To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:18-20
The Boldness of Biblical Preaching
The prayers of the Bible are shocking. The prayers that we see in the Psalms call on God to kill people. They complain to God. They are full of realistic fear of God and of circumstances. In the Psalms, people sometimes give up hope and tell God why it’s his fault. Our prayers are often like kabuki, like a religious play or act where if we do it really well, we get a prize. Paul’s prayer requests are shocking in what he says and what he doesn’t say. But sometimes if we aren’t a little shocked, we don’t change. As the saying goes, there are old electricians, and bold electricians, but there are no old, bold electricians. The right kind of shock can kill you or teach you something. I hope for the latter this morning.
Paul’s situation is he’s in prison, yet oddly he doesn’t pray to get out of his situation. He doesn’t waste a drop of ink asking for people to pray for his comfort. His priorities are different. He prays that he’ll be obedient and faithful in the midst of religious persecution. He prays that he’ll preach boldly as he “ought” which implies a moral command. He thinks he’s in sin if he doesn’t preach the gospel with boldness while in chains. In chains: where at a moment’s notice, he can be beaten. Punished. Mistreated. This doesn’t merit a jot of his pen. What does he need?
- That God will give him the words to say.
First notice that he was dependent on God for his teaching. He wasn’t making it up, he wasn’t arriving at it by simple intellectual exercise, he needed God to be at work in his heart of he wasn’t going to have anything to say.
Today, ministers and teachers can be bold only when they are rooted and grounded in the Word of God being given to us and then delivered to God’s people. Our own wit, our own theories, they have little to help you and no authority. But if any preacher speaks God’s Word, and calls on you to apply it to your heart, then it has authority and with it, all the threats and promises of God will be applied where they fit.
That’s all Paul wanted—to receive and reveal God’s Word and let the rest work itself out.
But what did God give Paul to say? What was this “mystery of the Gospel” that he proclaimed?
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
Paul understood his message as a gospel rooted in the OT, about Jesus, the Son of David, proved by the resurrection to be imbued with the Spirit, and everything good flows from his relationship with Jesus—his grace, his calling, his message “the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”
Does that sound like sermons you’ve heard before, sermons you that are claimed to be gospel sermons? That people claim are evangelistic? Because that’s what Paul said the gospel of God is. It’s not an invitation. Not an appeal to free will. Not a sales gimmick. God graciously causes us to be born again, gives us faith, and then we respond with the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among the nations.
This message came partially directly from God, during the three years he spent in solitude and prayer following his conversion. But God also gave Paul a message from the words of Jesus and from the Old Testament and that created the reason for the rest of his prayer request to the Ephesians.
- He will say it boldly. You can see why. Boldness is not necessary if you have a simple message of your best life now. If you have a name-it-claim-it message of materialism, it takes no boldness to preach that. You can preach a message of the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man in almost any church in this town and be well received and need no courage or nerve. But to preach Christ and him crucified for sinners, that requires a supernatural act of God to give faith to say it in the face of sinners who want something else.
- He asked that he would stay on topic, focused on the mystery of the Gospel, the once hidden, now revealed truth that Gentiles can be made right with God. That Israel wasn’t divorced by God, but given new children from all over the world. You can see why it’s tempting to change the topic today to something more attractive. Modern churches are expensive to run.
UCF fight nights and creating a church with charismatic leaders that everyone wants to be associated with and a message of health and wealth—you don’t have to preach that boldly. You don’t have to be brave to tell people that God loves them forever and promises them a carefree, wonderful life if you’ll just walk down the aisle. That’s not a hard sell. What takes boldness is take up your cross and follow me. What takes boldness is the road is narrow and few will find it. What takes boldness is the truth that humble repentant faith is the only way to please God, not your youth or your age or your degrees.
Jesus had a message—come and die. Come and give up your hope of being lauded by the world and live and preach in such a way that people are challenged. And in that, you’ll find great joy in Jesus. Oh, but pastor God is love, and he just wants us to share his message of love and see God wrap his arms of love around his fearful broken shamed people.
I went through about 5 hours of worship songs this week as I looked for new music for Dayspring in 2018. You know what I found? Have you noticed that in modern worship songs, they’ve replaced the word “sin” and “sinner” with “ashamed” and “broken” and “in need of your healing touch”? Many songwriters have discovered that one group of words sells and gets sung over and over and another group of less therapeutic words doesn’t. That’s what Paul is talking about. He’s afraid he will change the topic and we are tempted to change the message, change the words, then complain that our churches are shrinking. So then many churches add a coffee break in the middle of the sappy effeminate worship songs, sponsored by Dunkin Donuts and wonder why we don’t have power in the Christian life.
- Point four: Paul again asks for boldness. If I write you a text asking for coffee, and I ask you over and over, you know I’m serious. You know I need coffee in the worst way.
Paul repeats himself, making certain he’s heard. He has a message that requires supernatural boldness and if he fails to preach it—that’s just unacceptable to him. He wants to finish well, win the race, obtain the harvest, and it will only be done by a bold application of the truth of Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death.
But pastor, won’t that drive people away?
Walter Martin: “You need to be ready to be hated by the very people you are trying to reach for Jesus.” Sometimes our target audience needs to be offended by our message before they are able to hear us. Or else our message gets lost in the therapeutic moralistic deism preached by this culture.
Pastor, if we drive people away, we’ll go broke. You will go broke. You’ve got two kids in college.
True enough. But my treasure isn’t on earth. If your treasure is here, with a smooth easy comfortable life, and the applause of people, then yes, this sermon and Paul’s prayer is crazy talk. If your treasure is in heaven, then you’ll sacrifice what you have on earth in order to be a part of Paul’s mission, “the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”
Paul’s repetition of his prayer for bold preaching comes with one new bit—“as I ought to.” He sees it as a moral requirement. He’s in sin if he doesn’t speak with confidence in God’s threats and promises.
We ought to be humble about ourselves, teachable about everything from the sound system to the way I hold my hands to the tone of my voice—but I’m not humble about the Gospel. I’m not required to keep an open mind about it. G.K. Chesterton said, “Modesty has settled upon the organof conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself.”
As I close, for many of us, we’ve chosen to be weak where God would have us be strong, and strong where God would have us weak. Paul’s prayer for boldness in telling the truth about God will correct that grave error by causing us to be dependent on Christ and his word, and thus bold and confident when we speak about him. Let us pray.
The bold hearted are always called mean-spirited by cowards. Your decision to live boldly based on your faith in God’s Word, and to choose to be humble about yourself and proud of God’s truth, will change your life forever. Let’s join together and boldly go where few churches will go with the unbeatable combination of humble hearts and confidence in Christ.
When I first married my wife I thought her vegetables were not very tasty. She would steam veggies and I wondered what was wrong with them. What was wrong was my taste buds. I’d never actually tasted most vegetables; I’d tasted pork and lard that they were fried in by my dear friends in Mississippi.
Jesus sets a supper today for his people whose desires are being transformed to be like his own. Whose tastes are changing so that we find satisfying what he is feeding us. This supper sets our hearts in the right place so we can grow in our satisfaction in Christ and his once-for-all sacrifice for sinners. So we can enjoy the freedom of having Jesus die for our sins. So we can feast instead of fear. If that describes you, come to the feast.