The Lord’s work makes progress not only in spite of difficulties but frequently by means of them. Service to God is rendered in a world where the enemy has power and uses it in untiring and varied aggression against all that is done for God. This ceaseless opposition, directed against the glory of Christ, has beneficial effects. It reminds His servants of their inability to do anything in their own strength, and of their dependence on the Lord, casting them upon His ever-ready help. It thereby proves the means of strengthening them to continue their arduous labour with joy of heart, and to face every difficulty strong in the Lord and undeterred by any obstacle however formidable. Let us look at some of these hindrances and the way in which God makes use of them.
The way in which God turns to good account the adversary’s opposition to His servants is frequently illustrated in the Scriptures. An outstanding example of this is the result of the hindrance placed by Satan against the return of the apostle Paul to the church at Thessa-lonica. He would fain have come to them, he says, ‘but Satan hindered us’, 1 Thess. 2. 18. Whatever the actual hindrance was, it nevertheless resulted in the apostle’s writing to them instead. Thus, as a result of the Devil’s opposition, we now have the priceless treasures of the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. In a similar manner we might trace the circumstances which produced the later Epistles written during Paul’s confinement in Rome. In recording the events connected with the penning of one of these Epistles, he says, ‘the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places’, Phil. 1. 12-13. This suggests that Caesar’s servants as well as the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard, had heard the Gospel from his lips. Here, then, was a servant of the Lord hampered in his work, restricted in his activity, circumscribed in the sphere of his service and the object of Satan’s ceaseless hostility. To all appearances the efforts of the enemy had resulted in a serious set-back to the spread of the Gospel. One is inclined to think that greater advances might have been made, had this servant of the Lord been at liberty to continue his journeys, founding new churches, visiting those already established, and otherwise furthering the cause of Christ. Not so in the thoughts and purposes of the Lord. God is not thwarted by the work of His foes, for none can stay His hand. How little we are able to calculate the far-reaching effects of Paul’s prison testimony in Rome, or the full extent of his inspired statement, ‘the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel’! After all, was he not following in the steps of his Master whose faithful and devoted servant he was, and whose own claims and authority appeared to the world absolutely invalidated by the overwhelming degradation and shameful humiliation of the cross? The death of Christ was but a seeming defeat; the enemy who sought to accomplish it met his doom in his apparent success. The secret of the glorious victory over that effort of the Evil One was made known in Eden, at his first attempt to thwart the divine will. The bruising of the Seed of the woman would mean the bruising of the head of the foe himself. The death of the Son of God was the destruction of the adversary, Heb. 2. 14.
What a seeming hindrance is physical weakness? How many a servant of the Lord who is tried in health feels that much more effective service could be rendered if only he were free from the malady! Here again the lesson of Paul’s life has been recorded for our comfort. Doubtless he felt that his loved ministry was much impeded by his ‘thorn in the flesh’, 2 Cor. 12. 7. He besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him. His request was not granted but the Lord arranged that he would not only be comforted, but that all that was needed by way of explanation would be made known to him. There was both the preventive side of the trouble and the empowering side. Not only did he learn that it was inflicted lest he should be exalted overmuch through the greatness of the revelations he had received, but he also learned gladly to glory in his weakness that the power of God might rest upon him. Let us note, too, the abiding effect which the gracious word of the Lord had upon him. He records it not as a mere historical incident, but as something the comfort of which he had felt ever since, and was still enjoying. Of God he says, ‘he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’, 2 Cor. 12. 9. The consequence was that he could say in the words of verse 10, ‘for when I am weak, then am I strong’. This was the outcome of Satan’s buffeting. The hindrance became a help; Satan’s messenger became the Lord’s minister. Many a servant of God has been similarly tried. How blessed is the comfort of this record of Paul’s experience! And how wonderful will be the revelation, in the coming day, of God’s dealings with us in our service here below.
We learn from the apostle Paul other ways in which the Lord’s servants can be hindered in their service. His heart must have been sorely tried by the constant activity of those who traduced him, imputing things to him of which he was not guilty, and seeking to undo his work by misrepresentation and insinuation. This he particularly mentions in the second Epistle to the Corinthians. The Gospel had proved fruitful in Corinth, and during the initial difficulties the Lord had revealed to him that He had much people in that city. We are, therefore, not surprised to find that he had to face a great deal of opposition, but we are surprised to learn that this opposition came from those who should have helped and not hindered. The character of his ministry was disparaged by influential opponents. He was accused of changing his opinion and of fickleness, 2 Cor. 1. 17, 18; of walking according to the flesh, 10. 2; of inferior capacities in his ministry, 10. 10; of acting towards the saints by guile and taking advantage of them for his own ends, 12. 16, 17. Unfavourable comparisons were made between him and other apostles, 11. 5, 6; and the service he had rendered in such disinterestedness and genuine love was in other ways defamed. All this must have been a great burden; moreover, it was a matter requiring firm handling, not in the spirit of mere self-defence, but for the sake of the Lord and the profit of the Church. We can understand something of the stress under which this Epistle was written. There can be scarcely anything more trying for the servant of the Lord than misrepresentation of his motives and methods, especially when he might have expected that those who act thus would seek an opportunity of an interview with him, and of becoming acquainted with the facts. Sometimes it pleases God thus to test faith; yet even these obstacles are under His control and become His instruments for the carrying out of His purposes. Thus, learning that all our resources lie in Him, we derive from Him the power to enable us, if our private interests are at stake, to manifest the spirit of Christ towards our detractors. On the other hand, if the honour of His name and the blessing of His people require that the matter be taken up in any way, the Lord is ready to impart the wisdom and strength to do so. In this respect the apostle, who so closely followed the Lord, has set us an example.
It must not be forgotten that hindrances may also come from, within, and against these we must ever be on the watch. There is always a tendency for our service to become merely mechanical; in other words, void of spiritual power. Only the Spirit of God is sufficient for the maintenance of that spiritual power which must be ever present if we are to be used of God. It is His gracious ministry to lead us constantly into communion with God, and this He does through the Word of God. Times of communion alone with the Lord are essential for spiritual vitality in service. We must first be occupied with Christ if we are to be occupied for Him. Indeed, the presentation of our bodies ‘a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God’ is described as our ‘reasonable (or intelligent) service’, Rom. 12. 1. The word in this passage denotes that form of service which is itself an act of Worship.
Then, again, the influence of the world without is apt to find a ready entrance into our inner life. Contact with the world tends to deaden our sensitiveness to sin; we cannot afford to be negligent in watching against the encroachment of the power of the world upon our spiritual life, and its consequent diminution of spiritual vigour.
How perfect is the provision made for us by which the hindrances arising from the flesh within and the world without may be counteracted and removed! The unremitting ministry of our Great High Priest, the efficacy of His precious blood, the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and the rectifying and guiding power of God– these are our unfailing resources.
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