There are many adversaries

My family and I are on vacation in the mountains this week.  One of the things we’ve been doing most days is taking hikes up and down the hills in our area.  We start at around 7500 feet (where our accommodations are) and go up.  And down.  And up again.  And down for a while.  And then back some of the ups.  After four to six miles, we’re all pretty tuckered out.

It’s a longer way up the hill than it looks (the telephone pole in the middle of the picture — look carefully! — is only about a third of the way down the way that we came up).

And somewhere along one of those uphills, when I am desperately attempting to find more oxygen to fill my lungs, I think something like, “Is this really worth it?  My lungs and legs hurt (and my body will likely hurt more tomorrow) and I’m sweating profusely when I could be reclined in a comfortable chair with a book, looking at the mountain instead of climbing it.”

It is our frequent temptation when pain arrives, to think, “It hurts, so it must be bad.  It’s uncomfortable and hard, so something must be wrong.”  Yet it may well be that the pain and the struggle and the hardship are indicators that something is right and good.

Consider, for instance, some of Paul’s closing words to the Corinthians in his first letter to them.  He had just promised them that he would come and that he wanted to stay for an extended visit with them, but before he could come, he had to complete his ministry in Ephesus, where he would remain for some time longer, “for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor 16:9).

The root word used for “effective” is one from which we derive our word, “energy.”  But besides “energized,” this word specifically indicates work that is capable, effective, active, and powerful.  It is a place that promises a rich and lucrative field of labor.  So Paul is laboring, and it is clear that people are responding and growing and changing under the ministry of the Word.  What a blessed position Paul is in.

And yet at the same time he also notes that there are many adversaries.  There are people who are in opposition to what he is doing and teaching.  In 1 Timothy, he uses the same word to indicate that they are contrary to sound teaching (1:10) and they are enemies (5:14).  Just like the flesh is opposed to the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:17), so these people are opposed to the ministry of Paul.  In other words, this is no small spiritual scuffle he is facing, but the battle is strong and raging.

In that circumstance, it might be tempting to say, “there are many adversaries; I must be doing something wrong.  It’s too hard — I’ll go somewhere else where they need me and will be more receptive to what I believe and teach.”  We do well to consider the example of Paul.  The presence of opposition may not be the time to pull up stakes and look for a new tent-making ministry, but it may be time to entrench ourselves and rejoice in the fact that God has placed us in the midst of a battle where there is much fruit to be gained by persistence and stability.

Are there many adversaries in your life?  Are there those who oppose and resist your teaching ministry in your church?  Are there family members who scoff at your faith and resist your attempts at leadership?  Are there co-workers who ridicule you for your open love of Christ?  It may be time to leave.  Or, it may be, like it was with Paul, time to stay and endure and continue in the path God has given you and wait for the effective service to bear the fruit of righteousness in the lives of others.

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