The first-century Christians would not have had the same problem. They understood that God was honor-bound to support them, and especially so since He was love, and they were doing what He asked them to do. As Scripture says, “…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6b). An obedient Christian can expect God’s grace.
As a loving patron, God will bless, and give grace to, those who support and obey Him. On the other hand, like any ancient patron, those who are proud and arrogant will not get the blessings from God they could have otherwise received.
Once we understand the patron-client relationship, it seems to be everywhere in the pages of the Bible. It is why the leper came to Jesus and asked, “…Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matt. 8:2b). It is why the centurion (a Gentile) did not consider himself worthy to have Jesus come to him, but sent Jews to him with the message (Luke 7:6). Even the term “Christian” (“followers of Christ”), coined in Antioch of Syria by unbelievers, pointed to the patron-client relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and his followers, whom he blessed and helped.
So, what about going “boldly” before the throne of grace to get what we need? Hebrews 4:16 (KJV)
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
The word translated boldly in the KJV is parrhesia, and the English word “boldness” gives the wrong impression. Parrhesia was used of the Greeks in the marketplace who were called upon to speak about political issues with complete openness. It was to speak one’s mind, or say what one will, so perhaps “straightforwardness,” “candor,” “openness,” or “frankness” would be good translations.
As it can be imagined, that was quite rare in the ancient world. Speaking one’s mind to a ruler could get one in serious trouble (note our example of John the Baptist given earlier in the post). We Westerners are used to speaking our minds, so when we see “boldly” in Hebrews, we tend to think of someone coming before God with boldness and brashness of presence, forcefully declaring what God should give him, but that is not how the ancient Greek reader would understand this verse.
Rather, he would see God as the Ultimate Patron, before whom we should come with respect but without fear, being totally open and honest with Him, neither flattering Him nor hiding our true feelings, but laying before Him our genuine needs and concerns, in order that we can obtain the mercy and grace we need to meet our needs.
We Christians can have faith in a loving God who wants to help and support us, and who will do so if we ask Him. We can trust that He always has our best interests at heart. We must be careful not to “have faith in our faith,” thinking that our faith will get from Him what we want. Faith (trust) is important, but faith alone will not pull the blessings out of God’s pockets. The blessings are His to give, and as we trust Him, love Him, obey Him, and ask Him, He will pour them out to us.
[For more on the patron-client relationship besides the noted references, see The Social World of Luke-Acts by Jerome Neyrey, and Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino. Truth or Traditions website.]