Opposition Often Means Opportunity
But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. (1 Cor 16:8-9)
I remember quite vividly an episode that took place during an intramural basketball game in college. As we walked onto the court to begin the game, the other team was pointing to me saying, “Double team him!” Something about my 6’7” frame was clearly intimidating…until they saw me play. It didn’t take long for them to figure out that I was not our team’s best player, and their strategy quickly shifted as they said to one another, “Don’t worry about doubling him!” At first they thought that I was our team’s best opportunity to score, but once they realized that wasn’t the case, they opposed me with just a single defender.
As ministers we loathe conflict, confrontation, and the emotional trauma of being “opposed.” Whether it is by brothers or sisters in Christ who cherish the status quo, or those outside the church who don’t like the sound of the gospel, opposition produces anxiety. Paul touches on a truth that we would love to ignore- seldom is the door opened to effective ministry without any opposition. People usually get riled up when the status quo is threatened, not because it is being maintained. The world usually waits to express its hatred of us as Jesus’ followers until it actually begins to see Jesus in us. My point is a simple one. Rather than avoiding conflict at all cost and shrinking from opposition, why not embrace those things as signs of the kingdom’s expansion? I am not suggesting that we stalk around our communities spoiling for a fight. The church shouldn’t look like the Jerry Springer Show. I am suggesting that, rather than take opposition and adversaries as a personal affront to our ministry efforts, perhaps we should see them as a sign that we are being effective. After all, you don’t get double-teamed unless you are a threat to score.
There is a strong biblical basis for seeing opposition as a sign of effectiveness. First of all, Jesus said the world will oppose us if it sees him in us:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 ESV)
If the world opposes us because of our faith, it is because our faith is evident to the world! It’s hard to rejoice at being opposed, or even worse persecuted, but we can at least gain encouragement from the fact that the world was able to discern that we are a follower of Jesus. That is no small comfort.
Furthermore, Jesus teaches us in the Beatitudes that when you are in the business of telling what God is doing in the world, friendly-fire is a real possibility:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11-12 ESV)
Ask yourself this question: Who persecuted the prophets? Jeremiah, Elijah, and a host of others would tell you that it wasn’t the Gentiles, but their own people! The fact is, opposition isn’t always from the outside. Sometimes it comes in the form of a knife planted squarely in your back. But even this dark cloud comes with a radiant silver lining. The leaders of Jesus’ own people opposed his message of the kingdom of God, and some of the leaders in the early church opposed Paul’s early efforts to take the gospel of the Gentiles. Despite this opposition though, the message of God’s kingdom and the gospel of Christ continued to spread, especially in Gentile communities!
It was a little embarrassing to receive the compliment of being double-teamed on the basketball court, only to have that compliment rescinded when they saw I wasn’t really much of a threat. What would be much worse is if the world never hated me, because they never saw Jesus in me.