Bold to Speak
Devotional 4 of 10
by Lydia Sheldon
Almighty God, we thank you for your steadfast love and your faithfulness. You hear us when we pray to you; you give us strength and courage when we need it. Let us be zealous for justice and love true peace, that we may use our freedoms to do your will. Fulfill your purposes for us, that we may be like Jesus Christ. Amen.
“For indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in this city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Jesus, your holy Servant, whom you made Messiah. They gathered to do everything that you by your power and will had already decided would happen. And now, Lord, take notice of the threats they have made, and allow us, your servants, to speak your message with all boldness. Reach out your hand to heal, and grant that wonders and miracles may be performed through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”
The believers in Acts face persecution and imprisonment. Peter and John have just been released from prison. These early followers of Jesus recall the torture and execution of their leader “in this city”—Jerusalem (Acts 4:27).
But these men and women do not pray primarily for deliverance. Instead, they ask God for boldness.
This isn’t the sham boldness of posting a strident sentence or two on a social media channel. It’s not even the energy and commitment given to a good cause. It’s not merely social action, though it may include that. No, the boldness these early Christians prayed for was courage to speak God’s message.
Later, the apostle Paul would write from prison to ask his friends to pray the same prayer for him, calling himself “an ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20 ESV).
In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. also writes as “an ambassador in chains.”
In April 1963, King was arrested for protesting segregation in defiance of an anti-protest injunction from the state of Alabama. In prison, King began writing a defense of his nonviolent protests in the margins of a newspaper.
Like the early Christians, King was bold. He laid aside his reputation, his safety, and ultimately his life. Imprisoned in Birmingham, he writes: “I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? … Was not Amos an extremist for justice? … Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ?” … So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be.”
In the letter, King declares that his model of courage is Jesus, Paul, and others who faced the painful consequences of their courage and went forward anyway. He compares the civil rights activists of the 1960s with the early Christians, praising the “sublime courage, willingness to suffer, and amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation” of the protestors.
What does being an extremist for God’s message look like in our world—or in your own life? Just as the early Christians did, we can recall the example of Jesus, who was bold but never demeaned his opponents. He spoke the truth at great cost to himself, but he did so graciously. He was not concerned with whether or not people liked him, but he still loved them. Jesus’s boldness always acknowledged the dignity of whoever he was speaking to, even when they wanted to kill him. He was committed to his purpose, and in gentleness, he never swerved from it.
Questions for personal thought or group discussion:
1. What was the “message” the early Christians referred to in Acts 4?
2. How is God calling you to be courageous with this message? What kind of pressures keep you from being bold?
3. What person, group, or even idea needs your bold advocacy? Think of a simple way you can contribute courageously.
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