There is a statement floating around in mission circles that has been attributed to St. Francis. Likely he never said it, but lots of people like to repeat it. It goes: "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." This statement has then been used as a good excuse not to use words in verbal witness. A closer look at the data, however, would suggest that Paul and the apostles would have said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words and use your life."
Secondly, there is a growing tendency to engage in dialog with non-Christians. This is laudable, but if its end goal is simply, chit-chat for the sake of cordiality, it might well be missing the mark. Recall that the theologian J.I. Packer defined evangelism as a conversation empowered by the Holy Spirit that has conversion as the end goal. This brief study will examine just one of the verbs of communication in the Book of Acts to see how Holy Spirit empowerment equipped the apostles to speak fearlessly.
In the Graeco-Roman context, a full-fledged citizen was encouraged to speak freely and forthrightly. This same verb [parrēsiázomai ] and the noun [parrēsía] is used by Luke to describe the manner in which the apostles — now full-fledged citizens of the Kingdom of God — addressed non-believers. The Greek dictionaries render it this way:
- to speak openly, boldly, and without constraint (WSNTDICT, S. G3955); - express oneself freely, speak freely, openly, fearlessly (BDAG, S 782)
Here is a list of occurrences of these words in the Book of Acts:
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness...
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.
But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.
So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.
....proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
A few observations:
In the face of threats to shut down the Gospel proclamation (Acts 4) the apostles prayed for courage and the Holy Spirit gave them additional boldness. Frequently, preaching or proclaiming 'in the name of the Lord' and holy boldness are associated. That is to say, the apostles spoke as fearless ambassadors of Jesus with his authority. This was not due to their charisma or inherent boldness. In prison, in the center of the Roman empire, the apostle Paul fearlessly proclaimed about another empire and another ruler, namely that of the Lord Jesus Christ and did so "without hindrance."
A few questions:
a. The speech of the apostles showed that they feared God more than they feared people. How would you describe your own speech?
b. Is it possible that your or my evangelism strategy actually legitimates timidity more than holy boldness? Is there anything that can be done about that?
c. Did you notice that in Acts 19 there is a linkage between reasoning, persuading and speaking boldly?