As we Face Tomorrow
“AS WE FACE TOMORROW”
(I Corinthians 16:9-10)
“I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.”
Everyone knows how discouraging life is if we face nothing but closed doors along the way. How frustrating it is to look in this direction and that direction with ambition and desire — only to find the doors closed in your face.
The Apostle Paul knew something about the frustration of closed doors. In the sixteenth chapter of Acts, he had started with his missionary team up the center of Asia Minor on a missionary journey. Along the way, he desired to turn to the south to enter new missionary territory, but Acts 16:6 says, “they were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” God closed that door. So Paul then tried to turn to the north to enter another new field. Acts 16:7 says, “They tried to enter Bithynia, but again the Spirit would not allow them.” God closed the door in their faces. So they passed up a narrow corridor through Asia Minor and finally came to Troas — on the sea. Now, they were like the children of Israel on the edge of the Red Sea — the water in front of them, forbidden terrain on either side, the angry Egyptians behind them — and nowhere to go! But just as God parted the waters of the Red Sea and thus opened a door for His people long before, God opened another door for Paul in Acts sixteen. When Paul slept in Troas that night, he received the famous vision of “a man of Macedonia, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” God had closed the doors into Asia and southern Asia Minor and had led His missionary into an apparent box canyon, a dead-end street, in order to open the door for them to carry the Gospel into the continent of Europe! So Paul knew how God closes doors and opens doors for His people.
In our text, Paul rejoices over God’s provision of an open door. There are some striking parallels between his situation in Ephesus long ago and our situation as we face all our tomorrows. The text reveals these similarities.
I. A GLORIOUS OPPORTUNITY
First, the text mentions a glorious opportunity. “A great door is opened unto me,” Paul wrote. An open door speaks of an available opportunity. The idea of the open door is used in such a symbolic way many times in the Bible. In II Corinthians 2:12, Paul wrote, “When I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, ... a door was opened unto me of the Lord.” In Colossians 4:3-4, he said, “Pray for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it (the mystery of Christ) manifest, as I ought to speak.” When Paul returned from his first missionary journey, he called the church at Antioch together to give them a report of the journey and its results. Luke records the account in Acts 14:27 in these words: “And when they had come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.” The common denominator in all of these occurrences of the term, “open door,” is this. The term is always associated with soul-winning, evangelism, outreach, and Gospel advance.
We must note that in each of these references the door was “opened” by God Himself. Spiritual opportunities are not automatic. They are gifts of God. Speaking to the church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3:8, Jesus said, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it.” Since opportunities are gifts, they must be seized. If they are not seized, they may be forfeited.
Years ago, a New York sports writer related a story in his daily column that illustrates the necessity of grasping opportunity when it presents itself. He wrote about a New York Yankee baseball game that had gone down to the wire. He said, “There were two out in the ninth inning, with the tying run on third base and the winning run on second base. A Yankee base hit would mean winning the game. Lou Gehrig, one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game of baseball, came to bat. The count on Lou went to three balls and two strikes. The fans were in an uproar. The pitcher wound up deliberately and the third strike came in straight over the middle of the plate and the umpire called ‘Strike three,’ for Lou Gehrig hadn’t moved his bat. Very slowly Lou turned and spoke to the umpire. At this the crowd went wild, because Lou Gehrig was one of baseball’s greatest gentlemen, and no one had ever heard of him arguing with an umpire. The reporters piled over the seats and right out onto the field. They swarmed around the empire. ‘What did Lou Gehrig say to you?’ they all asked. ‘It will make sports headlines.’ The umpire smiled and yelled to Lou Gehrig to come over. ‘Lou, tell the boys what you said to me when I called that third strike on you.’ Lou looked a little bewildered as he answered, ‘Mister Ump, I only said, I would give ten dollars to have that one back.’ Our opportunities are like that; they must be grasped. If we do not grasp them today, the day will come when we would give anything to have them back. There are many who rush blindly into their tomorrows without a thought that they are God-given doors of opportunity and filled with exciting spiritual possibilities. Just think of the tremendous opportunities that today and tomorrow hold for us.
The first “open door” is the door of salvation. For some reading these words at this very moment, today holds the opportunity for eternal salvation from sin and hell. Jesus Himself used the language of the open door to point out the opportunity of salvation. In John 10:9, He said, “I am the door; by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture.” A companion of Martin Luther in the days of the Reformation exclaimed, “Thank Heaven, Martin has made the entrance shorter and simpler by dismissing a thousand gate-keepers!” Just as the ancient city of Troy (the Troas of the New Testament) had only one gate, there is only one door to the Father and to heaven. And that door stands open to “any man” who will simply “enter in” by faith.
The chorus of a children’s song presents the truth of it:
“One door and only one, Yet its sides are two:
The outside and the inside, On which side are you?”
Another “open door” is the door of service for Christ. When we finally stand before God, will some of us cast regretful glances backward, wishing that we might have used our opportunities more faithfully? The pleasures and pursuits and concerns on which we spend so much time now may seem strangely small then. We should view things now as we shall view them then. If we have eyes to see, there are “open doors” everywhere. The Bible says, “As we therefore have opportunity, let us do good to all men” (Galatians 6:10). The announcement of that verse is that “we have opportunity!” As Christians seek to “do good to all men,” God Himself gains a passport to the world. So our use of our open doors gives to God open doors, as well!
A man who had been converted to Christ came to Charles Spurgeon and asked him what he could do about winning others. Spurgeon asked, “What do you do?” “I am an engine driver.” “Then,” said Spurgeon, “is your fireman a Christian?” “I don’t know,” said the man. “Go back,” said Spurgeon, “and find out and start on him.” There is a door of service, a missionary door, for every one of us, not in Africa or Australia or the islands of the sea, but where we live and work. The door of service for Christ is wide open today.
Another “open door” is the door of spiritual growth. This open door holds out to us all the glorious possibilities of an open Bible, and communication with God through His Word. How many of us are closing the door every day by wasting the opportunity of Bible study in favor of television-watching or the reading of inferior literature. The open door to an open Bible may not always be with us! Then, this door is also the door to richer personal fellowship with God through prayer. The purest luxury this side of heaven is the luxury of unhindered fellowship with God through prayer. Today and tomorrow, our heavenly Father calls each of us to a closer fellowship with Himself. And this door remains open when many others are shut!
The enemies of Christ put John the Apostle in exile on a little island called Patmos. One day he wrote, “I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven” (Revelation 4:1). He was isolated from his friends — men could shut those doors and rob him of fellowship with loved ones — but no man could shut the door between him and God.
All of these doors — the door of salvation, the door of service, the door of spiritual growth, and many other open doors — make a promise. There is victory just over the threshold! The text speaks of glorious opportunity.
II. GREAT OPPOSITION
Then, the text speaks of great opposition to the work of the Gospel, and this is precisely what confronts us today — as we face our tomorrows of opportunity. “A great door . . . is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” This is a perfect example of what we might call “Gospel grammar.” Gospel Grammar is quite different from the grammar of the world. The world would say, “There is a great door opened, but there are many adversaries.” But Gospel Grammar says, “And there are many adversaries.” The opposition is part of the opportunity! To the Apostle Paul, the many adversaries were part of the wide open door for his Gospel ministry. They were a part of the challenge and the opportunity. Far from discouraging him (and giving him an excuse to leave the city) they merely deepened his determination to stay and preach the Gospel. Perhaps, if we are completely honest with ourselves, the greatest obstacle to our personal witness to the Christian Gospel lies within our own heart.
We must be very careful as we ponder the matter of open doors and closed doors. These are terms that are widely used in Christian circles today, and they are usually used with regard to world missions. If a country is readily accessible to the Gospel and its representatives, we speak of an “open door” there. However, if the country is restricted with regard to Gospel presentation and the entry of Christians and missionaries, we speak of a “closed door.” Again, great caution is necessary. Fact and fiction seem to intermingle here. Christians tend to have a pathological preoccupation with closed (and closing) doors. Consequently, many take a stance of negativism or neutrality with regard to world impact because of their pessimism about opportunity.
The truth is that far fewer doors are really closed than we suppose. Though other doors may close in the future, many, many doors of missionary opportunity remain open, either totally or partially. All observant and sensitive Christians confess that they are amazed by God’s gracious and miraculous opening of eastern Europe and the former Communist bloc countries in recent years, but they are also aware that some of these doors are only precariously open and may close again in the future.
Christians should be far more concerned about their own self-constructed “closed” doors than about circumstantially closed doors. After the resurrection of Christ and before the Day of Pentecost, the Bible tells us that the disciples lurked “behind closed doors for fear of the Jews.” Much of the church remains behind closed doors of fear, and self-absorption, and indifference, today.
The supreme crisis of missions and world impact today is not closed doors — it is open doors! Job opportunities for world impact do not have to be sought today — they need to be sorted out and accepted. But realism decrees that we must accept the fact of opposition, and that we must adapt ourselves wisely and well to that opposition.
We may rely on it — “there are many adversaries.” Doors of spiritual opportunity never stand open without opposition. Satan and his minions will see to that! Abe Lincoln was right when he said, “The only common ground between good and evil is a battleground.” Opportunities do abound, but there is a barrier lying against every opening. There is an opportunity in every difficulty, and there is a difficulty in every opportunity.
There is opposition from without. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus pictured His church with “the gates of hell” pitted against it. The church has alway lived in an unfriendly and hostile environment. The individual Christian is not usually left to pursue his task unmolested. In Acts 19, when the Gospel was being preached and people being reached for Christ at Ephesus (the city mentioned in our text), the opposition was stirred and a riot was incited to stop the work. But the opposition was regarded as part of the opportunity — and the work went on.
Then, there is opposition from within. In fact, we must sadly admit to our great shame that the most serious impediments to utilizing the opportunities God gives us are within the church. The world and Satan take hold of the “handles” of the flesh which Christians hold out to them, and cancel or neutralize the effectiveness of the church in world impact. The individual Christian must overcome the opposition from both sources if he is to count for Christ. And he can do so.
Just this morning, I read this great paragraph in Eugene Peterson’s excellent New Testament paraphrase entitled The Message: “When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It’s similar with sinners outside the church.” Then Mr. Peterson makes this rather bold statement: “So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior.” As lamentable and debatable as this statement may be, it is a true confession of our failures as Christians. Because of these failures of fleshly weakness or aggressiveness, there is great opposition inside the church to the full advance of the Gospel on a world front. Our individual selfishness, our spiritual lethargy and laziness, our pride, our preoccupation, often make us part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
In Philippians 1:21, the Apostle Paul said, “To me to live is Christ.” Among other things, this verse reveals that Paul understood his own salvation to mean that his life gave Jesus opportunity to live and love all over again in and through him! So my mission must be Christ’s mission, or I will become Christ’s adversary, an opponent of God’s purposes.
However, we may not only rely on the fact of opposition, we may also rejoice in it. The presence of “adversaries” is perfect evidence that God is the aggressor in a vast invisible warfare; it is proof positive that the Spirit is mightily at work. Also, it is good reason to be more faithful than ever. Jesus said, “When men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” A glorious opportunity, and great opposition; these add up to the third picture in our text.
III. A GRAVE OBLIGATION
Finally, the text suggests a grave obligation, and that is precisely what confronts us today — as we face tomorrow.
First, we are obligated to overcome the adversaries. If you want a challenging experience, check the use of the word “overcome” in the Bible sometime. God’s greatest promises are offered to those who overcome. In order to have the victory, we must overcome the opposition. We are obligated to overcome the adversaries of our unfavorable and unfriendly surroundings, of our sins, of our own pride and selfishness, our indifference, and our preoccupation.
Which one of us does not like to read of heroic people who have turned stumbling-blocks into stepping-stones, who have transformed threatening or impossible situations into victories? William the Conqueror was one of these “invincibles” of history. When he set foot on English soil at Pevensey in 1066, he departed his ship with great ceremony in order to duly impress his soldiers. However, his landing proved to be not so promising. When he stepped onto British soil, he stumbled and fell headlong — in full view of everybody! The Norman soldiers at once took this to be a bad omen. But Duke William of Normandy capitalized the misfortune. He immediately got to his feet, grasping in each hand some of the earth on which he had fallen. Holding up the handfuls of British soil, he cried, “Look! This is a sign that Almighty God has delivered this land into my hands!” This adroit manipulation of a threatening mishap rallied his army, and shortly thereafter, William and his troops won the Battle of Hastings. If we truly trust God, He will turn many an “impossible situation” into a beachhead for His victory.
Second, we are obligated to maintain a balanced perception of “closed doors” and “open doors.” According to Scripture, doors of opportunity are opened and closed by the action of a totally sovereign God. In identifying Himself to the church in Philadelphia, known to history as “the church of the open door,” Jesus said, I am “he that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens.” At the moment, He had set before the Philadelphia church an open door, but he controlled that door and had the power to shut it as well as to open it (see Revelation 3:7-13).
History has revealed that closed doors may not be the great tragedies we invariably consider them to be. Missionaries, preachers, teachers, soul-winners, disciples and disciple-makers, like anybody else, are inclined to have an inflated opinion of their own importance. Occasionally it may be well to remind ourselves that if need be God can get along quite well without us. In recent history, God has greatly enlarged His church in such countries as Ethiopia and mainland China while those countries have been officially “closed” to representatives of the Gospel. At this moment, we can dare to believe that the door of China was closed by God, not by the devil. If it had not been God’s sovereign will, all the armies of Red China and all the hosts of hell combined could not have expelled the missionaries. I say again, the real tragedy is not the number of closed doors that we can’t enter, but the number of open doors that we don’t enter. Thomas Edison was right when he said, “There is much more opportunity than there are people to see it.” We must maintain a balance about available opportunities that will enable us to act suitably in each case.
Finally, we are obligated to press through the open doors. For some, this will mean coming to God through Jesus Christ, the door. “He is able to save unto the uttermost all those who come unto God by Him” (Hebrews 7:25). He said, “I am the door, by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). For others, this will mean the beginning of an active service for Christ — in visitation, in witnessing, in winning souls to Him, in sharing, in ministering, in working, in teaching. For still others, this will mean a more faithful devotional life, as well as other adjustments in the daily walk with God. Biblically, an “open door” speaks of opportunity, but it also speaks of responsibility.
The pilot of Air Force One explained landing procedures to former President Richard Nixon in these words: “Mr. President, we were taught three rules in flight school: One, you can’t use air space that is above you; two, you can’t use air speed you don’t have; and three, you can’t use runway that is behind you.” Today has already begun to march by. Part of its “runway” is already behind us. Soon the door opened will be quietly closed. And our tomorrows will soon be used up also. This could even be the day or the year of our Lord’s return. Opportunity abounds. Opposition threatens. As we face the next tomorrow, what will we do? Like the children of Israel entering the doors of the Temple, we should sing with joy as we enter the open doors all around us.
One of my favorite preachers is Dr. Clarence Macartney, great Presbyterian leader of the past. Dr. Macartney told of driving many years ago across Chicago with the late William Jennings Bryan. They passed the coliseum where Mr. Bryan delivered his famous address at the Democratic Convention in 1896. In that speech, he concluded with the famous statement, “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” That speech made him three times the candidate of his party for the presidency of the United States. As they passed the coliseum Dr. Macartney said, “My Bryan, I suppose many times you have made speeches just as great as the one delivered here, but they were never heard of.” Mr. Bryan replied, “Yes, I suppose so, but that convention meeting here was my opportunity, and I made the most of it, and that is about all we do in this world — use our opportunities or lose them.” How true! How true of the unsaved! How true of churches! How true of individual Christians! How true of disciple-makers!
Jesus gave us serious warning at this point. He told a story about ten girls. They were wedding attendants who were waiting for the bridegroom to return home after claiming his bride. Five of the girls were sensible, and five were stupid. The sensible girls made all necessary preparations. They filled their lamps with oil and were ready. The five stupid ones made no preparations. Their lamps were empty. Instead of getting busy, they went to sleep. While the bridegroom delayed, there was still time. But when the bridegroom came, it was too late. The sensible five who had gotten ready went in with the bridegroom and bride to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. The stupid five hurried off to fetch oil, and when at last they came to the feast, they could not get in. They hammered at the door with their fists, and cried, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But “the door was shut,” and the bridegroom replied, “I do not know you.”
The door that shut Noah safely on the inside of the ark sealed the doom of all unbelievers on the outside. You see, I must be sure that when the door is shut, I am on the inside. How may I be sure? Why, by living on the inside of that open door!
“One door, and only one, Yet its sides are two,
The outside and the inside, On which side are you?”
Christian, this is no time for retrenchment or retreat. The doors of opportunity for world impact are open. The fields of world harvest are ripe. The laborers in the harvest fields are few. It is both foolish and futile to spend our time lamenting the few doors that are closed while we refuse to enter the many doors that are open. The closed doors are God’s responsibility. We can safely leave them with Him. The open doors are our responsibility, and we neglect them at our peril. It is perfectly true that only Christ can open doors for us, but it is equally true that He will not enter them for us. It is His part to open the door, and it is ours to enter.
H. G. Wells once wrote an extremely fascinating story called “The Door in the Wall.” It is the account of a man who, as a small child, discovered a magnificently beautiful garden. This discovery placed him in another world. However, his garden was only a temporary experience.
As time passed he tried to find the door in the wall again, but could not do so. However, as a grown man, he caught glimpses of the tiny door to the mystical garden on several occasions, but each time he allowed himself to be dominated by other demands and passed the door without entering the garden. The occasions which prevented his entrance were worthwhile occasions, but in each case the good became the enemy of the best. At the end of the story, he sees a door, and wistfully mistaking it for the door into the garden, he enters it, and falls into a pit to his own death. It proved to be the door into a construction project. The message? If we fail to enter the doors God opens, we finally seek to manufacture our own doors — which only lead to our death.
“A great door is opened unto us.” If you are without Christ, the door of Eternal Salvation stands open to you. If you are in Christ, the door of Effective Service stands open to you. Here is “God’s Open Door Policy.” An old wall motto says, “The Door of Opportunity is marked, ‘PUSH.’” Who will rise up, deliberately ignore all other doors, enter the door God has opened and possess the treasures within?
SPIRITUAL LIFE MINISTRIES
Herb Hodges, Preacher/Teacher
3562 Marconi Cove, Memphis, TN 38118
(901) 362-1622; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org