By Dan King
The apostles Peter and John, having been arrested, threatened, and warned not to speak any more of Jesus, went back to their company and prayed: . . . grant unto thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness (Acts 4:30). Their prayer was heard. For, the Bible goes on to say that when they had finished their praying, they spake the word of God with all boldness (v. 31).
Apparently this was the greatest challenge to these disciples, who at first had shown themselves timid, and even cowardly. The gospel accounts speak of the apostolic band as having forsaken the Lord and fled into the darkness on the night of Jesus’ arrest (Matt. 26:56). Peter had followed him, but afar off (vs. 58). They knew where their greatest weakness lay, and for this they were praying.
What is most interesting about the context is that they had already shown considerable courage in preaching in the Temple in chapters two and three, and when confronted by the threatenings of the high priest and his cohorts at the Sanhedrin. Scripture records their brash reply to the questionings of the rulers, along with the reaction of these men: Now when they beheld the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled. . . (4:13). One does not normally expect laboring men, such as these, to come before an auspicious tribunal like the Sanhedrin relaxed and confident in the way in which these men did. Luke explains that they were filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 8), but then goes on to record their prayer for courage. A comparable text appears in 2 Timothy 1:6,7, where Timothy is told to stir up the gift of God which was in him through the laying on of Paul’s hands, For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline. Paul is evidently encouraging Timothy to overcome his natural timidity and speak up and speak out! Timothy had control of his own vocal chords, and his own daring or lack of it would determine whether he would do so or not.
It becomes clear, when these Scriptures are compared, that the words they spoke were from God as given by the Holy Spirit (as per the promise of Christ in Mk. 13:11), but the courage was their own! God supplied the words to speak, but it was up to them to get up the “gumption” to say them. That is why the apostles were praying for courage. They needed it!
There are a couple of very important lessons that we ought to learn from this observation. First, we should come to appreciate the dedication and courage of those first Christians in standing for truth. They were truly “men of like passions with us. ” They had to search their souls as we do before they spoke, knowing that their words might cost them a great deal. God did not turn them into robots and direct their actions in such a way as to accomplish his will. They had to gird up the loins of their mind, summon the fortitude to speak, and pull out all the stops. Someone has said that courage is “fear that has said its prayers.” In this case, that definition is completely appropriate.
A second lesson that can be gleaned here, is the fact that they prayed for that which they knew they needed. History is an excellent teacher, so is experience. The night of the betrayal had been branded into the memories of these men with absolute permanency. When that night was over they had been forced to look Jesus in the face, knowing how they had forsaken and denied him. Furthermore, now they knew they would again have to look him in the face to give account for their lives and words, along with all men at the judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). They were intent that they would not make the same mistake again!
Like them, we need to be praying for our weaknesses. We know those areas wherein we have sinned in the past, and if we are intent upon not repeating those errors, then we will pray for the strength to overcome them in the future. Moreover, we will take action when it is necessary to avoid situations and circumstances that lead to such sin.
If it is the courage to speak that we need, then we must know that God is not going to stand in our place for us and speak the words. Like the apostles he gives us what to say, but in our case supplies it to us in his Word. Again, like the apostles, it is up to us to take the first step in developing the courage to speak the truth. But God will be there to help: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear. . . (Psa. 46:1-2).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 17, p. 525
September 5, 1991