The Sword of the Spirit and Praying in the Spirit – Ephesians 6:17-18
A Spiritual Armour recap
A couple of months ago we started a series of sermons on the Holy Spirit. We began with his titles, his ministry and receiving the Spirit. We moved onto the Spiritual Armour of God from Ephesians 6. This recognises fact that we’re engaged in a war whether we realise it or not, and whether we want to be or not.
If you’ve got a Bible handy please open it to Ephesians 6 as we review the armour we’ve spoken of:
- Verse 14: We need to begin with truth which is embodied in the belt.
- We need to walk in righteousness with the breastplate protecting our hearts.
- Verse 15: We need to have feet shod with the readiness of the gospel so we can impart the peace of the gospel.
- Verse 16: We need to take up the shield of faith so that the lies of the enemy won’t take hold in our lives.
- Verse 17: And we need to take the helmet of salvation – to work it out with fear and trembling as Paul writes in Philippians 2:12. Not with presumption, but with humility and a genuine apprehension of the Lord God.
- We need to take up the sword of the Spirit which, amongst other things, means correctly handling the word of God. And that word of God is the spoken word rather than written – but we’ll come back to that!
As Mark said last week putting on the armour is not done simply through prayer and then we’ve covered.
It’s not a rote set of actions we go through before heading out for the day.
It is partly attitude and partly command or warning. We need to read and heed the words.
It’s about how we posture ourselves and where we position ourselves in the battle.
The Sword of the Spirit recap
We’ve seen that the armour of God is predominantly defensive, but there is the offensive component of the sword of the Spirit that Mark spoke on last week.
He mentioned the challenge put before us by the evil one to question and doubt God’s word. We saw it in the garden of Eden where the serpent asked Eve “Did God really say …?” satan was seeking to get humanity to question God’s word.
And nothing has changed. Given that God is perfect and holy everything he says must be 100% reliable. If satan can get us to question any aspect of God’s word then everything is negotiable.
Mark pointed out that with Jesus, satan’s temptation took a different tack. As Jesus is the Word of God – the incarnate, manifest presence of God then satan had to try an ambush rather than direct assault. In Jesus' case satan sought to tempt Jesus to question Jesus’ own identity and to exercise authority in ways that were legal but not the Father’s will.
And much of this passage from Ephesians 6 is about standing firm. About being able to remain in the battle by effectively putting on all of the armour. It’s about hanging in there, being protected, being covered. Staying safe, not by hiding or running but by understanding the faith, hope and love we are to have and we are to pursue.
We need to understand the things that we possess in the gospel and the things we are to take up and own by faith and the Spirit.
Pleading the ‘Blood Scriptures’
The last thing I want to talk about in recapping where we’ve been concerns what Mark was speaking about last week regarding “pleading the blood of Jesus.”
A couple of weeks ago Jenny and I were listening to some talks by Bill Subritzky. Bill went to be with the Lord in 2015 but had a very effective evangelistic, healing and deliverance ministry based in New Zealand from the 1970s on. Bill had been a successful lawyer among other things.
Bill spoke of the importance of pleading the blood of Jesus over people – particularly ourselves and those involved in deliverance. Being a lawyer he had some insight into the idea of pleading. He understood legal rights and authority which I think contributed to his effectiveness in teaching and ministering deliverance.
Bill indicated a plea is a legal, formal declaration that states the basis for a claim or position. So to plead the blood of Jesus over ourselves is to state to the spiritual realm what Jesus has done for us and how we are viewed in the heavenlies as a result.
Bill spoke of what he called the ‘Blood Scriptures’ which are verses that talk about the blood of Jesus and what it does for us. We can read them, meditate on them, pray them and declare them publicly. I think it would be good to do that now: Can we read the Scripture together, and then the response from the projection?
[1 John 1:7] But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
[Response] The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is cleansing me now and continually from all sin.
[Romans 5:9] Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
[Response] Through the blood of Jesus I am justified, made righteous, just as if I’d never sinned.
[Hebrews 13:12] Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.
[Response] Through the blood of Jesus I am sanctified, made holy, set apart to God.
[From Demons Defeated Appendix 3]
We’re reminding ourselves, and the spiritual realm where we stand, and the legal basis for that.
These highlight what Mark was saying last week – that our salvation is a process:
- We have been saved, we are being saved and we will be saved.
- We have been justified, we are being sanctified and we will be glorified.
- All through the blood of Jesus.
We need to know our rights, our position, our posture, our identity and our authority in Jesus. This involves grasping what has been won on the cross, and what has been credited to us by our faith in Jesus. We need to recognise and walk in the authority Jesus has given to us over sickness, over evil and over the demonic. And we need to stand firm and see the Kingdom of God extended!
This brings together the ideas of Kingdom authority, declaration, being equipped for war and battle, of standing firm, and understanding and pleading the blood of Jesus.
No piece of armour is wholly effective without all of the others. A helmet protects your head, but it does nothing for your heart. A shield is of limited value if you’re standing on uneven ground and keep losing your footing.
We can consider and discuss pieces of armour in isolation, but they must be employed and deployed together. In the same way none of the elements Paul speaks of such as truth, salvation, peace or righteousness can be pursued in isolation. They are all interrelated:
- You can’t enjoy truth on its own. It needs to generate faith to bring it alive and engender hope.
- You can’t have genuine faith or peace without truth because they will be misplaced or ineffective.
- You cannot enjoy lasting hope or peace without salvation because they are short-lived.
- You can’t expect any sort of righteousness or holiness without truth, hope and faith.
- And nothing works properly without the Holy Spirit.
Praying always… in the Spirit… for all the saints
So in verse 17 Paul has completed his metaphor of the armour of God, but his words in verse 18 still acknowledge the reality of that spiritual battle. Let me read Ephesians 6:18 from the NKJV:
praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints
Paul is still advocating an adversarial position. We are to posture ourselves for action.
I want to spend some time teasing apart verse 18.
Coming as it does at the end of the section talking about the armour of God, this praying in verse 18 is often called the ‘weapon of all prayer’. I have trouble with some of that terminology.
As we look at the verse we see there is a preponderance of the word “all” – all prayer and supplication, all perseverance and supplication, all the saints.
But what does Paul mean by ‘all prayer and supplication’? Is there such a thing as ‘the weapon of all prayer’? Did Paul have something specific in mind when he wrote that?
Consider some alternative translations: We’ve got the New King James which I’ve just read. Secondly from the Berean Study Bible which is a fairly recent translation:
Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. [BSB]
And finally from the New Living Translation:
Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. [NLT]
So I don’t think “all prayer and supplication” is a thing. I think what Paul is saying is that whenever you pray – all of your prayers and supplications should be “in the Spirit”. They should all be guided and directed by the Spirit.
In the Spirit
So what is to pray “in the Spirit”?
Does that mean praying in tongues? Yes.
Does it refer to times when we have a prompting from the Lord to pray for something or someone and we will pray in English or other native tongue? Yes.
What about when someone asks us to pray for an outcome or in a particular way? That one calls for discernment.
So how are we to pray? Let me read 1 Corinthians 14:14-15a:
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is [the conclusion] then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.
And in Romans 8:26 we read:
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
So we are to pray with our minds or with understanding which means with conscious thought in a natural language. We are to also pray in the Spirit which is clearly shown from 1 Corinthians as praying in tongues. And from Romans particularly when we don’t know how to pray for something – which, for me, is a lot of the time.
Watchful and with perseverance
Back to Ephesians, Paul exhorts us to not only pray ‘in the Spirit’, but also with watchfulness and perseverance. Paul says in Ephesians 6:18b, “being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”.
It reminds me of Jesus’ conversation with Peter recorded in Mark’s gospel in chapter 14 which occurs on one of the most significant nights in the history of this world. Jesus has held the Last Supper and heads off to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before his arrest, interrogation and crucifixion. Let me read Mark 14:32-34; 37-38:
32 Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. 34 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, [even] to death. Stay here and watch.”
37 Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? 38 “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed [is] willing, but the flesh [is] weak.”
“Watch and pray” is a great phrase. To me is carries with it intent and vigilance. It is literally to be awake and alert but conveys purpose and perseverance.
In the context of Jesus’ words it is to be watching and praying lest we fall into temptation. In the context of Paul’s writing it is to be praying for fellow believers. So our praying for each other and for believers around the world is to be done with intent and vigilance.
And we are to pray being watchful against temptation in our own lives in the same manner!
Spiritual Prayers v Soulish Prayers
I want to draw your attention to different ways people can pray. Paul exhorts us to pray in the Spirit, but also to pray with understanding. We’re elsewhere encouraged to pray or ask in accordance with God’s will. Each of these prayers come from our spirit which is connected and in touch with the Holy Spirit of God.
But it is possible for prayers to emanate from our souls. Prayers can begin in our minds and our own desires. Praying can be in line with how we think God should be operating in a particular situation.
There is a term for this – it is called soulish prayer – prayer that begins in our hearts or minds rather than with our spirit and God. They are prayed from our own need or perspective without it being God’s will.
I’ve done it and still do it, and, without projecting, I think we may have all done it – praying for something we want or need without reference to God. Sometimes I even preface a prayer by saying “I’m not sure what you want to see in this situation God, but this is what I’d like to see”.
On one level there is nothing wrong with that because we are encouraged to cast our cares and anxieties upon the Lord because he cares for us. The problem comes about if we convince ourselves that what we desire is God’s will when that is not the case. When we convince ourselves that our desires are what God truly wants for us and we project those desires into the spirit realm.
We read of this in James 4:3: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend [it] on your pleasures.”
You may want to remind me of Psalm 37:4 which reads, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” I think what happens is that as we delight ourselves in the Lord our desires change. We are transformed such that we desire good and Godly things.
When we pray in accordance with God’s will God releases his power and angels to see it fulfilled. When we pray soulish prayers that are not in accordance with God’s will then that can stir up demonic activity on our behalf. Does that sound far-fetched to you? If you’re not sure consider this:
Is there a spiritual realm? Yes.
Is there evil both in the physical and spiritual realms? Yes.
If we desire something and pray for it but it is not God’s will or we’re not praying in the Spirit then is that coming from our own desires and souls? Yes.
In that case, either intentionally or unintentionally are we aligning ourselves with the kingdom of darkness rather than the kingdom of light? Yes. Why? The last part of Romans 14:23 answers that, “whatever [is] not from faith is sin.”
So if we’re praying for something but not from a posture or position of faith then is that sin? Yes.
Will the evil one and the demonic seek to exploit this through temptation and accusation in our lives? Yes.
Does that then provide a foothold for the enemy in our lives? Yes.
Can that foothold become a stronghold for the evil one? Yes.
I needed to lay that out because it’s easy to dismiss it.
So our praying from our own needs and desires must be brought before the Lord. We need the same attitude as Jesus displayed in the Garden when, in Matthew 26:39 he prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You [will].”
There is an acknowledgement that Jesus had his own desire and preference to not be crucified, but he also prayed “not as I will, but as you will”. And that’s the key difference.
Praying a Rhema Word in the Spirit
As I finish this morning I want to identify a relationship between the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:17 with praying in the Spirit in Ephesians 6:18.
I think that knowing Scripture – regular, systematic reading, study, meditation and memorisation are all tools to allow us to build the word of God into our minds and spirits.
Interestingly in Ephesians 6:17 when Paul says the Sword of the Spirit is the word of God the word “word” is the Greek rhema which is a word uttered. It isn’t the Greek word logos which refers to the written word, but it is the spoken word rhema.
So logos is the written word, and rhema is the spoken word. Now the sword of the Spirit is the spoken word of God. The written, logos word of God only becomes a sword or a weapon when it is spoken and declared.
And often a rhema word is a specific revelation from the Holy Spirit for a specific situation we’re in. So the logos, written word of God stored in our minds and spirits can be used in the spiritual battle when the Holy Spirit reminds us of it. But it becomes that effective, spiritual sword only when it is spoken out!
And the most effective prayer is one which we know is God’s will. And God’s will is declared by both his logos and rhema words.
So what we can most effectively pray “in the Spirit” is what God has spoken to us as a rhema word in a particular situation.
If we seek the Lord and hear his voice, or sense what he is seeking in a particular situation then that is the centre of his will and the best place to be. That is taking up and using the Sword of the Spirit – the rhema word of God, and it is praying in the Spirit because we are embracing and declaring God’s word and will in a situation.
Does that make sense? I don’t believe there is greater power than when the Sword of the Spirit is prayed in the Spirit. Amen