At the end of his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul makes one request for himself from the church: “make supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20).
I find it astounding that Paul did not ask the church to pray for his release from prison. Paul was “an ambassador in chains” for the gospel, but in another letter Paul explained, “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that is has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13). Paul didn’t ask for pity, he didn’t ask for release, he was not ashamed of his chains. And part of the reason why was that “most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14). Paul’s imprisonment for the gospel of Jesus sent shockwaves throughout the known world, to both the church and those who imprisoned him, and the result was an increased boldness in the preaching of the Gospel by those who shared Paul’s mission.
Which is why it makes sense, then, that Paul wouldn’t ask for release. His suffering was producing boldness in the lives of others, allowing the Gospel to be preached without fear. What Paul asked for was that the same boldness being produced in the lives of those around him would fill him as well.
Oh that preachers today would be as centrally focused on the preaching of the Gospel as Paul was! How often do we pray for our circumstances to change compared to Paul? How often do we pray for ease and comfort compared to Paul? How often do we pray for boldness and opportunity to preach the gospel compared to Paul? Preacher, when you are in the midst of trial, suffering, and hardship, consider that perhaps your greatest prayer could be for boldness to preach the mystery of the Gospel.
Notice that Paul prays for two things:
1) “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (v. 19). Yes, the gospel is a mystery. And we preachers must be comfortable with this reality. How confounding is it that we point people to a bloodied, beaten, flogged, crucified, obscure Nazarene who was hung in naked shame before a mocking world and proclaim Him as their only hope for salvation and reconciliation with God? Al Mohler says, “There is something deeply mysterious about Christian preaching, both in terms of its communication and in terms of its content. After all, what we preach is not what the world expects to hear. It is not a message they will hear anywhere else. No human wisdom, no school of philosophy, no secular salesman, no TV commercial speaker selling his CDs is ever going to come up with this on his own.” The enigmatic nature of what we preach is precisely why even the apostle Paul prayed that words would be given to him by the Spirit to declare this truth. Without the accompanying power of God in our preaching, we will not see the fruit of it take place. Preacher, pray earnestly for God to give you utterance to declare this wondrous mystery.
2) Paul prayed “that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (v. 20). The Gospel is worthy of bold declaration. It is an “ought” not a “could.” Paul describes the substance of the Gospel that we’ve received from God as “commanding all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Preacher, could I urge you to command repentance? Jesus Christ is Lord of the living and the dead (Romans 14:9). One day every knee will bow, believer and unbeliever alike, and profess Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:10-11; Romans 14:11). Therefore the plea of the preacher is not to urge sinners to “receive Jesus into their hearts”, the message we herald is that Christ is already King, and therefore we command sinners to plea for Christ to receive them! Pray for boldness to speak this way, as you ought.
Father, would you convince us, as preachers of the Gospel, that the message we carry is worthy of bold declaration. May we behold the wondrous mystery of this message and depend upon You for the words needed to convey it. Would we not water down this message, would we not compromise on the urgency involved, would we not let our circumstances dictate our courage, but in every instance would we be men of conviction who truly believe that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Would you grant us boldness? Would you grant us faithful utterance? Would you grant us eager expectation that Your power will accompany Your message? Give us hearts and minds that desire no other task than to tend to the faithful preaching of your wonderful, mysterious, powerful Gospel.