I was ruminating over my first cup of coffee and 1 Corinthians 16 the other morning, when I came across a reminder of a very real fact of life. Well, maybe it’s not a “fact of life” for everyone, but it sure qualifies for anyone who is outspoken about their faith and is willing to let the Lord use them. The reminder was in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9, which reads: “But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” In these two verses lie one of the great and unchangeable truths of the Gospel: If you’re going to be a Jesus kind of person, you won’t be winning many popularity contests.
There is an undeniable and unchangeable connection between “effective service” and “adversaries.” The two go together, and no matter how hard you try, you’ll never pry them apart. This doesn’t come as a surprise to some readers, because you have your share of battle scars. But there are some reading this who’ve enlisted in the army, but haven’t been out on the battlefield yet. As in any war, it’s not a pretty sight, and some of you will find yourselves thinking about the upside of things like “dishonorable discharge” and “court martial.” This is a very real war on a very real battlefield, and as the saying goes, “war is hell.” Our war is actually against hell, but fortunately, the war has already been won. Still, the battles can be a little difficult at times.
There is an easy out for those who don’t think they can handle the challenge. All you have to do is retreat to the pew. Hey, somebody’s got to do that “pew duty,” so it might as well be you, right? Pew watch is easy – all you have to do is sit there and take up space. The payback for this easy duty is that it’s extremely unsatisfying, for all the same reasons that make it easy. Sitting back on the sidelines and watching doesn’t come naturally to a person that is growing deeper in faith and closer to God. For a growing believer, “pew watch” is about as satisfying as watching someone else eat your favorite food while you’re starving.
So, if “parkin’ on the pine” is so miserable, why is it so popular? For the most part, because it’s easy. The demands are few, and nobody gets offended. You have lots of friends, few enemies, and you’re always a candidate for “Mr. Popularity,” since you’re always careful not to say anything that would step on anybody’s toes. Everyone thinks well of you – the church folks applaud your presence in your assigned pew, and the ungodly applaud you for your tolerant, accepting attitude and the way you never speak against whatever they may be doing. This is a well-established position in the church, in fact Jesus even mentions it in Luke 6:26, when He said,quot;Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”
False prophets? Did I just call you a false prophet? Well, maybe. One of the identifying marks of the false prophet is that everyone likes him, because his prophecies always support whatever folks want to do, and always make them feel good. Does that describe you?
Paul had many adversaries. In Ephesus, the idol worshipers and the craftsmen who made those idols would have done anything to shut him up, but Paul’s adversaries weren’t always outside the church. Paul wasn’t very popular with those in the church that wanted to compromise their faith and snuggle up to their old, ungodly practices. Paul wasn’t at all hesitant to step on the toes of those who really needed a good toe-stomping. He wasn’t concerned about his own popularity, but about fulfilling his calling and building up the church, whatever the cost.
If you’re out on the battlefield today, and find that you have many adversaries attacking you, Praise God for it. If your enemies are ignoring you, then you’re not causing them any losses. It’s been my experience that God will send encouragement, ammunition, and reinforcements when you need them, so hang in there and “fight the good fight of faith.”
After all, Jesus has already won the war!