I have a confession to make. I don’t handle opposition well. It knots my stomach and petrifies my spirit. Failure simmers in my heart when the heat of opposition waxes in my life. Often for me, resistance means I must doing something wrong. However, Paul said that the right opposition is proof that we’re doing something right.
A few points of exegesis are in order. One, Paul used a double negative to emphasize the importance of conducting an alarm-free ministry. Two, his word “alarmed” is used only here in the NT and means frightened (ESV/NIV/RSV), terrified (KJV) or intimidated. It’s also present tense and passive, meaning we are to always keep alarm (fright, terror, intimidation) from happening to us. Three, “opponents” (antikeimenon) is actually a present tense participle reflecting an ongoing forceful campaign of opposition. The word stands in direct contrast (anti) to standing firm or being established the gospel (see 1.6, where keimai is used as “appointed” or “established”).
We Texans might paraphrase Paul this way: Dig your spurs so deep in the gospel that there ain’t no way you’re spooked by those trying to rustle you. “Ain’t no” is terrible English, but it’s great Greek!
How then are we to interpret opposition? It’s a sign/proof (endeixis) either of destruction or salvation, depending on which side of opposition you are. For those opposing the one-spirited, one-minded defense of the “faith of the gospel” (v27), their very opposition testifies to their imminent eternal destruction (apoleia) (see 2 Thess 1.5). For those united in the defense of the faith of the gospel, opposition proves God’s salvation of them (soteria).
In other words, our lives are not evaluated by whether or not we attract opposition (it’s inevitable that we will), but by the nature of that opposition. There is great encouragement in attracting the right opponents (see Acts 4.24-31). As we lock arms with those living worthy of Christ’s gospel, standing firm in one spirit (Spirit?) and contending together for gospel faith (v27) then we can be sure God has saved us. Verse 27 then is the remedy against intimidation.
We must not be intimidated by opposition. Rather we are to be encouraged by it as long as it’s the right kind. When it comes, we look around to see with whom we’re still standing. If it’s those growing in God’s grace, standing firm in the Spirit of God, laboring for the gospel then we know God’s salvation is near. If ever we find ourselves staring those same folks down then we know our destruction is not far behind. Either way, opposition always proves something. (If ever we are without opposition then we probably “ain’t no good to nobody”!)
Let me illustrate. We had an extremely difficult experience at an Ohio church. Lines were drawn very sharply and quickly against my ministry there. It caused great angst for us all. It also forced me to ask on whose side I really was: Jesus or Satan’s. Was I to interpret this opposition as a sign of my destruction or my salvation?
Well, among many supporters there was a gentle, godly widow named Lois. She is a lady devoted to prayer, deeply committed to Christ’s glory, humble in spirit, lover of church integrity and gospel-wise. She stood by us unwaveringly until the end, undoubtedly enduring her own pain. I was constantly tempted to doubt God’s favor on us, but when I saw Lois on our “side” I knew where God’s grace rested. I knew that if I was fighting with Lois then I was okay. She was always my wind gauge of grace. If ever she opposed us then I knew it would mark my destruction. I knew that any enemies of Lois would be, in some measure, enemies of Christ. So I was glad to share those same enemies.
It’s hard for me to swallow, but God’s assurance often comes from unlikely places. I clamor for God’s assurance through the encouragement of the saints (often idolatrously!). And while God does graciously provide such, he also provides the right enemies to assure me of his grace. Encouragement from the right people goes a long way in my soul. I pray to benefit equally from the criticisms of the right people as well.