Oppression or 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

doorPaul’s statement to the Corinthians about his plans seems counterintuitive. Most of us, when faced with many adversaries, would either lay low or move to safer ground. Yet Paul links the two – the great opportunities in Ephesus and the opponents of his work there – as his basis for staying longer in Ephesus. Why?

First, he understood that the gospel exists and does its work in a hostile environment. Adversaries came as no surprise, he expected them. Paul had no illusions about the reception most would have to his call to repentance and faith. The gospel is offensive to the natural mind and opposed by the prince, the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). (Note: when opposition occurs it should always be the message, not the messenger that gives offense.)

Furthermore, an absence of opposition would indicate he wasn’t wholeheartedly doing his divinely assigned work. Paul sought to be all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:22) but understood that in a hostile environment opposition indicated he was having an effect, making an impact. As long as he knew he hadn’t been offensive the adversaries were evidence the gospel was being heard. And with that hearing came the potential for impact.

Many Christians in America complain about what they understand to be a growing opposition to believers and to the church. And while it’s true that both government and society have become more secular, and that in some circumstances that has resulted in more restrictions, we can look at this two ways. We can complain and take a “woe is me” attitude or we can accept this as the expected response of an inherently hostile world to the gospel.

If God’s people are gracious and kind the Holy Spirit will do his work, opening hearts and minds as he sees fit. Instead of complaining or adopting an adversarial relationship with the world we, like Paul, should understand the reality of the gospel’s effect on most and be diligent in effort and prayer for the sake of the gospel.

Perhaps we can even say that if, in an increasingly secular society, we aren’t experiencing opposition it’s evidence we’ve withdrawn and failed to take the gospel to a dying world. To some extent the presence of adversaries indicates God’s people are doing God’s work.

Author: Pastor Craig MacDonald