Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 12/06/1992
1:6For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the Gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, 11 for which also I was appointed an apostle and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed. For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have entrusted to him until that day.
If you have ever watched an opportunity to share the plan of salvation come and go while you were working up the nerve to begin; if you have ever been embarrassed, tongue-tied, or evasive when you needed to explain your Christian convictions, to explain why you could not go along with the crowd in a particular area; if you have ever felt guilty for not speaking up when an opportunity for testimonies was given in church; then you can identify with the Timothy who needed to hear, "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner" (1:7-8a). Then you will be able to understand that Boldness for the Gospel is just as basic a need for the Twentieth-Century Christian as it was for that First-Century disciple of the Apostle Paul. For, as we have seen, because of the content of the Gospel, there will be opposition to the Gospel, which will often lead to suffering for the Gospel; but when we consider the source of the Gospel, the rewards of the Gospel, and the power of the Gospel, those considerations should give us boldness for the Gospel, in the preservation of the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel.
The word boldness itself does not appear in 2 Timothy, but it is present through the negation of its opposite, which appears frequently in words such as shame or ashamed and fear or afraid. This epistle is replete with exhortations not to be ashamed or afraid, and with resources that can be used to avoid these embarrassing responses. Therefore, today we want to examine the concept of boldness in the New Testament, in 2 Timothy, and in our lives today.
The first thing we need to understand is what biblical Boldness for the Gospel is. And to that end we must begin with an understanding of what it is not. For we are surrounded by horrible caricatures of it that do more harm to the Kingdom than good. It is therefore important first to stress that the Boldness for the Gospel that Paul wants to develop in Timothy (and in us) is not brashness, pomposity, rudeness, boisterousness, a sense of self importance, a dogmatic spirit, or a big mouth. None of these traits is a sign of true biblical zeal; rather they are counterfeits of it used by Satan to render the Gospel even more obnoxious in the eyes of the world than it is already by its very nature as a frontal assault on human pride, in its insistence on salvation by Grace, the unmerited favor of God, alone. There is a Scandal of the Gospel inherent in its opposition to human pride and to the folly that passes for human wisdom, beautifully captured in Michael Card's classic song "Skandalon." But Satan has a vested interest in keeping people from ever being confronted by that scandal. And he achieves this by encouraging believers to be offensive in themselves, so that non-Christians are offended by our loud, ignorant, and opinionated mouths before they ever have a chance to be offended by the Gospel itself. This strategy he pursues with great success, and it would be a terrible tragedy if this sermon would end up aiding and abetting him in his ongoing efforts to undermine and subvert the winsome, Christlike character that is supposed to be the mark of the Christian. So I cannot stress too much: if anything I say today seems to lead in that direction, you have misunderstood me--or at least you have misunderstood Paul. Let us have done with these damaging caricatures and counterfeits of true Christian zeal!
What then are the authentic signs of true Boldness for the Gospel? We can summarize the New Testament teaching on this subject in three propositions:
A word often translated "boldly" is the Greek PARRESIA, which means "openly" or "publicly." Jesus' family made a wrong application of a true principle when they told him, "No one does anything in secret when he seeks to be known publicly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world" (Jn. 7:4). Jesus did not dispute their premise, but only the timing: "My time is not yet at hand" (Jn. 7:6). The same word appears again just a few verses later, when John notes that many of Jesus' supporters "were not speaking openly of him, for fear of the Jews" (7:13). Jesus himself at his defense before the Sanhedrin claimed, "I have spoken openly to the world . . . I spoke nothing in secret" (Jn. 18:20). And Paul, following his Lord's example even when he was under house arrest, was "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness" (Acts 18:31). The opposite of this openness would be the shame Paul wants Timothy to avoid in 2 Tim. 1:8. In this sense, the bold Christian is not a closet Christian. He can speak the Gospel openly and plainly to anyone, even in the public eye, because he has nothing to hide and he is "not ashamed of the Gospel" nor of Christ nor of "Paul his prisoner." He is not a respecter of persons, nor does he require a private setting or a special set of circumstances. He feels free to speak of the Gospel to anyone at any time in any setting, because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.
Our model again is our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who "began to teach [the disciples] that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed." This was not a popular message with these men, nor one that they found easy to receive. But Jesus "was stating the matter plainly" (Mark 8:31-2). In other words, he felt no need to pull any punches. He did not sugar-coat anything. He did not back off from what he needed to say just because he feared it would be unpopular. So Timothy is to speak according to the "standard of sound words" he has heard from Paul (1:13); he is to remind his congregation of these things and solemnly charge them (2:14); he is to preach the word "in season and out of season" (4:2), i.e., whether people are in the mood for it or not. And he is to avoid compromising the message even if his people would prefer to have their ears tickled (4:3). This does not mean Timothy was to be obnoxious. He was in all these things still to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). But it had to be the truth, unvarnished, not watered down to be more palatable to the audience. The Christian who is bold for the Gospel is lovingly forthright in that he does not speak in fear of being rejected. He is OK with being rejected, if it comes down to it. Like the physician in our message on "The Content of the Gospel" a few weeks ago, he does not hide the fact that his patient needs open heart surgery because the patient would rather hear that he is in pretty good health. The Gospel is good news, but it is only good news to people who have heard and accepted a certain bit of bad news. The person who is Bold for the Gospel does not yield to the temptation to gloss over that fact.
Confidence is not the same thing as arrogance. The Christian who is bold for the Gospel feels free to speak because he knows that he knows what he is talking about. As Peter said in his Pentecost sermon, "Brethren I may confidently say to you with regard to the patriarch David that he both died and was buried" (Acts 2:29). He said what he knew to be true. In Acts 4:13 the priests "observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men," with the result that they marveled and "began to recognize them as having been with Jesus." They spoke, in other words, not that which was hearsay for them, but they spoke from personal knowledge and experience. So Paul wants Timothy to study to show himself approved (2:15) and be fully equipped by the Word (3:14-17), so that he too can speak with the confidence that comes from knowing whereof one speaks. He will be prepared, not going off half-cocked, but grounded in the Word. And so should we.
In looking at the nature of true Boldness for the Gospel and the signs by which it can be known, we have already begun to hint at some of the sources from which this boldness flows. They are important enough to deserve our attention for their own sake.
This is the whole point of the way we have analyzed the logical structure of the themes of Second Timothy. Because of the content of the Gospel, there will be opposition to the Gospel, which will often lead to suffering for the Gospel; but when we consider the source of the Gospel, the rewards of the Gospel, and the power of the Gospel, those considerations should give us boldness for the Gospel, in the preservation of the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel. We must contemplate the nature of the Gospel itself: where it comes from, what it offers, what it can do, or its Source, its Rewards, and its Power. That is how we get to be not ashamed of it because, as Paul puts it in Romans, we have truly realized it is the power of God for salvation. But there are some other things also, aspects of the Gospel and its Source, Rewards, and Power, that are worth pointing out.
This is the ultimate Reward of the Gospel! The priests noticed that Peter and John had been with Jesus. This meant that they spoke from personal experience when they told of him, but it was more than that. What the priests did not realize is that they were still with Jesus--he was present in their lives through his personal agent and representative, the Holy Spirit. That Spirit is ultimately the spirit of boldness Paul wanted Timothy to realize God had given him. Just as he is the source of our message, he is also present as awarder, motivator, and helper. He goes with us. And because he is with us we need fear no man. We are like a little child who is afraid of the dark until his Daddy goes with him into the room and stays for a while before he goes to sleep. So if we lack Boldness for the Gospel we should remind ourselves of the relationship we have with the Father through the Son mediated by the Spirit. We should cultivate that relationship and train ourselves to be more aware of that Presence. And then we will speak with that combination of boldness and humility that marks the true Christian indeed.
The most important source of Boldness for the Gospel is the Presence of God in our lives which is given us by the Gospel itself. But because that Presence is so important, other factors become important too in so far as they hinder or promote the intimacy of that Presence or our awareness and enjoyment of it. That is why Paul tells Timothy to abstain from wickedness (2:19), be an honorable vessel (2:20-21), and flee youthful lusts (2:22). Otherwise, his fellowship with the Father will be hindered or interrupted. Therefore, there is no greater hindrance to true Boldness for the Gospel than unconfessed sin in our lives.
The early Christians, in the light of the threats of their enemies, prayed, "Grant that thy bondservants may speak thy Word with all confidence" (Acts 4:29). So we pray this for ourselves. But in Eph. 6:19, Paul also asks others to pray this prayer for him, "that utterance may be given me in the opening of my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel." We should pray for ourselves and for one another that God may do the same for us.
We have already seen that confidence comes from knowing that we are prepared, that we speak not only out of adequate study of the Scriptures but also out of personal experience with the Lord. We do not need to say much more about this source of Boldness here, but simply to remind you of it and to point out the necessity of keeping both our knowledge of the Word and our walk with the Lord in good repair, and to point out the necessity that we be already doing this before the opportunity to be a witness for Christ comes.
Timothy is exhorted to kindle afresh his spiritual gifts (1:6), to be diligent to show himself approved (2:15), to preach in season and out (4:2), etc. In other words, before one can speak with true Boldness one must first be speaking. We do not wait passively for this boldness to come and then start speaking; rather, we speak as best we can and trust God to develop Boldness for the Gospel in us as we serve him. I was a music major my first couple of years in college and had to play in a lot of recitals. I had no problem playing in band or orchestra, but being out on the stage all by my lonesome was a different experience altogether. Some of you will find it hard to believe that stage fright was once almost debilitating for me. It is only through perseverance that one learns to channel that energy in a constructive rather than a destructive manner. And so it is with speaking the truth in love. We must be willing to fail in order to succeed. We must be willing to commit ourselves to a long-term process of growth in the Christian life which involves a long-term process of growth in Boldness, which comes partly through perseverance in speaking anyway in spite of our fear.
One reason we lack Boldness for the Gospel is that we have succumbed to the desire of our age for instant everything. We settle only for the gratification that comes without commitment. It takes practice and commitment to play sports well; it takes none to watch them on the Tube. And we live in an age of spectator Christians who are content to pay a crew of professionals to proclaim the Gospel for them through various media while they sit back and watch. But if the evangelization of the world depends on the likes of Charles Stanley, Billy Graham, and Jerry Falwell, we are in big trouble. I mean no disrespect to such men and their ministry when I say this. Because the evangelization of the world does not even depend on the unsung local pastor. The preaching of such men is needed, but it will largely continue to fall on deaf ears until our generation sees its friends and its neighbors, the men and women in the pew to whose lives they can relate, become so serious about what they believe that they cease to be satisfied with the role of audience and become witnesses to the truth of the Gospel themselves, empowered by the presence of God, committed to purity of life, upheld by mutual prayer, and devoted enough to God and their calling that they become Bold for the Gospel. Then, and only then, will those set aside as professional communicators be able to speak with credibility to a world looking for spiritual reality. May God hasten the coming of that day in our congregation! Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams