Have you been in this world long enough to remember the days before we had air conditioners in homes? Remember when the doors and windows were always open in the summer time? Remember the screen doors that kept the bugs out, until the children ran in and out so often that the bugs joined them and filled the house with all kinds of insects. Fly swatters were important parts of daily life. It always seemed like a common part of life for someone to shout “Hold that door open for me.” Of course, that time period was also when we learned that the courteous thing to do for anyone, especially for those of the opposite sex or for someone who was older, was to hold the door open for them before you ever walked through it. it is likely out of all those memories that the words “Open door” take on so much meaning as I read the New Testament. Think about times when the Bible mentions an open door that is before us.
In I Corinthians 16:8-9 Paul said, ” But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” In Revelation 3:7-8 Jesus writes through John to the church in Philadelphia. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, say this: I know your deeds. Behold I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have followed My word, and have not denied My name.”
It is pretty clear that Paul thinks of the open door that God has put before him in Ephesus as something done by God so that he can do some important service for Christ in the area. If you think about Paul’s ministry, it is important to remember that God both opened doors for him and closed doors to move him into some other area. In Acts 16:6-9 Luke tells how the company with Paul tried to go into Asia, passing through Phrygian and Galatian regions, because the Holy Spirit had forbidden them to speak the word in Asia. They went on to Mysia, and were trying to go into Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them; so they passed on to Troas, where God spoke to Paul in a dream telling of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to “come over into Macedonia and help us.” They took that dream as a sign from God to go to Macedonia and went into Philippi to preach Christ. Then in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 Paul tells of another open door in Troas. “Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but saying goodbye to them, I went on to Macedonia.”
Does God still open doors for us for service to Him? Certainly He does, but it isn’t always easy to determine which doors are opening from God and which may be our own longings for different reasons. The challenge is to determine when it is an open door from God and when it is something I long to do and convince myself that it is from God. So, how do you make that determination?
Obviously, you can’t determine the open door is God’s doing based on everything being easy and without problems. Notice that the open door given to Paul in Ephesus was also surrounded by “Many adversaries.” The open door God gave him and his partners in Macedonia was filled with tons of challenges. When they arrived in Philippi there was not Jewish Synagogue there so they had to change their normal pattern and went out on the Sabbath by the river side looking for some who were worshiping God. They found a woman named Lydia and her companions. As Paul spoke to them the good news of Jesus, God opened Lydia’s heart and she was baptized into Christ. I suspect they were thrilled and felt this was going to be a tremendous work. But they were immediately confronted with a demon possessed young woman who followed them around shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God.” One might think that would be good for a time, but it became very frustrating and Paul commanded the demon to come out of her. The result was her owners were highly angered since she could no longer carry out the profitable business of fortune telling. They had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten and thrown into jail with their feet in stocks. I suspect they may have questioned the openness of the door after that. But God was still moving. At midnight Paul and Silas had a prayer service and were singing praise to God loud enough that the prisoners could all hear them singing, when God sent an earthquake that opened the jail doors, released them from the stocks and left the jailer scared to death to the degree he was ready to take his on life. Paul shouted to him not to hurt himself since they were all still there. The result was they taught the jailer and his family about Christ and they were baptized that night.
You can’t always tell about an open door by how you feel and how strong you are on the whole matter. The church in Philadelphia had a little strength, meaning they were pretty weak. Yet God opened a door for them them that no one could shut.
It is also true that sometimes, even when we are sure the door opened is from God we just don’t have it in us to enter the door. Paul knew the open door in Troas was from God. He knew it was wide and ready for his work. But his discouragement over the church in Corinth and inability to find Titus left him so depressed he just couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. There is something encouraging about this, He failed to use the open door but it didn’t mean that God turned his back on Paul and stopped using him. He opened other doors and would eventually get him in contact with Titus who would bring encouragement from God to him.
So, how do you know if the door is God’s doing? I don’t think we always do. It may also be the case that sometimes God opens more than one door for us and we can choose either of them and still be doing God’s work and in His will. One huge lesson to be learned in Paul’s life is that no matter how things looked and even when it seemed to be the very opposite from what God would want him to do, He kept serving, preaching, teaching, writing and trying to do something that would reach someone else for Christ. In the Roman imprisonment he wrote the church in Philippi and told them that as bad as it seemed things that turned out for him, they had actually worked out for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ. He had been able to reach some in Caesar’s household by being a prisoner there. From our point of view, God’s doors may seem unreasonable but our place is to use the opportunities before us to the best of our ability and trust God for the results.