Tag Archives: opposition

Warfare

Paul is writing a letter, but he is under guard in prison (we have come to Ephesians 6:10-20). He uses the picture, setting faith in the ordinary world – even his. We can imagine him listening to soldiers boasting of old campaigns.

He asks first, Who is the enemy? The temptation is to identify a person, a party, an opinion. All mistakes. “we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces “ (Ephesians 6:12) This is very important – there is a Christian fight. We may not like violence – and that is good – but faith is not a genteel discussion, but a struggle. To live as a Christian is to face opposition, difficulty, and temptation.

Paul picks up the soldier’s equipment to explain. (Perhaps he watched the guard coming on duty shed the gear in which they had just been inspected?). We notice the need for practice and experience (verse 13). (In passing we might add that the Roman army used discipline and working together to overcome larger numbers). What does he examine? The belt is Truth. It’s not about winning the argument, but about keeping with the reality of God. Righteousness is a breastplate. When you are accused, you need to be sure of forgiveness and status as a free child of God.

Shoes (sandals, well think boots) are Good News – that travels well. Faith is a shield; you don’t know or understand everything – but trust that God does. Salvation is helmet, protecting the brain that matters, even if other bits suffer. Prayer reminds you to work with God always – individual enterprise is dangerous!

There is only one weapon (despite many pieces for protection) – the word of God as sword. Not hard and cutting words, but the ones God gives which go straight to the heart of the matter.

That, says Paul in prison, is your equipment. Learn to use it, practice and get comfortable with every bit before you go into a serious fight.

Perhaps you still don’t like the thought? You wanted a quiet life, not a punch up? Will you end up with the Jews in Capernaum Jesus asked “Does this make you want to give up?” (John 6:61). Or are you with Joshua and his family (in Joshua 24), deciding to be with God and rejecting the alternatives.

This military metaphor is – only a metaphor (the weapons are differently allocated to spiritual qualities in other places). But it is also a reality to be faced while there is time for reflection.

Value

What’s the most valuable thing in the world? Gold, platinum, plutonium? Health, a brain that works? As Paul argues with the Church in Corinth (in 2 Corinthians 6:1-13), who rather prefer other teachers, he urges the value of grace, and the need to do something about it NOW. Not when we feel like it, or get around to it . . . but NOW.

That remains very relevant for us, as does

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; .

2 Corinthians 6:3,4

Some translations talk about “God’s servants” – as we all are; older translations use the word “ministers”, which again we all are, despite our different gifts and functions, as all serve to commend the gospel and make Jesus known.

Paul lists 9 trials in the next two verses – most of them we escape. But why did he have such a hard time? The same old reasons:

  • because people didn’t like being shown up
  • because the spiritual battle concentrates on opposition (who would you target if you were the devil? – the effective or the weak?)

We may not have such a dramatic list of hardships, but need to remember that both our taking the opportunity of God’s grace, and our service / ministry of sharing the good news of Jesus, will attract temptation, opposition, and unfair criticism. Paul’s response is not to withdraw, or appeal for pity. He understands what is going on, and finds fulfillment in the struggle.

in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;

2 Corinthians 6:6,7

define how it is to be done, and the next three verses see a paradox. The response is varied, but there are opposites in evidence. Yet this is nothing more than following the leadership of Jesus, who experienced the same acceptance / rejection, fame / infamy, acceptance / rejection.


This part of 2 Corinthians is very much a part of Paul’s struggle in the first century with the Church he founded, which tended to divide into groups and find other teachings more attractive than true Christian faith. Yet it remains appropriate for us. The appeal not to waste the grace of God, but to act now – that is vital when so many put off making decisions or commitments. The encouragement to serve by commending Jesus, even though it brings spiritual opposition – here is explanation and encouragement for the work we must set about together.

There is no comfort blanket offered here, only the most valuable thing in the world (free), and the way to use it successfully.

War!

Readers of these comments probably know that they follow the New Testament reading (having compelted the gospel cycle) for each Sunday from the Revised Common Lectionary, used by many churches to choose their weekly readings. This week Revelation 12:1-5a might not seem a preferred text for comment, not least because it has many parallels in pagan myths of the ancient world.

Yet, as so often in scripture, there is something valuable here to note and ponder. If John is aware of the “other” stories – and it seems very likely – he nevertheless gives Christian point to this version, and makes it encouraging.

The battle between good and evil in the world we live in is an ancient story. Here the woman, unlike the woman of chapter 17, has true glory in the sun and moon. While we might think the one who gives birth to the male child is Mary, mother of Jesus, the crown of twelve stars suggests a wider reference. She represents the people of God, with the twelve tribes of Israel as a crown. (And the twelve apostles will take forward this people into a new covenant).

Of course the destruction of the son, the Messiah, is the aim of the evil one. We are reminded it did not, and does not, happen. Despite all the show of strength, evil cannot prevail. There is conflict, and there are those hurt in the struggle who carry their wounds for a time. Here is the encouragement. Not in false promises of a world without the conflict between good and evil, the need for struggle to confront temptation, avoid distraction and do good. The hope we are given does not avoid reality, nor minimise cost, but looks to assured victory not of our own making.

I wonder if you like metaphors of conflict in Christian life? Some prefer to avoid them, offended by their violence and occasional bloodthirstiness or desire for revenge. I suspect those who have suffered most, and over years, will find more help. There is a violence in the attack on the faithful, and any holy life. It may be more hidden in the diverse and liberal societies of the west – though it may also be hidden where the faithful are compromised, and their witness represents no threat to the other side. It still seems to be true that any congregation which makes energetic efforts to live the gospel will find opposition, perhaps from unexpected directions. At the same time, those content to comfort themselves by traditions they find pleasant, without looking further, may understand nothing of the war devastating other places. John does have something of value in telling this!

Tired?

October 18 is kept as the day to remember Luke, companion of Paul and writer of the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, so it is easy to see why we read 2 Timothy 4:5-17 – Luke is mentioned as being with Paul. As Paul writes to Timothy from prison, the first thing to say is that he is feeling sorry for himself (v6) – yet he wants his possessions brought to him. Verse 16 suggests he is alone, and perhaps feeling a bit vulnerable.

I hope it is not perverse to find that encouraging. It can be hard to be a Christian, and to go on in that way. We are called to receive God’s grace, to be re-made to advertise what he can do; but we are still – us. Sometimes the Christian life can be tough and depressing, and we need to think of being halfway to heaven as we struggle.

Perhaps that is how Timothy, as well as Paul, felt. Left to lead and sort out a Church, he is reminded “ proclaim the message” v2, even though there will be those who don’t want to hear the gospel of Jesus who died to set us free and leads us into holiness of life. There are times when the gospel becomes unfashionable, “uncool”, but it is always more than a personal preference, and the Christian must announce it by action and explanation. We could speculate about why people’s attention wanders off to other things – here it seems to be an ascetic way of life which is the alternative – but the point is to focus on God, what he has done and what he asks of us.

We, if we are those well established in church, have to remember the need to provide forms of service appropriate to outsiders and newcomers. How often the Sunday service is formed by the preferences of those who have been members for a long time, without a thought for those who might wander in out of curiosity – and find it all incomprehensible. We need to speak in services in ways that people who have never ever been to Church can hear, and understand as God’s word for them.

That’s not to say that everyone who hears will join up. I’ve already mentioned the way the gospel can become unfashionable. In the closing verses Paul speaks of opposition. Some have given up (v10), others have been longstanding opponents (v14). It’s not our responsibility to catalogue their mistakes, or act as policemen. Paul leaves that to God (as we should), but recognises the reality of a conflict situation (which hasn’t changed).

There are many encouraging voices in scripture. Isaiah 40:31 “ but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength” is one – but be careful how you offer such verses to others. They’re not a “quick fix”! Christian life can be hard, as Jesus found and warned his disciples. There is hope, and support, and reason to go on – and none of that cancels the tiredness and difficulty of the hard times, or the need to be gentle with those wounded in Christian conflict.

Perhaps Paul shouldn’t have been feeling sorry for himself, but I hope we can be sympathetic, as well as recognising the need to proclaim the message, and recognise desertion and opposition as realities. Perhaps it will help us to pace our own faith activities and endure.

On the wrong side ?

Jesus is wonderful! He is healing, he is setting people free of evil, he is popular for good reason. What can possibly go wrong? Mark 3:20-35 explains how two sorts of opposition arise – and both still appear.

First come some teachers of the Law from Jerusalem. “This is an evil man. He’s in league with the devil, that’s how he does his miracles!”  Perhaps they are jealous – certainly they are offended. It’s not that Jesus broke the Old Testament Law, but he didn’t keep to the traditional interpretation – like about what was OK for a Sabbath, for example. AND – they don’t like the way he speaks with authority, as if he knew God, rather than working back through the scholars of past times, who might have known Him.

In league with the devil! ?  It is a serious charge, but Jesus has an answer. If the devil is healing people and setting them free, he is fighting against his own side, and he’s finished! If Jesus’ miracles are good – that’s rubbish. No. What you are seeing is someone stronger than even the Devil, who is starting to take over his Kingdom – and he hasn’t the strength to prevent it, just like someone tied up in a corner. They don’t believe him, – there’s too much at stake. Conflict will continue through the gospel. But do you see the sides clearly?

But there’s another source of trouble!  Jesus family reckon he’s going mad verse 21, and they arrive to “take him away”. For his own good, you understand. You can’t go against the system. If he keeps quiet for a while they will lose interest, and he’ll be able to preach a bit in Galilee without attracting too much attention. Don’t rock the boat; listen to people who know about these things . .

Jesus valued family, but his ministry is (thankfully) much more important. He stays with those who will listen and support, and goes on – for a time without his mother, brothers and sisters.

It’s an interesting bit of the gospel, and Mark makes clear that it is part of the story from very near the beginning. And it remains part of the gospel story in every time and place. Why would people be against something good? There are many reasons, but among them these two continue.

Vested interest – even in religion. How easily people become jealous of success, even of God’s blessing someone else. How easily offended some people are – even religious people. Be careful to recognise something good – even if you aren’t in control of it, even if you wish it had happened to you, or in your church . .  verses 28,29, about the sin against the Holy Spirit, are devastating. Don’t worry – you can’t commit the unforgivable sin by mistake! If you are concerned, you haven’t done it! This is about people who call evil, “good”; and good, “evil”. It is about saying “We’re right, and Jesus is with the Devil” Unforgivable, because it is turning into darkness, trying to turn the world upside down.

The second reason to be against good? The well meaning but wrong attitude: “I agree with you in principle, but it’s not practical”, “You’ve got to think about other people” – in other words, all the plausible excuses for not doing the right thing. God’s way is not easy. It will attract opposition. And Jesus sets out on it, inviting those who will to follow and join him. Are you coming?