But the unbelieving Jews [at Iconium] stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. – Acts 14:2-3
To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 6:18-20
I can’t imagine Paul being any bolder with the gospel than he was in Iconium. Those who heard and rejected his message stirred up others against him so what did he do? He remained there for a long time speaking boldly. He didn’t know how to take “No!” for an answer.
So then, what’s up with the Ephesians’ quote? That was written years after his first trip to Iconium, did he start to wimp out in his later years? There’s no indication of that happening. As Acts progresses he seems to be just as bold, maybe even more so since he appealed to Caesar and to Caesar he went. So why does he ask the Ephesians to pray for him? Because he knew that his boldness and his success didn’t come from himself. He knew that any progress he was seeing was only because God was at work in and through him. More than once Paul mentioned how unworthy he was because he had persecuted the Church. That wasn’t cheap crape paper window dressing humility either. He really lived with the sense of his own worthlessness and great confidence in what God was doing through him. That’s a great balance to maintain, one I wish I could manage better. When things are going well, I begin to think I’ve done something to really impress God or that I’m just in a good grove. It’s about me. What I need, what we all need really, is to fight for that tension between our absolute uselessness and God’s mighty power at work in earthen vessels.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7