By Holly Culhane
I was just 15 minutes into our church’s weekly potluck time after the Sunday morning service. Three conversations. Three good and godly women. Three opportunities for me to respond appropriately or to fire a shot over the bow in response to a comment.
I ran for cover. Initially, I wanted to head for the hills, go home, and get out of the environment where I felt I was being tempted to do or say or act in a way that was not what the Father had in mind.
Instead, I ran for reinforcements. Those who could speak truth into my life, give me the proper perspective, and keep my heart and mind on the right track. It was God’s sovereignty that those individuals were together at that very moment, my pastor and my spouse.
This situation reminded me of the difference between “resistance” and “opposition”. As pointed out recently in the writings of J. D. Walt, of Seedbed, “Resistance is a good, needful, and helpful thing. It often comes from wise people who aren’t trying to stand in the way but whom the Holy Spirit often deploys to refine a project or planned initiative. Opposition is of another order altogether. It sometimes takes discernment to tell the difference. Resistance will most often speak directly to you. Opposition will readily go behind your back. Resistance openly and graciously confronts. Opposition secretly conspires. Resistance refines the direction. Opposition attacks the person.” Then, he offered one final admonition: “The fullness of the Holy Spirit will always look like Jesus.”
Both resistance and opposition provide opportunity for sin, and both require a godly response. I’m still evaluating how well I handled the three situations I mentioned earlier, which alone tells me there was room for improvement. Yep, I’m a shepherd-in-training, still a work in progress.
Thinking of those situations, as well as others I’ve encountered, I was reminded how important it is as a leader, an influencer, to be prepared for the tough conversations we’ll face. Whether resistance or opposition, the hearts, minds, and souls of shepherd leaders need to be ready at all times and on every occasion to speak the truth in love.
I was also reminded of the inevitability of opposition. It always surfaces to those filled with the Holy Spirit. Even 1st Century Stephen encountered it…
Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.
But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him.
They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia.
But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
The NIV translation literally translates “started to debate with him” as “opposed him”.
As Walt also pointed out, “If we were to get a birds-eye view of the first-century church, everywhere we spotted the activity of the Holy Spirit we would also witness the opposition stirring”.
The same is true today.
Don’t be fooled. The enemy – our enemy, fellow under-shepherd – is just as alive and active in the 21st Century as he was in the 1st Century. His desire then, as it is now, is to create division, cause discord, and bring dissension. To kill, steal, and destroy. That is his goal. Whether it is friendships, families, work relationships, or congregants, any place he can bring disharmony, cause disagreement, and bring detachment, he’s in.
The more we buy-in to his game, his ploys, his tricks, strategies, and plans, the more our focus is on ourselves and not on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith, the Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd.
“Human beings must indeed be held accountable when they serve as the willing yet often unwitting agents of darkness, but they are not the ultimate opponent.”, Wilt noted. That’s truth, fellow under-shepherd. Our enemy is evil. It is Lucifer. It is the one who would love to take as many down with him as he can, or distract believers long enough to keep our focus off the work the Father has for us to do.
So, what do we do? We need not wonder.
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.
Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.
Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.
For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.
In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.
Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.
Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
This is not a passive battle, fellow under-shepherd. We must be strong. We must armor up. We must stand firm. We must pray earnestly and be alert and persistent. It is only then that we are able to discern the difference between simple resistance intended to assist and violent opposition intended to harm.