Acts 9:19 – Boldly Preaching in Damascus

After he is healed from his blindness, Paul immediately begins to do ministry in the same Damascus synagogue he intended to visit. His preaching “agitates” (συγχέω) the synagogues, a verb which has the sense of amazement and surprise. Sometimes Luke uses this verb to describe the confusion of a crowd about to riot (Acts 19:29, variant text, 21:27). What agitates the synagogues is Paul’s successful argument Jesus is the Christ. Paul teaches from Scripture and is empowered by the Holy Spirit in such a way that convinces people. This may not imply they believed, but it was hard to argue against Paul’s evidence.

Where did Paul get this evidence? On the one hand, boldness in preaching is one of Luke’s evidences that an individual is yielded to the Holy Spirit. Like Peter before the Sanhedrin, Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly speaks the message of Jesus. A second source for his preaching is likely the preaching of Peter, or better, Stephen in the Synagogue.

bible-thumping-26722Undoubtedly Paul has been arguing with Stephen and other Hellenists in the Synagogue for some time, Paul now accepts their arguments and begins to extend them to other scripture. A third source may be Paul’s own thinking about the Messiah and the Messianic age as a well-trained rabbi.

As observed in the last few posts, Paul does not go from totally ignorant of God to a faithful follower of Jesus. He was already aware of messianic texts and methods of argument in rabbinic discussions as well as how to present scripture in a synagogue context. Paul took what he already knew to be the truth and ran it through the filter of the resurrected Jesus and preached that Gospel in the synagogues in Damascus.

Once again, Luke presents powerful preaching and excellent scholarship working together to convince people of the truth of the Gospel. Paul is extremely confrontational – he goes right to the people who likely wanted the Jesus Community to be silent and announces that he is one of them! This is a boldness which is a direct result of the encounter with Jesus and the filling of the Holy Spirit.

There other elements of a “boldness” theme in Acts and clearly Luke is presenting the ministers of the Gospel as unusually bold in their confrontation with authority.  By way of application, should we use Paul’s boldness as a model for modern mission, and if so, what would that look like?  Does this sort of “boldness” work in a pluralistic society like modern America?

17 thoughts on “Acts 9:19 – Boldly Preaching in Damascus

  1. We have been trained to assume that EVERYTHING Paul said and did is ” a model for modern mission”. This is wrong. We are so conditioned to this mindset that we are blind to it. Paul is the lens we have been trained to see through, therefore we can’t see the cracks in the lens itself.

    There was a book that came out a while back with a title something like “Missionary Methods – Paul’s or ours?” That is playing the wrong game in the wrong ballpark. Our question should be, “Missionary Methods – God’s or man’s?” We have been trained to look at Paul’s sins and mistakes and failures as “missionary methods” making Paul the center of everything.

    One blatant example is a church naming itself “Mars Hill.” Why would they do that? Well, because they want to “be like Paul in Athens”. So “Paul’s Hill” has replaced “Jesus’ Hill” Calvary….

    If this idolatry wasn’t bad enough, we should read the text of Acts without bias. There is no evidence there that Paul’s “ministry” in Athens was anything but a complete total failure, with zero conversions as far as we know. Saying a few people “believed” doesn’t really mean anything. Maybe the believed in Paul. In Paul’s famous “speech at the Areopagus”, Paul never mentioned the name of Jesus. No he didn’t. You can read it for yourself. No church was planted, Paul abandoned Athens quickly, never went back, and never even mentioned his “ministry” there.

    Some pastors will admit that in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul seemed to be indirectly admitting that his time in Athens was not a success. But Paul glossed over this in his autobiography to avoid looking bad. We all have a tendency to do this. Why is it a surprise? Why is it taboo to admit “Paul was wrong, Paul made a mistake, Paul failed at something SPECIFIC.”?

    Years ago in the bookstore of a large Evangelical church, I ran across a book. One chapter was about “model for ministry.”
    Section 1- Jesus as model
    Section 2 Drawbacks of Jesus as model -(He is God, we are not – true.)
    Section 3 Paul as model

    And then-
    On to a different chapter !!!!!

    Get it? There were NO DRAWBACKS given for Paul as our model of ministry !!!

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  2. You never know what people pick up from either conversations or attendance at churches, but the Holy Spirit was definitely working through Paul because of everything that Paul do for the advancement of the gospel and making a convincing argument. I think boldness like Paul’s should be applied to our lives as awkward and confrontational it may be sometimes. The power of the Holy Sppirit has not limit. Paul was not concerned about people liking him or wining the crowd’s affection because he was doing the wor of God not for Himself but for God. 1 Timothy 6:12 says, ” Fight the good fight. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” God will reward those who confess His name in front of others. My pastor preached a sermon on Nehemiah 4, and it was about how they were building a wall while they were being mocked by others. Nehemiah prayed to God to give them strength to build the wall, and God followed through because they were doing something for Him. For those who do not do the will of God, He will deal with them justly.

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    • The Holy Spirit was definitely working through Barnabas [Acts 11:22-24], and Apollos [Acts 18:24-28], and The Apostle Peter (and the 11 other appointed Apostles,) as Luke confirms for us here in Acts.

      But Paul was mocking, tearing down, disrespecting, and undermining these three men in their God-given ministries, while Paul elevated himself to make much of his own ministry. Paul was arrogantly mocking and threatening the Galatians and the Corinthians too throughout his letters – like calling them “foolish” which directly contradicts the command of Jesus. “Anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” [Matthew 5:22]

      If you believe “God will reward those who confess His name in front of others.”
      Try reading this too – the words of Jesus.
      “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 7:21 and following.]

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  3. Luke appears to be presenting this idea of boldness in a very positive light. He describes Peter and John’s boldness in 4:13 and believers respond for a prayer for boldness in 4:29. These point to a need for the gospel to be presented boldly. Paul too speaks with great boldness and it bothers the Jewish people because this argument that Paul presented was difficult to refute. Paul did present the gospel boldly and gave his reasoning for his boldness in Romans 1:16-17. I would agree that Luke uses boldness to signify that the Holy Spirit is speaking through this believer. Concerning what this means for us today, I think that we too should be bold in preaching the gospel just as Peter, John, and Paul had been. However, this may not come about in the same way. In today’s world we may have to oppose the leaders in some way in order to present the Gospel such as in public universities or in the workplace. This may not be (and probably isn’t) some sort of illegal behavior but simply breaking the socially acceptable codes. Boldness in today’s sense may be to present the gospel when it is not socially acceptable. I think there is sometimes a mentality that we should save that stuff for church (in speaking of sharing the gospel) but to go against this mentality and to boldly bring the gospel outside of church is what I think the church today should glean from this passage

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  4. Marypryer

    I basically agree with you in this case. What I am raising people’s awareness of is our Evangelical tendency to look at Acts as “The 5th Gospel”, where Paul takes over for Jesus going to the Gentiles, and “if Paul did that, it must be right, Paul’s way of doing it was a “missionary method” we should study, and if Paul said it then it must be true.” Paul did some things right.- and so did the Prophet Jonah and Samson and King Solomon. But that doesn’t mean we should follow them in their sins and go the exact opposite direction of where God told us to go, like Jonah and Paul did, or that we should visit prostitutes like Delilah, or follow foreign gods and be a polygamist with 1000 women like Solomon did.

    Also we have been trained to define “The Gospel” as basically “Paul’s Gospel”, which can be summarized in a short statement “the way Paul did.” In other words, it’s a small piece of verbal, propositional truth, and many of us have been trained that the highest calling in life is to verbally “proclaim” this short summary of propositional truth, ‘one way from the pulpit”, preferably impersonally to thousands of people, or even millions using media. I don’t say God has never worked that way, can’t work that way, or won’t work that way. God has, can, and does. But Jesus preached about “the Kingdom of God, “ and it’s really more like discussing and talking about something such a marriage. It’s relational, interactional, personal, real daily life, takes time, and a “short summary statement sales pitch sign on the dotted line right now approach” often doesn’t really do it justice.

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  5. I agree with Mary in saying that Luke seems to be presenting the idea of speaking the word of God with boldness in a positive way. I also like that as soon as Paul was “converted” he began preaching the gospel. I would say that we should use Paul’s boldness as a model for our modern missions, but I would argue that Paul was not made bold because of his own accord, but because of the presence of the Holy Spirit; same with Peter and Stephen earlier in the book. It is not just Paul who preaches boldly, he is just famous for it because of the amount of books he is credited with writing. Paul did not come up with the concept of preaching boldly, any who were empowered with the Holy Spirit preached boldly which I would say is a good thing. All of that being said, I would say that we should preach boldly not because Paul did it but because that is what the Holy Spirit enables us to do. In America today, I think that preaching the word of Christ is not only possible but necessary. There are a lot of different religious ideas and if we are going to live out The Great Commission, which I feel the present church is required to live out just as the disciples were at the time of the ascension, then we need to preach boldly. Originally, I do not think that Jesus meant for The Great Commission to be a command TO go and preach boldly, so much as he meant for it to be AS YOU ARE GOING. As you are going throughout your daily lives, be preaching boldly and drawing people into Christ.

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    • Victoria,
      Amen. You wrote:

      “I do not think that Jesus meant for The Great Commission to be a command TO go and preach boldly, so much as he meant for it to be AS YOU ARE GOING. As you are going throughout your daily lives, be preaching boldly and drawing people into Christ.”

      I take to heart the words spoken by Jesus which you make reference to, which Matthew records at the end of his Gospel, and I believe they apply to us all today. Jesus wasn’t “against evangelism” and neither am I. Yet in our zeal to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom, we should not forget that Jesus never used the term “Great Commission.” That is a tradition of men.

      Jesus spoke of the First and Greatest Most Important Commandment, to Love God,
      and the Second, to Love people.
      Evangelism isn’t the top priority, and it isn’t even the entire Second Commandment, although it is an essential part of the Second Commandment given by Jesus.

      Also, Jesus spoke of a number of things regarding “making disciples”. Jesus never said “get (registered) decisions for Christ (on a decision card.)”

      If you are secretly thinking in your heart that “Jesus wasn’t really evangelistic enough so He had to send Paul…” Please stop and think.

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  6. In some areas “boldly” preaching seems to be less effective today than it was during Paul’s time. Living in a culture that is much less concerned with spiritual matters generally makes any kind of straight forward evangelism difficult, definitely not impossible, but different. Many people are very turned off by public preaching (outside of church) and public evangelism. I know I have encountered many people who consider Christianity absurd, which can be difficult to reason with because they have no interest in even knowing more about God. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Some people are so unwilling to try to understand Christianity at their core that they consider its message a fairy tale. This is not to say that boldly speaking to others about God should not be done, but perhaps with a certain sensitivity to certain groups so as not to turn them off to the gospel entirely.

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  7. I agree with Mary and Victoria when they say Paul was bold in a good way. In many ways when I read Paul’s story I think of how Jesus was bold on his teaching. For example, Paul like Jesus is very bold and almost angry when he speaks, teaches and argues with the crowds. I always compare the two when I look at Jesus in the temple flipping tables in Matthew 21. Jesus was angry and had a passion for teaching and rebuking. Paul is very passionate and in most of the stories of him teaching, although he is not yelling like Jesus may have been, I can’t help but think Paul’s voice was louder than quiet.
    At the same time they both could be very soft spoken with the same boldnesss. The story of Jesus in Matthew 26 when he is being held on trial before his crucifixion. As he is being accused, he stands quietly then says, ‘“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”’ Paul had some quiet moments as well like when he is healing and also being held trial. Alot of times I think he [Paul] is more bold in a forceful way than in a quiet way, which again isn’t bad!
    Now looking at these men as examples, Jesus being the perfect example, no matter how truth is spoken, when spoken in boldness if people are not ready to hear what is being told to them, there will be anger. Like Anna mentioned, the holy spirit moves when and where it wants to. Those we talk to might not be prepared or open to hear what we have to say but I think that God has given us the mission to speak and live in his name. If the Holy Spirit picks someone’s heart while we speak in boldness then awesome! As believers we know that life is not going to be butterflies and rainbows. John 15:18-19 says “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” We are specifically told we will be hated because we are different. This doesn’t mean live in fear or be silent because we want people to like us. On the contrary we are told to live in boldness. “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. Now although we are called to be bold, Jesus and Paul did everything out of love.
    I believe that we can have the same effect as Jesus and Paul had in their boldness on modern day America but everything has to be done out of love! There will be hate, angry, and judgements, even aggression pointed towards us because we speak the truth about Jesus, but like Joseph said in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

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    • Jess,
      You wrote, QUOTE:
      “Jesus and Paul did everything out of love.
      I believe that we can have the same effect as Jesus and Paul had in their boldness on modern day America but everything has to be done out of love!”

      I have 3 points to raise regarding your rather sweeping statement here:

      .1)
      Are you elevating Paul to be equal to Jesus, in a special category above everyone else in history and “above the law”? Do you also think that other people besides Jesus and Paul “did everything out of love”, like the Apostle Peter, The Apostle John, Barnabas, King David etc.? Or was that “just Jesus and Paul”?

      .2)
      Paul wrote 1/3 of the New Testament, and about half of Acts is basically Luke’s biography of Paul. Are you saying that everything Paul did, and said, and wrote, was “out of love”? How about these gems from Paul:

      “You foolish Galatians!” [Galatians 3:1]

      “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” [Galatians 5:12]

      “’Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply…” [Titus 1:12-13]

      “As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me…” [Galatians 2:6]

      “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip?” [1 Corinthians 4:21]

      “Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present…. Hand this man over to Satan…” [1 Corinthians 5]

      .3)
      Jesus made a distinction between the Love of God (first) and the love of man (second. [Matthew 22 & Mark 12] We love God by worshipping God alone, not worshipping man. We love God by always trying to obey God. We should not always obey people, although sometimes we should. And also we love God by loving people. So there is more to loving God than simply loving people, although there is overlap and it’s related obviously.

      What you are advocating is not the teaching of Jesus – rather it’s the false teaching of Paul, from Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14 & Paul’s famous “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. Paul is pushing “love” without God in all 3 passages.

      Paul ignores the Most Important First Greatest Commandment of Jesus, to Love God. Instead, Paul makes the Second commandment of Jesus, to love people, into the “One Great Commandment.” Paul was wrong. That is theology of the Beatles, and many New Age false religions- “Love” defined and redefined by sinful man, without the Love of God.

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  8. After Paul regained his eyesight, he immediately began to preach God’s word. He was very bold. He used the knowledge that he had gained over the years combined with the Holy Spirit’s leading in order to convince those who heard him. God had a plan for Paul from the beginning and everything he had gone through has helped him become a great leader for spreading the gospel. I think that the reason Paul was able to be so bold was because of the Holy Spirit working through him. I believe that we as Christians should be able to speak boldly about our faith just as Paul did. It can be difficult to speak out boldly because not so may people are doing so. I know that it is easy to speak about my faith in church but when I am at work or at a store, I am definitely outside of my comfort zone. If I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me and give me opportunities where I have the chance to share my faith, I do not want to waste it. Paul realized that what he had been doing was all wrong. After the Lord opened the eyes of his heart, he was able to be a bold speaker for the word of God. There are going to be people who do not want to hear it or some that may criticize you for doing it but that should be expected. Not everyone that heard Paul speak listened and believed, some even wanted to kill him. Spreading God’s word with a boldness that Paul had would not be easy but it would help change many lives.

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    • Cahara,
      From Acts 28 I think I agree with you when you said,
      “Paul realized that what he had been doing was all wrong. After the Lord opened the eyes of his heart, he was able to be a bold speaker for the word of God.”

      “From morning till evening he [Paul] explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” [Acts 28:23]

      “Boldly and without hindrance he [Paul] preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Acts 28:31]

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  9. In America today, “boldness” and “confrontational” often seem to be taken as radical, and being radical often scares people. Being confrontational can turn people off from the gospel. I associate “boldness” mostly with people like street evangelists. They are passionate people who stand out on the streets and preach the word of God, but that kind of preaching can scare people away. Having the gospel thrown in your face can make you bitter or even just simply annoyed by it. This also can lead to people being questioned about their lifestyle in a public setting, which could make people close up and not want to hear another word.

    I don’t really believe this kind of boldness works incredibly well in today’s modern society, but on the other hand, I do think we need a certain boldness in order to effectively share the gospel. This boldness could be as simple as sharing the gospel to people you know could ridicule you for what you have to say, or sharing the gospel in a public school. “For the Spirit God gave us DOES NOT MAKE US TIMID, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Boldness may look different today than it did in the time of Paul, but I think it’s something we still need to strive for.

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    • It is hard to balance “boldness” (ie. no fear) with “confrontational” (ie. being a jerk). Some particular ministries have made being open and bold with your faith very difficult because outsiders think (falsely) all Christians are “that way.” We know that is not true, but it is hard to convince them otherwise!

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  10. Does “Christian maturity” mean becoming more like Jesus was? Or is Jesus really just for spiritual newborns, and once the training wheels can come off and we are “mature enough” to ride on our own, we need to start following PAUL in order to be really mature?

    Who is our ultimate model of Christian maturity? The Jesus of the Gospels? Or Paul of Paul’s autobiographical letters, supported secondarily by Luke’s biography of Paul in Acts, because “it is written, so it’s the Word of God?”

    I’ve heard so many sermons on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, holding up Paul’s obnoxious confrontational “power play” against the visiting elder The Apostle Peter and Paul’s mentor Barnabus as the model of mature Christian behavior. In truth, Paul was being a jerk here, and bragging about it.

    The script goes that Paul the courageous “Apostle to the Gentiles” was so brave in standing up alone to “racism” and “bias” and “discrimination” on the part bumbling incompetent Peter, and even “Barny” who caved in to the pressure too.

    But fortunately, so we’ve been told many times, Paul our hero stood in the gap, pointed his finger, and proclaimed publicly and loudly for the world to hear, “You Were Wrong!” And we should follow Paul’s example here of course – because if Paul did something it must be right, and if Paul said something about himself or those around him, it must be true – right? We would never be critical of Paul, because only Liberals criticize Paul and we’re not liberal, right ? 😉

    Paul was brought into the big church in Antioch by Barnabas as a junior teaching associate, and he had been there for about a year. Paul was ambitious, and want to run with the Big Boys from Jerusalem. But when Peter and the top guys came to town, they didn’t give Paul a seat at the head table where Paul wanted to sit. Instead, they gave more time to dine personally the more senior, mature leaders like Barnabas, but they “left Paul out” at least to some degree.

    Paul had a lust for power, to be at the top level of authority – to be an Apostle. But there are only 12 Apostles, and Matthias is the 12th. These are men who walked with Jesus for 3 ½ years, so they knew Jesus personally, and were uniquely qualified as personal eyewitnesses- there are no more. But Paul’s ambition couldn’t accept that.

    So what did Paul do? To divert attention from his own hypocrisy in circumcising Timothy, which the Galatians probably had heard about, Paul goes on the attack, alone with no other witnesses, against the elders Peter and Barnabas, contradictiong Paul’s own teaching he wrote to Timothy on the subject.

    True Christian maturity mean to follow Jesus and becoming more like Jesus was – not trying to “be like Paul” without thinking.

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