Boldness to Speak
Boldness precedes speaking, and speaking is the God-ordained means for the nations to obtain salvation.
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God….this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23–25)
I am an introvert; small talk (or big talk) have never been my comfort zone. The first time I had to give an off-the-cuff talk in my preaching class at Bible school, I completely froze. Before that, when I attended community college, I was like the flighty shadow of Peter Pan. I didn’t make friends and I didn’t share the gospel, at least not a lot. Up to today, I sometimes experience spells of dizziness and dry mouth. It’s as if someone put a spoonful of peanut butter in my mouth, threw my thoughts in a blender, and then said “go ahead, speak your mind”. I have developed ways of pressing through these experiences but they can be humiliating, debilitating, and frustrating for someone who does a lot of public speaking. I am in no way a person disconnected from fear and timidity. Ashamedly, I have wrestled with timidity more than most people know, and, like in college, it absolutely hindered the gospel working through me.
I have heard that public speaking can be a greater fear than death. The possibility of public humiliation invokes the fear of worthlessness and ostracism. That is to say that we fear the death of our ego. It is these two then that probably stand in greatest opposition to salvation spreading to the nations. One, we are afraid of what others will think of us or two, we are afraid of what others may do to us (say in Saudi Arabia) if we tell them about Jesus Christ. One thing is certain: for gospel advance to take place boldness is an invaluable commodity.
Consider the vital role that boldness played in the progress of the early Church. By Acts chapter 4 Jerusalem is beginning to feel the growing movement of Christ-followers. Acts 4:5 records that they were up to about 5,000 men. We may assume the total number is between 10,000-20,000 including women and children. The same people who helped plot the death of Christ begin plotting the death of the new movement, and they confronted Peter and John who had just performed a miracle.
And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:6–12)
“Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said”. It is undoubtedly a lesson of this text that the Holy Spirit releases boldness to speak. And notice that Peter speaks with certitude. He does not say “I think” or “I believe,” he says “this Jesus is the stone” and “there is no other name” which saves people. He is also deeply confrontational, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified” and “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you.”
Can or should believers today share this same certainty concerning the gospel? I believe that they can and they must. The elders and rulers in Israel rightly interpret Peter’s truth-speak as boldness.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
The religious leaders could do nothing to Peter and John because of the open miracle that had been performed through them, so they try to impose a gag order.
“But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:17–18)
Satan wants nothing more than for believers to be quiet, go underground, and shrink back. While ministering in different Muslim contexts, I have seen this principle at work. Many Christian minority communities living among Muslims have decided on silence in order to avoid retaliation. The problem with this is that it inevitably secures the defeat of the church. A silent church is a church that has lost its way and its mission. Historically, the nature of Muslim majorities has been to alienate and subject Christian minorities until they become extinct. It is understandable why many choose the go-along-to-get-along strategy. It involves less immediate risk, but its end result is devastating. I am in no way trying to judge the people or churches that work and live among Muslims, as I have had my own life threatened! At times I have had to withdraw from open evangelism. For our purposes I am only showing that the enemy’s goal is this suppression and silencing of the church. In the Islamic world it might be through open threats. In the Western world it might be through ridicule and shame tactics. After all, who wants to be considered intolerant, stupid, or a bigot?
We see neither introspection nor syncretism as an example set by the early church, and they were certainly living in a society which opposed them. Instead we find the bold witness of men like Peter and John, who were determined that nothing, not even imprisonment, could stop them from the proclamation of the cross.
But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–21)
At this point we can assume that multiple fears are pressing upon these men and on the rest of the Christians in Jerusalem. Imprisonment elicits the fear of confinement or loss of autonomy. They would be stripped of their dignity and freedom; their movement, choices, and pleasures would be restricted. Maybe, they would no longer be able to converse with their family and loved ones, or enjoy the fellowship of the believers. I think of Pastor Saeed sitting right now in an Iranian prison, he has lost all autonomy and personal rights (http://beheardproject.com/saeed). Living in confinement, he is unable to enjoy the company of his precious wife, or to be involved in raising his own children. I’m sure the men also felt a fear of torment and the fear of death. After all, those breathing threats were responsible for the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
The question before us is, what made these men face these things with boldness? What will make us face these things with boldness? This is where we must see the gospel afresh. We are free in Christ even if bound in chains. Pain and mutilation may come, but those who are in Christ receive new bodies. The only scars that remain on Jesus are the nail holes and the wound in his side. Death was visibly defeated when Christ rose from the dead.
Though all of these things can be intellectually assented to, I think it takes something more than that to acquire the kind of boldness that defies fear of confinement, defies fear of torment, and defies fear of death, both physical and ego. We need the Holy Spirit to confirm to our spirits the reality of these truths. We must know the gospel is true. It is here that I agree with Dr. William Lane Craig’s reformed epistemology;
The way we know Christianity to be true is by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit…I mean that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable…for him who has it…In certain contexts the experience of the Holy Spirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religion, such as “God exists,” “I am condemned by God,” “I am reconciled to God,” “Christ lives in me,”…that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth.1
Craig’s approach is confirmed by the rest of our story in Acts. In light of the mounting threats the Christians were experiencing in Jerusalem, the people cry out for God to act and the Holy Spirit released a powerful confirmation that He is with them.
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
The Holy Spirt bears down and endues the believers with confidence to speak. It is relevant to see that “they were all filled…and continued to speak”. Some might be tempted to argue that Peter and John had a right to speak with such certitude because they were eyewitnesses. But the text makes clear that it was the Spirit that gave such confidence and He gave it to all. The apostles were eyewitnesses endued with the Spirit. We are not eyewitnesses, but we have their eyewitness testimony and we are endued with the same Spirit. What happened in Jerusalem is what Jesus promised,
And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. (Mk. 13:11)
We must pray then and ask God to encounter our hearts. Ask God to shake us and give us confidence in these gospel truths that defy fear, until we know them, enough to die for them. The Holy Spirit has worked in my own life, giving such powerful confirmation of the gospel that it has helped me to overcome my own tepidness and preach Christ in difficult places. He can do the same for you. Let us heed the words of Paul and pray for a spirit of boldness that we may speak as we ought to.
Making supplication for all the saints, And also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:19-20)
1. Craig, William Lane., and William Lane. Craig. “How Do I Know Christianity Is True.” Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994. 43. Print.