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Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 6
Watch Malcolm’s teaching here:
Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Thessaloniki Study 6
1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:1-5
In the verses now before us Paul turns his attention to the reality of spiritual conflict. This constitutes a clear reminder that we are up against dark spiritual powers of wickedness that are seeking to gain a foothold in our lives and thereby destroy our Christian testimony and impede our impact in the world. In his Ephesian letter Paul underlines this more dramatically when he writes:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.”
And of course, in his first epistle, Peter reminds us that the Devil is constantly on the prowl seeking who he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Here then Paul reminds us that:
1.The Devil resists local church ministry designed to encourage God’ children. V17-18
“Therefore we wanted to come to you- even I, Paul, time and time again-but Satan hindered us.”
This passage brings into focus the importance of local church life and thus reminds us that we cannot “do Christianity” alone. We still have strong strains of carnality within us and, if we attempt to live out our Christian life in isolation, we will more than likely fall into deception and at some point fail, and many have. We all therefore need the love, encouragement and correction of other Christians and this is precisely why God in Christ has set various gifts and ministries of the ascended Christ within His church (Ephesians 4:11-13). In fact scripture warns that we must not fall into the habit of not gathering regularly with other believers (Hebrews 10:24-25).
In short keeping Christians in isolation is the work of the Devil!
2. The Devil resists the final destiny of believers. V 19-20
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?”
Paul is concerned that every believer in Jesus, that came to faith under his preaching, should remain true to his commitments to Christ up until the day of His glorious second coming. He therefore knows that the Devil will employ long term strategies to make sure that they fail. Paul’s joy then will be to see that they remain true and faithful up until the very end. This is his hope, joy and crown of rejoicing.
The long term strategies of the Devil are like “little foxes that destroy the vine” (Song of Solomon 2:15). It will be noted from this verse that the Foxes have to be caught! That is, unhealthy habits and routines, that at first seem insignificant and therefore go unchecked, the Devil will water and nurture until they have a controlling influence over our lives and can lead us to make shipwreck of our faith. Ships don’t just happen to flounder upon the rocks. No, the wrong course is set long beforehand and, not being corrected, results in a smash up. The sinking of the Titanic is a clear picture of this as is the life of Judas. A careful study of Gospels reveals that he had a real problem with money which in the end caused him to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Scripture affirms that, at the very end, though given an opportunity to repent and turn from his problem, the Devil entered him and drove him to destruction. Many believers in Jesus have gone this way!
3. The Devil engineers trials, persecutions and troubles as a strategy to discourage believers. 3:1-4
“…..no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.” V 3-4
The Bible teachers that the Devil is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) and that the whole world lies in his power (1 John 5:19). This means that he can manipulate circumstances and events by which to put serious stumbling blocks in the way of God’s people. It is important to note that no w here does scripture teach that he can attack the believer in Christ when and how he likes (1 John 5:18) but he can manipulate the ungodly world in which we live to deliver great troubles to our doorstep. At this point he is merely presenting us with a choice; are we going to press on in faithfulness to Christ or are we going to succumb and deny Him? The decisions we take will be ours entirely and not that of the Devil and this is why Paul, here in this passage, calls him the Tempter; the one who puts us to the proof!!
“For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.” V 5
Living in a fallen world, and having fallen natures ourselves, means that our journey through life is beset with many troubles and difficulties. These are sometimes overwhelming, and we can so easily question God and lose faith and hope in Him. We must always pray that we do not fall into the trap of temptation. For, if we do, the result will be our decision alone and not that of the Devil. James underlined this truth when he wrote:
“let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” James 1:13-14
The bottom line then is that our many troubles in life will unmask the true nature of our commitment to Christ. The Devil just gives us a choice that presents us with an alternative to that of the plan and purpose of God for our lives. The decision we opt for then is entirely our doing. This was the strategy that the Devil used in the Garden of Eden when he presented Adam and Eve with an alternative option. Adam made a bad decision and scripture affirms this when it states, “As in Adam all die” and not, “Because of the Devil all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). May God in Christ help us to always remain vigilant, faithful and finish well.