The Meaning of Boldness

I got an email the other day asking for a personal opinion on what it means to be bold in witnessing in China. Really important to think about. We all know to say that we should be bold in our witness for Christ no matter where we are, but what counts as bold and what doesn’t? Is it how close we come to getting arrested? Does it have a geographical element – where we dare to witness and where we don’t? Honestly, the question was one that I’d never put a great deal of thought into – so I tried to dwell on it some this week.

Thought a good place to start would be Acts. The word ‘bold’ and its fellows show up often, so it was worth a look. Here’s a couple notes from the resulting study and some personal conclusions.

1. Boldness is usually associated with proclamation ministry.
I jumped into Acts to find what boldness should be like specifically when it came to our witness, only to find almost every passage about boldness is a passage about our witness! There’s barely a distinction. The Bible doesn’t just talk about being bold as ‘doing what’s right even when it’s hard’ or ‘daring to be different,’ though those things are necessary. It associates Christian boldness most often with the ministry of verbally declaring the Gospel to others. It’s just not enough for us to live exemplary Christian lives among unbelievers in China – we are to be involved in the direct, open, verbal proclamation of the Gospel to unbelievers. We are not just to try to live in such a way that people ask us about our faith; we are to proactively preach it.

2. It is revealed as a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This is especially evident in the opening chapters. A couple references put the ‘bold speaking’ immediately after filling with the Holy Spirit. Additionally, the disciples pray for boldness in chapter four. Worth a look to Ephesians, as well, where Paul asks for prayer that he would be given boldness in his preaching. This means that the apostles recognized that the boldness necessary to carry out their ministry could not just be conjured up. They needed God’s empowering. They didn’t just try really hard to do bold things or deliberately put themselves in dangerous situations. Rather, they prayed that their proclamation of the Gospel would be bold. So real boldness is given, not manufactured. Good news for those of us who aren’t naturally bold. This also means that genuine boldness is nothing to boast about – it’s a gift.

3. The word carries a connotation of ‘freely,’ ‘openly,’ and ‘frankly.’

And brass tacks… the word doesn’t just mean ‘brash courage.’ It’s used all through John’s Gospel and is usually translated ‘openly’ or ‘freely.’ In Acts, I think it only shows up once as ‘freely.’ But the connotation is there in every situation. Paul spoke the word of God boldly in front of Jews that would almost certainly not take it well – his message was not compromised. What he preached was the truth – clear, open, confident, bold. This has definite ramifications in our witnessing. Can we condone any missionary strategy that prescribes misleading others about our faith in Christ? That says you shouldn’t tell someone you’re a believer (even for a ‘trial period’ to find out if they’re a government spy)? Note again that the people that Paul is openly witnessing to are the ones anxious to put rocks in his skull.

4. Boldness does not produce a uniform response to persecution.
Boldness does not mean (to Paul anyway) ‘stay put until you’re dead.’ There’s a couple times that Paul is said to be bold, then is threatened with serious danger, and he makes his escape while he can. You can find the apostles’ boldness before, after, and in the middle of episodes of persecution. Apparently, Paul saw living to preach another day as a valid strategy in missions. I think it’s interesting, though, that we don’t see anyone in Acts considering a non-bold witnessing approach. It’s consistently ‘bold-here-or-bold-elsewhere,’ never ‘bold-here-or-not-bold-here.’ He’s creative in his approach, but his approach is always the Gospel. So while boldness doesn’t determine every ministry choice (where to go, how long to stay, etc.), it does determine what we say about Christ to others.

In summary, I think what is most striking about these passages is that boldness is there to empower the disciples to do what they would do and to be what they would be if there was no persecution. It lets them ‘be real’ even when the surrounding circumstances demand that they bend. Paul’s testimony of faith is consistent wherever he may be. That might be a good working understanding of boldness in China: we share our faith in largely the same way that we do anywhere else. Sounds simple enough – but it’s astounding how many people spend their first months in China learning that that’s exactly what should never be done! Not saying this is easy – I catch myself sometimes not being as open about my faith in China as I might be in the States. But let’s be honest about the problem – what I need is boldness.

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2 Comments on “The Meaning of Boldness”

  1. Mark Tolson September 21, 2009 at 7:29 am #

    Great stuff, I am in the middle of this study too!

  2. withinayard June 27, 2012 at 1:23 am #

    “So real boldness is given, not manufactured. Good news for those of us who aren’t naturally bold. This also means that genuine boldness is nothing to boast about – it’s a gift.”

    Very good news!

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