The Apostle Paul's Evangelism Problem

The great Apostle Paul had an evangelism problem. Evidently it was serious enough that he asked the Ephesians to pray for him. He asked them to pray that he would be able to, “with boldness make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19b, my translation). In the next verse he repeats this prayer request saying, “so that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:20b, LSB). As I sat at my desk reading this passage during my morning devotion, tears came to my eyes as I heard Paul—the legendary mountain of a Christian man—ask with great humility that his flock would pray that he is given the boldness to share the gospel the way that he should. One can almost see his eyes meet the floor as he makes this request. “I am not as bold as I ought to be in sharing the gospel.” A statement thought and uttered by every honest Christian in America today and, evidently, one on the mind of the Apostle Paul himself.

       This request is so jarring because we know Paul as the exemplar of radical Christian testimony. He is the one who regularly speaks with “boldness” (παρρησία, parresia both in its noun and verbal form as seen in 1 Thess 2:2; Acts 9:27; 13:46; 19:8; 26:26). He stands before the king with his own death in the balance and proclaims, “I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly” (Acts 26:25b-26a). For me, Paul’s evangelism functions like Rosaria Butterfield’s hospitality—it makes me feel like (or, reveals to me that I am) a spiritual infant.

       But God reminds us in His word that the biblical authors are mere mortals. Post-conversion Paul was not perfect (cf. Romans 7:15, 24). He needed prayer to help him share the gospel as he ought. Perhaps this provided a grain of truth to the accusation that “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10b). On the one hand, Paul seems to refute this accusation in word (2 Corinthians 10:11) and deed (verses noted above). On the other, he seems to say he could use a boost in the boldness department.

       Are you as bold as you ought to be in sharing the gospel? Odds are, the list of the people who read these words is identical to the list of people who would answer that question in the negative. Who among us does verbal justice to the weightiness of the gospel? Who is as bold as they ought to be (Ephesians 6:20)? Earth-shatteringly for me, Paul seems to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and answer that question, “Not I.”

       What difference does it make in your evangelism to know that Paul could commiserate with us over our collective failure to share the gospel as we ought? To be sure, he would put us all to shame if we were to (sinfully) compare our evangelism records. But, even he would say he needs to improve, as we all do. That fact should change something in us. It should show us that there is no such thing as a perfect evangelist. There isn’t a person who can claim a perfect record of gospel-boldness. No one speaks of Christ as often or as boldly as they should—not even the Apostle Paul. Are you weak in evangelism? You’re in good company. We all are.

“Are you weak in evangelism? You’re in good company. We all are.”

       The point, then, is this: We need to lean less on our own human ability when it comes to evangelism. If the best evangelist who ever lived admitted that he wasn’t as bold as he ought to be, what makes you think you’ll ever be as bold as you ought to be? Paul leaned into his weakness and therefore into the Holy Spirit of promise. He realized that he was inadequate to do the work and that he needed the grace of God working in Him. Therefore, when he met his inadequacies, he admitted them before a massive audience (did he know billions of Christians would be reading these words throughout time?) and asked for help—both from people and from God. He wanted the people to pray to God so that God would help him overcome his shortcomings.

       How often do we respond to our evangelistic inadequacies in precisely the opposite way? We cover up our evangelistic failures and pretend that we don’t need prayer to overcome them. We sweep them under the rug and pretend they are not there. Part of the reason we do this is because we have bought the Satanic lie that we are worse at evangelism than everyone else. The fact of the matter is, conversely, that we are all bad at it. Therefore, we should not be ashamed to ask our brothers and sisters for help in our evangelism, both for the physical help of encouragement and prodding as well as the spiritual help of prayer.

       I cannot resist a quotation from my non-inspired hero, Jonathan Edwards, on this front. When encountering the battle for boldness he wrote in his diary: “Monday, Jan. 20. I have been very much to blame, in that I have not been as full, and plain and downright, in my standing up for virtue and religion, when I have had fair occasion [i.e. ample opportunity] before those who seemed to take no delight in such things.…I ought to be exceedingly bold with such persons, not talking in a melancholy strain, but in one confident and fearless…”[1]  Astonishingly, the man who wrote “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” simultaneously America’s most famous and most terrifyingly bold sermon, confided to paper and God that he was not bold enough. Was it this admission of weakness that lead to his boldness?

       One thing is for sure, if you encounter a person who responds to your request for boldness with prideful disdain, mockingly foisting their own evangelism above yours as inferior, that person is not like Paul and is likely projecting feelings of inadequacies with the front of superiority. As a veteran, I am always leery of “heroes” who go on and on about the mighty acts of valor during wartime. As a Christian, I am even more skeptical of those “evangelists” who seem to possess an infinite string of heroic gospel-presentation stories—just real enough to induce guilt, but vague enough to cast doubt. Do not be cast down by people, be lifted up by the testimony of Paul—we all need help evangelizing and the Spirit of Christ will help us. All we need to do is ask.  

       Perhaps it is our rugged American individualism that has caused us to subtly think evangelism is a personal achievement. The biblical evidence is to the contrary. Evangelism only “works” when God does. Evangelism is merely God working through us. It is God who saves, and God alone. In His kindness, He uses human instruments but we are mute without the wind of His Spirit blowing through us. What use is a trumpet without a Trumpeter? Paul understood that he was useless without the Spirit of God filling him with boldness. Without the Spirit of love and boldness we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1). Could it be that our collective lackluster evangelism is not caused by a deficiency in programs, strategy—surely it’s not for a lack of how-to books—or any other man-made instrument, but because of our lack of God-given boldness? Perhaps we need less outreach events that fill our church parking lots with “trunk-or-treaters” more interested in sugar than the Savior, and more Spirit empowered boldness that fills our lungs with the fiery proclamation of salvation from eternal damnation and the promise of eternal glory that begins right now. Maybe we should spend half as much time reading about effective evangelism strategies and twice as much time on our knees begging the Son of God to show us His face. A million pages on evangelism strategy couldn’t provide even an iota of boldness compared to that which comes when we, like Paul, see our risen savior and here Him say, “I am Jesus … rise and enter the city” (Acts 9:5b-6a).


[1] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 2003), 99.

Rob Golding graduated from Westminster with an M.Div. in 2021. He is the pastor of First Artesia Christian Reformed Church in Artesia, California.

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