how the Lord sustains us and comforts us and even strengthens us through our fellow believers in the Father’s house. In this sense, ‘praying for one another’ is a vital aspect of our life in the Father’s house as Jesus called us to be reconciled to the Father and to one another.
I. PRAYING FOR THE CHURCH
Then, how should we pray for one another? Let me tell you, first of all, that you and I should pray for the church. Pray generally for the church you and I belong to. Pray that the Lord be glorified by and through what your church does daily and weekly and yearly. Pray that the name of this church of the Lord Jesus may be known to all people around us in order them to consider this church as a place of worship, as a place to turn their eyes to when sin weighs heavy on them and a place to come to meet God through Jesus’ blood, and as a place to be as long as they live on earth.
Seeking this is, in other words, petitioning to God to protect His church from Satan’s attacks and not to turn us into a reproach, byword, taunt or curse in the eyes of the world. Satan always searches for an opportunity to do so and how disgraceful it is to hear news, for example, of some churches and their leaders’ involvement in child sexual abuse. So, pray for this church, the body of Christ, to be faithful to her Head, Jesus Christ, and stand firmly on His word alone, shining the bright light of Jesus’ saving grace!
Also, when you pray for this church, pray especially for the ministries of this church. Mainly, God nurtures us with His word and Jesus’ love. In Him, we build each other up. And it’s the work of each one toward one another. Minister is not the only person who preaches and teaches – each of us do the same. Mum to her son and dad to his daughter, husband to wife and wife to husband, elderly member to younger member and vice versa, mature Christian to less mature Christian and vice versa. There’s no one in our midst who is not engaged in this ministry of mutual nurturing. What you say and what you do is a lesson for all others. This is what Rom. 16:16 means when it says, “Greet one another with a HOLY kiss,” and Rom. 12:10 says, “Love one another with BROTHERLY AFFECTION. Outdo one another in showing honour.” Greeting and loving one another is for all members – it’s an act of mutual affection – and we do nurture one another in every way. So, pray for what all of us do in the Father’s house.
This includes how we care for one another – it’s our mercy ministry. We’re not separate individuals like grains of sand, but a body of the Lord Jesus on earth. We care for one another. So, pray to the Lord and ask Him to teach you how to grow in caring for others and how to do it for others. I’d like to remind you that you should also seek to learn how to be cared for by fellow Christians. This is specifically important because not many of us like to be regarded as weak or vulnerable or in need of help. Therefore, learning to know how to receive other’s helping hand and accept it with Christian joy is as important as knowing how to care for others.
Pray also for your church’s work in evangelism and mission because this church is not established to keep us stay behind the closed doors; rather, we’re called to gather together here and go out to the ends of the earth to deliver the Lord’s message of His free grace. The end of the world the Lord has sent you to is the places you go and the boundaries in which you have your being. So, pray to God for us to be faithful to the Lord’s commission to deliver His message and blessings.
I heard a story of someone who had carried out the Lord’s commission in this sense. A man found out that quite a number of his high school classmates had become Christians after their graduation of that school and some of them had become ministers and missionaries. That school they graduated wasn’t a Christian school at all – it was a normal public school and rather a rough school for kids. So, he was wondered what caused them to become Christians. After some phone calls and talks over cups of coffee, he concluded that many of his friends were influenced by a same teacher who taught them in school. He visited that teacher who was in his late 70s, retired, and, as this former student talked to his former teacher, he realised that this teacher had prayed for students in the class over many years. The teacher didn’t say anything; he didn’t even closed his eyes, nor bowed his head, but looking at his students in the classroom, he prayed for them. The teacher was greatly surprised when he heard what had happened to those for whom he had prayed a simple prayer every day!
It’s just a story I heard somewhere I can’t remember, but it still gives me the goose bumps all over me! If praying a silent prayer brought many of them to Christ, how much more fruit would our testimony to Jesus bear in the lives of those who listen to us? We ought to pray for one another, seeking that all of us may bring Jesus’ gospel out to the places He sends us.
II. PRAYING FOR THE NEEDY
As we pray for the whole body of Christ, we should specifically pray for the needy among us. We know that we must pray for the needy. If anyone is sick, we should keel on our knees and pray for him/her. For anyone weak in body or heart or soul, we must not forget that brother or sister in Jesus but pray until we see God’s answer in that person’s life.
Our prayer for the needy should also include anyone who is immature in faith. If you have a brother who is immature in faith, instead of boasting in your knowledge, you ought to pray for him and seek to the Lord to teach you to be humble for him. Ask God to help you to stand next to him and walk with him the way of the Lord together.
III. PRAYING FOR THE STRONG
I believe that you all know this need of praying for the needy in the Father’s house. So, let me move to another important, yet, neglected prayer – that is, praying for the strong. I mean, you should pray for strong members of this church. Pray for minister; pray for elders and pray for deacons. Pray for those who contribute to the various aspects of the congregation’s life. They’re the strong ones in the Father’s house and we must pray for them.
Why should we pray for them? Because they’re the pillars and backbones of this local church, body of Christ. Should you pray for them because they are better than others or more important than others in this church? Absolutely not. We must pray for them because God, the Lord, has appointed them as His servants and your servants in this church. In the NT Greek, the word that describes them is ‘dulos’ and its natural meaning is ‘slave’ rather than ‘servant.’ They’re those appointed by the Lord to be slaves in His church, to be workers in His church to deal with various difficult and hard works and services on your behalf in the Lord’s name. In a sense, God has entrusted them to you all in the Lord’s church to pray and support them and strengthen them through prayers in order that they may continue the works of God faithfully and diligently. This is why you must pray for them.
So teaches 1 Tim. 5:17 – it’s not my word or anybody else’s, but the Lord’s – and it says this: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.” The main principle is for all who serve in the Lord’s church, not just elders and ministers. That’s why this verse says ‘double’ honour as others too in church should be honoured. And the reason for ‘honouring’ them is, as I said earlier, because of their hard works and services on behalf of Jesus, the Head of the church, as His ‘slaves.’ You honour each of them, then, you honour their Master, the Lord Jesus.
Pray, therefore, for the strong in the Father’s house so that the backbone of this church may sustain the whole body firm and strong and the feet and hands of this body of Christ may carry out all gospel ministries well and faithfully.
IV. PRAYING WITHOUT CEASING
Finally, you and I are to pray for the church, for the needy and the strong ‘without ceasing.’ Hearing this, someone might think in his heart, ‘Wow! That’s too much! How could I do that?’ But my fellow members in God’s house, do not go that way too quickly and shut your mind down because ‘praying without ceasing’ does not mean committing to a literal ceaseless prayer. Rather, it means engaging in prayer ‘frequently,’ ‘never abandoning’ it and ‘going quick’ to prayer.
In other words, you remember these areas you must pray for – your church, the needy and the strong – and never forget these prayer needs. Remembering, you do pray as often as you could. You shouldn’t need to go back to your home to enter the room you designated for prayers, you could pray in your heart for the church as you walk on the street as it comes up to your mind; you could say just a few words for the needy, saying, for example, ‘Father, I don’t know how such brother of mine is going, but please keep him in your hand’ or ‘Lord, be near to her and strengthen her, I pray!’
The same could be done for the strong in this church and the Sunday School ministry and young adults group. Wherever we are or whatever we may be doing, we should pray about anything or anyone that comes to mind. This is ‘praying without ceasing’ and, in fact, all Christians do this all the time, don’t we?
‘Praying for one another’ is, in fact, a direct result and evidence of Jesus’ reconciliation of us to the Father, thus, to one another in Him. So, one who can pray to his/her Heavenly Father in Jesus’ name can also pray for one another. And one who prays for others – visible to his eyes – prays to his Heavenly Father who is invisible.
So, let us pray for one another more and more till we acquire it as a habit through which we honour our Lord Jesus and glorify Him. ***