Speaking Boldly for the Lord

The lesson that the apostolic missionaries learn time and again is that when you act like Jesus and talk like Jesus, what happened to Jesus happens to you. Just like Jesus, they speak good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, liberty to the oppressed, and pretty soon people want to kill them. This dynamic is evident in Paul and Barnabas’ mission to Iconium in Acts 14:1-7, and as we look at it through three rounds of the verbs “stay” and “speak”, we see the missionaries following closely in Jesus’ footsteps.

The first “stay & speak” set is this: Stay together, and speak persuasively. In verse 1, Paul and Barnabas enter the synagogue together. God had established in His law that testimony is established by at least two witnesses, and so it is important that as each synagogue hears the good news that two representatives testify. As it relates to Paul and Barnabas themselves, Ecclesiastes tells us that two are better than one, because they are more effective. When one falls down, gets tongue tied, or can’t answer a difficult question, his friend can help him up.

And as Paul and Barnabas teamed up to speak, they spoke persuasively, in such a way that a great number believed. Without minimizing the Spirit’s role in convicting hearts and renewing minds, we see here a biblical portrait of speech meant to persuade. Your goal, when you speak for Jesus, is that they would not just hear the gospel, but that they would believe it. You want more than just to present information, you want to see transformation. This means that the message is not just “Jesus died and rose again.” but “Jesus died and rose again to save sinners, and you, a sinner, desperately need Jesus to save you!”

When the apostles spoke that way, the jealous Jews spread lies and slander about them, poisoning the souls of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. This leads to the second set: Stay there, and speak boldly. Stay there – don’t leave at the first sign of difficulty and rejection. If anything, it seems that Paul and Barnabas took the controversy not as a reason to leave, but as proof that they needed to stay a long time! And speak boldly – don’t change the message, don’t apologize for Jesus, keep preaching. Prove that you serve a higher master than public opinion. Ask yourself: what does boldness look like in my situation? And here’s a hint: if your boldness does not cause division (see verse 4), then it isn’t really boldness.

After a time, their opponents saw that they were losing and decided to stone Paul and Barnabas, which brings up the third set: Stay alive and speak again. This is what we see in verses 5-7, as the apostles flee to Lycaonia and start preaching again. What is going on is not cowardice, but obedience: Paul and Barnabas do not have permission to get themselves killed yet. They have a lot more preaching to do! Staying alive is the means to the end of more preaching. These men aren’t trying to save their reputations or their personal influence; they’ve already lost that by staying around and speaking boldly. What Paul and Barnabas are doing is thinking like King David in Psalm 6: “God, save me! I can’t praise you when I’m dead!” They can’t speak again for Jesus when they are dead, and so they stay alive for that reason.

For us, this means that even if your last evangelistic conversation or relationship ended in disaster, Jesus doesn’t let you use that as an excuse not to try again. Maybe you prayed for, loved, and witnessed to your neighbor for months, and they burned your house down and got a restraining order against you. So when you move into your new neighborhood, the first thing you should do is start praying for, loving, and witnessing to your new neighbors. In a life of speaking boldly for the Lord, division and persecution will happen, but so will persuasion and conversion. What God wants is for you to love Jesus enough to stay alive and speak again in Jesus’ name.

Stay together, and speak persuasively. Stay there, and speak boldly. Stay alive and speak again.

Posted on Wednesday, September 03, 2014 by CJ Bowen