Thursday, October 12, 2017

They Spoke The Word With Boldness

The last couple of posts have taken us to Acts 4 to look at the apostles inability to be quiet regarding the message of Jesus and the church’s corporate prayer for boldness in the face of hostility to that message.  Now, I’d like to look at how that prayer was answered and what we can learn from it.

As a refresher, here is the prayer of the church on that occasion:

  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, 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."
 (Acts 4:24-30)

And what did God do in response to that prayer?

 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)

There are a number of things we can learn and apply from this passage.  First, even the apostles struggled with fear when sharing the gospel.  When they were told to stop talking about Jesus, they said, “that’s impossible.”  We might gather then that they were fearless.  Not so.  If they were fearless, there would be no reason to pray as the church did.  The church prayed for boldness because that’s what they needed.  

What does that mean for us?  If we lack boldness, we’re not strange.  A few weeks ago, on the way to the Hamilton outreach event to do street evangelism, I shared with someone I consider to be a very competent evangelist that I tend to get nervous before sharing the gospel.  He responded, “I’m nervous right now.”  I found that very comforting.  He’s great at evangelism and he gets nervous, too.  So did the apostles.  So what should we all do?  We should do what the early church did – pray for boldness.  Even Paul, who said, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel,” asked others to pray that he would be bold (Rom 1:16; Eph 6:18-20).

Second, God gave boldness to those desiring it.  The church asked for it and they received it.  We shouldn’t be surprised by this.  The Lord has commissioned us to make disciples far and wide (Matt 28:18-20).  He’s also told us He’ll give us whatever we need to do His work (John 14:12-14).  Clearly, according to this passage that includes boldness.  If we pray for boldness, we should be confident that we’ll receive it like the early church did.

Third, God gave this boldness not only to the apostles but to the whole church.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. It wasn’t only the apostles spreading the gospel, but all the saints.  What should this tell us?  Evangelism is a church-wide task.  And gloriously so.  It’s a desirable thing to do – a privilege. 

So to those of us who feel as if we cannot or should not share the gospel because we are not church leaders or we lack the boldness, this passage has some things to say: (1) Evangelism is the blessed task of the whole church; (2) Those who naturally lack boldness are in good company – so did the apostles; and (3) we can and should all pray for boldness, confident that the Lord will give it to us. 


Prayer works.  Through it, God gives boldness to the messenger and opens the ears of the hearer.  So let's pray for boldness and then speak with boldness. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

They Lifted Their Voices Together

Last time, we considered the apostles’ inability to keep quiet regarding the message of the Lord Jesus.  I want to take a couple of posts now to think through what happened next and what lessons we can draw from it.

To review, Peter and John were told by the Jewish council to lose all the Jesus talk.  The apostles replied, “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” (Act 4:19-20).  The council let them go, but threatened them.  We can’t be sure exactly what this threat was but it was enough to cause the apostles to go back to their brothers and sisters and report it (4:24).  Consider what happened next:

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, 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 (Act 4:24-31).

There is so much to be gathered from this, but I want to just tackle one with this post.  We might take from this passage that prayer is effective.  Prayer is powerful.  The people prayed for boldness (v29) and God delivered (v31). 

Certainly, prayer is powerful, but I’d prefer that we gather something a bit more specific here: corporate prayer is powerful.  V24 reads, “when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God…”  If they lifted their voices together and prayed, then it could mean that somehow they all prayed simultaneously the same exact words as recorded here in this passage, in some kind of synchronized autonomic vocalization.  OR, perhaps they each prayed out loud in turn and this text records in summary form the substance of what was prayed by all in that meeting.  I find the former highly unlikely and the latter highly likely. 

However it happened, we must admit that it took place somewhat differently that it might have today.  I’m afraid that today many Christians, not all, would hear such news and say something like, “we’ll definitely pray for you,” with the obvious implication that each one would pray privately and individually.  This is so different from what we see in Acts, not just in this passage but elsewhere.  In Acts 1:14, Luke tells us of the very earliest days of the church, All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.  When Peter was freed from prison by an angel in Acts 12, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, and found not only that Mary was there praying for him, but “many were gathered together and were praying.” 

In 1 Timothy, Paul writes, First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1Ti 2:1-2).  The following verses make it clear that Paul is talking about corporate prayer specifically (1Ti 2:8-10).  He takes for granted that corporate prayer is the norm and here gives direction regarding what to pray.

The Bible indicates that corporate prayer is powerful.  Through corporate prayer the saints are: supported with power, filled with the Spirit, and given boldness to speak the word in hostile circumstances (Acts 4:23-31); the miraculous happens (Acts 12:6-17); the sick are healed (Jas5:13-18); and even pagan government officials can be saved (1 Tim 2:1-7).  Unbelievable things happen when God’s people pray together.

I’d encourage you to talk to those who have been participating in our Wednesday night prayer meetings.  Last night I gave a short testimony regarding corporate prayer and all agreed that they have experienced the same thing.  I’ll expand that testimony a bit here.  When I pray privately by myself, I do enjoy great, blessed fellowship with the Lord.  I can’t do without it.  But there is something unique about praying with other believers that I have found to be irreplaceable.  When I hear other people lifting their voices to the Lord for one another, for me, and for the lost, my soul wells up with a great, “amen,” and frequently my eyes well up with tears.  I find myself enjoying a deepness of fellowship with the Lord in that setting that I do not experience on my own.  This proves to me so much of what I’ve listened to myself say from the pulpit over the years, all to the effect that we need the church in order to enjoy God to the fullest. 


Shelby and I both expressed to one another in different ways last night how much we’re being blessed by praying corporately with our church family.  We’re growing in love for the saints and for the Lord.  There is a building sense of unity and care for one another in this Wednesday night group as each week passes.  We’re also finding that our private prayer lives are benefitting.  Praying together makes us want to pray more diligently in our homes.  Again, I would encourage you to ask those who have come.  I would also ask you to consider making it a priority to join us.  We pray each week that God would grow the meeting numerically and that corporate prayer would come to be viewed by all as a vital part of our life together at PBF.  Amazing things happen when God’s people pray together.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Can't Not Speak!

“…For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  (Act 4:20)

I love the story of Acts 4-5, where the apostles faced escalating opposition from the Jews regarding their “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”  Stern questions turned into threats, which led to arrest, which ended in a sound beating.  At the end of it all, the apostles went away, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (5:41). 

In the middle of that progression, just before their arrest, John and Peter were sternly warned to put a proverbial cork in it: “they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (4:18).  Consider the response of the two apostles: "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" (4:19-20). 

We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.  We may read this as just another way of saying what they said in 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  In other words, we may understand John and Peter to be saying, “we’d love to stop talking about Jesus, but we’re bound by a command to do otherwise.”  That’s not the sense in either instance, but I would argue that in 4:20, the sense is “we are incapable of not speaking about what we’ve seen and heard.”  I think that’s what it means because that’s the most literal way to translate it.  The New English Translation captures it well: “for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

“Stop speaking about the risen Christ?  That’s impossible.”      

But what would make it impossible?  That’s an important question for those of us who find it quite possible.  It’s an important question for those of us who find it seemingly impossible to do the opposite – open our mouths to share the good news.  How is it that the apostles found it beyond the realm of the possible to keep their mouths closed about the gospel?  

We might distance ourselves from them a bit by saying, “well, they saw Jesus and they heard Jesus.  If I had seen and heard exactly what they did, I might be just like them.”  Certainly, seeing the risen Christ would compel one to speak, but I don’t think that’s it.

And I certainly don’t think it’s the typical modern motive for evangelism – guilt.  Some ministry leaders seek to prod the church into sharing the gospel by heaping guilt on them for being quiet.  But guilt is not nearly as strong a motivator as fear, which is why so many people don’t share their faith.  That is, they don’t feel guilty enough to overcome their fear of evangelism. 

So what is it?  Paul tells us in 2 Cor 5:14: For the love of Christ controls us… 

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2Co 5:14-15).

The love of Christ controls us.  The apostles, the early saints, and most passionate evangelists I know have been/are controlled by the love of Christ in the sense that their hearts have been captured by Christ’s love for them as displayed in the gospel.  They are mesmerized by the deep love of God in Jesus.  They are amazed at the wonder of it.  And here is the key: it creates in their hearts great love for Him.  And love is the great motivation that makes silence impossible. 

This is why Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments,” rather than, “if you feel sufficiently guilty, you’ll keep my commandments.”  Love bursts forth in obedience.  In the case of evangelism, love bursts forth in speaking of this amazing love of Christ that saves sinners.  The love of Christ transforms sinners so that they love Him and others (“we love because He first loved us” 1John 4:19), and they can’t help but talk about it.

As I mentioned our first week in the new sermon series, for some of us our problem is that our love for the Lord has grown cold.  What’s the remedy?  Here’s that great quote from Richard Sibbes I shared with you then:

“As when things are cold we bring them to the fire to heat and melt, so bring we our hearts to the fire of the love of Christ; consider we of our sins against Christ, and of Christ’s love towards us… Think what great love Christ hath showed unto us, and how little we have deserved, and this will make our hearts to melt, and be as pliable as wax before the sun.”


This heart work must become our principle occupation.  It is not a minor, peripheral thing to consider daily, hourly the cross and tomb and their personal ramifications.  It is essential fuel for the fire.  As we continue to gaze at the love of Christ in John 13-17 on Sunday mornings, one of my prayers is that our love for Him will grow with the result that we, like the saints in Acts 4-5, will find it impossible not to speak of so great a salvation. 

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