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SMOOTH SAILING
by Philip Owen

            Are you expecting your life as a believer to be all smooth sailing?  Are you discouraged because the more you desire to serve the Lord or the more earnestly you attempt to serve Him the more difficult life becomes?  We should expect opposition to any work that is truly God’s work.  In fact, it might well be axiomatic that the measure of the significance of our service is the strength of the opposition to it.  Paul described this fact in his letter to the church at Corinth when he wrote them of his desire to visit them eventually but his immediate need to remain in Ephesus to minister, “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (I Cor. 16:9).

 

This description of his circumstances sounds like a contradiction to us.  A door has opened wide for effective service?  Wouldn’t that suggest easy passage?  Shouldn’t that be a cakewalk?  No knocking to gain admission.  No searching for a missing key.  No breaking a window or battering down a door.  No turning sideways, no getting down on hands and knees and crawling through a low hole, no pushing our luggage through piece-by-piece and then squeezing through ourselves.  The door is wide open.  And it has been opened by none other than the Spirit of God.  All systems go.  Full throttle straight ahead.  Nothing can stop us now.  But without pause, Paul observes:  “and there are many adversaries.”  The Greek omits the italicized words and is more direct:  “and many adversaries.”

 

What is striking here is the conjunction.  Paul does not say:  “The door is wide open, but there are many adversaries.”  He says, essentially, “I must stay in Ephesus because the Spirit has opened wide a door of service and because there is much opposition.”  Paul had served the Lord long enough to know that, when doing God’s will, opportunity and opposition go hand-in-hand.  If great opportunity, then great opposition.  Paul understood that one of the evidences of God’s hand upon his service was, not that things flowed easily, but that troubles constantly assaulted him.

 

If we are going to serve the Lord faithfully, we must anticipate and overcome adversaries.  And as in any great conflict, our opponents will strike from multiple points and with multiple weapons.  Perhaps the first opposition we face in serving the Lord and doing His will is from within—our own flesh, which always prefers the easy and comfortable way.  We may also expect resistance from unbelievers who have no understanding or appreciation of self-sacrificing service.  Such endeavors make no sense to them.  We may also encounter resistance (and this is most devastating to our resolve) from undedicated fellow-believers.  They want no part in this battle, and in order to assuage their own consciences, enlist others, not to serve, but to go AWOL with them.  And behind it all is the archenemy Satan, who actively and incessantly opposes all righteousness on the invisible spiritual plane.

 

Not all adversity, of course, is due to opposition to faithful service.  Sometimes the opposition we experience is none other than God “who resisteth the proud” as well as all other sin that He may discover in us.  We must be sensitive to those possibilities.  On the other hand, it is clear from Scripture that we should examine our lives carefully if all is going smoothly.  Is it possible that we are encountering few problems, not because of God’s blessing upon our righteousness, but because the world, our own flesh, and Satan feel no need to resist someone who is doing nothing significant for the Lord?  The place of battle is the place of blessing.

 

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