Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:19b “. . .that utterance may be given unto me,. . .”
In verse 19, Paul asks the Ephesians to pray three specific requests on his behalf, all dealing with speech. First, he wants his words to be appropriate. One of life’s most precious gifts is the ability, in any given situation, to perceive with tenderness the mood of a sensitive moment and then to be able to say exactly what needs to be said. Paul believed this trait was “given,” something received and not inherent within. Paul was a master of language, his vocabulary was staggering, his words masterful–think of I Corinthians 13 and Romans 8–yet he knew he needed God’s help to talk right. Even the mighty Apostle depended on God for “utterance.”
Though in the ministry for years, Paul was still as dependent on heavenly empowerment as the day his work began. We never grow too big, too strong, too smart, or too old to need God’s help in knowing exactly what to say. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in this matter. As we talk with others, when a tender moment comes and extra sensitivity is sensed in another person, do not rush into a monologue, pray first in our inner self. Ask God to give us the exact words we need to say.
You claim you are not a good talker. This is a good start. Confessing weakness makes us a prime candidate for God’s power to flow through us. Moses admitted he was not eloquent, “I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (EX 4:10). YHWH replied, “Who hath made man’s mouth?. . . .Have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (EX 4:11-12). With God’s empowering, Moses became God’s powerful voice in Egypt.
God wants to use our lips to bless others. Our lips ask God for answers to our own prayers. Why not ask God to make our lips the answer to someone else’s prayer, to make our talk a blessing to others? This is not a gift of blarney or the gift of blab. Many talk a lot, but say nothing. The issue is, with God’s help, speaking appropriately. One Sunday I was leaving my home church in Cape Girardeau to return to St. Louis for college. I was sad, thinking no one was noticing my departure. Then my Grandma Marshall walked out of the crowd toward me and said, “We love you, Johnny, and we miss you.” The memory of those words refreshes me to this day. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (PR 25:11).
Eph. 6:19c “. . .that I may open my mouth boldly,. . .”
Paul’s second request in verse 19 is that his words would be bold. He wants frank, fearless, confident freedom in speech. Note Paul’s honest humility. He was a man of courage, yet knew he could fall into cowardice at any instant. Paul had defied raging mobs, debated kings, confronted storms at sea, faced death in prison. In all these he looked undaunted, but now we see the truth. He elsewhere confessed he came to Corinth “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 C 2:3).
Outwardly Paul usually seemed bold as a lion, but inwardly often shook. A person can look strong and self-composed on the outside while trembling inside. The victories of life are not necessarily to the strong, but to the fearful who refuse to give in to their fear. Are we afraid? Yes. Do we let our fear paralyze us? No.
Paul desired victory over his own fears. He sought neither brashness nor crudeness, but rather pious fortitude. He wanted to utter the truth without hesitation and without fear of personal inconvenience. He yearned to hold nothing back, whether to earn people’s praise, or to escape their scorn. Paul would soon stand before Caesar’s tribunal, and wanted to speak “boldly.” He fears he might give in to his fears, and knows he might falter. Thus he asks the people to pray for him.
Oh! dear saints, today’s churches are locked in a struggle against their own fears. Just when the Church needs to be heard from the worst, she is afraid to speak. We need to be diplomatic, to speak the truth in love, but I fear we have become too diplomatic, sidestepping too many issues. Not wanting to offend or be fanatics, we are not giving the world a clear signal. Our message is often garbled.
This hour of sin demands of us boldness. Our predecessors gone on before demand it of us. We must be true to our legacy. Our Captain stood with undaunted courage when the arrows flew thickest. Our brave Commander-in-Chief does not expect to be followed by cowardly soldiers. Isaac Watts’ challenge confronts us all:
Am I a soldier of the cross, A foll’wer of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own his cause, Or blush to speak his name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?
Our crying need is for boldness, a boldness which must begin in the pulpits. Pastors must be willing to don the mantle of brave leadership. When pastors are hesitant, uncertain and unclear in the pulpit, the sheep are left to wander aimlessly through a maze of complicated ethical and moral issues. The pastor’s role is not to try to force his views on others. People must decide for themselves what they believe; the pastor seeks to help his people recognize the truth. A pastor must sense from his people a liberty to speak freely, to proclaim truth as he understands it. It is unfair to say a pastor who speaks boldly on an issue is seeking to cram his beliefs on others. Anyone who thinks otherwise has not been a Baptist as long as I have. Since when did a preacher’s words in the pulpit force anyone in the pew to agree with him? Please pray the pastors of America will return to, and then never depart from, or diminish whatsoever, the whole counsel of God, as best they perceive it.
Bold speech is a vital part of our preaching heritage. Bunyan was ordered not to preach, but did so anyway. For years he stayed in Bedford prison. His wife and blind daughter were at home, the jail door was left unlocked, the jailer said he could go home on condition he would not preach, but Bunyan said, “If I leave, I will begin preaching before I reach yonder hill.” Boldness was Bunyan’s hallmark.
To be able to speak boldly when it is not popular requires supernatural power. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in behalf of all preachers, I plead with you, pray for us to be bolder. Our pulpits will be more powerful when prayers for them in the pews are more powerful. Early on, I learned the importance of praying for preachers. When I was a boy, Brother Ollie Zimmerman, one of my childhood Sunday School teachers, would pray often, “Bless our pastor as he stands behind the sacred desk.” Another common prayer was, “Hide our preacher behind the cross.” In my seminary pastorate, Dee Hamilton would pray, “Father, as Bro. John preaches, let the words come from You through him to us.” Hidden behind the cross, standing behind a sacred desk, words from God through the pastor to the sheep–these prayer images are deeply emblazoned upon my heart. Please pray for me. Every Sunday morning, in your mind’s eye, prayerfully construct a high tower around this pulpit, and then ask God to let me step into it. Ask Him to be “a wall of fire round about” (ZC 2:5) me, burning love into my heart, and burning cowardice out of my lips.