Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:18)
This is the very last verse in the passage describing and exhorting Christians to always put on the full armour of God, and is a very telling and very comforting scripture. To understand its significance, we should look at the overall image of the armour, of much much is preached and written – and so it should be, for its something no believer should ever be without.
Its importance comes down to one simple thing: If a particular part of the armour is not in place, that is where we are vulnerable, and we can be sure that the enemy will strike there. It’s a principle that applied in physical battle – and it makes perfect sense – and so it applies more than ever to the spiritual battle we all face.
For today, we look at the armour as a whole rather than studying each individual piece. The analogy is drawn from the Roman legionary, one with which the Ephesians would have been familiar, Rome being the centre of military conquest at the time. The list essentially covers ever single part of armour required, each with a particular purpose. As we read through the list (Ephesians 6: 10-18) we can easily see that every single part of the body is covered, from head to toe.
All except one: the back. What an astonishing fact. Here we have soldiers dressing for warfare, for battle, and their backs are exposed. Of course, it can be argued that this would make it imperative for the soldier to face the enemy, rather than turning his back, and this is very relevant. It makes no sense to turn your back on your enemy. This is the first step towards defeat, aside from the fact that the enemy faced is the enemy more easily vanquished. We simply cannot achieve much when looking the other way.
But, I believe, the real answer lies in the final verse – watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints – which, aside from the sword of the Spirit, is the second offensive item mentioned. All the other pieces of armour are protective or defensive. Only the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and prayer fall into offensive weaponry.
Paul provides us with a key principle in this difficult issue of ‘spiritual warfare.’ First, we should wield the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, without which we have no hope of defeating the enemy. Even the Son of God, alone in the wilderness, wielded this weapon to gain the victory over Satan. That, in itself, is a valuable weapon.
But the pivotal issue, the only means whereby we can protect the back – the only part of the body left vulnerable, even with all the requisite armour, is by praying ‘with perseverance and supplication for all the saints.’ Our prayers for each other are the final ‘piece of armour’ that protects the back. We effectively ‘wield’ prayer in defence of believers. It’s an active, offensive armour-weapon that completes the armour of God.
Without it, we will all be vulnerable, no matter how well we take care of our armour. The only way to have complete protection is through concerted prayer from the saints. As I offer prayers for others, and they offer prayers for me, the armour is brought to a place of spiritual completeness. It’s a simple reminder that we’re born into a ‘new body,’ one in which each of us plays a necessary part, with Christ as the head. We weren’t created to be ‘lone rangers’ fighting alone. We’re part of a single army, and will only have complete victory when we work together, protecting each other.
It is through prayer surrendered to the will and purposes of God that we ultimately prevail. Without it, we’re weakened. We might eventually win through, but at what cost? Concerted prayer meets a need that is far greater than we first perceive. It’s not by accident that the expression ‘I’ve got your back’ came into play. It’s a critical concept, and one which every soldier needs to be sure of before taking on the enemy.
It’s not something we can do when we feel like it, or with a half-hearted kind of attitude. It’s an ‘imperative,’ a ‘must do,’ the one thing that can sway the outcome of the battle. Can we honestly say I’ve got your back? to at least one person? It requires effort, commitment, consistency and often courage, but the assurance of knowing someone is doing the same for you is surely worth all that.
Father, forgive me for the times where I’ve slipped and not taken this final piece in Your provision for the battle seriously. Help me to walk in the Spirit so that I would recognise the need and know how to pray. Lord, raise up your people as ‘praying soldiers,’ all of us praying together for the protection and strengthening of Your saints in their battles, great and small, and forge us together as a single army for Your glory and Your purposes.