Opposition

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build…” 

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 4:1-2, 4-6

A large group of the people of God returned from exile to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the Temple. They were released to do so by an order from the king of Persia, King Cyrus. This was all orchestrated by the Lord.

…in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia…

Ezra 1:1

But once they started making sacrifices to the Lord and rebuilding the Temple, opposition came. Whenever we are called by God to accomplish His plans, there will be opposition. This is especially true when we are building something new or rebuilding something that should have always been. And notice the strategies of the opposition. Opposition to the Lord’s work usually goes through these same stages.

First, there’s the attempt to join the work in order to derail the work. This “friendly” and soft approach is often how opposition first arrives on the scene. If we invite the wrong people to give their input into the work we know we are called to do, it will get side-tracked, watered down, and compromised.

Secondly, there is an attempt to discourage through fear. This next wave of opposition is a series of people who are “concerned” about where this might lead. Fear is the main theme. Worst case scenario after worst case scenario gets listed as reasons why the work should stop. The attempt is to spread fear in such a way that people start getting discouraged and want to bail out.

If those two tactics don’t work, the next strategy of opposition intensifies into manipulation and accusation. The opposition starts recruiting people to their side with various forms of emotional bribery, manipulation, and false accusations about the ones leading the work of the Lord. (We read about how Absalom did this to King David in 2 Samuel 15:1-12). Lies about the leaders and character assassinations are the bread and butter of this stage of opposition.

Finally, if none of this stops the work of the Lord, the next move is making threats, including the threat of physical violence (see Nehemiah 4:11). While these threats are often empty, they can still cause a lot of pain and a lot of division.

For those who are called to step out in faith to accomplish a work of God, opposition will come. And the enemy isn’t creative enough to change his tactics. It usually looks something like the above strategies. The hard part is that many times this kind of opposition will come from people close to us. So it’s important that we face this opposition with love and grace for those who come against what God is doing. They think they are being helpful and wise even as they fight against what God is clearly doing.

I am reminded of times where I was the one pushing against and opposing a work of God. I thought I was being righteous and theologically sound. I thought I was in the right. I thought I was doing the right thing and warning against disaster. I didn’t realize until years later that I was actually fighting a work of the Lord. I didn’t realize until years later that I was the opposition; I was a puppet of the enemy. And when I came to realize my folly, I spent months in repentance for it. It was painful to realize how wrong I was. It was painful to come to an awareness of my own false accusations against those leaders God was using to lead a work of the Lord.

So when we do face opposition, we need to show grace. We need to show love. But we shouldn’t let opposition discourage us or stop us from what we’ve been called to do. God has called us to accomplish His work. It’s not our plan; it’s His plan. And we shouldn’t stop for any reason.

Attack from Both Sides

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Matthew 11:18-19

Do not be surprised if our culture, which is so heavily influenced by the kingdom of darkness, attacks people trying to follow Jesus from both sides. This has always been the strategy of the enemy. This is the strategy we see the enemy employ against Jesus and John the Baptist.

The culture of Jesus’s day found a way to be offended by both John the Baptist, living in the strictest holiness, and Jesus, living in the freedom of grace. John’s holiness was seen as demonic and Jesus’s freedom was seen as sinful.

Our culture is currently following the same strategy of the enemy. Recently it was reported that some politicians were trying to follow the “Billy Graham rule.” This rule is basically a commitment by a man not to be alone with a woman who is not his wife, especially in private settings, as it could lead to accusations of impropriety or actual impropriety. There has been a lot of exposure of sexual assault and sexual harassment at the highest levels of society recently, so this Billy Graham rule seems like a healthy safeguard.

Yet, in response to this desire to honor women and honor their wives, these men were attacked for being sexist. So we have a situation where if a politician is seen being alone with another women who is not his wife, he’s easily attacked with claims of impropriety. Yet, if he tries to safeguard against those accusations, he gets attacked as sexist. If they live in the freedom of grace, they’ll be attacked as morally corrupt. If they hold to a high standard of holiness, they’re called sexists. The “attack from both sides” strategy has been around since Jesus and continues to be alive and well today.

I remember encountering an adolescent version of this in high school. I told my friends that I didn’t want to “hook up” with a particularly attractive girl that was interested in me. As a high school boy, turning down sex with a beautiful girl a year older than you was a radical stand. Yet, because I was striving to live a life of holiness, my classmates who couldn’t understand my stance began to accuse me of being gay.

My response to accusations of being gay was that I didn’t believe homosexuality was God’s design for human sexuality. I told them that I had nothing against a person who is gay, but I disagreed with a lifestyle where one chooses to engage in same-sex sexual activity. This also didn’t fit their paradigm of understanding. They didn’t know what to do with me. So then I started to receive accusations of being homophobic.

Can you see the “attack from both sides” strategy? One minute I am being accused of being gay and the next I’m being accused of being homophobic. This often happens when you try to live a biblical standard of holiness. A life of following Jesus doesn’t make sense to the world. It doesn’t fit all of their neat little judgmental categories. They don’t know which condemning box to put you in. But they did this with Jesus and John the Baptist, so we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens to us.

I fought for and advocated for women in the strongest way possible as I helped to create and launch a nonprofit that addresses human trafficking in the Baltimore area. I stood side-by-side with women who were some of the most progressive, feminist activists I’ve ever met. And as a staunch Pro-Life advocate, I continue to fight for women and their well-being but in a way that is foreign to most of my colleagues in the human trafficking world. I don’t fit into a nice neat category. This is true of most Christians, which is why the strategy of the enemy is often to attack from both sides.

The desire to stop being attacked from both sides often draws Christians into error and compromise. It’s a powerful temptation to want to be liked and thought of as compassionate and insightful by at least one side of the cultural battle. So some Christians begin to compromise truth in order to win favor with one side or the other. But that is not where Jesus stands.

Have you experienced the “attack from both sides” strategy of the enemy in your own life? If so, you’re in good company.