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.