“I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me”.
1 Cor 16:8, 9 NIV
Not all Christian leaders are tough fighters. Many are quiet, peaceable souls who specialise in harmonising different points of view and avoiding conflict. Some believe that “It’s nice to be nice”. And some are so Christ-like that no one could ever clash with them.
Paul was tough. He had a towering intellect that thought his way through both knotty issues and complicated problems. He had come from a strict Jewish background and, in being claimed and called by Christ, he knew that he had to renounce the prominence his former faith ascribed to the Jewish law. But not all new Christians thought like that in those early years. They thought they could “mix and match” the two. And there developed an intense rivalry between the new Christian faith and the old Jewish faith. This difference led to strongly competitive attitudes on both sides. It caused much animosity. Paul was right at the centre of this storm and his phrase “many oppose me” could well have been referring to this problem. But he did not shy away from the arguments and disputes.
He knew that Christianity was fighting for its very life. It could easily have merged back into Judaism. On top of his tireless missionary and church-building activities, he managed to keep his nerve and see the issue through to finality. Sadly, the early disputes have led to ongoing suspicions between the Christian and Jewish faiths. These are much less intense now than they were and representative leaders of the two faiths have often stood shoulder to shoulder in campaigns for justice and peace.
Lord, bless the children of Israel who serve you in their way.