JUST BEFORE THE CLOSING LINES of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he invites his readers to pray for him (Eph. 6:19–20): “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
(1) Elsewhere when Paul provides models for how his converts should pray (e.g., Eph. 3:14–21; Phil. 1:9–11), the theme of mission does not arise as powerfully as here. True, Paul elsewhere asks others to pray for him (1 Thess. 5:25), but here he specifies what he wants them to ask for (compare Col. 4:4; 2 Thess. 3:1). He wants to be able to speak the “mystery” of the Gospel fearlessly.
(2) Surely it is encouraging that Paul should feel the need for such prayer. We sometimes place the apostle on such a high pedestal that we forget he was an ordinary mortal faced with the same temptations that confront us. He was very well aware of how easy it is to skew the Gospel, to trim it a little, to get around the bits we think our hearers will find awkward or offensive. So he knew that to preach the Gospel faithfully, he would have to preach it fearlessly. This does not reflect an “in your face” style. It means, rather, that Paul wanted to speak without fearing what his hearers would think or say about him, or what they might do to him, lest he compromise the Gospel he came to announce.
It does not take much imagination to detect ways in which today’s preachers in the Western world stand in need of much prayer in this regard. Suppose you are preaching to university undergraduates at a pagan university, or to bright businesspeople in their 20s and 30s in, say, New York. When you expound Romans, exactly how will you handle homosexuality in chapter 1 and election in chapter 9? How will you talk about hell in the many passages where Jesus himself deploys the most horrific images? How might you be tempted to flinch when you must deal with the sheer exclusiveness of the Gospel or when you talk about money to rich people?
(3) We should not miss the fact that Paul is willing to ask for prayer. Some leaders think they must never admit a weakness, a fear, or a need. They act as if they are above the fray. Not Paul. His request for prayer is not pro forma: he asks for prayer to preach the Gospel fearlessly because he has been preaching long enough, and knows himself well enough, to know the power and danger of preaching for merely popular acclaim. By asking for prayer, he admits his fears, and secures their divine remedy.