Recent events in the world have reminded me of how much we don’t like opposition and how we Christians so often view conflict, criticism, and any kind of opposition or difficulty as a sign from the Lord that we need to leave our church, quit the ministry, drop out of leadership, or give up on our particular avenue of serving within the body of Christ. We tend to be more sensitive or thin-skinned today than many previous generations of Christians. We tend to associate an open door for ministry with smooth and trouble-free waters, oftentimes regarding opposition as God’s way of telling us that we should look somewhere else or do something different.

That is why I find Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 16:8–9 so challenging. In these verses, Paul indicates his intention to stay in Ephesus for a while longer before moving on to Macedonia and Corinth, because, as he says, “a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” I find this challenging because Paul apparently has no trouble seeing that “a wide door for effective work” can exist at the same time and in the same place as “many adversaries.” In other words, he does not see opposition in the work of ministry as a sign from the Lord that his work is finished. But, just the opposite, he sees opposition as properly existing alongside a “wide” open door for ministry.

I wonder, humanly speaking, how many “wide open” doors we have turned away from in our lives and ministries simply because we took opposition as a sign that it was time to move on to something different. Paul’s words should serve as a helpful reminder to us that the presence of opposition, in and of itself, is not an indication that our work is finished in the place where we are currently serving. In fact, just the opposite may be true: in many cases, it is more likely the absence of opposition that tells us we need to move on to a different ministry opportunity or context.

In this regard, I am reminded of something that G. Campbell Morgan—the predecessor to Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel in London—once said: “If there is no opposition in the place where you are serving, then you are serving in the wrong place.” Morgan’s point is that it is actually the absence of opposition, not the presence of it, that indicates something is wrong with our ministries. We are either not doing anything or we are not preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word, or both. God’s work and God’s Word will most assuredly produce a certain amount of opposition. It will make some people uncomfortable (John 16:8; 1 Thess. 1:5), it will make others angry (John 6:61, 66; 2 Tim. 4:3), and it will make still others rise up in opposition against us (John 8:37; 15:18–21). It has been that way since at least the time of Cain and Abel. We ought to expect it in our own lives and prepare ourselves for it in advance.

John Calvin, interestingly enough, believed that every minister of the gospel should be trained not only in the Bible, theology, and church history but also in handling opposition. He realized that opposition is such a central part of the ministry that all candidates should be thoroughly acquainted with the different forms it may take and how to handle each of them. Our churches would no doubt be stronger today if we could take a page from Calvin’s book in this regard and train our ministerial candidates in how they might better handle conflict, criticism, and difficulty.

If the church could produce a generation of Christians willing to interpret their circumstances in the light of their calling and to trust God in the midst of opposition—even continual opposition—that generation could turn the world upside down.

In addition to this tendency to see opposition as a closed door for ministry, we also need to be wary of another extreme in our thinking—the idea that the absence of visible fruit in our ministries also indicates that we ought to move on to some other sphere of service. We make mistakes on both fronts. We tend to see both the presence of opposition and the absence of blessing as evidence that we have a closed door for ministry. But such is not necessarily the case.

Isaiah’s ministry immediately comes to mind. In Isaiah 6:9–10, the Lord tells the prophet that his entire ministry will be one in which he will “make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” In other words, Isaiah’s ministry will consist entirely of opposition. There will be no visible fruit that comes from his preaching and his labors among the people of Judah—at least not fruit in the way that we would conceive of it today. There will be only opposition.

Jeremiah, too, is told something very similar by the Lord. He is told that his entire ministry will be one in which the “whole land” will fight against him (Jer. 1:18–19). He, too, will see no fruit from his ministry. He will see only cursing (15:10), mocking (20:7), beating, and imprisonment (37:15), and many will try to put him to death (26:8). Even his close friends will turn their backs on him and denounce him and the work that God has given him to do (20:10).

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah are called by called by God Himself to ministries that consist entirely of opposition. For them to see continual opposition as evidence that they are serving in the wrong place would be to dismiss God’s call upon their lives. Their example doesn’t mean that we should seek out opposition. But it also doesn’t mean that we should run from it either. Their example suggests that God may well intend for you and me to stay put in our current sphere of ministry even when there is absolutely no visible fruit or sign of God’s blessing anywhere. He certainly intended that for Isaiah and Jeremiah. Why, then, do we so quickly assume that we need to quit or do something different when we face circumstances similar to what they experienced?

It may well be that God wants us to do something different and not to endure constant opposition. But it may also be that He wants us to stay put and to shine in the midst of extreme difficulty. Our circumstances cannot answer this question. Our sense of calling can. But we so often allow our sense of calling to be interpreted through the lens of our circumstances rather than interpreting our circumstances through the lens of our calling. I am convinced that if the church could produce a generation of Christians willing to interpret their circumstances in the light of their calling and to trust God in the midst of opposition—even continual opposition—that generation could turn the world upside down, as it were, and point many people the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord make it so.

Arminius: A New Look (Part 1)

I Don’t Understand This Part