Motivation for the Mission—7

Inward Compulsion.
“We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Having considered one of the more painful motivations for telling others about Christ last week, today we turn to one of my favorites—an inward compulsion to tell others about him.

In Acts 4, Peter and John had been proclaiming Jesus to the people. The Sadducees were greatly disturbed about this, so they seized and arrested them. The next day a meeting of the Sanhedrin was convened, and they called Peter and John to account. Peter courageously replied to their inquiry by proclaiming Christ to them as well! I love that! The apostles are being called on the carpet for speaking about Christ, and they answered the charges by speaking about Christ! (Acts 4:1-12).

One quality that was especially noticeable to the Jewish leaders was the courage of Peter and John. It was all the more impressive because they were “unschooled, ordinary men.” They were astonished that such men would speak so boldly to highly educated, powerful leaders such as themselves. They also took note that these men had “been with Jesus,” a fact to which we shall return (Acts 4:13).

The leaders then sent Peter and John out of the room so they could confer. Neither they nor anyone else in Jerusalem could deny that these men had performed a notable sign (healing a man who was paralyzed, recorded in the previous chapter). Still, they wanted to “stop this thing from spreading any further among the people,” so they decided to warn Peter and John not to speak anymore in “this name,” that is, in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:13-17). This sets up the statement of motivation I want to underscore in this post:

18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:18-20

Peter wasn’t about to stop doing what God had told him to do, regardless of the commands of the Jewish leaders. His stated reason why is the line I especially want to focus on: “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (v. 20). How about you? Can you help it? I have to confess that for the majority of my life I have easily refrained from talking about Christ.

I want to be careful here. I do want us to see that Peter and John were driven to speak to a degree that most of us are not. At the same time, though, I do not want to shame us for this. Shaming tends to be demotivational, not motivational. Instead, I want us to encourage us to grow our motivation by learning more about theirs. So let’s explore their motivation and its source, in hopes that we might develop it as well.

The verse literally says “We cannot not speak about the things we have seen and heard.” They couldn’t not speak about it. They were compelled to speak. They had to. They just couldn’t help themselves.

Perhaps you have seen this dynamic in other settings. Do you know someone who simply has to talk about some subject that is extremely important to them. Maybe it’s their favor sports team, their hobby, their kids or their grandkids. Or maybe it’s some pet peeve. Regardless, you know they are always going to talk about it. They are inwardly compelled to do so.

Or maybe you’ve experienced it yourself. If something has had a profound effect on you or if you think it is especially important, you may talk about it every chance you get—and perhaps even sometimes when you don’t really have a chance! You may force it in. I think we are familiar with the dynamic of not being able to not talk about something.

I can’t decide for sure, but that may also be what was going on with Jeremiah. In a somewhat famous line, he said:

If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
And I cannot.

Jeremiah 20:9

The thing I can’t decide about is whether this was a burning passion or a burning pain. In other words did he have to speak because of an internal compulsion or an external one from God (see context). Regardless, the dynamic is at least similar—he had to speak.

Paul, too, in discussing his evangelistic ministry, said “necessity is laid upon me.” He explains that he has a choice of willingly complying with that necessity or complying out of obligation, and his choice would affect his reward (1 Corinthians 9:16-18). Again, this is at least similar to what Peter and John were describing in Acts 4—a compulsion to speak.

I’m not sure about Jeremiah or Paul, but in the case of Peter and John I believe the motivation they are describing is internal. Yes, the Lord had commanded them to speak as we noted in a previous post, and that would be an external motivation. But what Peter and John describe in Acts 4 is a compulsion based on what they had seen and heard. They had experienced something so real, profound, and important that they couldn’t help but talk about it.

Recognizing this helps us understand how we can come to have a similar motivation. Notice again, “We cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard” (4:20). Remember, these men had “been with Jesus” (v. 13). That matters a lot. In Mark’s account of the calling of the twelve, it says Jesus called them that they might “be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:13-15). We shouldn’t move immediately to the things he would send them out to do. First, we should pause and notice the “be with him” part. This is the source of what they had “seen and heard.”

The effect of what they saw and heard from being with Jesus is especially noticeable when you do “before and after” comparisons. For example, you’ll remember that Jesus gave this same John, along with James, the name “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). I don’t think was a compliment. The “thunderous” temperament of these brothers is seen when they once suggested calling down fire to from heaven to consume a Samaritan village who wouldn’t let them pass through (Luke 9:54). Yet after John had “been with Jesus” he became known as the apostle of love. Church history tells us that as an old man, he would be carried in his chair up to the front of the congregation and would simply say, “Little children, love one another” (cf. 1 John 4:7). And his brother, James, was martyred for his faith (Acts 12:2).

Likewise, Peter started off badly. Jesus renamed him “rock” well before he was a rock. He lived by the motto of “ready, fire, aim.” But after he had “been with Jesus” and then also received the Spirit of Jesus, he stood up with the twelve and boldly proclaimed Christ in the first ever Christian sermon.

Both Peter and John had “been with Jesus” and “seen and heard” remarkable things from him. The effect was obvious to the Jews who were interrogating them in Acts 4. God takes unschooled, ordinary people and, by their association with Jesus, transforms them into people of tremendous courage and perseverance. People who have been profoundly affected by Christ will speak about him, continually, even when ordered not to do so (Acts 5:42). They won’t be able to help themselves.

Jesus himself had this same internal compulsion. After his conversation with the woman of Samaria, when the disciples returned with food and urged him to eat, Jesus responded:

“I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.

John 4:32-34

I have to admit to rarely letting anything interfere with meal time. But Jesus, who offered himself to people as the bread of life, was hungry for and satisfied by something other than literal food. He was nourished and sustained in his soul by doing the will of God and accomplishing his work. No wonder Peter and John’s close association with him led them to the point of not being able to help but talk about what they had seen and heard from him.

So, internal compulsion—being driven from within— is another motivation for speaking to others about Christ. And it is a powerful one.

Someone wrote:

“We do most of what we feel like we ‘have’ to do,
a little bit of what we feel like we ‘ought’ to do,
and a lot of what we really ‘want’ to do.”

What would it be like if thousands of Christians really wanted to talk about Christ? What if they couldn’t help themselves? I’m not referring to talking in mindless, blabby, or incomprehensible ways. And I’m not talking about speaking so much and in such a way that people roll their eyes. I’m referring to speaking meaningfully and appropriately about Christ, and yet doing so regularly and continually. No matter what. How would that affect the spread of the good news and the growth of the kingdom?

I encourage you to set aside time often to “be with Jesus” and let him rub off on you. Ponder his life and words. Strive to grasp his true identity not only in your mind but also in your heart. Consider the message his followers later spoke about him. And if, in the process, a fire is ignited in you that spreads to the point that you cannot contain it, thank the Lord for what you have seen and heard. Then pray and watch for appropriate ways to speak in his name. The people living in darkness all around you have everything to gain by the spreading flame.

For more information on how my ministry of Empowering Subjects equips people to change the world like Jesus, see here.

Published by Marvin Bryant

After serving as a minister for churches for forty years, Marvin founded the Empowering Subjects to equip subjects of the King to change the world like Jesus did.

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