Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Encountering Ephesus is quite an experience. Once a bustling port and centre of trade, shiploads of tourists still clamour over its cobbled streets, whisked around by enthusiastic guides to learn its story: the great Library of Celsus, an amphitheatre holding 25,000 people and the Temple of Artemis – one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. It is noisy! A place where several roads from different parts of the Empire met, no wonder Paul asks for pray so that he may declare boldly the message of the Gospel for what a mission field he encounters as he visits the synagogue there!
Paul has previously described the armoury needed to defeat spiritual warfare. The focus now shifts from militaristic imagery to that of prayer. Praying and constantly asking for God’s help is how the soldier is able to stand his ground. Here prayer is not simply another of the soldier’s weapons but becomes the battle itself, a reminder that we accomplish things not by our own effort but by the grace of God.
Paul pleads for his readers to intercede on his behalf so that he may boldly and freely proclaim the hidden purpose of the gospel. Yet, he is an ambassador (verb not noun) in chains – a bizarre picture of someone who ought to be free to come and go to take the message of the One he serves wherever it is needed. He, therefore, needs their prayers. Such a bold proclamation is his God-given duty as an apostle – even in chains. His calling, and its purpose to reveal the mysteries of God, go hand in hand regardless of difficulties.
It is all too easy to think that we shall not be heard above the many voices calling on people’s attention but as I stood in the amphitheatre at Ephesus, and whispered, my voice filled the arena – a timely reminder that it is God, not us, who will bring everything into its tended purpose.
Lord, I know with my head and with my heart that if I can’t even dare to tell someone about the gospel then how in the world will the gospel ever come to life? Yet I often feel small and inadequate. The task ahead hangs heavy over me and I find myself embracing the anxiety rather than enjoying the journey.
Break every chain that hinders me from speaking boldly full of courage and determination so that I will step out in faith and will not fear. Amen.
The Rev’d Nicola Furley-Smith is Moderator of the Southern Synod