Relations between Christians are not always easy. The relations between Paul and the Christians in Corinth had become strained and this was all the more significant in that Paul was Christ's apostle – for the Corinthians to question what Paul said was to risk turning from Christ himself.
Paul was concerned to promote the spiritual well-
They couldn't be more wrong and Paul replies to such implied criticism by giving them a few more facts to consider. As he does so he employs an illustration that he was particular fond of. It is this illustration to which I want to draw your attention this evening. It is there in v.12:
"a door was opened for me in the Lord,"
Paul was the only person to employ this particular picture and he did so on four different occasion in the Bible. While his use of it is unique it is in complete harmony with the wider teaching of the Bible.
If the exact illustration of a door being opened is only fully used by the apostle there are a number of occasions in the OT when that same idea is foreshadowed. Take for example these words that Job spoke as he discussed with his would-
Isaiah looking ahead and speaking of the role given to Cyrus in restoring the fortunes of God's people declared:
Is.45:1 "Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed:"
In both of these examples the divine hand is at work doing that which God alone can do.
Similarly Psalm 127, with which we began, also highlights the limits of human resourcefulness and the absolute need for divine action and activity if spiritual work is to prove successful:
Ps.127:1 "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain."
Paul's Picture Language in the NT
Acts14:27 Open Doors and Gospel Success
The Acts of the Apostles contains a number of stories where the Lord intervened to secure the release from prison of his servants – they make for encouraging reading.
In Acts 5 an angel opened the doors of the public prison so that the apostles who had been imprisoned there might be able to return to the temple to carry on their task of preaching and teaching about Jesus Christ.
Then in Acts 12 we learn that Peter is in prison again this time on his own – again he experiences a remarkable angelic deliverance in an exciting and amusing account.
These literal "opening of doors" prepare us for understanding a more figurative use of the expression that Paul enjoys employing.
The first reference is found just a couple of chapters further on in the Book of Acts where Luke records how the missionaries Paul and Barnabas reported back to their sending church in Antioch. Meeting with the whole church they explained what they had been able to do and why they had been able to do it.
Acts 14:27 "And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles."
The church had commended Paul and Barnabas to the grace of God as they sent them on mission and on their return Paul and Barnabas were keen to explain how God had worked. They had travelled and as they did so they preached, sowing the seed of God's word, perhaps they had watered it too in prayer, but they could not do anything more than that. If there was to be any growth and any fruit it would have to be God who gave the increase and this is just what he did. He opened a door of faith to the Gentiles and the result was that Gentiles welcomed and embraced the message of the gospel. All new spiritual life must find its origin in the activity of God himself – new birth is "birth from on high", men and women are saved by grace through faith but that very faith itself comes as a gift of God – God will have pre-
(As an aside if we were to turn a couple of chapters further on in the Acts we would again find the apostle Paul this time in Troas. There he really was at a loss as to what to do. He was a missionary and wanted to preach but the Spirit wouldn't allow him – wherever Paul turned he seemed to be confronted by "closed doors". That is just the language we use to explain his experience at that time even though the text contains no reference to doors at all. It is the beginning of the spread of the gospel to Europe because there Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia calling out for help.)
"But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries."
It sounds great doesn't it? A wide open door for effective ministry and service! Great!
And we think about the words of that great missionary leader Hudson Taylor who said:
"God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply."
And we can fondly imagine that everything will now be plain sailing as we press ahead.
But it was not at all plain sailing for the apostle as he pressed ahead.
Yes, "a wide door for effective work" had been opened to him and it was God who had done it. Often in the Bible there is the use of this "divine passive" – it functions a bit like a road sign by some road works. You know the sign: a red triangle with a man digging inside it – Danger, it warns, men at work. Well, the divine passive doesn't warn about men being at work it says God at Work!!
The opportunities that now presented themselves to Paul were so encouraging that he would happily adapt his plans to give himself more fully to the work in hand.
But even the fact that God is at work does not mean everything is straightforward now and that the progress of the gospel is painless and trouble-
We have an expression that we all know well: "Let sleeping dogs lie". When all is calm and quiet don't do anything to disturb the peace. You're out for a walk in the countyside and you pass a drive with open gates and you see a huge dog lying asleep on the drive. What do you do? Well, if you're like me you try to sneak quietly by hoping the dog doesn't stir and come racing to chase you away.
The trouble is that in successful gospel ministry the sleeping dogs are rudely woken up. The peace was not a positive peace it was the peace of a graveyard and the preaching of the gospel changes all that. Those sleeping dogs are now wide awake and barking there hostility.
The church is not to seek the way of peace at all costs – having no adversaries is no sure sign of God's blessing and may rather be a sign of quite the opposite. When God opened the door wide for Paul to exercise and effective gospel ministry the adversaries were numerous. We should not expect antything different in our own experience.
"even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them"
This verse comes to us as something of a surprise. We are used to thinking of the apostle as a wonderfully courageous, wonderfully gifted, wonderfully successful Christian missionary but here he tells us something surprising.
The situation in Troas was another one of those remarkable ones where the God-
And what do we expect? We surely expect that Paul will take full advantage of the situation to proclaim Christ and to reap a harvest.
But Paul doesn't do that at all!
No, Paul is so anxious about his friends from Corinth that he simply can't set himself to the work. Yes, God had opened the door but Paul in his weakness simply can't avail himself of the opportunity.
There are a number of things we should learn from this:
The mere fact of being presented with an opportunity alone does not guarantee that we will seize it.
Just because we've been strong in one situation does not ensure we'll be strong in another.
Gospel priorities will sometimes bring conflicting demands upon us.
As Paul did not pretend to be something that he wasn't: neither should we.
It is interesting that Paul was ready to reveal his weakness to the Corinthians when they were looking to be impressed by strength. Why is he telling them that he had a God-
Paul is content to reveal his weakness because he is not ultimately answerable to the Corinthians but to his Lord who already knows all about his weaknesses and who has already accepted him in Christ! Paul's ministry is the overflow of that acceptance and not the grounds of it – in other words he doesn't have to perform in order to be saved and he doesn't have to pretend before others either.
If Paul was prepared to own up to having failed to seize such a God-
Open doors are indeed gospel opportunities that God gives us – we want them and we want to be able to seize them but just as they can be accompanied by many adversaries they can also be met with weakness and failure too.
"Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison -
Although when Paul wrote to the Christians in Colosse he was in prison he didn't expect that to put an end to his ministry – he wants to go on preaching and to that end he solicits the prayer support of the Colossians. Paul isn't asking for them to pray for his release (though doubtless he would appreciate that) rather he wants them to pray for an open door for the word.
What does he mean?
Well, Paul is actually making two different though related requests: he wants opportunities to preach where his preaching will prove to be successful; he wants to be able to preach with clarity making the truth clear to those who listen to him. These two must go together – if the message preached is unclear folk will not know what the problem is, what the solution is or why they should be concerned about it all anyway. As Paul would put it to the Corinthians:
1Cor.14:8 "And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?"
But victory is not secured by the clarity of the trumpet blast alone! The clearest presentation of the gospel message will have not the slightest effect unless God is active in "opening a door for the word". It is another way of declaring what the psalmist had declared:
Ps.127:1 "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain"
Maybe it was the way in which Paul had experienced the Lord opening just this sort of door for him in the past that encouraged him to continue seeking this kind of prayer support now. After all there had been times when he grasped the opportunities well and there had been times when he hadn't. Paul was wise enough to know he needed the prayer support of others. What about us?
The Lord is concerned with the spread of the gospel, his gospel. The Lord is building his church – he is the only one who can do this and yet he gives his people the privilege of being involved with him in this. He opens and closes doors of gospel opportunity and he wants his people to take advantage of these open doors to minister. And in his grace even the failures of his people to grasp them are not wasted – we are encouraged to press prayerfully on and not spend our time lamenting our failures.
To God be the Glory.