Friday, July 27, 2012

Eye to Eye to Opposition- II Corinthians 12

(Paul) had just gotten launched into the ministry and already he's got the Jewish and Gentile world after him. This was just the beginning of how it would be throughout his life until one day he laid his head on a block in Rome and a Roman executioner chopped it off and he entered the presence of the Lord. From the beginning of his ministry to the end, this is all he ever knew...all he ever knew. And anybody in their right mind today who sat him down in our contemporary Christian environment would have said, "You know, Paul, you really need to change your method, you're just infuriating the whole world. I mean, there's got to be a soft-sell here that you could develop. You've...there's got to be some subtleties, Paul, everything can't be blatant."  John MacArthur

One of the tough realities of the Christian life is that if you lift up Christ long enough, you WILL find yourself in opposition.

Have you ever been there? It is not fun.

I have had some occasions in my life where there were individuals and groups who stood against me. It will keep you up at night, prayerful, and cautious. I am so thankful to be at place where that is not true now.

The Lord has made it clear to me that I am not to share the details of my experiences for now. But He allowed me to go through it to teach me an encyclopedia of information about how men operate and to check me out as far as some of my heart strengths and weaknesses.

When I read I and II Corinthians, I am so humbled because what I have experienced in my life is NOTHING compared to what Paul went through and SUPER NOTHING compared to what my Savior experienced.

But there is great insight from Paul that has made me understand my experiences more fully and I want to explore these concepts with any reader of this post.

I will write more fully about this amazing chapter in 2 or 3 posts- but an overview of what is happening here will help the context.


Paul's life was one of opposition. My guess is that he was a lightening rod pre and post conversion. He did nothing halfway, it was ALL-IN.

My experience is that the world has a hard time with that type of person. And the reasons are as complex as the tangled web of opposition. Maybe these types of men are a threat. Maybe they provide a mirror to how safe and apathetic we tend to be. Maybe they convict us of our love of peace and fear of conflict.

Paul was dramatically converted in Damascus, struck down and blinded as he was hell bent on his terrorism toward these followers of Christ. God first sent him to Ananius, who cared for him and loved him in his baby steps following conversion.

I sometimes wonder if this was the first time Paul ever felt love in his regimented and martial life. He had been all policy, procedure, and power- now he was a helpless man- staggering and bewildered about what had taken place. But he was being cared for by this tender and sweet servant of God.

If you read Acts 9 and Galatians 1 and 2, you get more of this dramatic narrative.

The Lord then takes him to Arabia, south of Damascus, where he experiences the wilderness for three years. What happened there? He was taught the gospel, the message of Good News that he was going to take to the gentiles. "For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." Galatians 1:12

He then comes out of seclusion and begins teaching this bold and beautiful message (Acts 9) and he so angers the Jews there that they already want to kill him. He angers the Arabians. So the gates are guarded and the murder plot is hatched.

In God's care, disciples lower him in a basket, allowing him to escape.

He then goes to Jerusalem where he spends 15 days with Peter and James. Then he launches into the ministry of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.

What kind of life was it?

"far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles,danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches."  (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

I  Multiple Level Opposition:
One of the notable observations of men who experience  "persecution for preaching the gospel" is the multiple facet of the attack. It is overt and covert. It involves twisting of truth and outright lies. Paul unveils a part of this in chapter 11.
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
In my observations and in my experience, the greatest hurt has come by people within the church- not without. And the words cause more damage over time than the acts.When a group of men make up their minds that they now oppose you- there is little you can do to sway them. Paul's point here is  'If I stay silent, my opponents say I am manipulative. If I speak, they say I am lying.' This begs the question: What do we do?

II Conditioned by Circumstances, Protected by Grace:

God clearly sees it all. And in His good providence, He provides teaching and training that prepares us for the attack. Most of the time there is a consistent pattern if we open our eyes, we learn the ropes vicariously through the experiences of others.

In my circumstances, I saw the same pattern repeated numerous times before I entered the crucible. In the aftermath of my experience, I had close to twenty conversations that outlined the same pattern.

The mutual experience and discussions actually helped tremendously. And there quickly becomes a choice- do we grow bitter and angry or do we drink deeply of grace? This is the purpose for which God allows these things. When we choose life (grace) over death (bitterness/depression) it glorifies God in the midst of the conflict.

It doesn't matter if anyone notices your right choice or not- these are heart truths that you share with the Lord. And you understand that if you do choose right, it wasn't in your power to do it anyway.

III Collateral Damage and Unintended Harm

I do think it is important for me to mention the leader of opposition and some things we can all learn about participation in the opposition. Satan (and his minions) is the great maestro of these attacks. The enemy is NOT people per se- but I see people participating in the scheme willingly AND in ignorance.

Two things that we do which aid and embed the enemy is when we pass along negative information that may or may not be true.

We live in a culture of soundbites- and we adopt a blurp about people- and ignorantly pass along these quips without thought to their veracity or impact.

So there are 2 things we must constantly guard against:
1) gossip and 2) cowardly passiveness

If you pass along 2nd hand information (especially negative comments) or sit back and not challenge (in love) people who do so, you are unwittingly contributing to the multiple layered attack of the enemy against all men.

IV- The Biblical Response

What do we do when we find ourselves eye to eye with this type of opposition?

  • Pray- Search the Word- and Protect the Heart.

This is easy to write and hard to do.

When I first discovered evidence of others working against me, a very godly man encouraged me to love, pray for, and serve my opponents.

I noticed immediate results- not in my circumstance- but at my heart level. The anger and fear that had gripped me dissipated in a matter of weeks.

  • Prudently, Speak Up

Another response, which is not natural for me, is to actively defend without being defensive. This one is impossible to get right. You can't get paranoid and see Satan under every rock. You can't go charging on offense. But you do have to in prayer and humility confront the attacks as they come up. This was my biggest mistake- I got too quiet. I should have been more willing to lovingly confront, especially the  half-truths and twisted spin.

If I am honest, I sometimes retreated from speaking up, not out of humility, but an unwillingness to stir it up. Sometimes we need to speak up.

Look what John MacArthur says about Paul in these chapters:

Here is a man forced to boast. And in so doing he manifests such amazing humility that this may be one of the greatest illustrations of humility in all of Scripture. It's easy to be humble when you're a nobody. It's easy to be humble when you're inferior. It's very challenging to be humble when you're somebody uniquely called by God, uniquely gifted and when you have been exalted as THE apostle of Jesus Christ. It's unique to be able to boast about your superiority in such a way as to manifest the noblest of all virtues, which is humility. And that's what he does.    John MacArthur- Sermon on II Corinthians

V The Common Result:

The toughest part of this universal situation of men is this: you are likely to lose.

Once the opposition lines up and becomes visible- the individual is going to get rubbed out. The only hope we have, is to have great leaders come along and stand firm in the storm. Those types of leaders are not found very often.

I had a friend who went through a very similar circumstance before I got into my situation. The man who finally pulled the trigger explained to me why he did it.

"There was too much controversy. The stuff just kept coming up and finally I felt like this was the only way to get through it. This was best for everyone."

What he was saying to me was- it isn't necessarily right, but necessary to end strife. And this is how it is likely to go.

I shocked my very close confidants when I predicted what was going to happen to me a full year in advance. I explained the situation, told them what I suspected was going on, and told them what was likely to happen.

But (and God knows I am telling the truth) I told them to take heart, work confidently, push hard, have fun,  and maybe change the result. I never once reacted in fear. And we had enough success to think I had escaped the likely result, but in the end, it happened like it normally does.

And the ultimate result? Trust God's goodness and providence.

Paul eventually had his head removed and walked right into glory.

What did Christ tell His followers? :

11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, igreet it. 13 And if the house is jworthy, let iyour peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let iyour peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, lshake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, mit will be more bearable on the day of judgment for nthe land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
16 oBehold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be pwise as serpents and qinnocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for rthey will deliver you over to courts and flog you sin their synagogues, 18 rand you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, tto bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 rWhen uthey deliver you over,vdo not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for wwhat you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 xFor it is not you who speak, but ythe Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 zBrother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 aand you will be hated by all for my name's sake. bBut the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they cpersecute you in one town, dflee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel ebefore the Son of Man comes.
24 f“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant5 above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. gIf they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign6 those of his household.

I will write later on the proper way to fight. But as I close, I need to emphasize a few closing points.

GOD IS GREAT AND HE IS GOOD. When He allows us to experience this type of opposition, He is going to use it for our good. We need to be patient and trust Him fully. When I was going through my deal- it was the greatest spiritual high of my life.

OUR SIN DOES CONTRIBUTE TO OUR DEMISE. In the end, I knew that I had made mistakes. These are lessons to learn and we want to improve.

WILLING TO BE MIS-UNDERSTOOD. I realize that this post may cause some consternation. Some may see it as self-serving. I'm sure there are some who say, 'But there is another side to the story'.

I'm not here to debate all of that. We all move on. My prayer is that this post will instruct and comfort others who find themselves eye to eye to opposition.

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