Some years ago I read an author (I’ve forgotten whom, though I took some notes) who talked about doing the best of things in the worst of times from 1 Corinthians 16:8-9: “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”
Charles Dicken’s began his Tale of Two Cities with the words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Dicken’s famous sentence is an apt description for the church today. We are living in a period of rapid change . . . and some of it places us in the worst of times.
Over the door of the Staunton Harold Church in Leicestershire, England, is this inscription:
“In the yeare: 1653 when all things sacred were throughout ye nation either demollisht or profaned Sr Robert Shirley Barronet Founded this Church whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in ye worst times And hoped them in the most calamitous.”
Shirley was a supporter of Royalism during the turbulent time of the Commonwealth in England who was imprisoned in the Tower of London and died shortly thereafter.
This inscription reminds me of the challenge to the church today: to do the best of things in the worst of times.
Christianity was always meant to be on the offensive. To read the book of Acts is to see that. Like Napoleon, the church had a magnificent capacity for attack, and no technique for retreat.
The grammar of these two verses is interesting: verse 8 begins with “But” and verse 9 contains “and.” Many of us would place the disjunctive conjunction “but” at a different place in the sentence. Instead of a fighting flag of attack as Paul uses it, our sentence would hoist the white flag of surrender. To Paul, “but” meant a rally. To us it means a rout.
Retired Anglican Bishop and New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright said:
“Wherever St. Paul went, there was a riot. Wherever I go, they serve tea.”
It is time for the church to put the “but” in the right position. We need to go on the spiritual offensive. We must take territory not just hold what we have.
The only way to do the best of things in the worst of times is to have
A SPIRIT OF CONQUEST – a mind alert to opportunity and quick to seize the initiative. If we were with Paul in Ephesus we would probably have seen the difficulties instead of the opportunities. We would make a “strategic withdrawal.” Not so with Paul. Ephesus was an open door.
Leonidas, the Spartan hero of Thermopylae, and his 300 men stood in the gap against thousands of invading Persians. One of his soldiers said to him: “General, when the Persians shoot their arrows there are so many of them that the sky is darkened.” To which Leonidas replied: “Fine, then we shall fight in the shade.”
For 3 years Paul labored. From this base of Ephesus, churches in Asia Minor were established.
The last thing the church needs to do is to imitate the football team that played the last 5 minutes of the game too safely while sitting on a lead . . . and lost.
To do the best of things in the worst of times the church also needs
A SPIRIT OF IMMEDIACY – recognizing the necessity of the hour.
Times are always bad. If you wait for better times, you will wait a lifetime. What we do for God we must do now—in our time, in our generation, in this moment. If not now, when? If not here, where? If not you, who?
Someone once said that the lines of least resistance and greatest popularity are seldom if ever laid in the direction of Christ’s path. Personal fear levies an insistent blackmail upon spiritual loyalty until it utterly bankrupts it.
God help us to do the best of things in the worst of times.