I recently received a revelation that has me rethinking evangelism, or what you could call "stepping out in faith," to engage strangers about Jesus. I've often prayed for boldness... the kind that might help me muster up the courage to strike up a conversation and pray for someone at the grocery store. Boldness is a good thing, it's what the believers pray for in Acts 4. But is boldness the great need for the church in America, right here and now?
It's not that boldness isn't important. It is. It's a real thing. It can be of God. It's just that I don't know that there can be any measure of boldness without love... in other words, until you have love, boldness isn't really even on the map. Love is its prerequisite. Consider the boldness that the Apostles seek in Acts 4.
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant,[a] said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 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 4:23-31
First: Understanding the Context of the Believers' Boldness
The Acts 4:23-31 stanza starts out with the phrase "When they were released..." This is speaking of Peter & John, who were brought before a council to be examined, after having been jailed for a day, and were thus threatened and pressured to stop preaching the Gospel. This wasn't the only run-in Peter & John would have with the authorities, and we know that Paul, who would arrive on the scene later in Acts, and then write the majority of the New Testament, was imprisoned, mistreated, and beaten countless times. I say all of this to paint the picture of why "boldness" was necessary for these believers. In fact, several of Paul's letters, or Epistles, were written from the stench and dampness of a jail cell. The shear number and ferocity of the floggings, stonings, and other afflictions endured by the Apostles, which are listed in the New Testament, are astounding. History records, too, what happened to these heroes of the faith after the last letter was written and vision transcribed that we enjoy within the pages of the Bible. For example, you might not know how some of the Apostles lived out the remainder of their lives. Below are details of the last days of the three Apostles I mentioned, Peter, John, & Paul, compliments of the famous 'Foxe's Book of the Martyrs.'
Peter - "Among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death, and crucified, as some do write, at Rome; albeit some others, and not without cause, do doubt thereof. Hegesippus saith that Nero sought matter against Peter to put him to death; which, when the people perceived, they entreated Peter with much ado that he would fly the city. Peter, through their importunity at length persuaded, prepared himself to avoid. But, coming to the gate, he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to whom he, worshipping, said, "Lord, whither dost Thou go?" To whom He answered and said, "I am come again to be crucified." By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering to be understood, returned into the city. Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was."
John - "The "beloved disciple," was brother to James the Great. The churches of Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatira, were founded by him. From Ephesus he was ordered to be sent to Rome, where it is affirmed he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. He escaped by miracle, without injury. Domitian afterwards banished him to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. Nerva, the successor of Domitian, recalled him. He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death."
Paul - "Paul, the apostle, who before was called Saul, after his great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also in this first persecution under Nero.
Abdias, declareth that under his execution Nero sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring him word of his death. They, coming to Paul instructing the people, desired him to pray for them, that they might believe; who told them that shortly after they should believe and be baptised at His sepulcher. This done, the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers made, gave his neck to the sword."
Foxe, John. 1563 (1st Edition) - Foxe's Book of The Martyrs. Blacksburg, VA. 2009 Wilder Publications.
There are many others, too, that suffered similar fates, who received martyr's crowns, and who suffered unconscionable persecution and torture. There were periods in church history, like the time of the Emperor Nero, who snuffed out the lives of the three saints above, and the purging persecutions of the middle ages, to name just two. These eras of unspeakable persecution produced names like Perpetua, Tyndale, Bonhoefer, Wishart, and Hus, who offered their lives, not just their reputations, for the sake of the Gospel.
What's the Difference?
So, what's the difference between the boldness that these saints plugged into and the boldness that we ask for today? Where do I start? One thing I've found in my research for our Summer of Saints social media series, among other things, is that the persecution we sometimes cling to and complain about in 2019 America is not a drop in the bucket. Please don't compare light censorship or mild mockery with being stoned, whipped, or burnt alive at the stake. I'm not downgrading what some of us may have faced or might face in the future as regards persecution, but do keep it in perspective... your lives aren't necessarily at stake if you say the word "Jesus!"
We Need Love
Like I mentioned, love is boldness' prerequisite. The people above were compelled by love, taken by it, and even controlled by it. Boldness came later and it only came in concert with love; a love that would lay down its life and risk death for its heart's sole affection - the Lord Jesus. Love is so integral and primary that it's even the centerpiece and the source of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, according to 1st Corinthians 13. I believe the same is true about boldness.
So, I submit to you that it doesn't take boldness to share the Gospel with a non-believer, it takes love. Is it that risky to strike up a conversation about the goodness of God and the reality of eternity? What's the worst that could happen? Does your heart so burn with love for the lost that the thought of eternity bothers you for them? Moves you? Makes you cry? Causes you to act?
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith - 1st Timothy 1:5
- JF D'Orsie - Communications Director - PCC York