One of our generation’s hackneyed cliches is the one about “speaking truth to power.” The problem with it is that we almost always get everything backwards, and use the phrase merely to describe anyone who says something that you agree with. But despite our misapplication of it, there really is an important truth there, and it is one we need to learn. There really a regiment of lies out there, and it really does take courage to speak the truth aloud in such a time. So what is boldness when it counts?
“And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:19–20)
Summary of the Text
When the apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, he was an experienced minister. He had been converted in the early to mid-thirties, and he wrote this book in the early sixties (c. 62 A.D.). This means that when he was wrapping up this letter to the Ephesians, and he asks them (twice) to pray that he might speak boldly, to speak as he ought to, and to make the mystery of the gospel known, he is not asking for prayer because he gets butterflies or stage fright. The context of his request is that he is an “ambassador in bonds.” As a man who would ultimately be beheaded by Rome, he was asking for boldness because he knew what he was up against.
The Importance of Bible Stories
When you are speaking to those who have the physical power to harm or imprison you, and you don’t flinch, that is Spirit-given boldness. The carnal alternatives are timidity and fear, on the one hand, and a brash sort of bluster on the other. Boldness is not craven, and boldness is not ginned up warp spasm either.
Nathan the prophet rebuked David, and did so after David had already committed one murder in order to cover up his adultery. Nathan, without any weapons, came into the court and told David a story that made David pass a severe judgment on an unnamed man. Nathan then told him that he was that man. That was speaking truth to power.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told Nebuchadnezzar that their God could deliver them, but whether He delivered them or not, they were still not going to bow down to his statue. The king in his fury commanded that the furnace be heated up seven times hotter than usual, and the three “rebels” be thrown in. This happened, and the only things that burned were the guards who threw them in, and the bonds which had bound them. That was speaking truth to power.
When Ahab allowed his wife to murder Naboth for his vineyard, he was the king, holding all the power, and Elijah, an unarmed prophet, pronounced that a famine was going to strike Israel. Jezebel had brought in her fertility worship in order to help Israel “go green,” and in response Elijah spoke the word of judgment that was guaranteed to turn Israel into a crispy brown. That was speaking truth to power.
The examples of Scripture have inspired many in the post apostolic era as well.
One of the more important episodes in church history was the showdown between Ambrose of Milan and the Emperor Theodosius (who reigned from 379 to 395 A.D). Theodosius was a professing Christian, but he was the emperor, and he also had a temper. Once there was an uprising in Thessalonica where a few of his officials were killed. The emperor responded to this by inviting the citizens of the city to the theater, as though he were going to show them a play, and then sent in his soldiers, who killed about 7,000 people without distinguishing the guilty and the innocent. After this, Theodosius came to Milan, and was going to come to church and partake of the Lord’s Supper. He was met by Ambrose, in the sight of all, who excommunicated him, and required him to do penance for his awful crime. This status lasted for eight months, after which the emperor was required to come to the church with other penitents, prostrate himself on the ground, and publicly confess his sin. The whole thing resulted in important legal reforms, and that was speaking truth to power.
How Tyranny Works
Many assume that the reason we need courage is simply because a tyrant can threaten to pull out our fingernails, and we wouldn’t like that very much. But that is not really the place where tyrants draw the fullness of their power. Their threats actually have real potency when the people they threaten believe that they deserve to be mistreated. All of this is a function of guilt. A reservoir of guilt is a despot’s dream.
“For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.”
2 Cor. 11:20 (NKJV)
And this is why a gospel of free grace is such a threat. It proclaims a message that results in no condemnation (Rom. 8:1), and when people are set free from their fear of condemnation and death, they are set free indeed. Boldness comes when we are partakers of someone who rose from the dead.
So Boldness is a Function of Forgiveness
Boldness before men must begin with boldness before God. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). Or: “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” (Eph. 3:12).
When God is in fellowship with a man, and the Holy Spirit has filled that man, then that man and God together outnumber everybody.
“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
Acts 4:31 (KJV)
Would you stand boldly in the courts of human opinion? It might be your family, or your neighbors, or your town, or your nation. Will you stand boldly there? You must receive the grace of God in Christ first.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” ().
Heb. 4:16 (KJV)
Notice that grace—unmerited favor—is mentioned here twice. And mercy is mentioned once, and mercy is demerited favor. And so what is to be our demeanor as we approach the throne of grace? We are to come boldly. And if you can stand boldly before the throne of an Almighty Father, then why on earth would you have trouble standing before the mayor of Tootsville?
Now how does that work? How can that work? The answer, the only answer, is the perfections of Jesus Christ. He is the grace we need. He is the mercy we need. He is the boldness we need. All that belongs to Him is now ours.
“For the Lord GOD will help me; Therefore shall I not be confounded: Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”
Is. 50:7 (KJV)
“And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Luke 9:51 (KJV)
“For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.”
2 Cor. 1:20 (KJV)
The Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect man, is your boldness. He is your courage.