I awoke as I normally do with the thought, what will I speak on today, and what will I write? Sometimes I already have the idea, but not this day. And then I read Acts chapter 14, and I see two words that summarise what Paul and the brothers were up against on that first missionary journey.
First I see the opposition that they faced. The second thing I see is the flattery they encounter. Two completely opposite, and yet equally dangerous spirits, but both replete with opportunity.
I have been pondering Proverbs 4:23 for some time. It says words to the effect, ‘Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life.’
So, in the context of guarding your heart there is a need to guard against the frontal assault of opposition and the rear assault of flattery.
The front guard for the heart
It is amazing that Paul and the brothers committed to staying a long time in the place where they faced so much opposition. We are tempted to run from opposition, either for fear or simply that we don’t want to waste our time. Opposition is frustrating, annoying, and anxiety producing. But it is in opposition that we have one of the two best opportunities to share the true gospel. (The other best opportunity is when hearts are ripe and ready to receive the goodness of God and His grace.) But the best opportunity in opposition is to prove the power of the gospel by putting on the front guard to protect one’s heart.
When we put this front guard on, we anticipate the opposition, which is to expect it, and not be anxious about it, but be committed to doing everything we can to live peaceably in the opposition as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). I’ll never forget my eldest daughter starting work at the local Chinese restaurant, when she was 15, and the opposition she faced from the brusque female manager. He was so discouraging to her at the time. But I kept encouraging her to do her best and have faith that she could win her manager over with her character. It took two years, but when she left that employment, her and her manager had an excellent, trusting rapport, and the manager even sought my daughter out for help with her English. Persistence pays in relationships. If we keep showing up, refusing to become despondent, endeavouring to keep serving this other person who is in opposition to us, we can have influence. But we need to put this front guard on. We need to guard our heart so the opposition we face doesn’t undermine and threaten to destroy us.
The rear guard for the heart
Well, if we thought opposition was the worst spirit with which to contend, think again. Flattery is a doozy. I’m not sure if there’s anything worse than flattery, because there is always something underhanded behind it. There is a big difference between encouraging someone, being kind and gracious, and the shameless flattery we receive when someone is clearly trying to sell us something.
The problem with flattery is what is attached to it. Flattery comes with strings attached, or it seeks to deceive in order to win its way into our heart. Of course, the narcissist uses flattery with much charm in the initial stages of a relationship, and their winsomeness continues to woo all the unsuspecting. None of us like to be suspicious. But there are behaviours, and flattery is one of them, that we need to be on guard about.
We need the rear guard for the heart in situations of flattery. Either we are being sold something, and that something when flattery is used is never good for us, or there is the equal and opposite angle about to come at us, which is the most stringent opposition, in the form of a kind of borderline personality disorder, love-then-hate, response.
Wisdom advises two guards for the heart. One for the front: to protect our heart when we’re opposed, so we keep our love on, and the other for the rear: for when the deception of flattery is used against us.