One of the qualities of an effective sidewalk counselor is boldness. The counselor must be bold in speaking truth, enduring opposition, and following God no matter what. Some volunteers come with that boldness. For others, it develops with experience. For some, it is an elusive quality that they don’t seem able to master. This article explores a powerful chapter in the book of Acts that can be a model in how to encourage boldness in sidewalk volunteers.
In Acts 4, the disciples and growing numbers of Christ followers are listening to Peter and John speaking about the resurrection. In the previous chapter, they had healed the man lame from birth. The temple guard comes upon them, and along with the elders, rulers and high priest, are concerned about the huge numbers of people coming to believe the message of Peter and John. They arrest the two disciples, and then attempt to intimidate them into silence about Jesus. First, they ask by what power Peter and John have convinced so many to follow Jesus. Peter and John’s response is a beautiful model of how we can be bold.
Abide in Jesus
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people,” (Acts 4:8)
Peter and John are filled with the Holy Spirit. They boldly speak the truth of the the hypocrisy of the rulers, of the truth of who Jesus is and of His resurrection, and of the fact that the rulers have foolishly rejected Him. They boldly proclaim salvation is possible ONLY through Jesus.
No one can speak with truth and boldness of the things of God without His Spirit guiding them. And no one can be filled with His Spirit if they are not walking intimately with him. The power of His Spirit is evident even to these arrogant, lost leaders of the city.
“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Peter and John had BEEN WITH JESUS. The source of their confidence was NOT their education, and NOT their training. The source of their confidence was their intimate walk with Jesus. This is absolutely key and the first step in a bold spirit. KNOW JESUS. BE with Jesus.
How do we spend time with Jesus?
We abide in His word. We pray and speak to Him and then listen to His response in our spirit. We ask His Holy Spirit to fill us and empower us. We fellowship with others who deeply love Him and we sharpen each other discussing His teachings and challenging each other to a closer communion and understanding of who He is. Without this basic first step of BEING WITH JESUS, we will never be bold in a way that truly helps the lost understand who He is and why they need Him.
Heed God’s Authority, Not Man’s
The leaders, unsettled by this inexplicable bold confidence, as well as the undeniable miracles they were performing are unsure of how to deal with Peter and John. They decide to release them but then command them to be silent. They tell them they must not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
Everyone of us in sidewalk ministry has likely heard this request to SHUT UP AND STOP TALKING ABOUT JESUS. Usually it is stated in an even harsher way than this. It can be intimidating when those we are speaking with threaten us or use vile language with the hope of silencing us.
Peter and John’s response is another clue in how we can withstand this intimidation and develop boldness in our ministry work.
“But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge;” (Acts 4:19)
Peter and John understand that they must submit to the proper authority when it comes to speaking or being silent. They proclaim they must give heed to God, and because of this, they can NOT stop speaking the truth of what they have seen and heard IN JESUS.
Likewise, we cannot be silent if we have been commanded to speak. It is therefore critical for boldness in our speech to be based upon what God has said. There are definitely situations when we should not speak. A clear understanding of scripture is necessary to know when God has commanded us to speak. Two of the clearest Biblical admonitions for us to speak for the unborn are Proverbs 31:8-9 and Proverbs 24: 11-12.
“Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
“Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11-12)
If we do not know what the Bible says about when we are to speak, we will never develop the boldness that only the Holy Spirit can provide. In those verse, God tells us that the vulnerable, afflicted, needy, and mute need a voice and WE are to be that voice. We are to boldly rescue those who cannot rescue themselves when they are being led to death. Having a clear understanding of scripture, of what we have SEEN AND HEARD OF JESUS and His commands will give us the courage we need to be bold defenders of the faith and of righteousness.
Seek Community of Believers
“When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” (Acts 4:23) Right after their release, Peter and John went to their companions. They went to others who had walked with Jesus and followed Him. They knew this was key to being a bold defender of the faith. They needed the fellowship and encouragement of the church.
In going to their supportive community, they first told them what they had endured. Their companions then reminded them of scripture that helped them to see the biblical history of people who suffered for following God. The community of believers reminded Peter and John that they were not alone! Then as a group, they prayed for each other while exalting the Lord. And what happened as a result was an INCREASE in boldness.
Persecution and Prayer Increase Boldness
“And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)
This is one of the truths I have experienced often on the sidewalk. When we speak with boldness, face persecution, go back to the church and to the Word of God, and as a community PRAY, our boldness intensifies! Persecution is often the instrument God uses to refine and strengthen us. It is not fun…but it does often appear to be necessary.
Knowing this can change our outlook on the deluge of persecution we will likely face on the sidewalk. Rather than being discouraged from persecution, we can (almost) welcome it! Persecution from unbelievers is often a sure sign that we are effective. It has the added bonus of strengthening us if we respond appropriately.
“And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:32-33)
Unity among believers is another key point in helping us to be bold. When we are unified, our power and testimony is greater. Unity is hard to achieve, but if we are to be a confident presence for God, it is critical.
We are one in Christ, and united we stand; however, as Jesus warns, a house divided will not stand. Therefore, we must strive for unity. Do not let quarreling or bitterness, pride or self-preservation keep us from being unified in the church of Christ. If we let our differences divide us, we will never be the bold voice God has called us to be.
We may not be able to force others to be in unity, but as far as it depends on us, we can be a unifying rather than divisive force. The Bible gives us clues in how to achieve this. For example, gossip is one of the great detriments to unity and we should strive to avoid gossip or back-biting.
We should be careful not to view differences in approach or differences in gifts of the spirit to be a source of division. Sometimes we view our own gifts pridefully, and look down on the gifts of others as though they are not as important or needed as our own. Yet, God has purposely gifted us differently so that as a unified body the various gifts complement and strengthen us as a whole.
When division does occur, we should be quick to deal with the issues in a God-prescribed manner. If a brother or sister is in sin, we need to lovingly confront that sin with a “Matthew 18” approach.
““If your brother sins , go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
Any affront from a fellow believer that is serious enough to cause us concern should be dealt with in this manner. Before confronting the sin of another believer, it is very important to discern if it is indeed a sin. Sometimes, we are ruffled by inconsequential issues that do not rise to the level of sin. Being annoyed by someone’s different approach is not necessarily a sin that should be confronted. A lot of division could be avoided if we first carefully examine our own hearts.
However, if someone is harming the witness of the church through something that dishonors or disobeys God, it may need to be challenged. There is an important caveat to keep in mind. All of us sin and especially on the frontlines of a prolife ministry, it is easy to lose one’s temper or to do something that is not characteristic of our usual behavior. A single incident may not rise to the level of requiring church discipline. However, if an issue is persistent and concerning, it must be addressed before it damages the witness of the ministry.
In such a case, we are told to first go to the offender in private. If he doesn’t listen, gather one or two witnesses to lovingly confront alongside us. If he still doesn’t listen, go to the church leadership and have them confront him. If he still doesn’t listen, the issue of division and pride has become so serious that he should be treated as a “gentile or tax collector.” In other words, he should be considered to have wandered from the faith and not be considered a part of the church community until he has repented.
This seems very harsh. It demonstrates how seriously Jesus views disunity in the church. The wonderful result however when we follow God’s prescription for unity is beautifully stated in Matthew 18:20:
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
This brings us full circle to the original point made in this article. When Peter and John had BEEN WITH JESUS, they could speak with boldness. When Jesus is in our midst, we can be bold and confident. When God is with us, who can stand against us? All things are possible with God. The meek can be bold. The stutterer can speak clearly. The unified church will have a power, strength, and presence of which the unbelieving world will take notice.
The result of bold speech is that the salvation under which NO OTHER NAME is possible will be clearly proclaimed.
“But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4)
We should always keep our eyes on the prize. What is our goal? What do we ultimately hope to achieve by being bold in speech? In pro-life ministry, of course we pray the unborn children will be saved. We pray that we will be a voice for them that is effective and heard. We pray mothers will change their minds and choose life.
But as believers in the truth of the Gospel, there is always a greater goal. The boldness of our witness and our speech should ultimately lead others to Jesus. Everything we think, and do, and say should be focused on that outcome. We must remember that we are not responsible for the outcome. That is the work of God. But we are responsible to the best of our ability to be the voice of hope in a dying, fallen world that God has called us to be.
In so doing, the Gospel goes forth, lives are transformed, and the church expands.
“On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” (Psalms 138:3)