Boldness to Speak: An Excursus on Paul
After my last post on “Boldness to Speak” I felt I should to take a brief excursus into Paul the apostle and the importance of boldness and speaking in his ministry. I ended the last post with the need for us to pray for the Spirit to release boldness in our hearts by giving us confidence of the truth of the gospel. So I begin here, at the same point, by looking at Paul’s words to the Corinthians.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. (2 Cor. 4:13–14)
Believing Leads to Speaking
And “we speak” Paul says, “knowing” that their will be a resurrection from the dead and a welcome into the presence of Christ. Therefore “we speak” in spite of being “afflicted in every way,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:9-10). I believe this “knowing” is “the spirit of faith,” and it is a gift that comes from God. This is what Paul was talking about a few verses earlier.
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:5–6)
God has “shone in our hearts.” Some call this shining an irresistible grace and others call it a prevenient grace. Whatever you call it, it is the gift of God that “we also believe.” Paul having been captivated by the glory and the voice of Christ on the road to Damascus believed and so began to speak of Christ.
Boldness and Speaking in the Book of Acts
Whether debating Pharisees in the synagogues, preaching to Greek philosophers in Athens, or sharing the gospel with the Roman prefect Felix, Paul speaks as someone encountered from another world. He is a man transformed by Christ, transfixed on Christ, and triumphant through Christ. This boldness and speaking is a clear theme of Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts:
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly… (Acts 13:46)
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. (Acts 14:1)
So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord… (Acts 14:3)
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent. (Acts 18:9)
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)
He lived there two whole years…proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness. (Acts 28:30–31)
Boldness and Speaking in Trials
Much of what we hear from Paul has been written from imprisonment, like his exhortation to Timothy,
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God….I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Tim. 1:7–12)
This is an appeal to understand what spirit we are of. Not of fear, but of power. The Holy Spirit is not timid so we should not be timid. This follows with a call for identification with Paul himself, who is in prison, and ultimately with Christ who was crucified. Shame is a very powerful motivating force, especially in the ancient world. Being lumped in with people who were considered criminals was deeply humiliating. Yet, Paul calls upon Timothy not to shrink back from bearing the shame that will come from society on account of proclaiming the gospel. Paul is confident that there is triumph in the midst of shame, and that the word will run even if he is bound.
I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:9–10)
It is worth it, Timothy! Through our boldness in speaking, people will come to faith in Christ and be saved. Chains cannot hold the word down, Timothy! It will run! Have boldness! “Preach the word” Timothy! “Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). In his letter to the Philippians he said that his chains actually encouraged other Christians toward boldness to speak the word.
And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Phil. 1:14)
In Philippi itself Paul had preached the word in the midst of great difficulties.
But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict….But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. (1 Thes. 2:2-6)
Boldness in Conflict
“We had boldness” Paul says, “in the midst of much conflict.” Indeed, he is almost always in controversy. To the Jews, he is a traitor of the Law. To the Romans, he is a dangerous fool. His preaching then was revolutionary, shaking the very foundations of Jerusalem and Rome. Isn’t this what the gospel is meant to do? Shatter world views? People will not be delivered from ancient strongholds of false religion and sin without a powerful confrontation with the word of God. Paul sees humanity in the midst of a cosmic conflict with principalities and powers raging against God and against the gospel (Eph 6:12). Souls hang in the balance. The word of God is not a feather for tickling ears, it is a sword for battling strongholds (2 Tim. 2:3; 2 Cor. 10:4-5; Eph. 6:17). Leon Morris shares some important insights on this passage relevant to our topic.
At Philippi the preachers had undergone the painful punishments of scourging and having their feet fastened in the stocks. Neil thinks that the Pauline correspondence as a whole (and 2 Cor. 11:23ff. in particular) shows that Paul may have been specially sensitive to bodily pain, so that he recalled it with something akin to horror. If this is so, then his fortitude in the face of continual ill-treatment is something to marvel at, and indicates courage of the very highest order. But he remembers not only the physical pain but also the indignities that had been heaped on the Roman citizen at Philippi. Insulted (hybristhentes) indicates an attitude of haughty insolence on the part of the oppressors (NEB ‘outrage’).
Despite these troubles the apostolic band had preached boldly. The verb translated we dared derives from two words that mean ‘all speech’; it points to feeling completely at home so that words flow freely. This includes being without fear and having complete confidence. It is difficult to find one English word that will express both these ideas, so that translations tend to choose one and leave the other (though here Moffatt renders ‘we took courage and confidence in our God’). In the New Testament the verb is always connected with Christian preaching. This is done with the help of our God (more literally, ‘in our God’; ‘our God’ is characteristic of these two epistles). Paul is not speaking of merely natural courage, but of the supernatural endowment with which God equips those who put their trust in him.1
Pray for Boldness to Speak
It is to this end then that Paul calls upon the Ephesian Christians to pray for him in his mission.
Keep alert with all perseverance, 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. (Eph. 6:18–20)
This is a major “ought to” and it should not be missed. Paul believes he ought to speak with boldness. And he is asking God for words that will effect salvation, words that will pull down strongholds.
Among the nations there are almost two billion people that have little or no gospel witness. Nations under dominions of ancient demons, beliefs, and cultures that are set up in opposition to Christ. What will timidity do to save them? Will syncretism or silence deliver anyone from being thrown into outer darkness where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 25:30)? No. We need Holy Spirit to give boldness for speaking.
Will you take a moment and pray for the African missionaries of Send56 laboring among Muslims, and for other missionaries that you may know. That we may have boldness from God to declare the gospel as we ought to speak it.
1. Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary (TNTC 13; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 52-53.