As God's people, we're constantly faced with questions such as, What further use can I be in God's service?, How best can I spend my time?, What is God expecting from me at this point in life? Our belief in God's presence in our lives, his will that we serve him, study of the lives of Bible characters, etc., leads us to ask such questions. This question is of great importance to preachers if they are to be faithful stewards of the time and abilities with which God has blessed them (1 Cor. 4:2). When Paul wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians he had worked in many places serving God in various ways. What should he next choose? How could he know? He answers for us in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9: ``But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost; for a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.'' Paul answered the questions we posed above by finding a door opened for him. But what does he mean by this?
How the Bible Defines ``Open Door''
The words ``open door'' occur several times in the New Testament. Hence, we can learn its meaning from its usage. Please note the following citations:
Acts 14:27, ``They rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.''
2 Cor. 2:12, ``When I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord.''
Col. 4:3, ``Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ...''
``In Scripture a door is often used to express the opportunity to do God's will and advance his cause'' (J. R. Thompson, Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, I., p. 561).
When used with regards to the work of a preacher, as 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 and 2 Corinthians 2:12 show, it speaks of an opportunity to preach the Gospel. Such open doors are that for which all preachers should be looking, especially missionaries. From where do they come?
God Opens Doors!
The Bible teaches God can open doors by his providence (Acts 14:27; 2 Cor. 2:12; Rev. 3:7-8). God desires that we serve him and he does not leave us unaided. Again and again in his life and travels, Paul's heart was gladdened by an open door to preach the Gospel. He found them in various forms in different places. In some instances, an open door presented itself in the form of a synagogue where he could speak to his Jewish brethren (Acts 13:14; 14:1). In other cases he found one on a river bank (Acts 16:13), in a market place (Acts 17:17), the home of a brother (Acts 18:7), a school (Acts 19:9-10), and even a prison (Phlp. 1:12-13; Phmn. 10). God is still operating providentially. Hence, he is still opening doors. It will do well for us all to remember this.
This truth is especially relevant to one seeking to spread the Gospel in foreign fields. Paul and his companions may have seemed insignificant when they appeared in the various places they visited. However, God was with them and the results they obtained were a direct result of this (Acts 14:27). Today, God's will that the lost hear the Gospel is unchanged (Mk. 16:15) and God will work with his people as they seek to preach and teach his word (Matt. 28:20).
Using Doors God has Opened is Part of Serving Him
As we have noted, an open door is an opportunity to serve God. With regards to opportunities, Paul wrote, ``As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith'' (Gal. 6:10). The command is clear: We must use the doors open to us. We also have Paul's example in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 which says the same thing. Why did Paul decide to stay in Ephesus? Because there was an open door there. The text of Acts testifies to the fruitfulness of his work in that city (19:10, 20, 26-27). Using open doors means serving God where he wants us to serve him.
Using such doors may not always be easy. With regards to his work in Ephesus, Paul said, ``and there are many adversaries'' (1 Cor. 16:9b). There were many opposed to Paul using the door God had opened. There was even a riot caused by enemies there (Acts 19:23-41). Likewise, there was an open door to preach the Gospel in Jerusalem and environs (Acts 2-5). In spite of this desirable situation, we all know the apostles faced opposition in their work (Acts 4:18-21; 5: 28).
How do these principles apply to reaching the lost in the mission field today? We may be ridiculed by unbelievers for ever wanting to do such work in the first place. Further, once one finds a place where people are receptive he may have to overcome difficulties related to living and working in that place. However, we must not forget the formula, opportunity + ability=responsibility. It applies here. If God opens a door for us, it is our responsibility to use that door.
Finding Open Doors
A. Be Faithful (Rev. 3:7-8). The church in Smyrna seemed to be made up few brethren and they likely enjoyed few worldly advantages. Yet, they had been put to the test in the past and had stood faithfully (v. 8b). The Lord had opened a door for them because they had been loyal and true. We see in this point an additional reason to be faithful: God opens doors for the faithful.
B. Pray for Open Doors (Col. 4:3). Remember who made the request contained in Colossians 4:3. It was Paul, who had already had so many doors opened to him in the past. We should pray that God would do the same for us today.
C. Continue to Look for Open Doors. The text of Acts 22:17-22 shows us that, though one door may be closed, another door may be open. Paul's request of Colossians 4:3 shows us he had learned important lessons from such events as that recorded in Acts 22. We never know where a door might open, so we must always be looking. If, in the first century, such were found in places as diverse as a synagogue, a riverbank, a school and a prison, we must be active in looking in various places today. This is an encouragement to those in mission fields to take inventory of different methods used to make contacts and teach, as well as of different places one might hold lectures, pass out tracts, meet people, etc.
Recognize When Doors are Closed
If we are going to use our time in seeking open doors to the best advantage, we must accept that some doors will be closed. When we recognize a door is closed, Jesus does not want us to waste time on it (Matt. 10:11-14; Acts 13:44-46; 22:17-18). There will be people who outright reject the Gospel. Others will want to be friends and tell you their beliefs, seeking your acceptance without thinking of changing. Some will only be advocates of their own beliefs. Some have come to our lectures in Lithuania only to hear English spoken. We may respect and even love an individual. However, if the door is closed and we have enough information to know it, the Lord expects us to move on (Matt. 7:6). Likewise with trying to establish a church in a given place. The example of Paul's work in Athens is exemplary here: In spite of how beautiful ancient Athens must have been, the reaction of people there to the Gospel caused him to leave the city and move on (Acts 17:32-18:1). There is nothing wrong with seeking to convert anyone or trying to establish a church in any place. However, we must take inventory of the results of our efforts and recognize when doors are closed. This may mean moving from one city to another. It will almost always mean seeking someone else with whom to study.
Open doors are part of the basics of serving God. One who seeks them diligently and uses them faithfully will be blessed in his work. Continuing to seek them will cause one to be useful to God over the long term. Open doors are especially important when applied to the work of those in mission fields. Seeking them can be the difference between success and failure.
By Steve Wallace
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