The comparison of two prayers for boldness, as recorded in Acts 4:29-30 and Ephesians 6:18-20, presents an interesting and profitable study. The former was uttered by the company of believers in Jerusalem, with the twelve apostles, at the time when Israel was still God’s commonwealth (Eph. 2:12; Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-5). They were citizens of God’s Nation. The latter was uttered by Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, some thirty years later, after salvation had come unto the Gentiles through the fall of Israel (Rom. 11:11). Paul’s prayer is the prayer of an ambassador in a foreign land.
Let us note the prayer in Acts 4:29-30, reading with it verse 31: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done in the name of thy holy child (or servant) Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness.” Certainly their prayer was quickly answered.
Peter and John had already demonstrated boldness as recorded in Acts 4:13: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”—that is, with Jesus in resurrection. This fourth chapter of Acts records the beginning of persecution against the believers in Jerusalem by Israel’s rulers, and tells of the first experience of Peter and John in jail for preaching Jesus as the resurrected Messiah of Israel.
All Christians today certainly need boldness to speak the Word of God. We need to be much in prayer for such boldness. But have we the Scriptural right to pray the same prayer recorded in Acts 4? Some Christians will say “No,” but when asked “Why not?” they remain mute. Others seek to duplicate those signs and the result is a system of pseudo-signs and fanaticism.
The other prayer, or request for prayer, for our comparison is found in Ephesians 6:18-20: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Isn’t it strange that Paul, also an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and a prisoner in Rome, did not pray as did Peter, John and the others that the Lord should give him boldness by stretching forth His hand to heal and that signs and wonders might be done in the Name of the Lord Jesus? In fact, he did not ask for prayer for miraculous deliverance from his bonds, but declared emphatically that he was an ambassador in bonds.
Paul, in one of his earliest epistles, had spoken of boldness. In I Thessalonians 2:2 we read, “But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you (Gentiles) the gospel of God with much contention.”
There had been a time when Paul’s ministry, too, had been accompanied with signs. Read Acts 14:3, “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the Word of His grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” These signs were not a part of that ministry, but only accompanied it to prove his apostleship and to provoke Israel to jealousy (II Cor. 12:12; Rom. 11:11; I Cor. 14:18-22). But in just the previous chapter Paul had waxed bold to declare something which was most unusual. “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, it was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). In the next chapter he declared that the Lord had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).
Paul also used the word “boldly” in a very important sense in Romans 15:15-16, “Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly (see verse 4) unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, that I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” He was bold to go to the Gentiles through the “fall” or “stumbling” of Israel, and to write that which was not according to the prophetic Word. He was bold because he had received his commission through the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:1,11-12; 2:2,7-9; Eph. 3:1-9; Col. 1:24-29).
Between the prayer of the disciples in Acts 4 and the request for prayer by Paul in Ephesians 6 there had elapsed a period of time of about thirty years. These were very important years, as the foregoing Scriptures have revealed.
The Lord had permitted Israel to “diminish” and to “fall” (Rom. 11:11-15). He had concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all, so that there might be reconciliation for all the world by the blood of the Cross in the Body of Christ which is the true Church.
While the Lord was still in relationship to Israel as a nation He gave the disciples signs which they had a right to expect (Acts 2:19). They were not then called ambassadors in the sense in which Paul is called one, but were in the midst of their own nation, which was still God’s Nation. He had answered the prayer of His Son on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Webster’s dictionary defines an ambassador as “an accredited representative of a sovereign or state at the court of another.” With the setting aside of Israel and its alienation from God with all the rest of the world, Paul became a true ambassador for Jesus Christ. Every believer today as a member of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, is also an ambassador (II Cor. 5:14-21).
We certainly need boldness as a representative of Him in the court of another. Satan is the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4). But being blessed with “all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ” surely transcends “all signs and wonders” to give us boldness to speak the mystery of Christ. Surely Paul’s petition for boldness should be ours. And we can expect the same treatment Paul received in a hostile world. But how much greater was the two-fold boldness of Paul to that of the twelve! His boldness was two-fold in that first he was bold in the face of even prison and death, and second that he was bold to preach that which was not prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures, but was revealed by the risen, but rejected Christ to him. Let us all pray for his boldness “to make all men see what is the [dispensation] of the Mystery, which from the beginning of the [ages] hath been hid in God.”