Last evening Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries led our “theology talk” time. At one point he mentioned a text that I had never seen in the light in which he placed it. Possibly that is because it is often passed over because it is in the “end stuff” of 1 Corinthians, I don’t know. But here’s the passage:
1 Corinthians 16:8-9 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
Paul has been in Ephesus for quite some time, but he planned on staying, for a “wide door for effective work has opened to me.” That part we can understand. The Lord had opened a door, had given Paul success in reaching people and in establishing the church in Ephesus (as we can clearly see later in Acts 20 when the elders of that well-established church meet with him, and decades later, that same church is addressed by the Lord Jesus in Revelation 2:1-7). It is easy to stay in a place when things are going well. But is that really all Paul is referring to? Not at all, for directly connected to these words we find, “and there are many adversaries.” The term used here, avntikei,menoi, can just as easily be translated “enemies.” This is the same term Paul used in writing to the Philippians:
Philippians 1:27-28 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents— which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.
For many today, it is the lack of adversaries, opponents, or enemies, that indicates one is being effective. But Paul has no such view of the Christian ministry. He well knew the response the gospel receives from the unregenerate man and how there can be no neutrality regarding the claims of Christ. And so when he speaks of a door wide open, he is not saying there are no obstacles to going through that door; he is not saying that he has found a nice, peaceful place to work where no one objects and no one attacks and no one opposes. Instead, he has truly come to a point of Christian maturity in ministry: he realizes that where there are many opponents, the gospel is being clearly understood and proclaimed. He embraced those opponents, he did not flee from them.
I could not help but thinking about how easy it is to find opponents a reason to complain to God. Surely the Psalmist did many times, but normally that was in reference to their unjustly accusing him of evil. Paul stayed right where he knew the enemy was most active, for where else can the soldier give due service in the cause of the truth? I am sure in his flesh Paul desired to “get away” just like anyone else: but he stayed in Ephesus, he pursued the open door of ministry, he faced his many opponents, his many enemies. He refused to turn tail and run.
I have many opponents today as well. When I think of each of the groups we have addressed in preaching the gospel I can think of specific names of people who have made it their business to oppose me. Paul Owen comes to mind as one of the most obvious examples. Just today I read another of his continuing attempts to undermine the gospel and the efforts of all who seek to minister the gospel to Roman Catholics. Steve Hays wrote a rather scathing response to him on his blog that is well worth the read. I would only add to Hays’ comments that the Rome of 1535 is not the Rome of 470 years later: one can only imagine what Calvin would have said of such theological monstrosities as dogmatically defining as an article of faith, de fide, that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, or the dogma of Papal Infallibility. And Hays nailed it on the head that surely the easiest and most natural reading of the WCF is that the description of “synagogues of Satan” that are “no Churches of Christ” (WCF 25.5) leads directly into 25.6 and the reference to the Pope as the Anti-Christ. In any case, men like Owen are truly avntikei,menoi, opponents, enemies in sheep’s clothing, hiding behind words of orthodoxy while poisoning the minds of the people of God and spreading confusion. Indeed, such men are significantly more dangerous, in many ways, than those who are plainly opposed to the faith, for they are enemies “on the inside,” pretending fidelity to the very cause they work so hard to undermine and oppose. We are to mark them out and expose them, according to apostolic command, no matter how voraciously they slander and attack as a result.