Contesting False Doctrine in the Manner of Paul
When Paul taught the gospel, we are told that he spoke “boldly” (Acts 13:46; 14:3; 19:8). In Ephesians 6:20, he even prayed that the Ephesians would pray for him that he might preach the gospel boldly. We are very familiar with this and aspire to obtain the boldness Paul spoke with; however, I sometimes think we are unfamiliar with what this means. Often, we mistake boldness for a harsh teaching of the truth, alongside berating our listeners; as some might say, we mistake boldness for “cramming our doctrine down their throat.” Is this what boldness really means?
We can certainly say that boldness is the courage to present the truth no matter the circumstance, but Paul would seem to disagree that it means to do so harshly. He writes to the Colossians saying, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.” (4:6) There is to be grace (“favor, gift, joy liberality”) in our speech, and I do not think that harshness is a facet of grace.
In his own life, Paul demonstrates this principle for us. In Acts 17:22-34, we find Paul addressing the men of Athens in the midst of the Areopagus. Notice his opening statement in verse 22: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” He did not call them “idiots” or laugh at their ignorance; he didn’t act in a menacing nature; he complimented them for being religious.
In complimenting them, he did not “water down” the truth nor did he tell them that everything was ok because they were religious. He used this genuine compliment as the starting point to proclaim the gospel of the true and living God to them. This God whom they had addressed as the unknown god has now been made known to them—and take notice of the results: in verses 32-34, there were those who heard these words and believed (implying their obedience to the gospel). God’s word has the power to save (Rom. 1:16), and if we share it, God will do his part (1 Cor. 3:5-7).
As unfortunate as it is, we must also take note of those who mocked Paul in verse 32 because it holds an important lesson. Paul graciously spoke God’s word well enough that some believed, yet there were still some who were not obedient to the gospel. No matter how well we speak the word, there will be some who make the choice not to believe and obey. Like Paul though, we must not use this as an excuse to refrain from speaking the word; the boldness that Paul prayed for and had was the courage to speak in spite of the unbelievers so that others might know “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). To not speak God’s word would be a disservice to our God, potential hearers, and ourselves.
Boldness does not mean that we speak the truth harshly, with hate in our hearts and malice in our minds; we are to speak his word with love and grace. The former is not “being bold”; it is an excuse to be rude under the guise of boldness. Boldness is having the courage to speak God’s word despite the circumstances that may come upon us. Again note that it is speaking God’s word, not a watering down of the truth; the truth is spoken, just not harshly. With that in mind, let us go forth, boldly speaking God’s word.