Anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time has experienced opposition. Such opposition can manifest itself in a variety of forms – a critical church member, a complaining volunteer, an irate parent, or a disgruntled staff member. In 31 years of ministry I have had my share of adversarial experiences. I’ve been criticized, critiqued, challenged, rebuked and threatened. Now, I have to admit that some of the criticism was deserved. I certainly am not immune to making mistakes, and am often in need of constructive criticism. Nevertheless, not all of the opposition has been merited or constructive.
In Sunday’s message we studied the words of Paul that are found in I Corinthians 16:9 – For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. In the midst of wonderful ministry opportunities, Paul had to deal with several pesky adversaries. Quite frankly, Paul’s opponents were more dangerous than ours. In the city of Ephesus opposition to his ministry resulted in riot, persecution and even threats on his life (Acts 19:21-41
Writing later about that experience Paul said, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” (I Corinthians 1:8-9) Yes, even the most anointed of God’s servants experience opposition. The question, then, is not how to avoid opposition, but rather, how should we respond to it?
- Expect it
Peter boldly declared, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Why is it, then, that we are shocked or surprised when opposition comes? No opposition would be an indication that our ministry is ineffective, that the enemy is not annoyed, that our work is producing little fruit. John MacArthur states, “In this present age there is no such thing as an authentic ministry without problems and opposition of some sort.” (John MacArthur New Testament Commentary: I Corinthians, p. 465)
- Examine it
By that I mean that criticism and opposition give us an excellent opportunity to examine our actions, our responses and our motives. We are not always right and opposition is not always undeserved. There are times when we deserve to be rebuked, criticized and opposed. Some of the greatest learning experiences of my life have come from critiques that originally felt unjustified, but upon further examination, were found to be true.
Repeatedly, throughout Scripture we are told to examine ourselves…
Lamentations 3:40 – Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!
II Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.
Galatians 6:4 – But let each one test his own work…
So, before you toss opposition aside and claim to be unjustifiably persecuted, examine what is being said. Search your heart. Scrutinize your life. Allow God to use this obstacle to chip away at your rough edges and mold you into His likeness.
- Embrace it
I know that sounds like an odd statement. After all, who wants to embrace opposition? Who enjoys dealing with problems? Yet, Jesus never promised that our service for Him would be trouble free. In fact, He instructs us to rejoice and be glad when we face opposition.
Matthew 5:10-13 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against your 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.
The simple truth is that anyone who attempts to serve the Lord will face opposition. I love the words of G. Campbell Morgan, “If you have no opposition in the place you serve, then you are serving in the wrong place.” Take heart, opposition is often a confirmation that you are right where God wants you to be.