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What does Scripture teach about obstacles to the spread of the Gospel?

The book of Acts makes us dream: the Word of God is spreading; the number of disciples and churches is increasing. But we know that the spread of the Gospel is not without impediments.

We are saddened by external difficulties, such as indifference or disbelief; opposition or persecution frightens us. However, a large number of adversaries does not mean that the door is closed for the gospel. When Luke recounts the martyrdom of James, he concludes this account with the death of Herod and observes that the word of the Lord continued to spread[i]. These difficulties can turn our gaze from God and cause disappointment, discouragement, or fear. And yet, Paul and his collaborators say that they grew bold in God after suffering[ii]! This example shows the importance of being in a team: Jesus sent his disciples two by two, and the apostle Paul always had collaborators with him.

No doubt there are also obstacles in our hearts: lack of consecration, pride, doctrinal compromise to avoid opposition or to obtain results. Perhaps we should also recognize urgency and our responsibility? Like the four leprous men miraculously saved from famine, we will then need to realize that by keeping this Good News to ourselves, we are not acting well[iii]. Could it even be that we have to confess our lack of love or our bad example? Here again, the example of Paul’s team is striking and needs to be imitated[iv].

I would like to mention one last obstacle: spiritual confusion. Due to lack of discernment, unconverted persons may find themselves among the proclaimers of biblical truths and may even be baptized[v]. Perhaps because we too often separate the work of evangelization from doctrinal teaching and pastoral accompaniment – forgetting that God gave the five (or four) ministries to the whole Church, to equip all the saints[vi]?

What are the challenges of a new planting project?

Due to lack of space, I will mention only two: listening to God and being adaptable.

Taking up the first challenge, the planting team will live as a community of disciples, at the school of the Master, following the way of God, embodying the message to be spread. Indeed, the field study and a good knowledge of the people the team wishes to reach, will go hand in hand with the will to listen to the voice of God to discern the project. Allowing themselves to be modeled by the Bible, recognized as the only course of action, the team members will learn to discern God’s call. Because we are sent into the world in the image of Christ, this mission calls for submission to the Father. Do our well-thought-out projects leave room for the Spirit who might want to send us into the desert for a single stranger[vii]? Of course, we cannot reach everyone, but we will still have to avoid locking ourselves in our “Jerusalem”, forgetting those who are lost!

The second challenge concerns the communication of the Gospel, which we must know how to adapt according to Paul’s example. When he preached in Antioch and Athens, he adapted his message without compromising it. To save some, he became all things to all, without becoming a stumbling block neither for the lost (Greeks and Jews) nor for the Church. He does not seek his own advantage, but that of the many, that they may be saved. Our challenge is to imitate him, as he himself imitated Christ[viii].

How can this reality of spiritual struggle be lived today?

Whether we are involved as church planters or have a ministry that seems insignificant to us, we are faced with the same reality of being in a spiritual battle. Then let us pray the prayer written by Dominique Angers in his commentary on Ephesians 6.10-20: “Our Father, teach us to draw our strength from the Lord Jesus and his great power. Deliver us from complacency and pride. Make us aware of our need for your grace and your armor in spiritual combat. Help us understand that while the spirits of evil in the heavenly places have been defeated by Jesus Christ, they are still dangerous. Grant us truth as a belt, righteousness as a breastplate. Renew our zeal in the service of the Gospel of Peace. Strengthen our faith in your promises, no matter what we are going through. May your salvation be our helmet and your word our sword. Finally, may your Spirit lead us into rich and frequent times of prayer, especially on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ[ix]“.

Rolf Maier

[i] Acts 12; 1 Corinthians 16.8-9.
[ii] 1 Thessalonians 2.2.
[iii] 2 Kings 7.9.
[iv] 1 Thessalonians 2.7-10.
[v] Acts 16.17-18; 8.9-13.
[vi] Ephesians 4.11-13.
[vii] Acts 8.26-40.
[viii] 1 Corinthians 9.22; 10.32-33.
[ix] Éphésiens – Parle-moi maintenant, Dominique Angers, BLF Éditions, 2021, p. 390.


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