by Al Maxey

Issue #274 ------- November 9, 2006
He speaks reserv'dly,
but he speaks with force.

Homer {8th cent. B.C.}
The Odyssey

Speaking the Word Boldly
Examining the Parameters of a
Proper Proclamation of Truth

A dear reader of these weekly Reflections from the beautiful state of Florida wrote me back in late August with this request -- "Brother Al, I have a question for you. In 1 Peter 3:15 we are told to 'be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.' However, in other parts of the Scriptures we are told to speak boldly. This is all confusing to me! Can you explain to me how we can do both? How can we speak with 'meekness and fear' at the same time we are speaking with 'boldness'?"

I appreciate so much this brother's honest question. He is certainly not the first disciple, nor will he be the last, to be perplexed by something found in the inspired writings. After all, one as near and dear to the Lord Jesus as the apostle Peter himself wrote the following near the end of his life about the teachings of Paul: "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand" [2 Peter 3:16]. I suppose, therefore, that we shouldn't feel too badly when we find ourselves perplexed on occasion. I find myself quite easily echoing the words of the apostle Paul at times, who admitted that even he was "perplexed, but not despairing" [2 Cor. 4:8]. When something puzzles me, I just prayerfully ponder the matter all the more!! No need to despair! Not a one of us is anywhere near achieving perfection of perception. Thus, we keep researching and reflecting, and little by little the darkness diminishes and a new day dawns in our hearts and minds. "When you consider the wonderful truth of the prophets' words, then the light will dawn in your souls and Christ the Morning Star will shine in your hearts" [2 Peter 1:19, Living Bible].

The brother from Florida draws our attention to a statement made by Peter that must, first of all, be considered contextually. His focus in that passage is on our attitudes and actions in the face of affliction. When we are "eager to do good" [1 Peter 3:13, NIV], and are determined to live righteously before our God, suffering will most likely be our lot. Some, through intimidation, will seek to make us anxious and fearful [vs. 14]. However, Peter urges us not to fall victim to their aggressive efforts to silence us. "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so" [Psalm 107:2]. We are to speak out with confidence, even when castigated by countless caustic critics; with boldness, even when battered, bruised and berated. "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power ... therefore, join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God" [2 Tim. 1:7-8].

It has always been the case that the most effective servants of the Lord, in the presence of persecution, will possess a spirit of confident boldness. Peter and John, after being threatened by the Jewish authorities in an effort to silence them, prayed, "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your Word with great boldness" [Acts 4:29]. Was their prayer answered? "After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly" [vs. 31]. When Saul of Tarsus embraced the Lord Jesus Christ he wasted absolutely no time "in speaking out boldly in the name of Jesus" [Acts 9:27-28], even though he experienced tremendous opposition for doing so. On their very first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas, when the jealous Jews began speaking out "abusively against what Paul was saying" [Acts 13:45], nevertheless "spoke out boldly" [vs. 46]. In the city of Ephesus, the eloquent Apollos "began to speak out boldly in the synagogue" [Acts 18:26]. Later, when Paul came to Ephesus, "he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God" [Acts 19:8]. When the people beheld Jesus teaching in Jerusalem, they marveled, saying, "He speaketh boldly" [John 7:26, KJV].

As disciples of Jesus Christ we are to testify to Truth with great confidence and boldness, whether such testimony flows from our lips and lives, or from our pens and keyboards. Whether written, audible or visible, we proclaim the power of the gospel powerfully. We dare do no less. When Paul wrote to the saints in the city of Rome, he declared, "I have written very boldly to you on some points" [Rom. 15:15]. When eternal destinies are at stake, there is simply no room for timidity in the presentation of Truth. This devoted apostle even urged his fellow believers to "pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel ... so that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" [Eph. 6:19-20]. The apostle Paul knew only too well that such visible confidence in the face of efforts to intimidate was contagious -- "Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the Word without fear" [Philp. 1:14, KJV].

Therefore, returning to our text in Peter's first epistle, the apostle urges his readers never to allow the forces of evil to intimidate them into silence, but rather, even in the face of such assaults, to continue to proclaim God's message of grace. This will require courage of conviction and boldness of belief. It will necessitate a life wholly devoted to sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts and lives [1 Peter 3:15]. We must be a people transformed --- "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" [Rom. 12:1-2]. Such an inner transformation will exhibit itself in an outer boldness for the testimony of the Word of God. Be silent?! Cease "troubling" those enslaved to darkness?! No more challenging people to think?! We can only answer in the spirit of Peter and John: "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard" [Acts 4:19-20]. Thus, Peter tells his readers to be "ready always to give an answer to every man" [1 Peter 3:15]. Not just sometimes; not just when it's convenient; not just when the querist seems like a nice guy ... but always unto every person who asks!

"Let whoever will constitute himself a judge, the Christian is never to evade or to put him off, he is to be ready to present his case, his defense, to render account as to what his hope embraces, and as to why he holds it in his heart. We may say that he is to be ready always to testify, to correct ignorance about Christ, to spread the gospel light, to win others for Christ, to justify his own hope, and as Peter adds here (in vs. 16), to silence evil speakers with his good conduct which certainly speaks for itself and puts slander to shame" [R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of First Peter, p. 150]. The apostle Paul "solemnly charged" the young evangelist Timothy, as the latter labored in Ephesus: "preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" [2 Tim. 4:2]. It is no coincidence that Paul concludes his charge to Timothy with a reference to affliction (as did Peter to his readers). "But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" [vs. 5]. We have responsibilities to discharge; ministries to fulfill. We are to boldly, yet with patient instruction, confront the darkness that threatens the light; enduring hardship, if need be, to accomplish our mission. It is a call to war; a call to enlist in the army of Christ; a call to fight on the front lines. The timid need not apply. "Be men of courage; be strong" [1 Cor. 16:13].

When Peter declares that Christians must always be ready to "give an answer," he uses the Greek word apologia, from which we get our word "apology." This does not mean that we "apologize" for (in the sense of "being sorry" for) our convictions and beliefs. Rather, the term is used in the sense of the early Christian "Apologists" --- i.e., defenders of the faith! An "apologist" is one who makes a defense before those who call into question his faith and the hope that is within him. A "defender of the faith" never flees from those who challenge his convictions. Never! It is unthinkable! The genuine disciple of Christ Jesus is "always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks" [1 Peter 3:15, NASB]. Those who run and hide when their faith is challenged are pathetic pretenders; they are unworthy of the name they profess to wear! As Dr. Charles Ellicott correctly observed, "No questioner (he who calls Christians to account for their profession of the Gospel hopes), at any moment, finds us unprepared to speak with freedom of our hope in Him" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 418]. Dr. Ellicott says that no true Christian should have any "misgivings in defending the faith from the calumnies brought against it" [ibid]. The brother of our Lord wrote, "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" [Jude 3]. That's rather difficult to do while cowering in a cave!

Yes, the disciple of Christ is to be bold. "But" (the Greek word employed is alla, which is very emphatic), says the apostle Peter, our defense to those who question or challenge our convictions is to be "with meekness and fear" [KJV]. The NASB renders this phrase in 1 Peter 3:15 -- "with gentleness and reverence." The NIV has: "with gentleness and respect." There are also other variations. The first word is prautes, which signifies "a benevolent, humane, gentle, forbearing spirit." Maybe this philosophy is best presented in Proverbs 15:1, which advises, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." One can be bold without being belligerent; one can contend for the faith without being contentious. Knowing the difference is the better part of wisdom.

The second word in the phrase under consideration is phobos, which may refer either to "fear, terror" or "reverence, respect." Although some argue for the former meaning in this passage, I regard the latter as more likely. We are to always be ready with an appropriate response not only out of reverence for God, but also because of respect for Truth. And, yes, we should even evidence respect for our challengers in our responses to them, and in the fact that we respond rather than retreat. This does not mean, however, that we fail to be firm, forceful and bold in our presentation of Truth and in our refutation of error. What we are most definitely not to be doing is "blustering and flying out into invectives because some man questions us" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 418]. Whenever diatribe begins, dialogue ends! Tragically, some brethren don't handle questions and challenges well. Indeed, when their convictions are brought under scrutiny by those who may honestly differ with them, they tend to become extremely irate and defensive. It is simply a fact that the more legalistic one is, the less willing that person is to "give an answer" for their beliefs. And yet it is this same bunch who will swear to their dying breath that hell awaits those who refuse to embrace their view of things. Why then are they so reluctant to "give an answer" for "their view of things"?! Puzzling! Also, it is contrary to the Word of God ... or to the "pattern," as they might say.

Continuing our reflective thoughts on this whole matter, it should be further noted that our Lord Jesus, as well as His prophets and apostles, employed some very bold methodologies in their confrontation of error and those who promoted it. There is a time and a place for meekness, gentleness and patient instruction; there is also a time and a place for some rather direct, bold and blunt confrontation. Although the latter must always be motivated by love, both for the lost and for Truth, and with the goal of positive change in view, nevertheless there is most definitely "biblical authority" for such a forceful approach in our teaching. Truth, if it is Truth, can never be truly harmed by such tactical tools as mockery, ridicule or derision, nor can those faithful disciples who promote and defend Truth ever truly be undermined by them. Falsehood, on the other hand, will easily wither under intense and finely focused disparagement. Thus, ridicule, mockery and sarcasm, just to name a few, have long been employed as legitimate devices for distinguishing fact from fallacy, and for promoting in dramatic fashion the tenets of Truth. Such truly fall under the umbrella of "speaking boldly."

There is a fine line, however, and it would be irresponsible not to stress this fact, between responsible ridicule and malicious mockery. What far too often may begin as an honorable effort to separate truth from falsehood can much too quickly, in the hands of the spiritually immature, deteriorate into vicious villainy. Thus, there is indeed a fine art to practicing what might be termed godly boldness of speech. Since so few people seem to have mastered this art, many critics suggest, therefore, that this device should not be utilized at all. Some even believe it is sinful to employ it. This is a clear case of over-reaction, however. There is no need to be quite so radical, if one is simply willing to be a bit more responsible. A scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon may result in healing for the one upon whom he carefully uses this blade. In the hands of a sadist, or simply one who is unskilled in the surgical arts, that same instrument can inflict tremendous harm. It's not the device itself, but the mindset of the one who would employ it, that determines the nature of the outcome. The same is true with the use of tactical boldness in our daily confrontation with the darkness encompassing us. While it is certainly true that there have been, and still are, perversions and abuses of mockery, ridicule, sarcasm and other legitimate, as well as bold, biblical devices, and that these tactics have on occasion been maliciously employed to stir up strife and generate schism, it is equally true that these devices have been, and still are being, employed very responsibly, resulting in some very positive outcomes.

The Pharisees likely did not take too kindly to the picture Jesus painted of them as blind men guiding blind men head over heels into a pit [Matthew 15:14], or as legalists straining out gnats while swallowing camels [Matthew 23:24], but this was subtle mockery with a spiritual message! Earlier in the latter chapter, Jesus mocked the rigid religious leaders with these words (aptly paraphrased in the Living Bible) -- "You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws! And of course you should obey their every whim!" [Matthew 23:2-3]. Now that is some very bold teaching! In it, Jesus sought to alert the people to the arrogance, as well as the dangers, of their leaders, portraying them as Moses-mimes and mandate-makers, men whose whims were expected to be obeyed as though their pronouncements had fallen from the lips of Moses himself. I believe the people got the message. So did the leaders, who wasted no time in seeking to destroy Him. The truth conveyed that day by the Lord's mockery was unmistakable, and it made a lasting impression upon impressionable minds. That is boldness in the presentation of Truth, and it was/is most effective when properly and responsibly employed!

Elijah, one of only two men spared the pain of death, as he confronted the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, "mocked them" [1 Kings 18:27]. Through this bold device the people came to perceive the ridiculous plight of these men as they called out to their lifeless idols and cut themselves in frustration over the deafening silence of their deities. The tactical confrontation techniques employed by Elijah presented a profound message to those assembled to witness this duel of deities. What was the outcome? "And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God'" [1 Kings 18:39]. What boldness this prophet of God evidenced that day! And to what glorious effect! In the first chapter of the book of Proverbs we find Wisdom, personified, speaking rather bluntly and boldly to those who have rejected her. "Since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you" [Proverbs 1:24-26]. As with Jerusalem during the time of the prophet Ezekiel, sometimes even mockery becomes necessary as a practical means of bringing a people to an awareness of their spiritual plight.

Some people respond well to subtleties; others, frankly, need a two-by-four squarely between the eyes! That's where such bold devices as described above prove to be quite useful in the arsenal of the Christian warrior. Used sparingly and responsibly by Spirit-led disciples, such boldness may well bring about spiritual healing and reformation. Dear God, we ask You to help us all to be discerning in how best to approach those in need of spiritual transformation of heart and mind, and let us not be fearful of being bold, and even blunt, when such an approach is justified. But Lord, let us at the same time always be loving, merciful, compassionate and respectful, as per the example of Your beloved Son.


Brethren, I am a Christian who was born African American. I have been a member, regrettably, of the One Cup fraternity since I was fifteen years old. I can say now that I certainly wish I had come across the Al Maxey's of the brotherhood long before now! About five or six years ago I set out on a pilgrimage of faith. While I knew something was intrinsically wrong with what I was part of, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. While living as a defender of our legalistic, patternistic system, and of the outlandish -isms that we promoted, my perception of my own salvation and relationship with God was based upon a "works" system. I would apply Romans 10:1-4 to the denominations, not realizing that all along they applied to me! I had been "going about to establish my own righteousness, not submitting myself to the righteousness of God." Yes, I had a lot of zeal, but it was Pharisaic, not Christ-like. I could roll off by rote all the One Cup "shibboleths," but I was as far away from Christ as I could be. I was justifying myself by law, and thus had fallen from grace.

I also had some personal inner battles that the whole One Cup system of which I had been a part could not help. I literally hate the day I ever became a part of all that mess. My life would have been so much more productive spiritually, and even secularly, without it. Many of the choices I made in life were based on my perception that "this is how the One Cup Church of Christ would do it." For me, my ideal of "only in the Lord" meant "only in the One Cup Church of Christ." We promoted, and made fellowship and salvation issues out of, many disputable matters. I alienated myself from all other Churches of Christ due to the "cups" and "anti-class" issues. I was never really comfortable with any of this, nor could I adequately explain our rationale from a biblical perspective!

I came across Al Maxey via the Internet. He was involved quite a few years ago with a study group for preachers. I joined that group, and witnessed his humility while being regularly bludgeoned by others (preachers whom the One Cup group would have labeled "digressive"). These preachers attacking him were just as mean-spirited as many of the One Cup preachers! I would often read messages on his Berean Spirit Internet discussion group he owned and founded (which had over 700 members). When he gave up that ministry several years ago, and began publishing his Reflections, I also subscribed to and studied those. Through his writings I came across Dr. Dallas Burdette, a former One Cup preacher and the nephew of the late E. H. Miller. Then I met Dr. James Albert, who still communes from one cup, but has been ostracized by that group because he promotes freedom in Christ and the embracing of all believers, instead of warring over disputable matters which only promote factions and divisions.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you all some things about myself. I'm still recovering from the damage that I endured by being a part of this system, and the writings of Al Maxey have been a "balm in Gilead" to me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with communing from one drinking vessel, but the hateful, self-righteous, legalistic, Pharisaic, judgmental, sectarian aura this fraternity displays -- of which I was once an active part -- is extremely deadly! I will now fight it until I can fight no longer! I also hope that Al Maxey will begin writing much more to expose the Old Paths Advocate [a One Cup publication} empire. They can be brutal in their policing of the One Cup brotherhood. In the words of Dr. Leroy Garrett -- may we all "Soldier On!"

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in Colorado:

Al, I found your web site through John Clayton's publication Does God Exist? in which you had an article in the most recent issue. In that article you referenced one of your earlier studies: The "Days" of Creation -- Reflections #56. So I went to your web site and read that article for myself. I have now bookmarked your site, as I found lots of good stuff for me to read over the coming winter! Thanks for all your diligent work! May God bless you, Al.

From a Minister in India:

Dear Bro. Maxey, We here in Repalle, India thank God for your Reflections. I study your every issue, and we are learning so many things from you, brother. I realize the standards of your articles are very high, and so they are worthy and valuable lessons for us. The brothers here are responding to this teaching of yours, and we thank you very much for your help and encouragement. This last Wednesday night in our Bible study I taught from your article "Envisioning the Future: Reflecting on the Road Ahead." We also here are afraid of legalistic and traditional people changing the Truth. We are continually remembering you and sister Shelly Maxey in our prayers. They send their love to you, and their prayers that God continues the good work through you.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, It was good to talk to you on the phone the other day. Thank you for being so accessible to your readers. As you already know, I have been (just like many of your readers) sharing your Reflections articles with all kinds of people, both inside and outside of the Churches of Christ. As always, I thank God for you and your work.

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Al, I will be teaching a class in January on different views of heaven and hell. I will be using the book "Two Views of Hell" by Edward Fudge and Robert Peterson as one of the resources for the discussion of hell. I was wondering, have you dealt with the topic of hell in your Reflections? Thanks for your help, Al, and thanks also for all the great studying, thinking and writing you do. God has blessed you, and He has blessed us through your writings. I pray that He will continue to bless you for many years!

From a Minister in Oregon:

Bro. Al, Sadly I have to agree with your assessment of our future in Churches of Christ. Not that I'm sad that patternism is fading away, but rather that too many Churches of Christ are dying. I know personally of 3-5 congregations that have already closed their doors here in the Northwest, as well as several more that are going to have to make that same decision because they simply lack the members and funds to keep operating. We all need to face the challenge: "If your congregation ceased to exist tomorrow, would anyone really notice?!" I find it rather interesting that there is a very heated debate happening among the MarsList members concerning your recent article: "Envisioning the Future: Reflecting on the Road Ahead." Bro. Al, please keep those Reflections coming.

From a Minister in California:

Al, Your article "Envisioning the Future" was an excellent analysis! The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery [Issue #131] is just as "cutting-edge" today as when it was issued two centuries ago. As we come to realize that God's Family is far more expansive than just our little fragmented "non-denomination," we will finally begin to realize the vision of our forbears in the Stone-Campbell Movement. That our heavenly Father has born-again children in a host of other traditions and heritages is the greatest discovery I have personally made since Grace! Now my so-called "denominationalist enemies" are enemies no more! We now share the same foxhole; preaching the love of Jesus and battling together against the real enemy -- Satan. I'm so glad God is patient with us. But then, that's what Grace is all about, isn't it?! Carry on, brother!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Greetings once again, Bro. Al, from the northwest corner of Alabama. Thank you so much for helping me/us to think, and to further explore God's Word. It is refreshing to engage in a study where Old and New Testament passages are tied together, and where the explanation makes really good sense. I love printing out and studying your articles with Bible in hand. May God continue to bless you in your efforts to enlighten the world.

From a Reader in California:

Bro. Al, Just a few words of encouragement. Your writings are wonderful! I look forward to each and every one of them. The precious article your Mom wrote [Issue #271] really inspired me. She truly is beautiful inside and out. The Lord has blessed you with wonderful Christian parents. All I can say is: keep on keeping on. May the Lord be with you and bless you always!

From a Minister in Arizona:

Al, I am writing to ask a favor. The local high school computer class is in the process of building our church web site. We are really excited about it, and they are doing a good job. I was wondering: could we have your permission to put a link on our church web site to your Reflections page? Please let me know!

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