“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”
The context of this text must not be sought in the latter part of verse 17, where we read of the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. If this were true then the thought here would be that we must take this sword of the Spirit with all prayer and supplication. However, this sword of the Spirit is but another part of the Christian’s armour, the armour of God. Why, then, limit verse 18 to only one part of this armour, the latter part of verse 17?
This text must be understood, therefore, with the admonition of the apostle in verse 14: “Stand therefore.” We must take unto ourselves the whole armour of God, held before us in the verses 14-17. To this armour, however, must also be added the power of prayer and supplication.
We must bear in mind the following. First, we read literally, as in the Holland translation: “with, or through all prayer and supplication? This is the effective means through which our standing in this awesome conflict of the ages is alone possible. Then we read: “praying always in the Spirit and watching. . . .” In these words we have a more detailed setting forth and explanation of the words: “with all prayer and supplication.” What a unique way to fight a battle, upon bended knee! One would almost say, if I may use the expression, Is not the Christian a sitting duck? Does this not place him in a hopeless position? Yet, how true is the saying: “Satan trembles when he sees, the weakest saint upon his knees.”
This prayer is a spiritual prayer. Supplication is one of several forms of prayer. Prayer can and does assume the form of praise, of confessing one’s sins and also of thanksgiving. Here we read of supplication. Prayer is not a magic means to get something. To pray ceaselessly, then, would mean to pray until we get it. Such praying is often carnal, to get the things we want. We pray, then, for health in time of sickness, for peace while at war, etc. How impossible is this view! The Christian, fighting this spiritual battle, exhorted to put on the whole armour of God and to stand, would pray for material things, for peace, that the enemy may either surrender or capitulate or somehow stop attacking him? We, then, would pray that this spiritual battle would cease, that we and the enemy of darkness may live together peaceably and amicably? How impossible! Prayer is the address, the reaching out of my soul to the living God, to receive His grace in whatever circumstances He may place me. Prayer does not attempt to change or mould God’s will, but it does seek to know and abide by that will of our God.
Prayer and supplication. Yes, especially supplication. Indeed, how deeply we are in need! Indeed, we give thanks to God, praise Him, but always the child of God addresses to the Lord the supplicating plea. How true this is particularly here, in this context, in the midst of this warfare that never stops, never knows of any armistice! How desperately we are dependent upon Him, the God of our salvation!
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in. the Spirit, we must watch thereunto with all perseverance. The expression, “watching thereunto in all perseverance,” refers to what precedes, and especially to the words, “in the Spirit.” We will return to this in due time. However, we must watch unto this end, unto the end that we may always engage in prayer and supplication. We must not fall asleep in this spiritual conflict. We must always be on the alert. We must know the enemy. We must never compromise with him. We must always bear in mind the intensity of the conflict, the constant purpose of the foe. Always we must understand our own weaknesses. We must indeed persevere in prayer and supplication.
And, we must pray in the Spirit. The Spirit here is the Holy Spirit. To pray in the Holy Spirit means that we pray in the sphere of the Spirit, that we pray as being in the Spirit and therefore also as influenced by the Spirit. Indeed, this is a spiritual battle.
To be sure, we are not engaged in a battle against flesh and blood! Today we hear much of a social gospel, a gospel that is geared to making this world a better place in which to live, to fight against immorality, debauchery, etc., removing the results of sin without removing sin itself, and without the cross of Calvary. How common today is this social gospel! Be not deceived. It is but an example of the wiles of the devil! If only he may lull the people of God to sleep, persuade them to lay aside the armour of God and join forces with the world to improve all of life here below! How impossible is this view! How demoralizing! We are not called to conquer this world and transform it. We are called to stand, never to renounce our calling, always be witnesses of the light in the midst of darkness.
We must pray in the Spirit. And this surely means, not only that we must be in the Spirit, but also and emphatically that we must pray as in the Spirit, as controlled and influenced by .Him. We must pray as Christ taught us to pray, as according to His Word, seeking to be pleasing in God’s sight, that we may walk worthy of the gospel, worthy of God, always seeking to glorify Him Who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Such is our calling. And only when we thus pray in the Spirit shall we be able to stand in the midst of this fearful battle.
This prayer is a constant prayer. The text emphasizes this. First, we read here the word, “always.” Literally we read: “in every time, at every moment.” We are reminded of I Thess. 5:17. We must pray always, not necessarily audibly, but also silently, as within ourselves. Besides, we also have the expression, “in all perseverance.” In all perseverance we must watch thereunto. We must never stop this watching. We must continue this perseverance to the very end, always engaging in all prayer and supplication.
How necessary this is! Visualize, if you will, the setup here, the church of God as involved in a battle which is to the death. This is a spiritual battle, not for or against flesh and blood, but between light and darkness. And, it is a struggle without compromise. In this struggle we have, first of all, the kingdom of this world with all its man-power and all its resources. Against this kingdom of darkness is the Cause of the Son of God. The church is but a little flock, few in number, and so weak in resources. Besides, please note how we must fight. We must stand, but only in the armour of God. Our only offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We may never resort to violence, fight fire with fire; we must put all our trust, never in ourselves, but solely in the Lord. What a hopeless struggle as far as the church of God is concerned!
Now we can understand the admonition to be constant in prayer. What else can the Christian soldier do but pray to the Lord? He can do nothing of himself. Only when we pray can we experience the blessed assurance that the Lord is with us and that we are more than conquerors. Failing to pray, we can never enjoy this assurance. The Lord will never give His glory to another, never share it with another. O, it is so true, therefore, that “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.” For this reason the Lord willed the utter hopelessness of this conflict, that He might receive all the praise and all the glory.
This prayer is an all-embracing prayer. Indeed, we may not pray for all men or for the world. Shall we pray that all men may be saved? Or, shall we pray for the improvement and betterment of this world? Shall we pray that this bitter struggle may cease, that humanitarian efforts may be employed to produce a better world, an improved society? How impossible! Do not the scriptures teach that the wicked shall have no peace? The Saviour Himself does not pray for the world; and in this text this prayer is limited to the saints. Indeed, this battle continues unabated throughout the ages.
We must pray for the saints, and then for all the saints. They are saints, holy ones. This enables us to understand why the apostle speaks of saints in this text. It is exactly this which explains this conflict. They are saints, separated from sin and dedicated to the living God. For this reason they are hated and persecuted by the world. The world hated Christ and therefore hates them. And now we must pray for them. We remind the Lord, as it were, that they are saints, hated of the world because they love God and that, therefore, nothing less than the glory and honour of God are at stake here. This battle occurs for God’s sake, and the Lord is besought to vindicate them for His Name’s sake.
And we must pray for all the saints. We must have before us all the people of God as they are engaged in this struggle. We must, therefore, keep abreast of the times, remember all God’s people in our prayers to the throne of God’s grace. May this conflict and the needs of the saints engaged in it, and of all the saints, ever occupy a prominent part in our prayers.
O, this prayer for ourselves and for all the saints is not heard in the sense that the conflict will cease, that we will no longer be afflicted or persecuted. The answer to prayer is never carnal.
But the answer to this prayer is exactly that we will be able to stand, will not succumb, will be able to hold our position in the midst of the battle. Indeed, the blessedness of the armour of God will be ours. We will know that we are righteous, have peace with God, believe that we will attain unto the hope of everlasting glory and heavenly immortality, that we are even now more than conquerors through Him Who loves us and loved us upon the cross of Calvary. We will indeed be able to sing that wonderful song of victory as recorded for us in Romans 8:35-39.
So, let us pray with all prayer and supplication.
Let us pray in the Spirit, and for all the saints.
And we will know that we are more than conquerors.