Acts 4:31: And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Here in this text we have an example of one of the great needs of the preaching in our day, its source and how to obtain it. What do preachers need to carry on the work that God has given them to do? They need boldness to speak the word of God. What is the source of this boldness? It is the filling of the Holy Spirit. How do we obtain this unction of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our preaching? This is obtained through prayer. We are told that they prayed that God would grant to his servants boldness to speak his word. And then we read in v.31 that the place was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness. This word “boldness” is the core biblical description of Spirit-filled effective preaching. Boldness is a plain, open, honest, forthright manner of speaking and applying the truth to men that arises from a Spirit given certainty and confidence in the truth felt in the heart of the preacher. There are at least seventeen references in the N.T. to this one quality as a mark of effective preaching.
Furthermore, the N.T. makes this direct connection between effective bold preaching and being filled with the Holy Spirit. We see it here in this text. We see it in Acts 1:8 where Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me.” We see it in Acts 4:8, “Then Peter, filled with Holy Spirit, said to them”…and he began to preach with boldness. Paul could say in I Cor. 2:4, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” This is what is greatly needed if our preaching and the ministry of the word in and through the church is going to be effective. Preachers need this boldness and freedom of speech and in order to have this boldness and assurance and confidence they need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And how is this unction of the Spirit that gives liberty and power in preaching obtained? Well here in Acts 4 we see that it is obtained by prayer.
But here is the important point I wish to make. This is obtained not merely by the prayers of the preacher for himself. The N.T. indicates that the people of God have a vital part in this. The Spirit coming down upon the preached word and giving boldness and unction to the preacher is connected to the prayers of God’s people. I know it may be debated as to whether what we have here at the end of Acts 4 is the whole church praying, or part of the church, or just all of the apostles praying together. But whichever it is, this is a corporate prayer meeting. This is not private individual prayer. This is united corporate prayer and the power of the apostles’ preaching is connected to the prayer meeting. No wonder we see the Apostle Paul begging the people of God to pray for him and for this very thing. In Eph. 6:19 he says, “and (pray) for me that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel….that I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.” The Apostle Paul is asking the people of God to pray for him and for this very gift of utterance in the act of preaching that he might open his mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel.
This is not the only place he does this. In Col. 4:3ff he writes, “Meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open the door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ…that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak”. Again in 2 Thess. 3:1 “Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified”. What we need to see in these passages is that the effectiveness of the preacher is intimately connected to the prayers of God’s people. Paul realized how dependent he was upon their prayers. This spiritual unction was to be obtained for him by the prayers of God’s people earnestly and perseveringly asking for this very thing.
So we can summarize the implication of these passages for every Christian in this way: Each Christian must recognize that it is his or her appointed duty to make consistent supplication for the Spirit’s blessing upon the preaching of God’s word. The prosperity of the church depends upon it. The souls of our children depend upon it. The souls of the lost who attend our services depend upon it. Your own soul, the life and health of your own soul, depends upon it. William Williams, the great Welsh hymn writer and one of the great preachers and leaders of the 18th century revivals in Wales, made it his practice to teach new converts this simple prayer, “Unless I have the power of heaven in the Word of Life I shall die.” That’s how important it is!
Ian Murray in his book The Forgotten Spurgeon says that “some of the most solemn warnings Spurgeon ever gave his congregation were of the danger of their ceasing to be dependent upon God in prayer.” He said, “May God help me, if you cease to pray for me! Let me know the day and I must cease to preach. Let me know when you intend to cease your prayers and I will cry ‘O my God, give me this day my tomb, and let me slumber in the dust.’” Murray comments, “These words were not the eloquence of a preacher; rather they expressed the deepest feelings of his heart. Spurgeon was sure when his congregation should cease to feel their ‘utter, entire, absolute dependence upon the presence of God’, then they, ‘would ere long become a scorn and a hissing, or else a mere log upon the water.’ ”
So let us follow the example of the early church. Let us not cease to pray. Let us not grow weary of prayer meetings. Let us not grow slack in our attendance at prayer meeting. Let us not cut back on prayer meetings; much better instead to add more prayer meetings! If in some church circumstances there is a need to change the times or the days when the church meets to pray, okay, but let us not stop praying. And especially let us constantly pray that God would fill all true ministers of the gospel with the Holy Spirit and with boldness to preach his word with great power and effectiveness.