“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defence, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”Luke 12:11-12
I have heard many variations on these verses over the years. Some preach these verses as though it is unconnected to anything and therefore applies anywhere at anytime. So whenever we don’t know what to say the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. One man I heard preached that he didn’t need to worry about what to say in his sermon but would trust the Holy Spirit to give him the words when he got up to speak. All I would say to that is “the anointing is not an excuse for laziness”. In my opinion he had nothing to say, he just waffled for an hour.
Others think these verses connect directly with the disciples, then and now being before the court for “blaspheming the Holy Spirit”. In this scenario the idea is that back then the disciples were hauled before the synagogue court for blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Or we will be hauled before the court of Heaven for blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It is not the disciples who will be hauled into court on charges of “blaspheming the Holy Spirit”. This has nothing to do with the disciples being tried for blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This segment is all to do with being hauled into court for following Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The heart of this passage is apologetic, as in the sense of Christian Apologetics.
Remember Jesus is addressing this longer segment we have been looking at to the disciples (12:1). Everything spoken in the dark will be brought into the light. Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, rather fear Him who can throw you into hell. God cares for you intimately and will take care of you. Don’t be afraid, you are valuable to Him who has ultimate care of you and nothing escapes His attention. If you confess you are His follower, He will confess you in heaven at the judgement seat. If you deny Him, He will deny you. Anyone who speaks against the Son can be forgiven, but anyone carrying out pretense as the Pharisees and experts in the Law are doing and blaspheming the Spirit cannot be forgiven. The ones in danger are not you disciples but the Pharisees themselves. Don’t worry (be afraid) about how to defend yourself. It is the Pharisees and experts in the Law who ought to be afraid. Don’t fear them, God knows everything you face.
Having set the scene, now let’s examine today’s passage in some detail.
Notice that Jesus says “when they bring you before the synagogue authorities” – not “if” but “when”. It is inevitable that it will happen. Given what happened to many of the disciples following Jesus death, burial and resurrection we can see the relevance of what Jesus was telling them. Although the Pharisees and their like are scary with all their posturing, don’t be afraid of them. The word used for “bring you before the synagogue” is stronger than “bring” in this context. It is better translated “drag you”.
The initial court mentioned is the local Jewish court that was held in the synagogue before 23 judges. But Jesus also includes other terms which indicate courts higher than the local synagogue court. “Rulers” likely refers to secular courts. Jesus was probably preparing His disciples for the likelihood that they would be hauled before Roman courts as well. But it is not absolutely clear given the terms that are used. But of course Paul ended up defended himself before a Roman Court. The local Jewish court held in the synagogue didn’t have the authority to hand down a death sentence.
Jesus tells the disciples not to be anxious as to what to say before the court. Don’t be anxious about:
- What you are to answer.
- How you are to answer.
- What you are to say.
The manuscripts of Luke are divided on the reading of points 1 and 2. Some list “what to answer” and others list “how to answer”. I won’t give you a run down on the translations which choose “what” and those that choose “How”. Just simply to point out how the NLT translation covers both options. “Don’t worry about how or what you are to speak in your defence.” When you “speak in your defense” [apologeomai] means to conduct your defense. The same word [apologeomai] is the basis of the word for Christian apologetics. Learn to defend your faith brothers and sisters. Don’t worry about the content of your answer. Don’t worry about the method of your answer. Don’t worry about the actual words you will use. The Holy Spirit will teach “what you ought to say”. He will show you what is fit and proper for your defence. What is most appropriate, suitable and right for you to say. This means not to rehearse what it is you will say. It is not an excuse to not be prepared to know what you believe and why you believe it. Many Christians today seem to interpret these verses wrongly and conclude they should not spend time thinking through their basis of faith: what they believe and why. Their idea appears to be like the preacher I mention before; the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say when they need it. We still need to have a strong faith. Knowing what we believe and why we believe it. Otherwise when the time comes to give a defence there is nothing there to say.
Jesus is not addressing their defence in order to gain an acquittal for them. He will give them the words to say and the means to accomplish it so that they may best serve God. As in the context of “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” what is of paramount importance is the glory and reputation of God. Take care of that first He will do the rest for you. The Holy Spirit will give you a sense of the most appropriate way to act. Learn to trust God for His way to act on His behalf. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and He will take care of the rest. This has nothing to do with what words we should say in a sermon or what we should say for anything else we might be facing personally. It is all to do with our defence of our faith for the sake of His glory. When you make that your priority, before individuals or in front of a court, then the Holy Spirit is only too pleased to give you discernment.
Think on that.
The problem in front of me is never as significant as the Power behind me.Rick Warren
We don’t need our mouth to speak up for our character, it’ll speak by itself.Anon
You are who God says you are. Spiritually alive. Heavenly positioned. A billboard of mercy. An honoured child.Max Lucado
We’re supposed to seek the kingdom of God first and foremost, and all these other ‘things’ will be added to us. In fact, we don’t even have to ask for them, they’re automatically given to us when we put God’s kingdom ahead of our own.Bob Gass