This text teaches us why boldness is so necessary, and where you get it, and what has to happen inside in order to be a bold person. If you have a longing to be an influence for Christ and his kingdom, and if you have a longing to be a free and authentic person, then the answers to these three questions will ring as relevant for you today as they did 2,000 years ago. Because God has never changed and human nature has not changed.
1. Why Is Boldness Necessary?
Boldness is necessary because we don't want our lives to be lived in vain. We don't want to come to the end of our lives—our jobs, our ministries, our families—and say, "It's empty. Nothing happened. There was no effect that mattered. It was all in vain." We don't want to feel that or say that. And so boldness is necessary to keep that from happening—so that our lives are not in vain.
So That Our Lives Are Not in Vain
I see this in 1 Thessalonians 2:1–2 where Paul describes what happened when he came from Philippi to Thessalonica, and lived and ministered among the Thessalonians:
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain [why not?], but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.
Paul's life in Thessalonica had not been in vain—even though he stayed a relatively short time. And the reason his life there was not empty and ineffective was because he had boldness in God, and spoke the gospel with courage.
So what we learn is that the reason boldness is needed is that it keeps our lives from being in vain. It makes our lives count. It keeps us from coming to the end and saying, "Nothing happened. There was no significance. I lived in vain."
Something Remarkable About This Text
To make this clear and sure let me point out something remarkable about this text. It starts in verse 1 by referring to what happened to the Thessalonians: "Our coming to you was not in vain." That is, something happened to you. We did not minister without effect. You were changed.
Now what I would expect after a statement like that is some illustration of the effect of Paul's ministry in the lives of the Thessalonians. Something like: "You know that our coming to you was not in vain . . . for you turned from idols, and trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, and you stopped lying and stealing and hating, and you started caring about each other and sharing things and loving your enemies and worshiping the true God."
But the amazing thing is that for 10 verses (2–11) there is not one word about the effect of Paul's ministry on the Thessalonians when he came. Instead the whole 10 verses describes Paul's life and ministry. Ten things:
- 2a—We suffered and were mistreated in Philippi.
- 2c—We had boldness to speak the gospel to you.
- 3—Our exhortation doesn't come from error or deceit.
- 4a—As we have been approved by God so we speak.
- 4b—We speak to please God not men.
- 5f—We did not flatter or covet or seek glory from men.
- 7f—We became gentle as a nurse and shared ourselves.
- 9—We worked night and day not to burden you.
- 10—We were devout, upright, and blameless to you.
- 11f—We exhorted and encouraged as a father.
Now why is this? What is Paul saying? Why does he begin by saying, "You know that our coming to you was not in vain," and then tell the ten things about his ministry rather than its effect on the Thessalonians?
Two Reasons Paul Does It This Way
There are at least two reasons I think. One is that Paul is being slandered by his opponents in Thessalonica. We met them in Acts 17. They were jealous of him and stirred up a mob and took church leaders before the authorities. Paul is still concerned about the persecution the church is experiencing (3:3–4).
Evidently Paul's enemies were saying that he was deceitful and that he was only after the praise of men and that he was covetous and wanted their money and that he used flattery to get it. So Paul responds in verses 2–11 by reminding the Thessalonians of what they really know about him. Six times he says "as you know" or "you recall" or "you are witnesses" (vv. 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 11).
But Paul's concern here is not primarily with himself. The real issue is that the discrediting of Paul and his message would also discredit the authenticity of the Thessalonians' faith.
So what Paul is really doing is defending them and the reality of their faith. That's the second reason why he talks so much about his ministry. He says in verse 1, "You know that our coming to you was not in vain," and then for ten verses he talks about the authenticity of his own ministry. So what he is saying is, "Our ministry to you was not without effect. You were changed. You turned from idols. You were willing to suffer for Christ with joy. So don't throw away your confidence when your opponents slander my ministry and my life, remember the way it really was when I was there. I was not flattering and covetous. I was bold in God and risked my life to preach the gospel to you. I worked night and day. I loved you like a nurse and like a father.
It was Paul's boldness in evangelizing that kept his life from being in vain. And it will be our boldness that keeps our lives from being bland and tasteless and empty and weak and insignificant in the end.
What Paul Says in 1:5–6
You can confirm that we are on the right track here by comparing what Paul says in 1:5–6.
. . . our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction [in other words, it did not come in vain, as 2:1 says; then he goes on just as he does in 2:2ff. with a reference to his own ministry]; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake [namely, boldly preaching in the face of danger; then he says explicitly how his ministry affected them]. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
So Paul's boldness kept his life and ministry from being in vain, because it produced in them a readiness to endure tribulation with joy in the Holy Spirit.
So my answer to the first question (Why is boldness necessary?) is that it keeps our lives from being in vain. It makes our lives effective and fruitful and significant. It brings change into people's lives and leads them on toward courage in Christ. And nothing is more significant than leading people toward Christ and his Kingdom.
2. Where Do You Get Boldness?
Paul's answer is clear: You get it in God. Verse 2: "After we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition." We had boldness in our God.
Paul's Boldness Was in God
Paul had suffered in Philippi. He had been publicly dragged into the market of the city and charged with sedition because he cast the demon out of a girl. And then he spent the night in jail. Now in Thessalonica the mob was even more enraged and Paul barely escaped by night to Berea. That was the setting for his ministry. And in that setting he spoke the gospel courageously because he had boldness in his God.
His life was given up to God. His life was hidden in God (Colossians 3:3). He trusted God (2 Corinthians 1:9). He hoped in God (Romans 15:13). The glory of God was more attractive to Paul than any earthly comfort: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). God was so real, and so powerful, and so wise and so utterly committed to doing all for Paul's good that he knew nothing could separate him from the love of God—not death or life or angels or principalities or things present or things to come or powers or height or depth or anything else in all creation.
And so all his boldness was in God, and not in himself. And that has been the source of all the boldness of all the martyrs.
The Story of Agatha and Agnes
Luther tells the story of two young Christian virgins who went to prison and to death in the middle of the third century. Their names were Agatha and Agnes. Luther says that they were very confident and joyful.
They felt, as they also said aloud, as if they were going to a wedding. Truly my dear daughter, if to you going to prison and being beheaded is like going to a dance, you must in truth have a heart, mind and courage different from those of the world . . . Such courage assuredly is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. (What Luther Says, I, p. 349)
Their courage was in God, not man. Not any human turn of affairs. They lived on God. God was better than life.
The Story of Hugh Mackail
Another example of what it means to have your boldness in God is the Scots Covenanter Hugh Mackail. He was a Presbyterian in Scotland in a bloody decade (1660s) when that was viewed as seditious. He was tortured with what they called the boot to force him to reveal other members of his band. His leg was inserted into an iron case and then a wedge of iron was inserted between his knee and the case snugly. When he refused to answer, the executioner struck the wedge with a mallet. Eleven times the mallet was struck until Mackail's leg was shattered.
He said, "I protest solemnly in the sight of God, I can say no more, though all the joints in my body were in as great anguish as my leg." The leg would not be much use to him anyway. He was sentenced to be executed. His final words were famous and became the cry of some of the later martyrs. Here's what he said. And what these words illustrate is what Paul meant by having his boldness in God.
Now I leave off to speak any more to creatures, and turn my speech to Thee, O Lord. Now I begin my intercourse with God, which shall never be broken off. Farewell, father and mother, friends and relations! Farewell, the world and all delights! Farewell, meat and drink! Farewell, sun, moon, and stars! Welcome, God and Father! Welcome, sweet Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant! Welcome, blessed Spirit of grace, God of all consolation! Welcome, glory! Welcome, eternal life! Welcome, death! (Men of the Covenant, pp. 150)
Hugh Mackail's life was not lived in vain. His death was not in vain. Because he had boldness in his God. O may the Lord reveal himself to us with such power and beauty at Bethlehem that we live on him more than on anything else, and have boldness in our God.
The final question the text answers is: "What has to happen inside for us to be bold persons?"
3. What Must Happen to Be Bold?
Let me just mention two things that Paul emphasizes here. Perhaps the two greatest obstacles to boldness are the love of human acceptance and praise, and the love of the comforts and securities that money can buy. What has to happen inside is for the power of these two loves to be broken?
Freed from the Love of Human Acceptance and Praise
This had happened in Paul's life, and that is why he is so bold. Verse 4b: "we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts." Verse 6: "nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others." And since he is free from the need to please men and to seek glory and praise from friend and foe alike, he is also free from the need to flatter and the need to deceive. Verse 5: "We never came with flattering speech, as you know."
The addiction to acceptance and recognition and praise that lames so many people had been broken in Paul's life. He was free and therefore he was bold.
Freed from the Love of Money and Comforts
But he was also free from the love of money and the securities and comforts it can buy. Verse 5 again: "We never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness." He was not after their money. It was of no interest to him, and therefore he could speak with boldness without measuring his words so as to make the most wealthy friends. In fact verse 9 shows how Paul vigilantly guarded his financial freedom: "You recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God."
He worked for a living so as to keep his hand clean of anyone's money. He meant to be free and to be bold in his speech.
The Way to Freedom
So at least these two things have to happen inside if we are to be bold: we have to get free from the need of human acceptance and praise, and we have to get free from the need for the comforts and securities that money can buy. If we are free, we will be bold.
And the way to freedom is get your acceptance from God and get your praise from God, and to get your comforts and security from God. Verse 4 points to the key: "Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God."
Paul had his approval from God. He did not need human approval. He had his future in God. So no human threats could stop his courage.
May the Lord Make Us Bold
We need boldness because without it our lives will be lived in vain. And our boldness comes from God because only his approval can break the power of craving for human approval, and only his security and comfort can break the fear of losing human security and comfort.
May the Lord make us like Hugh Mackail!
Farewell, father and mother, friends and relations! Farewell, the world and all delights! Farewell, meat and drink! Farewell, sun, moon, and stars!
Welcome, God and Father! Welcome, sweet Lord Jesus! Welcome, blessed Spirit of grace! Welcome, glory! Welcome, eternal life! Welcome, death!