Stampeding toward me with his voice raised, I was taken aback! I had been here many times, for this was familiar territory. In fact, I knew this area like the back of my hand. Despite being aware of potential objections to my presence, as sometimes occurred, this objector surprised me.
As I was handing out gospel tracts in the middle of a busy underground hallway at the Times Square subway station in New York City, wearing my “Jews for Jesus” t-shirt, a police officer quickly approached, screamed at me, and declared I couldn’t stand were I was standing. I had been at this spot many times and never had a problem with law enforcement. Yes, there were times I experienced verbal abuse by people not happy I was declaring Jesus as Messiah, but never by a uniformed officer.
This policeman made me move off into a relatively quiet area of the subway hole and hand out my literature standing next to a column where few people were passing by. There was little doubt in my mind this officer was Jewish, did not believe in Jesus and had a problem with my presence.
During my tenure as a missionary to my Jewish people in New York City from 2003-2009, one could literally do street ministry twenty-four hours a day in the “city that never sleeps!” In the “Big Apple” there were ongoing evangelistic opportunities.
With evangelistic opportunities comes spiritual opposition — that opposition manifesting in different ways.
As the Apostle Paul walked through open doors of ministry opportunity, he was typically met with fierce spiritual opposition.
For example, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:5-9:
Now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia (for I am passing through Macedonia). And it may be that I will remain, or even spend the winter with you, that you may send me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits. But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
While the church in Ephesus had been started by Priscilla and Aquila, it was later firmly established by Paul, who pastored the church for 3 years. This letter to the church in Corinth was written at the end of that 3 year stay. While Paul experienced much spiritual fruit from ministering the gospel, at the same time Paul and the church in Ephesus had experienced fierce opposition to gospel ministry.
What kind of adversaries are there?
There is spiritual opposition. Satan and his minions oppose God, His people and any and all efforts to spread the gospel. Satan not only works to keep believers from sharing the gospel, he works to keep unbelievers blind to it!
As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4:
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
Additionally, that spiritual opposition manifests itself through human effort. People influenced by our spiritual enemy and the enemy of the souls of men and women we’re trying to reach also fight against gospel efforts!
In Acts 17:1-8 we note just one powerful example of spiritual opposition manifested through human beings,
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.
But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.” And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
All throughout the book of Acts, open doors of gospel opportunity are met with opposition — oftentimes, intense opposition. And this highlights part of the spiritual war we’re in.
Paul elucidated this reality to the church in Ephesus as he wrote in Ephesians 6:10-12:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Later in Ephesians 6, Paul then asked the church in Ephesus to pray for him and his witness, “pray that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20).
We may not experience the type or intensity of opposition Paul often experienced. Yet, understand when open doors of gospel opportunity present themselves to you, don’t be surprised when you’re met spiritual opposition. Sometimes opposition is overt and in your face. Other times it’s quite subtle.
While on staff at a local church in Johnson City, TN, a gentlemen called our church, interested in exploring the truth claims of Christ. I was happy to meet with him. While studying the gospel of John with him at a local coffee shop, he divulged he’d been involved in Wicca. I shared a few things also from Ephesians 6 and the spiritual battle that exists, warning him there would be forces desiring to dissuade him from pursuing the truth about Jesus.
At the end our initial meeting, we planned on studying again. The next time I called him, the phone only rang, as there was no answering machine. A few days later I tried again, only to met with, “This number has been disconnected.”
What happened there? I don’t know for sure. I never heard from or saw that man again. I strongly suspect spiritual opposition played a part in my not having further gospel ministry to him.
While spiritual forces will oppose us as we walk through evangelistic doors, take heart. God has given us ample resources to fight the good fight of faith. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Specifically, God has given us the “Sword of the Spirit” – the Word of God. We have the weapon of prayer. We also have the Holy Spirit, who empowers us, works through our witness, and brings those walking in darkness into the light!
Walking through open doors of gospel opportunity? Expect spiritual opposition. And God is faithful!
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” – 1 John 4:4