7. “WATCH AND PRAY” (6:18–20)
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times with all prayer and supplication, and keep awake for this very purpose with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints,
19 and also for me: pray that I may be given utterance as I open my mouth, to make known the mystery of the gospel 81 with liberty of speech.
20 It is for the sake of the gospel that I am an ambassador—an ambassador in chains! Pray that I may enjoy liberty in this matter, 82 and speak as I ought.
18 This paragraph is closely similar to its counterpart in Col. 4:2–5, but neither passage can be shown to be dependent on the other. Both reflect a common situation, existing at the time and place of writing.
There is no obvious separation in the Greek text between this exhortation to prayer and the immediately preceding encouragement to resist spiritual foes. 83 The imperative “pray” (in our rendering above) renders the participle “praying” in the Greek. 84 This might be a further instance of the imperatival use of the participle; 85 but, so far as the construction goes, “praying” (with the following “keeping awake”) seems to belong to the series of participles dependent on the imperative “stand” at the beginning of v. 14 (“having girt,” “having shod,” “having taken up”). 86
Praying “in the Spirit” means praying under the Spirit’s influence and with his assistance. “I will pray with the spirit 87 and I will pray with the mind also,” says Paul (1 Cor. 14:15), by way of response, it appears, to some who believed that to pray in a “tongue” unintelligible to speaker and hearers alike was to pray “in the Spirit.” It is no criterion of the power of the Spirit that the person praying does not understand his own prayer. On the other hand, there are prayers and aspirations of the heart that cannot well be articulated; these can be offered in the Spirit, who, as Paul says, “himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).
Both in his own practice and in that of his converts and others, Paul insists on the necessity of constant prayer—praying “at every time” (as the literal rendering is here). 88 “Pray without ceasing,” the Thessalonian Christians are exhorted (1 Thess. 5:17), while Paul himself repeatedly assures his readers of his unremitting prayer for them (cf. Col. 1:3). Here the general word for prayer is used, together with “supplication,” the word emphasizing the element of petition or entreaty in prayer. 89
As in Col. 4:2, the importance of watchfulness, keeping spiritually alert, is stressed. A different word for keeping awake is used here 90 —the same word as appears in a similar exhortation in Luke 21:36, where Jesus, warning his disciples of the impending crisis, urges them to “keep awake at all times, praying that you may prevail … to stand before the Son of Man.” 91 The eschatological note is not explicitly prominent in Colossians and Ephesians, but it can be discerned wherever watchfulness and perseverance 92 are enjoined.
The readers have already been commended for their love “to all the saints” (Eph. 1:15); one way of continuing to show this love is to persevere in making supplication for them.
19 With the exhortation to pray “for all the saints” comes a special request to pray for Paul in particular, in language closely akin to that in Col. 4:3–4. If the life-setting of the letter was Paul’s detention in Rome, where he looked forward to his appearance before the supreme tribunal, then he might well ask for prayer as he tried to exploit every opportunity for gospel witness in his present restricted situation, and especially when the time came (as he hoped) to bear witness before Caesar himself. 93 Much might depend on what Paul said on that occasion, and on the manner in which he said it—not so much for his own safety (a matter of minor importance in his eyes) as for the progress of the gospel in the Roman world. He had made known in the eastern provinces the “mystery” 94 with which he had been entrusted on the Damascus road; the impending opportunity of making it known at the very heart of the imperial administration carried great responsibility with it, wholeheartedly as he welcomed it. Hence he besought the prayers of his fellow-Christians, that he might say the right thing in the right way, 95 and do so without inhibitions.
20 Twice in this prayer request he expresses the desire that he may be granted liberty of speech as he makes the gospel known. 96 This liberty of speech cannot be divorced from the inward liberty of spirit which enables one to speak from the heart. His sense of liberty was the greater because he knew that what he had to make known was not his own message but the Lord’s. He was but the ambassador; Christ was the sovereign on whose behalf he was to speak. He had no uncertainty about his commission: as he put it to Philemon, if he was the prisoner of Christ Jesus, he was at the same time the ambassador of Christ Jesus 97 —none the less an ambassador even if he was, as he says here, “an ambassador in chains.” 98
If it is to the hearing of his appeal that 2 Tim. 4:17 looks back, then the answer to the prayer requested here is recorded there: “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the message fully, so that all the Gentiles might hear it.” “All the Gentiles” could not be present in court while Paul made his defense, but this is an instance of Paul’s “representative universalism”; 99 what was said in public at the center of the empire would reverberate as far as the distant frontiers.
83 Hence Bunyan’s Christian, beset in the valley of the shadow of death by forces against which his other armor was useless, “was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon, called ‘All-prayer’ ” (The Pilgrim’s Progress, Part 1).
85 See p. 383, n. 78 (on Eph. 5:21, ὑποτασσόμενοι).
86 περιζωσάμενοι … ἐνδυσάμενοι … ὑποδησάμενοι. For a similar series of participles, concluding with a possibly imperatival participle, cf Eph. 5:19–21 (p. 383, n. 78).
87 Gk. προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι, where πνεῦμα is ambiguous: τὸ πνεῦμά μου in the preceding verse might suggest Paul’s own spirit, but his emphasis throughout the chapter is that such devotional exercises are effective only if performed through the Spirit of God (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7–11).
89 Gk. διὰ πάσης προσευχῆς καὶ δεήσεως (for the collocation of the two nouns see Phil. 4:6).
91 Cf. Mark 13:33, βλέπετε, ἀγρυπνεῖτε.
94 In Col. 4:3, it is called “the mystery of Christ.” Here τοῦ εὐαγγελίου (see n. 81 above) is epexegetic genitive after τὸ μυστήριον—the mystery is the gospel. See pp. 173, 311–15.
95 ὡς δεῖ με λαλῆσαι, as in Col. 4:4.
96 ἐν παρρησίᾳ γνωρίσαι … (v. 19), ἵνα ἐν αὐτῷ παρρησιάσωμαι (v. 20). For παρρησία cf. Eph. 3:12 (with p. 322, n. 71); Phil. 1:20 (ἐν πάσῃ παρρησίᾳ); for παρρησιάζομαι cf. 1 Thess. 2:2 (ἐπαρρησιασάμεθα … λαλῆσαι … τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ).
98 ὑπὲρ οὗ πρεσβεύω ἐν ἁλύσει. The antecedent to οὗ is τοῦ εὐαγγελίου (if it be retained in the text), otherwise τὸ μυστήριον. Cf. Col. 4:3, διʼ ὃ καὶ δέδεμαι (the antecedent to ὃ being τὸ μυστήριον).