If you look at the very end of 1 Corinthians 16, you’ll read Paul describing a spiritual reality that I believe is at the very heart of effective Christian ministry, fruitful discipleship and that is also one of the most difficult lessons to learn as we mature in faith as ‘ordinary’ men and women.
Grab a coffee or can of diet Coke or a Kit Kat or something; I think it deserves the spotlight for 5 minutes:
Paul is wrapping up his colossal first letter to the New Testament Church in Corinth who’d had their fair share of troubles – things had certainly been very messed up – and is about to pen his final greetings to his nearest and dearest via a very definite personal tone. Despite his preceding fifteen chapters of direct, confrontational, Apostolic dealings with the plethora of issues in the Corinthian church, he is also longing to be with them in person with the compassion of a true friend and Pastor’s heart. (See 2 Corinthians 7: 8-13).
[As something of a leadership parenthesis: Paul’s ‘Churchmanship’, if you like, models both the need for strong, male, Apostolic, authoritative headship in leading, encouraging and discipling a church but balanced with the soft tenderness (often with tears) of a Pastor’s care. In other words, we need leaders leading churches who are gifted in leadership (not only pastoring) and leaders pastoring who are gifted in pastoring (not only leadership). Paul happened to be gifted in both].
In verse 7-8 he is explaining his decision to the church to remain in Ephesus until after Pentecost, partly because he wanted to have quality time with them rather than a rushed visit (QT was obviously one of his love languages). But his main reason for remaining in Ephesus was because,
…a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
There it is! I believe this is the hardest and most important lesson to continue learning in Christian discipleship and ministry:
Where there is blessing (that encourages us) there will be opposition (that discourages us).
Paul had discerned Jesus’ direction and leadership over his life through the door that had opened to him, and that it was a wide, massive, gaping, obvious, impossible-to-miss door, leading to effective/fruitful ministry and that it was also a door through which would not just be pockets of difficulty but many people who would oppose him.
Notice it is him rather than the mission or the gospel – the opposition that Paul was talking about was personal, and that’s why I believe (with the strong-but-sensitive Pastor’s heart he’d already demonstrated) Paul really did feel the deep pain of the opposition.
It’s inescapable for us that the bittersweet blend of blessing and opposition runs through not only Paul’s ministry, (See 2 Cor.4: 7-12), but also through the Bible as a principle to learn.
For example, later on at the end of his life, Paul writes again in 2 Timothy 3:12 that,
…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Learning to live well as a believer and thrive in ministry as a leader with these opposite realities in abundance, requires our progressive immunity to both – I think we’re meant to live in increasing freedom from the giddiness of blessing and the toxicity of opposition. I say freedom because of the example of Jesus who wasn’t lured into complacency by blessing, neither was He charmed by the adulation of men, or intimidated by their opposition – he lived in a perfect freedom from the distraction of both realities because of the extent of his intimacy with Abba.
At the end of the day, we live with the paradoxical reality of being simultaneously human and possessed by God! While we grow from one degree of glory to another, of course we’re going to feel the relief and comfort of blessing and the pinch and pain of opposition. (And God means us to be blessed and to feel it!).
But Paul’s life and Jesus’ teaching shows me that, proverbially though it may sound, we must have the heart of a baby and the skin of a Rhino if we’re to produce as much fruit as we’re called to and to survive this thing called Christian ministry.
The more fruit; the more opposition: