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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 16:7-9 Many who oppose me

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, August 10, 2023

7 I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work stands open to me, and there are many who oppose me.

The reason Paul was thinking about his itinerary is that there was a need for more work in two places: Corinth and Ephesus. He didn’t want to show up at Corinth only to have to leave again with so much left to be done. Instead, he wanted to be able to spend some significant time with them, perhaps months, if possible. “If the Lord permits” is a humble confession that God is the one in charge of the church and of all our work. As Paul says in the Athenian Catechism, “In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28; the “Athenian Catechism” is my name for Acts 17:22-31).

The Apostles’ plan was to remain in Ephesus for now (this tells us where he was when he wrote 1 Corinthians). The reference to Pentecost is not to the Christian festival, which was not popularized as a holiday yet at this early date, but to the Jewish celebration known as the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-22). It was also the day in more recent times when the Holy Spirit had descended on the apostles after the ascension of Jesus (Acts 2:1) and it is also the traditional date of the death of King David (970 BC, 1 Chronicles 29:28).

“A wide door for effective work” is how Paul describes the situation in Ephesus. How do we find our way through such doors? How do we find them in the first place? By knocking on lots of doors. Sometimes the kingdom of heaven is like a man lighting a campfire in the woods. He holds the match to the brush and tinder here and there; and some does not catch right away, so he moves on because he doesn’t have much time with this match. But he is happy when some of the tinder catches fire, because it will help ignite the rest of the sticks.

Paul adds without a pause: “There are many who oppose me.” There will always be adversaries to the gospel, but this is another reason that Paul did not want to leave Ephesus just yet. The opponents were “many.”

Opponents of the gospel stir things up, and many of our members become upset because these adversaries take away our peace. But at the same time, adversaries drive away our drowsiness, and when the church has become too relaxed, the Lord allows controversy to come in order to sharpen the edges of the sword of the spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Since that sword is the word of God itself (Hebrews 4:12) we are tempted to allow the same one or two passages to ring out at all times. The passages are not wrong, but sometimes we need to bring other verses, other passages to bear to truly answer the heretics who only want to scratch their ears with their own words (2 Timothy 4:3).

“Heretics,” Luther said, “are useful. We don’t realize how good it is to have opponents… (John) Eck provoked me. He made me wide awake. I wished from the bottom of my heart that he would return to the way of salvation, and therefore I wanted to strike out against him with my fist in the hope that he might be converted…. He gave me my first ideas [about the Reformation, on account of his false teachings in Wittenberg] and without him I would never have got this far. Accordingly our opponents are very useful to us, although they think they do us harm” (Table Talk, LW 50:445).

So the opponents Paul faced in Ephesus would be useful for the growth and instruction of the church there. Those enemies would cross swords with Paul’s preaching so that the people could see the truth more clearly and learn to defend their faith with more confidence and vigor. It’s natural for Christians to wish we had no opponents at all, but we shouldn’t fear what the Lord sets before us. If we make a dumb mistake and our opponent seems to win a momentary victory, let us learn from it. But let us never run from a challenge when it is God’s word being challenged. Let us say with David, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine. Your servant will go and fight him” (1 Samuel 17:32). And then may we say, “I went out to meet the Philistine, and he cursed me by his idols, but I drew his own sword… and ended his taunts against the people of Israel.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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