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The Lord opened a door for me ... so I shut it

The Lord opened a door for me ... so I shut it

Every now and then when I’m reading the Bible, I have a bit of a “huh?” moment. Like I did recently with 2 Corinthians 2:12–13:

When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

Can you see the “huh?”

We know how committed the apostle Paul was to preaching the gospel. He kept going with it even in the face of all sorts of terrible challenges and hardships (2 Cor 11:23–27). But when he came to Troas, he noticed “a door was opened for me in the Lord”. That sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it? But what does he mean?

Paul has used a similar expression in his earlier letter to the church in Corinth: “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor 16:8–9). So it seems like when the door is opened by God, it doesn’t necessarily mean all opposition ceases, but it does suggest that gospel fruit is being seen—the gospel preaching work is showing signs of being effective. People were, presumably, becoming Christians.

But, curiously, Paul decides to leave Troas. He shuts the door that God has opened there for him. Huh? What could possibly have convinced him to walk away from this fruitful and effective gospel preaching opportunity? It must surely have been something pretty big and important.

We don’t have to speculate of course. Paul tells us. He says he wanted to find Titus, because Paul was very anxious to hear the latest news from the church in Corinth. And he does find Titus, and he does hear encouraging news of the Corinthians’ positive response to Paul’s challenges to them (2 Cor 7:5–7).

But I have to admit, I find that rather odd—that the missionary-hearted apostle Paul would so easily walk away from the opportunity to see more people saved in Troas, and do so simply because he wanted to hear how a group of already-saved Christians had responded to his letter.

When I find something odd like this in the Bible—when I’m apparently not on the same wavelength as God and his apostle Paul—the correct starting point is to assume I am the one who needs to adjust his thinking. So what can I learn here that might turn the “huh?” moment into an “aha!” moment?

I’d love to hear what you think (you can reply to this email). But here are a few of my initial thoughts.

  1. Paul knows that Christ will spread the aroma “everywhere” (2 Cor 2:14) through those who, like Paul, follow and serve Jesus. Paul’s job is to be the means by which Christ does that—but where he does it seems to sometimes be of secondary significance. Furthermore, if God opened a door in Troas, no doubt Paul trusts that God can open a door in Macedonia too, or anywhere for that matter!
  2. Paul cares very deeply about the welfare of his brothers and sisters in Corinth (his spiritual ‘children’). We should similarly be careful not to be so focused on unbelievers that we are tempted or pushed to abandon our care for the believers in our lives. Paul longs for unbelievers to be saved, but he also longs for Christians to stand firm in Christ until the end. Both are important.
  3. Perhaps our ministry plans don’t necessarily have to be made without any consideration of our personal wellbeing. It’s hard to operate when there is something causing our spirit not to be at rest (2:13). The making of ministry choices is clearly more complex—and God more gracious—than needing to choose the path that is hardest for us to endure (i.e. the path of the apparently greatest sacrifice).

I’m not suggesting any of these thoughts capture all that God’s word might have to say on their topic. But I hope they serve as examples of how a small “huh?” moment might help us to question and subvert our slightly askew ways of thinking.

Ian Carmichael

Ian has been with Matthias Media from its beginning (1988). In late 2020 he stepped down from the CEO role, and now works as an honourary consultant and editor for Matthias Media and Vinegrowers. Ian and his wife, Stephanie, have two adult children, two (gorgeous) grandchildren, and are part of Chatswood Presbyterian church in Sydney. Ian is one of the Vinegrowers team providing free consultations for church leaders who want to more effectively grow the disciple-making culture in their church.