We have finished our study of the full armor of God, and have come to our final two sessions in the book of Ephesians. In these last seven verses, Paul will give the Ephesians some final exhortations to pray, remind them of his circumstances, and give a parting benediction to them. But as he makes a seemingly simple statement about prayer, we are forced to examine his words very carefully, that we might apply them accurately...
Praying in the Spirit. Many Christians have many ideas about what this means. I don't believe it was difficult for the early church to interpret, since Paul says it very matter-of-factly, as did Jude, when he wrote,
Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit
Paul and Jude were comfortable using the expression without explanation. However today, as people in the church have strayed from Bible study and become entrenched in creeds and doctrines, there is a struggle going on over the true meaning of these words.
On the Conservative side, we have those who say, "'Praying in the Spirit' simply means praying in God's will." But those on the Charismatic side assert, "No, 'Praying in the Spirit' means to speak in tongues when you pray." Which of these interpretations is right? Or are either of them correct at all?
The idea that this command is to pray in tongues is an intriguing one. After all, Paul himself said that he prayed in tongues frequently. He told the Corinthians,
1Cor. 14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays...
And tongues are described in the Bible as being spoken to God (1Cor. 14:2) of His mighty deeds (Acts 2:11), exalting Him (Acts 10:45-46), giving thanks (1Cor. 14:18), and blessing Him (1Cor. 14:16).
However, after some study, we will see that Paul is not speaking of praying in tongues when he tells the Ephesians to "pray in the Spirit." I know this because he tells them to...
Eph. 6:18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit...
When you petition God, you are entreating Him for your needs. However, when someone prays in a tongue, they are not petitioning, but praising.
Secondly, he tells them to pray AT ALL TIMES in the Spirit, which, if describing tongues, would contradict his assertion in 1Corinthians 14...
1Cor. 14:14-15 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also...
The third reasons why "praying in the Spirit" does not refer to tongues is that Paul has written this letter to all of the Christians in Ephesus - wives, husbands, children, everyone. His command is to all of them, not qualified with a "for those of you who have this gift." And we know from his writings to the Corinthians that not every Christian speaks in tongues (1Cor. 12:30; 14:5).
So, because of the content, the frequency, and the spectrum, it is clear he is not exhorting the Ephesians to pray in tongues at all times.
The other side of the argument - that it means to pray in God's will - seems to hold more weight, especially when we read,
Rom. 8:8-9 ...those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you...
Clearly, the difference between "in the Spirit" and "in the flesh" is obvious. When we're in the flesh, we're doing things our way, after our sin nature. At very least, Paul's statement is that we must not pray according to our own fleshly desires, prejudices, and emotions.
But does that mean there is nothing supernatural at all about praying in the Spirit? I wouldn't discount it that quickly. For, as we see this expression "in the Spirit" (en Pnyoo-ma) throughout the Bible, it is also frequently associated with having supernatural knowledge or revelation.
At the time Jesus was born,
Luke 2:25-27 ...There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law
Simeon held the child and began to pray,
Luke 2:29-32 "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Your people Israel."
In the Spirit, Simeon was able to pray with supernatural knowledge.
Years later, Jesus asked the Pharisees,
Matt. 22:42-45 "What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?" They *said to Him, "The son of David." He *said to them, "Then how does David in the Spirit call Him Lord,' saying, THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET"'? If David then calls Him Lord,' how is He his son?"
David had prophesied of the Lordship of Christ as he spoke "in the Spirit."
Paul said that this mystery of Christ...
Eph. 3:5 ...has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit
In the Spirit, John received many supernatural revelations. He saw a vision of Jesus (Rev. 1:10), was taken up into the throne room of God (Rev. 4:2), was carried away into a wilderness (Rev. 17:3), and saw the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10).
And so, as we seek to obey Paul's command to pray in the Spirit, let us keep in mind that although we're not being commanded to speak in tongues every time we pray, we are to rely on the supernatural leading of the Holy Spirit to direct our prayers, and not ever pray in the flesh.