Opposition without opportunity can be disheartening, even crippling, for pastors and churches. Opportunity without opposition can be unhealthy, even dangerous, for pastors and churches. But, in God’s wisdom, opportunity and opposition often come together. The opportunity fires the heart before God in the teeth of the opposition. The opposition bows the heart before God in the light of the opportunity. Very often the more opportunities there are, the more opposition rises. They often keep pace with one another, and it is important that we have an eye to both. The opportunities must not keep us from addressing the opposition, nor the opposition keep us from embracing the opportunities.
We can be creatures of extremes. Sometimes our reading of church history pushes us toward one or the other end of a certain spectrum. We absolutise the light or the darkness. It was never, to paraphrase Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times. To us, it was either the best or the worst. It was either the absolute misery of paganism and spiritual darkness, or it was the absolute delight of the gospel running unfettered and conquering all before it. Perhaps we are quick to over-interpret providences: because things are hard, it is time to move on; because things are good, it is right to press on.
But church history is not like that, and neither is the life of a local church. To be sure, there may be a particular trend or tendency that can last for months or years, seasons of particular hardship or particular blessing. Usually, however, those things go hand in glove.
Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul spoke about his passage through Macedonia and his ministry in Ephesus. He decided to stay in Ephesus for a while, ‘for a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries’ (1 Cor. 16:9). Ephesus was a godless place, riddled with pagan teaching and practice, and yet it was a place in which the light of the gospel was shining brightly, a place in which people were being brought from spiritual death to life in Christ. In Ephesus, battle was joined! A great and effective door had opened to Paul. We do not know precisely what this opportunity was, but the words indicate a splendid opening for the gospel to be preached, and every expectation of God’s saving blessing upon the truth proclaimed. Perhaps it was some heavenly indication of favour made to the apostle directly. Perhaps it was a particular invitation for the truth to be made known. Perhaps there were evidences of a work of God beginning in certain hearts. Perhaps there were saints vigorous in prayer and service who were laying a foundation. Perhaps some prominent and earnest converts were carving open a path for the preaching of the word. Whatever might be the case, a great and effective door had opened to the apostle.