I find modern American corporate jargon humorous.
If you have spent time studying cultures, you may have noticed how Americans, despite how brash we can be in certain respects, can also be quite passive. Our indirect workplace jargon is one such example. A simple command like “Call a meeting with so-and-so” can be perceived as overly forthright and even jarring, so we soften it: “If you could call a meeting with so-and-so, that would be great.” The quip “I don’t trust you to get this done” becomes the friendlier colloquialism: “Let’s circle back on this.” Or my favorite: “Why didn’t you see my last message?” becomes the gentler “Per my previous email”—and so on.
Indirect communication is a two-edged sword. When we speak in roundabout ways, we risk obscuring our message or concealing our urgency. Yet if employed properly, the indirect approach can have a greater impact than the direct approach—slipping past our audience’s defense mechanisms and appealing to their inmost sensibilities.
The Apostle Paul is a master of indirect communication. After praising the Philippians for their willingness to partake in his missionary hardships, Paul says in verses 12-13 that he wants them to recognize his imprisonment in Rome as God’s providential means to advance the gospel. Then he adds, “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (v. 14).
The implication is this: just as the believers surrounding Paul in Rome have been emboldened by observing his evangelistic effectiveness in custody, so too Paul wants the Philippians to be emboldened in their witness.
Bear in mind that Paul, as an effective indirect persuader, has not yet issued a single imperative in this letter. But by verse 27, he will make clear his aim in writing—namely, that the Philippians would be unified and persevering on mission: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel[.]”
But this raises a pivotal question. How were the believers in Rome made more confident by Paul’s very chains, such that they proclaimed the word of God more boldly than before? Would we not expect the opposite effect—that Paul’s persecution would produce cowardice in the Christian community?
The answer is hidden in plain sight in the verse: “having become confident in the Lord” (emphasis added). Like the English word “confident” (con-, “with”; fide, “faith”) Paul’s original word choice in Greek (pepoithotas) contains the root word meaning faith. Paul follows this with his oft-repeated formula “in the Lord” (which, in the forms “in Christ” or “in him,” appears more than 160 times in the New Testament). The point? Christ himself is personally at work strengthening the believers through the example and witness of Paul. Christ and his plan, not Paul and his circumstances, are the object of their faith. Paul’s trial was simply the occasion used by the Lord to effect the missionary zeal of his people.
Something similar happens in Acts 5 when the apostles experience persecution for the first time. Flogged by the Jewish leaders, they leave “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus Christ]” (Acts 5:41). Despite what might be the natural psychological response to mistreatment, they are emboldened by resistance. This is a special ministry of the Spirit of God in the heart of a believer, encouraged by the knowledge that the gospel’s progress is unstoppable.
We, like the Philippian believers, have two options. We can follow the Roman Christians’ example and become more “confident in the Lord” in the face of persecution, sharing the gospel more boldly than before. Or, we can comfortably avoid risk.
I remember, a few years ago, discussing the challenges faced by limited-access missionaries with a key mission leader. We together lamented the ease with which even faithful missionaries can be intimidated into silence. One statement made in that conversation stands out in my memory: “Failure is not getting kicked out of a country. Failure is never doing anything worth getting kicked out over.” It reminded me of a more well-known quote from William Carey, the 19th-century father of the modern missions movement: “I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
May we too place our confidence in the Lord and, strengthened in him, proclaim his Word without fear.
My life is fleeting, but you are eternal. In your eternal plan, you ordain every obstacle we face for our good and your glory. Deepen my confidence in you so that, when faced with resistance from the world, I would be even more bold in speaking your Word. Help me to spread your news free from fear of man.
In Jesus’ name,
- Pray for you, your family, and your church to be emboldened in Christian witness and not intimidated by persecution abroad or closer to home.
- Ask God to raise up evangelistic laborers for the harvest across the globe (Matthew 9:38), just as he raised up the believers in Paul’s day as witnesses.
- Intercede for persecuted believers imprisoned as Paul was. Pray for their comfort, joy, hope, boldness, and release.
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