The apostle Paul prayed a beautiful prayer for the church at Ephesus. As well as showing all believers what we can aspire to and what we should pray for on our own account, some additional further advice can be gleaned specifically for ministers. Preachers and pastors have the responsibility of caring for the souls of those who are to feed from the Word they preach, and this includes praying with them and for them. But how should ministers approach God when they pray? What features of the flock should shape the requests they make in prayer for them? Why does it even matter that ministers should pray for their people? In this updated extract from his commentary on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, James Fergusson picks out some pointers for ministers. In turn, believers who observe this advice should remember that as we are all members of God’s family, there should be no desire to exclude any of the family from the blessings of salvation, and there should be willingness to help rather than hinder our minister’s prayers for us.
Praying with purpose
In this part of the chapter Paul gives a summary of his fervent prayers to God for the believers at Ephesus, that they would persevere and grow in the faith and experiential knowledge of the doctrine of salvation (Eph. 3 from v14 onwards). In doing so he not only gives an evident testimony of his sincere affection and endeavours for their salvation, but he also strives to stir up a similar ardency of affection in them. Indirectly at least, though most effectively, the example of his prayers prompts them to persevere and make progress in the experiential knowledge of and communion with Jesus Christ.
Paul states what has occasioned his prayer (i.e., that these people were already built by faith on Christ). He also expresses the humble, reverent frame of his heart in prayer (“I bow my knee,” Eph. 3:14). He also shows that he is directing his prayer to God the Father.
God the Father is described first from His relation to Jesus Christ (“the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”) and secondly, from His relation to His church (“God … of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named”) (Eph3:14). He is the Father by adoption of the whole church of those who are regenerate, whether triumphant in heaven or militant on earth, whether Jew or Gentile. The church is here called a “family,” and it is said to have its name from God. They are His family, His children, those who are at home in His household.
In the context, there is a particular relevance why Paul describes God in this way. The Jews wanted the whole church to be named after (and contained within) the Jewish nation, excluding the Gentiles. But at all points Paul makes the Gentiles equal sharers of participation in God along with the Jews. So Paul by using the term “God … of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” he is breaking down this arrogance, and at the same time showing his warrant to pray for perseverance and growth in grace from God even to the Gentiles.
Ministers must pray for their flock
As we know, it is the duty of Christ’s ministers to teach and instruct the people of God committed to their charge (2 Tim. 4:2). But we learn from Ephesians 3:14 that it is every bit as much the minister’s duty to pray to God for their people.
Ministers must pray for their people, not only in public with them, when they are as it were the mouth of the people to God (Joel 2:17), but also in private. All their efforts cannot profit without the Lord’s blessing (1 Cor. 3:6). Ministers ought therefore fervently to seek the Lord’s blessing from God by prayer, otherwise they have no ground to expect it (Ezek. 36:37).
Why people need their minister to pray with and for them
It is of no small advantage to the Lord’s people to have a minister who is able to pray, and who accordingly does pray pertinently, spiritually, and fervently with them and for them.
- By him, as by their mouth, they may have their various cases made known to God more distinctly than many of them can express by themselves.
- Additionally they themselves are edified and instructed how to pray with similar affection and fervency (1 Cor. 14:19).
- By their minister’s affectionate prayers to God for them, a blessing is drawn down from heaven to make the Word preached effectual in them (James 5:16), and they themselves are roused up to seek after those good things that their minister prayed for them to have.
- They can also be comforted and encouraged to know that their minister is speaking to God for them, including when he is absent from them, and cannot speak to them (Phil. 1:4), and when they through some reason or another cannot deal with God for themselves, at least in any measure satisfactory to themselves (James 5:14–15).
People should be able to take their lead from their ministers
Why did the apostle tell them what and how he prayed for them? Not to win their applause (because that is condemned, Matt. 6:5), but to stir them up to pray for themselves and to endeavour to obtain the good things he sought for them. The more earnest and laborious others are for bringing about our spiritual good (whether they are our ministers, parents, friends, neighbours), all the more we should be provoked into diligence about the same thing ourselves.
Ministers should pray for more grace for their people
If you pray to God for others, especially if you are a minister praying for your flock, your prayers should be prompted not only by their needs, afflictions and sinful infirmities (James 5:14–15), but also by the grace and good things of God they have already received. Pray that they would persevere and grow in these graces and good things, and be preserved from abusing them, seeing the graces of the best are only imperfect (1 Cor. 13:9), subject to decay (Rev. 3:2), and may be abused (2 Cor. 12:7). Paul prays for these Ephesians because of the good they have already received, i.e., that they are built on Christ already (v22).
Ministers should pray with reverence and confidence
We ought, especially in prayer, to draw near to God with deep reverence and high esteem or His majesty of God, joining this with low and mean thoughts of ourselves, because of our baseness and unworthiness, seeing God honours them who honour Him (1 Sam. 2:30) and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Paul evidenced such a frame of heart by bowing his knees when he prayed.
Deep reverence of heart towards the sacred majesty of God in prayer is fully consistent with faith and confidence in approaching to God as a reconciled father. These both ought to be joined together in prayer, and indeed, when they are sincere and not counterfeit, they both strengthen one another. The more we put our trust in Him, the more our hearts will fear and adore Him (Psalm 130:4). The apostle exercised not only reverence in his prayer, as is already shown, but also confidence, while he takes up God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the whole family of believers through Him.
The warrant for praying for the church is God’s fatherly care
As there is but one church universal, comprehending all the elect in all times and places, whether in heaven or earth, so all within the church are of one kindred and linage, descending from one common father. Paul designates the church “one whole family in heaven and earth.”
The near relations, under which God stands towards His church, are founded on Jesus Christ: and all the benefits flowing from these relations are conveyed to the church through Him. Outside of Jesus Christ, God is a consuming fire to sinners, and in Jesus Christ, He is a reconciled father to believers.
The near relation which God has to His church, and His church to Him, is sufficient ground and warrant for faith to rest on Him, and plead with Him for the supply of all grace, and of every needful thing. Shall He not provide for His own children, when He has said that human fathers who do not provide for their children are worse than infidels? (1 Tim. 5:8). This is why the apostle makes this a ground of his confidence that he will be answered by God in what he sought on behalf of these Ephesian believers, i.e., God’s fatherly interest in them.
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