In western culture, we’re far too quick to dismiss the role of the spiritual realm in our difficulties. Paul the apostle did not hesitate to name the opposition he experienced in ministry—Satan. And we should not hesitate to do the same.
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:13. Reflect on 1 Thessalonians 2:17–19:
“But when we were made orphans by separation from you, brothers, for a short time (in face, not in heart), we were even more eager with great desire to see your face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, on more than one occasion—and Satan hindered us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming?” (LEB).
In Thessalonica, Paul and his colleagues—Timothy and Silas (also called Silvanus) experienced great persecution, which caused them to be sent out of the city by those who had recently converted to Christianity (Acts 17:5–10). This left behind a group of new believers, without a strong spiritual leader. Paul saw them as his own children—feeling that he had left them as orphans. For this reason, Paul sends Timothy to check in on them (1 Thessalonians 3:10).
In light of this, Paul explains why he himself has not returned to Thessalonica. The reason: Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:17–19). Paul doesn’t explain precisely how Satan has hindered him returning to Thessalonica, but it’s clear that he is referring to the spiritual enemy of God.
Paul’s remark can seem a bit odd to us Christians who are highly influenced by western tradition, specifically the enlightenment and rationalism—all of which are very present in my own American culture. It’s not very often that you hear someone in a western tradition make a claim that Satan has hindered their efforts for Jesus. And those who do make such claims are generally looked at as superstitious, and some of them certainly are.
But the truth is that the enemy of God, Satan, is trying to hinder the work of God. He is a very real force at work against God’s Church—against those who believe in Jesus. We must recognize this reality; we must realize that the difficulties we experience are often from forces unseen.
But we have Jesus, who is ultimately far more powerful; he is victor! We may experience temporary setbacks from evil forces, but that will not put a stop to God’s work! Look at the situation at Thessalonica, for example. Satan hinders Paul coming to Thessalonica, but God takes that situation and leads Paul to write to the fledgling church there. These circumstances led to the wonderful book we are reading today: 1 Thessalonians.
What opposition are you experiencing to your ministry; have you prayed about it, to ask God about its source? Who can you join with in prayer to discern precisely how God plans to overcome the unseen forces of evil at work, in and around your community and life?
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