Do You Have “Freeness of Speech”?
OVER six million people in 235 lands enjoy what the Bible calls “freeness of speech.” The expression occurs 16 times in the text of the Christian Greek Scriptures of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. (Philippians 1:20; 1 Timothy 3:13; Hebrews 3:6; 1 John 3:21) What does “freeness of speech” involve? What helps us to acquire it? In what areas of communication does this freedom allow us to make unhindered expressions?
According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the Greek term for the expression “freeness of speech” denotes “freedom of speech, unreservedness of utterance, . . . the absence of fear in speaking boldly; hence, confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, without any connection necessarily with speech.” However, such outspokenness is not to be confused with bluntness or rudeness. “Let your utterance be always with graciousness,” states the Bible. (Colossians 4:6) Freeness of speech involves remaining tactful while not allowing distressing circumstances or fear of man to inhibit our speech.
Is freeness of speech our inherent right? Consider what the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus. He said: “To me, a man less than the least of all holy ones, this undeserved kindness was given, that I should declare to the nations the good news about the unfathomable riches of the Christ.” Paul added that it was by means of Jesus Christ that “we have this freeness of speech and an approach with confidence through our faith in him.” (Ephesians 3:8-12) Rather than being a privilege we are innately entitled to, freeness of speech stems from our relationship with Jehovah God based on faith in Jesus Christ. Let us see what can help us to acquire this freedom and how we can manifest it when we preach, teach, and pray.
What Helps Us Preach With Boldness?
Jesus Christ is the foremost example of one who exercised freeness of speech. His zeal moved him to seize opportunities to preach. Whether resting, dining at someone’s home, or walking on the road, he never passed up an opportunity to talk about God’s Kingdom. Neither ridicule nor outright opposition could intimidate Jesus into remaining silent. Rather, he courageously exposed the false religious leaders of his day. (Matthew 23:13-36) Even when arrested and put on trial, Jesus spoke fearlessly.—John 18:6, 19, 20, 37.
Jesus’ apostles acquired the same outspokenness. At Pentecost 33 C.E., Peter spoke with freeness of speech before a crowd of over 3,000 people. Remarkably, just a short time earlier, he had cowered when identified by a servant girl. (Mark 14:66-71; Acts 2:14, 29, 41) When hauled before religious leaders, Peter and John did not cringe in fear. Without hesitation, they boldly witnessed concerning the resurrected Jesus Christ. In fact, it was this outspokenness of Peter and John that led the religious leaders to recognize that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:5-13) What enabled them to speak so boldly?
Jesus had promised his apostles: “When they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you are to speak; for what you are to speak will be given you in that hour; for the ones speaking are not just you, but it is the spirit of your Father that speaks by you.” (Matthew 10:19, 20) Holy spirit helped Peter and others to overcome any timidity or fear that could have impeded their free expression. The influence of that powerful force can likewise help us.
Additionally, Jesus gave his followers their commission to make disciples. This was appropriate, since he is the One who has been given “all authority . . . in heaven and on the earth.” And ‘he is with them.’ (Matthew 28:18-20) Awareness of Jesus’ backing gave the early disciples confidence as they faced authorities who were bent on preventing their preaching. (Acts 4:18-20; 5:28, 29) Such awareness can do the same for us.
Identifying yet another reason for outspokenness, Paul associated hope with “great freeness of speech.” (2 Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20) Since the message of hope was too good to keep to themselves, Christians had to tell others about it. Indeed, our hope is a reason for us to exercise freeness of speech.—Hebrews 3:6.
Preaching With Boldness
How can we preach with boldness even under potentially intimidating circumstances? Consider the example of the apostle Paul. While a prisoner in Rome, he asked his fellow believers to pray that ‘ability to speak might be given him with the opening of his mouth, that he might speak with boldness as he ought to speak.’ (Ephesians 6:19, 20) Were those prayers answered? Yes! While imprisoned, Paul continued “preaching the kingdom of God . . . with the greatest freeness of speech, without hindrance.”—Acts 28:30, 31.
Taking advantage of opportunities to give a witness at work, in school, or while traveling can test our freeness of speech. Shyness, fear of the reaction we might get, or lack of confidence in our ability may keep us quiet. Here again, the apostle Paul provides a good example. “We mustered up boldness by means of our God to speak to you the good news of God with a great deal of struggling,” he wrote. (1 Thessalonians 2:2) Only because he relied on Jehovah was Paul able to do what he could not do on his own.
Prayer helped a woman named Sherry to muster up boldness when an opportunity for informal witnessing presented itself. One day while waiting for her husband to return from an appointment, she noticed a woman who was also waiting. “With a huge lump in my throat,” Sherry said, “I prayed to Jehovah for courage.” As Sherry approached the woman, a Baptist minister arrived. Sherry was not expecting to encounter a clergyman. However, she prayed again and was able to give a witness. She placed literature with the woman and made arrangements for a return visit. When we seize opportunities to give a witness, we can be confident that reliance on Jehovah will help us to be outspoken.
Freeness of speech is closely associated with teaching. Concerning “the men who minister in a fine manner” in the congregation, the Bible says: “[They] are acquiring for themselves a fine standing and great freeness of speech in the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 3:13) They acquire this freeness of speech by applying to themselves what they teach others. Their doing so protects and strengthens the congregation.
When we have freeness of speech in this way, our counsel is more effective and more likely to be followed. Rather than being distracted by a poor example, listeners are encouraged by seeing a practical application of what they are being taught. This freeness enables those with spiritual qualifications to ‘readjust their brother’ before a problem escalates. (Galatians 6:1) In contrast, a person setting a poor example may hesitate to speak up, sensing that he has no right to talk. The delay in giving needed counsel may lead to disastrous consequences.
Our speaking with boldness does not mean becoming critical, dogmatic, or opinionated. Paul exhorted Philemon “on the basis of love.” (Philemon 8, 9) And the apostle’s words evidently met with a favorable response. Indeed, love should be the force behind any advice that an elder may offer!
Freeness of speech is certainly vital when counsel is to be given. It is also important at other times. Paul wrote to the congregation in Corinth: “I have great freeness of speech toward you. I have great boasting in regard to you.” (2 Corinthians 7:4) Paul did not hold back from giving his brothers and sisters commendation when it was due. Love moved him to focus on the good qualities of his fellow believers, even though he was aware of their flaws. The Christian congregation today is likewise built up when elders freely commend and encourage their brothers and sisters.
To be effective in their teaching, all Christians need to have freeness of speech. Sherry, mentioned earlier, wanted to encourage her children to witness at school. “Even though I was raised in the truth,” she admits, “I seldom witnessed at school. And I hardly witness informally. I asked myself, ‘What kind of example am I setting for my children?’” This moved Sherry to make a greater effort to witness informally.
Yes, others observe our deeds and notice if we fail to practice what we teach. Let us, then, acquire freeness of speech by striving to have our actions match our words.
Freeness of speech is especially important when it comes to our prayers to Jehovah. Without inhibition, we can pour out our hearts to Jehovah with the confidence that he hears our prayers and will answer them. We thus enjoy a warm, intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. Never should we hesitate to approach Jehovah, thinking that we are too insignificant. What if our feeling guilty over some failing or sin inhibits our heartfelt expressions? Can we still approach the Sovereign of the universe freely?
Jesus’ exalted position as High Priest gives added basis for confidence in prayer. At Hebrews 4:15, 16, we read: “We have as high priest, not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin. Let us, therefore, approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.” Such is the value of Jesus’ death and of his role as High Priest.
If we earnestly seek to obey Jehovah, we have every reason to expect that he will hear us favorably. The apostle John wrote: “Beloved ones, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have freeness of speech toward God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we are observing his commandments and are doing the things that are pleasing in his eyes.”—1 John 3:21, 22.
Unrestricted approach to Jehovah in prayer means that we can tell him anything. Whatever fears we have, whatever concerns, anxieties, or apprehensions plague us, we can take them to Jehovah, confident that he will never turn a deaf ear to our sincere prayers. Even if we have sinned gravely, guilt does not have to block our expressions in prayer if we are sincerely repentant.
The undeserved gift of freeness of speech is truly precious. With it we can glorify God in our preaching and teaching activity and draw ever closer to him in prayer. Let us ‘not throw away our freeness of speech, which has a great reward to be paid it’—the reward of everlasting life.—Hebrews 10:35.
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The apostle Paul spoke with boldness
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Effective teaching requires freeness of speech
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Freeness of speech in prayer is essential