When I read Acts in the past, I was always in a hurry. I slowed down for the parts about Jesus leaving the disciples (Acts 1) and the Spirit of God filling Jesus’ followers (Acts 2) (also referred to as Pentecost by church nerds). And then, I’d rush through the next parts in my eagerness to see Paul jump into the spotlight. This month as I’ve read Acts, I keep coming back to Acts 4 and getting stuck there. God’s call to boldness in this chapter keeps pinging as the month goes by. The title quote by Herbert Spencer seems to be God’s invitation for me this month – maybe even this entire year.
Peter and John are up at the temple doing their thing – ministering and talking about Jesus — and the religious leaders put them in jail. And in spite of Peter and John getting arrested, the people they were teaching believed — about 5,000 of them (4:4). The next day, Peter and John are hauled up before the high priests and head honchos to give an account of themselves. These two guys are noted as uneducated, ordinary — and bold (4:13). Not superheroes. Not brilliant orators. Not wealthy. Not polished. Just ordinary and uneducated guys who possess boldness.
The religious leaders recognize the power of what is happening through these uneducated and ordinary men. Yet, instead of joining in God’s mission, they try to squelch it (4:16-17). In spite of the religious leaders’ best efforts, Peter and John retain their boldness, saying “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard (4:20).”
Eventually Peter and John are released and rejoin their friends. They report back the previous days’ events (4:23). Immediately they all pray together (4:24). The response of prayer is not shocking to me. But the content of their prayer is.
They recall how people opposed Jesus and how that led to his death on a cross (4:26-27). They ask God to help them continue to live out their mission boldly — to speak, heal and act as Jesus did in the face of opposition. They don’t ask for a smooth road or the opposition to be wiped out. No. They ask for boldness. At this prayer, the place was shaken and they were filled with the Spirit of God (4:31).
Being bold about God’s kingdom in the face of difficulty is not just for Jesus. It’s for his followers as well. There’s something normalizing about Jesus’ experience. In Acts, Jesus’ followers are faced with the real possibility of being killed for living out the teaching of Jesus. The followers aren’t exempt from the persecution that Jesus himself faced. I’m not saying their experience of suffering means the same thing as Jesus’, but I do think that discipleship is costly in Acts (and the Gospels as well).
That’s a scary thought. I find myself hoping at times for an easy Christian life where God makes me comfortable and rewards me for my good choices. Health and wealth and all that jazz. Acts gives a different picture.
It presents a better one. As these ordinary believers commit to boldly speaking about God and living out the teaching of Jesus, they also find extraordinary community with each other. They became of one heart and mind, sharing everything with each other (4:32). The sharing in that community meant that there was not a needy person among them (4:34). How awesome would living with that kind of community be? Seriously! Ordinary people with Godly boldness make incredible things happen in Acts.
I don’t think of myself as bold. Boldness scares me. I am a little sassy. Pink stripes in my hair. Brightly colored clothing. Color makes me project a confidence I don’t naturally feel. Like a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of thing. Most days it helps. Boldness, however, seems aggressive or brash or demanding. Boldness sounds like running roughshod over people. I’m not interested in that kind of in-your-face boldness. That looks like disrespect.
And, so this month I keep stewing on this passage. If we ordinary people are called to boldness concerning the message of God (and I think we are), what does that mean? I’ve come to think that boldness means holding fast to being the good news of God for a broken world in spite of what that may cost us. Holding fast in the face of overwhelming opposition. Not being aggressive or in-your-face, but continuing to plod on with the callings that God has laid upon us in spite of those who might hate us or the message. Not trampling others, nor being self-righteous, but continuing to shine the light of God’s love in a world that is deeply, deeply broken.
Because here’s the nitty-gritty question we have to ask: is the good news of God worth any hardship we might face for it? That’s where my feet touch the ground, and I see where I truly stand.
Boldness comes from the confidence that the good news of God is worth more than my comfort.
The message of God is worth any hardship we might face for it. It is. The God of the universe is for people. For you. For me. For us. God loves us. Jesus loved us (and died for us) while we were dead in our addictions and stuck in our bad choices — not after we got our acts together. God heals and pours out grace. God brings justice. This is good news. Even if the world doesn’t like it because we’re forced to confront our problems, it’s still good news. And I want the good news that God loves you and me and welcomes you and me to be experienced by those I know. I want that for the world.
And the better news. We’re not called to solitary boldness. As though you and I were separately bold and working towards that on only our own individual mini-missions. We’re called to boldness as a group entity. We are bold as a community — not just as loners. Again, not aggressive, rude, or disrespectful boldness. We are called to shine the light of God’s love on a world that doesn’t understand it or at times even want it. And what a journey we ordinary folk can have as we band together! God does strange and wonderful things through ordinary people as they keep persistently plodding ahead together in the callings they’ve been given.