Have you ever felt you’re out of God’s will when you face criticism while doing Kingdom work? Maybe you thought you’ve misunderstood His leading. That may not necessarily be the case.
For instance, consider Rev. George Whitfield. His voice could be heard up to a mile away as he pleaded with sinners to repent. Newspaper reports estimated crowds in excess of 25,000 people at one outdoor gathering. Never one to soft-pedal the gospel, his direct approach toward addressing sin was rejected by the more refined Anglican Church and even garnered him a few rotten vegetables or dead cats thrown his way by hecklers in the crowd. By the end of his ministry, however, no one could mistake the spiritual awakening that was brought to millions of people through the humble efforts of this servant of God.
Also, consider that the Apostle Paul makes a unique statement in his letter to the Christians in Corinth. He tells them about his plans to remain in Ephesus saying, “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” 1 Cor. 16:9 (emphasis added). Why would he talk about great ministry opportunities and include the fact that he has opposition?
A closer look reveals that this resistance was God-ordained. Not that God is pleased with gospel opposition, but could and did use it for His own glory. It seems that when Paul entered Ephesus he went into the local synagogue to proclaim Christ. According to Acts 19, he stayed with them and taught for three months when some men rose up and spoke evil things about this new “Way”. Paul politely took his leave, gathered the newly made disciples, and began teaching the gospel down the street in the School of Tyrannus.
Like Paul, instead of causing us to doubt the work we’re called to do, we can be affirmed and motivated in our mission. It turns out, in the two years that Paul spent teaching in that school, the result was that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). Surely that wasn’t the expectation of Paul when he was confronted by the men in the synagogue! But, rather than second-guessing his mission in Ephesus, he became further energized, having the confidence that his message was clearly understood even though it was received by some with “stubbornness” and “unbelief”.
Now, it should go without saying that our own pride, misguided efforts, or careless words shouldn’t be the reason people are rejecting us. There’s nothing spiritual in suffering for our own sin. However, having opposition can simply mean that our message is being heard accurately. As someone once said, “if you’re taking flak it means you’re flying over the right target”.
Another important effect opposition can have on us is the sharpening of our character. I say, “can have” because that will all depend on how we process rejection. This is where believers and non-believers differ. The Spirit of God in every believer will bring some sort of check against the potential revenge, bitterness, or outright anger that tends to creep into our thinking. He will also cause us to leave our own pride and selfish motives and make sure we’re acting out of Christ-like character. A natural man at best can only draw from his own wisdom and strength to keep a “stiff upper lip” and is left to respond out of his own nature.
Believe it or not, depending on our level of Christian maturity and the number of times we’ve encountered opposition, we can embrace it as an act of worship unto the Lord. I didn’t say we would enjoy this, but it does fulfill what we know Christ is doing in us – putting the old man with his sinful passions to death and making us like Him. We’re called to share in the fellowship of His sufferings.
Serving in a state of weakness is a consistent theme in the New Testament. Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:19 that he had “served with all humility and with tears from trials brought on by the Jews.” Later, in Romans 8:17 he stated that believers are “fellow heirs with Christ provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”
The Word of God makes clear that in this lifetime, Christians are being conformed to Christ’s image through a process called sanctification. Being made like Jesus is God’s purpose and the greatest good our souls can know. Trials, opposition, and rejection always cause us to look outside of ourselves and appropriate God’s promises by faith. That’s the “walk” part of our Christian walk. Remember, in our weakness God gets the praise.
None of us ever enjoys opposition when we’re trying to do the work God has given us. But it’s important we think Biblically when it does come and not resurrect old habits and responses. We don’t want to slip into our own versions of stubbornness and unbelief but rather entrust ourselves to the Lord knowing that He doesn’t mislead His children and always gives us what is best. He is a faithful Father who is more concerned with His glory and our good than we are on our best day and will ensure that we have everything we need to press forward in obedience. To God be the glory!