Unjustified opposition or persecution to our ministry is almost certain to occur. I was reminded of this when I was venting to a person about some opposition I was experiencing. She very wisely told me, “It wouldn’t be ministry without problems.”
I sometimes forget this reality and I imagine, especially in the heat of battle, you do as well. This brings me to a caveat before I explore some ways Biblically to handle opposition. Not only do we often create opposition to our ministry because of our own sinfulness (the subject of previous articles on my blog), but also we often do not handle undeserved opposition very well. I do not consider myself as very adept at handling opposition Biblically. I have at times become resentful, sullen, and discouraged. I have wanted to and, I’m afraid, have struck back at the one who opposed me.
Opposition easily triggers a mental tape player that plays a tape filled with recriminations and negativity and seems to be on automatic rewind. Yikes—I just had a disturbing thought. Is a tape player a dated illustration in this age of CD’s and MP3’s? Anyway, a negative reaction to opposition comes naturally to me and I often don’t handle it Biblically. It isn’t too hard to figure out why opposition so often triggers an unbiblical response.
When someone attacks the one I love most (me), I automatically rise to my defense! My pride, my love of self, makes it difficult to respond according to the Word of God. A Biblical response would indicate that I love God more than I love me. I aim at loving God but my depravity makes it difficult to do so and doubly difficult because my depravity also seeks to hide my pride.
Pride will think of clever ways to justify a negative reaction to opposition. We may have been completely right in what we have done, but then be completely wrong when opposition occurs.
How then do we handle the opposition we sometimes receive for doing what is right? I believe that we begin by laying a foundation of Biblical thinking. The Bible says much about handling suffering, persecution, and opposition and much of what it says has to do with having the right perspective. We begin by remembering the true enemy. Peter warned his readers of the adversary behind the suffering they were experiencing. He writes in 1 Peter 5:8-9:
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”
Satan can use the suffering we experience to devour us if we weaken in our faith. Opposition should cause our vigilance to rise as we enter into a time of spiritual danger. In the same way, Jesus warned the church at Smyrna that “the devil is about to cast some of you into prison.” Paul provides Timothy with insight into the behind-the-scenes reality of opposition he might experience in 2 Timothy 2:23-26:
“And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
Timothy, and we as well, must be sensitive to the unseen dynamics behind some opposition. These folks have fallen victim to the “snare of the devil.” Their opposition stems from “being held captive to do his will.” Often someone who opposes us becomes our enemy in our mind. Yet, are we targeting the right enemy? Timothy should have a certain quality of response based upon the understanding that Satan has victimized those who oppose us. We must remember the true enemy when we encounter opposition.
We must also recognize the certainty of opposition.
I am not sure why we virtually expect that all will wonderfully follow our ministry. Now, we would be too Biblically astute to admit that we think our ministry should be unopposed. Often, however, our reaction of surprise and discouragement reveal an unrealistic expectation of smooth sailing. Wherever did we get such an idea? We certainly didn’t get it from Jesus, who warned us to expect opposition.
He makes the reality of opposition clear in John 15:20: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” Opposition will come because of our relationship with Jesus. Paul also indicates that we must recognize the certainty of opposition. He tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10-13:
“But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Perhaps we should be more fearful of not experiencing opposition if that means we are not as godly as we could be. Paul indicates that it will get much worse before it gets better. We should expect it! Our nation seemed to be unprepared for the attack that occurred on September 11, 2001. Although we knew we had an enemy out to get us, we did not anticipate his manner of attack, nor did we sufficiently guard against attacks in general.
Well, Scripture has warned us that opposition will come from inside and outside the walls of the church. Part of being prepared involves expecting such attacks to occur.
Finally, we need to realize the great opportunity in opposition.
Opposition creates a unique opportunity for God to make us more like His Son. It is a wonderful thing to know that God can use the worst things our opponents do to us to bring out our best. How often do we quote the Sermon on the Mount and yet forget what Jesus says about persecution in Matthew 5:10-12?
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
It couldn’t be any clearer than this—we are blessed and we experience a reward when we take a stand for Christ. We know that we are aligned with the kingdom of heaven. Paul had a perspective on opposition that rightly understood its opportunity. In contrast to many in the Corinthian church who engaged in power plays, who had to be right at all costs, and always on the winning side, he writes in 2 Corinthians 12:10,
“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
He knew that his dying with Jesus always manifested the life of Jesus in his mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:9-11). For him, opposition was an opportunity to show forth Christ. Peter, in 1 Peter, reminds us several times of the great opportunity that exists when we experience opposition. If we handle suffering properly and so follow the example of Christ, it finds favor with God (1 Pet. 2:19-24). If we react properly, making a defense of the faith with gentleness and reverence, we are blessed and “put to shame” those who revile us (1 Pet. 3:14-17).
We are to rejoice with exultation at the blessing we receive when we are “reviled for the name of Christ” (1 Pet. 4:13-14). We might even say that those who oppose us are doing us a great favor! That is, if we are being opposed for truly following Christ. No blessing exists for unduly creating opposition.Peter asks, “What credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience” (1 Pet. 2:20). We are to “keep a good conscience” and to know that “it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (1 Pet. 3:17). None of us should ever “. . . suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Pet. 4:15). Peter’s repeated emphasis on the possibility of causing our own problems indicates the likelihood of doing so and the need of careful self-examination.
Experiencing opposition requires a foundation of Biblical thinking. We must always remember the true enemy, Satan, who can often deceive people into becoming our opponents. We must recognize the certainty of opposition. Opposition and persecution will occur on this side of heaven and will increase the nearer heaven becomes.
Finally, opposition provides us with a great opportunity for blessing.
We begin to handle opposition correctly by laying this Biblical foundation, all the time carefully examining our behavior and motives to determine if we are to blame.