adversaries

You WILL Have Adversaries Bent on Discouraging You

24 May 2023

5.8 MINS

We must not be surprised at the opposition we will all get as we seek to do God’s work.

In Ezra 4 we read that when the Israelites who came back from exile were determined to rebuild the temple, they were met with adversaries who were bent on discouraging them from carrying out the work. What happened back then to God’s people will most certainly happen to God’s people today, so if you think you can go through the Christian life without opposition and resistance, you are dreaming.

Ezra’s Adversaries

And these adversaries will be found both within and without the church. As to the ancient Israelites, the book of Nehemiah also tells this story and also discusses the opposition the people had to deal with. But I will confine myself here to the account in Ezra. This is what we find in Ezra 4:1–6:

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

This discouragement and opposition continue throughout both books. Thankfully, by God’s grace, the temple was rebuilt nonetheless. And as I said, this is always how things are. Do we really think we can serve the living God without such opposition in a world filled with those who hate God, and with forces of darkness working overtime against his people?

In his expository commentary, Wallace Benn looks at five ways the world brought opposition to the purposes of God, and then he says this:

“The opposition, then, was constant through the generations and was at times quite effective. God’s people needed to realize that there would be opposition and not be surprised or thrown off by that, and also learn to resist that opposition in the power of the Lord.”

How to Resist and Finish the Temple

He then offers three ways that God helped the people to resist, and to finish building the temple:

First, he sent prophetic preachers to challenge, encourage, and stand with the work force (5:1–2; 6:14–15). God’s people always need the Word of God preached to them regularly, for that is the primary means of God’s encouragement to his people as they hear again his promises to them, his steadfast love for them, and his promised help to enable them in the tasks he has called them to do. (Read Haggai 1–2 to see what he said to the people.)

Second, God encouraged them by his careful, providential watch over them. Despite the threatening visit of the provincial leaders, the builders, encouraged by strong leaders, kept going until they heard from the king himself as to whether they could continue. This was because the God who sees the need of his people comes down to help and deliver them (as he did at the time of the first deliverance from slavery in Egypt). “But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it” (5:5)….

Third, they were challenged by God to persevere as his redeemed, restored, and faithful servants, and they discovered that God was helping them do just that (6:14).

The New Testament

Benn goes on to show us how all this plays out in the New Testament. He writes:

What Ezra tells us so clearly about constant opposition is repeated in the New Testament to Christians. The supreme passage on this is Ephesians 6:10-20. As believers we have a battle to fight in the power of the Spirit. I have heard many sermons on “the whole armor of God” presented in that passage and the necessity of putting the various pieces on, spiritually speaking, and that is very important indeed. But I have heard much less emphasis on the verbs in this passage, which are equally important:

  • “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph 6:10).
  • “.. Stand… withstand… stand firm… Stand therefore” (Eph 6:11, 13–14).
  • “… Keep alert with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:18).
  • “Take up the shield of faith” (Eph 6:16) in all circumstances; that is, trust the Lord.
  • Pray “at all times in the Spirit… making supplication for all the saints” (v. 18). The weapons of our warfare are prayer and “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17). This side of Heaven we have a battle to face, and it is “not… against flesh and blood” but “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 12).

Let us not expect an easy ride but face the battle, and in it prove again and again the steadfast love of the Lord who is with us and the power of his might in our struggles. Prayer and trust in his Word is the path of help, strength, and victory. He has promised his strength and help.

Image of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther: Restoring the Church (Preaching the Word)

Dealing with Discouragement

Derek W. H. Thomas has also made some helpful and practical comments on this passage:

Discouragement is a deadly virus. It saps energy, cripples motivation, and turns folks inward. Are you discouraged by the slow progress of kingdom work? Does it appear to you as though for every step forward we make in the Christian life, we find ourselves making two backward? If so, I offer a three-pronged strategy for dealing with discouragement in the Christian life – a strategy we will see Ezra and Nehemiah employing later in our studies.

He then goes on to present us with three ways that we can deal with discouragement:

First, we must recognize that the Christian life, and the ministry that it entails, consists in trials and difficulties of all sorts and that no gains are to be made without enduring such hostilities. This sounds depressing, but it is the constant theme of Scripture according to a principle that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Knowing that we have an enemy in Satan, who will stop at nothing to get his way, should be the motivation we need to ensure we are equipped and ready when the battle begins. Knowing this about the Christian life means that we are not caught off guard when the storm breaks. Every good deed in the kingdom will be resisted in one way or another, and the sooner we prepare for it, the better….

We must be ready to accept conflict as our calling, seeing ourselves as the Lord’s soldier pilgrims, just as in Bunyan’s allegory, and not expecting to be able to advance a single step without opposition of one sort or another….

Second, learn from the mistake that the people of God made. They allowed themselves to fall victim to discouragement. They lost sight of the goal, and more importantly, lost sight of God….

Third, the exiles failed to exercise faith. Faith will keep us going when all around says, “Stop!” Faith will keep us hanging on to God despite discouragements that we feel, real or imaginary. Faith takes hold of the reality of the opposition and brings it before God, only to see afresh that God is stronger than the might of the fiercest enemy. It is faith expressed in Luther’s classic hymn:

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim –
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure;
For lo! his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.

That is faith we need to keep hanging on when times are difficult and enemies abound.

As I keep repeating, the normal Christian life involves resistance, opposition and attempts by others to discourage us. That must be fully expected as we work for the Lord and seek to do his will. Such attacks WILL come. Guaranteed.

So we must be prepared for them. But thankfully the Lord has given us the very means needed to deal with these assaults and to fend off the discouragement that will accompany such opposition. So keep standing strong saints. Our eternal rest will come soon enough, but for now there is a battle that we must engage in.

___

Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Crypto Crow.

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One Comment

  1. Kaylene Emery 24 May 2023 at 6:52 am - Reply

    I used to believe that the sort of attacks you describe were indicative of some personal fault. That if I could only stand in His will well enough, my path would be smooth. Think such fantasies came from wrong Christian teaching….as it’s quaintly called.
    Finally His word breaks through the propaganda and I stand in the battle line awaiting His orders. I find the company on the front line to be all that I imagined, and then some.
    Thank you Bill M.

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