"Teaching #1: Paul and opposition"
- What situations or circumstances motivated Paul to write this letter? What was burdening his heart at that time?
- One of the primary issues was his need to respond to some issues, accusations and attacks that were being levelled at him.
- Wherever he went, Paul was followed by those who opposed the Gospel message he was teaching and proclaiming.
- After he had laid a strong foundation through his teaching, some came in sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of these new believers in Corinth. Their influence was having a negative effect both upon the believers’ spiritual growth and also upon their relationship with Paul, the apostle and church-planter whom God had appointed for this task of establishing Christian churches among the Gentiles. Obviously this left Paul feeling burdened and distressed.
- On the outside, Paul’s opponents appeared as if they were “for” these young believers, whereas in reality behind their external “niceness” were hidden motives. They wanted to woo the hearts of these believers away from Paul, their father in the faith, so that they could then indoctrinate these believers with their false teachings. It also appears that these opponents were also motivated by financial advantage that they could gain from this relationship.
- Paul’s opponents used different strategies in order to undermine Paul’s reputation and ministries, sowing seeds of doubt in their minds. For example:
- 1:12ff – they accused him of speaking and acting insincerely regarding plans to visit them.
- N.B. See how such comments expose the hidden thoughts and motives of the hearts of those who make such accusations.
- 2:17 – they accused him of peddling the Word for worldly profit, that is, doubting his sincerity, insinuating that Paul’s real motive in all his apostolic ministries was selfish. They wanted to sow doubts concerning Paul’s credibility among these Corinthian believers.
- They accused him of being a “weak” person, saying that he was not very impressive except on paper. Again their real motive was to question the genuineness of Paul’s apostolic calling. Instead they wanted the Corinthians to regard them as real apostles.
PAUL’S RESPONSE TO HIS OPPONENTS:
- Paul opens his letter with a very simple greeting: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1:1)
- This was far more than a formal greeting. It was a statement with a very definite meaning, and a clear purpose. By stating himself to be “an apostle of Christ Jesus”, Paul is reminding these believers WHO had called and appointed him for this ministry (God).
- This gave weight to what Paul wrote to them and the teaching and counsel he gave to them. But more than that, by his reasserting that the Gospel he taught was “by the will of God,” he hoped these believers would understand that his Gospel wasn’t his own message but the true Gospel that he had received from Jesus Himself.
- How should we understand and apply this biblical word, “apostle”?
- “Apostle” literally means “sent one,” but in reality it has a much weightier or deeper meaning than simply that Paul is a “sent out” worker travelling around here and there, winning converts for the sake of his own reputation.
- Three primary truths lie at the heart of Paul’s addressing these believers as “an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God”:
- Firstly, as an “apostle”, Paul knew that Jesus his Messiah, not a group of human beings, e.g. a church, had commissioned and sent them to proclaim the Good News to the Gentiles. From the very outset, it had been made known to Paul that he was a chosen instrument with the weighty responsibility to proclaim God’s God News to all the nations. See Acts 9:15-16. He had also been made very aware that he would experience severe and painful outcomes as an integral part of his ministries.
- Secondly, as an “apostle”, Paul ministered with a divine authority that Christ had invested upon him, as if Jesus Himself was speaking through them. Paul wasn’t asserting his own authority over the Corinthians but rather humbly telling these believers that Jesus had invested in him his divine authority for the teaching and nurturing of these early churches.
- Thirdly, as an “apostle”, Paul was obligated to declare and teach only that which Jesus the Master had revealed to him.
- So when Paul begins his letter with the words, “Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”, he isn’t throwing his weight around, or boasting, nor is he entering into a game of one-upmanship with his opponents, as if to say, “I am much smarter and superior to them!”
- Rather he is reminding these Corinthian believers that God had called and chosen him to pastor or shepherd them in their most holy faith. As a part of his shepherding responsibilities, he sought to defend them against the subtle attacks of those who would draw them away into another “gospel”, separating them not only from Paul but most importantly from Jesus and the Gospel that Paul had taught among them. Paul knew that their influence was like “the yeast of the Pharisees” that Jesus had warned His disciples against.
- Had Paul taken a soft or tolerant stance towards his opponents, this would have had dire consequences for the Gospel for all generations to come. In this way, Satan’s lies (half-truths) would have come in and spread like an evil virus throughout the entire church.
LEARNING FROM PAUL’S RESPONSES TO HIS OPPONENTS:
- If we do God’s work in God’s way, we will have opponents. This is inevitable both opponents from the outside, but also on the inside including even some who are “fellow-believers”. Let it be known that the latter kind of opponents is the hardest to face and respond to.
- From personal experience:
- Opponents will include people who are jealous and threatened by us and our ministries, who respond by spreading rumours or half-truths about us and who sow seeds of doubt concerning our motives.
- Other opponents may hold positions in the church or in a Christian organisation but are spiritually out of touch with God; as a result they may lack discernment concerning what is right for our ministries, and so oppose us by blocking our sense of direction in ministry.
- How are we to respond in such circumstances? While we cannot call ourselves “apostles” like John, Peter and Paul (we call them “foundation-laying apostles”), nevertheless as God’s servants whom Christ has commissioned and sent out into His service, we may call ourselves “apostles” with a small “a”, especially those among us who serve as missionaries.
- Three lessons we may learn from the ways Paul responded to his Corinthian opponents with their false accusations:
- Firstly, opposition is often NOT out in the open. It’s often in secret, behind the scenes.
- Continually reaffirm in your own heart that Jesus has called you to be one of His servants, with all your weaknesses and imperfections.
- Fight against Satan’s ways to use various forms of opposition in ministry to infect your mind with doubts, e.g. “How can you be so sure that you are a true servant of Christ? Haven’t you noticed how weak you can be in ministry?”
- Secondly, opposition doesn’t only come from so-called “enemies of the Gospel” but also from “friendly fire”, that is, from those on the inside. Don’t be amazed if you find it much more difficult to spot and then respond to this kind of “insider” opposition.
- Stand firm upon the convictions that God has taught you from His Word. Don’t worry about your own reputation, i.e. what people think of you. Above all, be obedient and faithful to the calling that God has given to you regardless of the consequences.
- Thirdly, opposition isn’t always aimed at what we believe. Sometimes it is directed against our character. This below the belt kind of attack is always very painful to bear. For example, they throw out a question: Can he / she be trusted? At other times, such opponents try to play “word games” with us in order to trap us and get us to say something that they can use against us. Learn from Jesus when to be silent.
- Examine your hearts and let the Spirit convict you of sin. Confess any known sin that the Spirit reveals to you, then receive God’s gracious gift of forgiveness. Don’t be amazed when your enemies point out weaknesses. Did you expect to have it all together and to be faultless?!
- Know and humbly accept the fact that Christ is sending you out with HIS authority, to proclaim and teach His Good News. Humbly and earnestly stand firm upon this authority in your heart, but don’t use this as a weapon to berate people, e.g. “you must listen to me because I am speaking to you with divine authority!” Through a quiet yet uncompromising stance, teach and admonish others knowing in your heart that you speak with the authority that Jesus gives to His servants, for the sake of building God’s people in their most holy faith.
- Opposition and opponents – yes, this is an inevitable part of Christian ministry. It is often hard and painful. BUT GOD!
- Jesus our Lord is present with us as we face opposition and attacks. He knows from His own personal experience how it feels and what you are going through. Feel His embrace of love for you, His servant, in such moments. He is near even if you feel very alone in such moments.
- Be open to Jesus to teach you many invaluable lessons through the opposition and attacks of your enemies and opponents. He is even able to use such experiences to draw you into an even more intimate relationship with Himself.
- As you wait upon God in the face of opposition, He will give you grace, wisdom and discernment, also love for your enemies. In this way, through your responses, you will spread the fragrance of Christ among your fellow-believers, leaving them an example of how God’s servants can bear good fruit even when they are battling against the negative effects that such opposition is having upon them.
- The second ministry theme to follow: Paul, his ministry, and his sufferings.
Pastor Graham Roberts
Equip & Encourage International
Ministry at the Evangelical Institute, Greenville, South Carolina, USA