Homily 5

Dr. Ed Glasscock

1Thessalonians 2: 18 – SATAN’S OPPOSITION

All of us, from time to time, become frustrated because our plans do not work out.  I know personally of many Christians whose faith has been weakened and even almost broken because life has not turned out as expected.   Anticipation of a “normal and happy” life brings despair when one’s life is characterized by rejection, loneliness, or “failure.”      Parents who tried so hard to raise their children by their Christian convictions watch as their children shrug off Christianity to pursue worldly values.  Christian marriages end with horrible cruelty and pastors, instead of being respected for their service to Jesus Christ, are harassed and personally attacked for standing firm in Scripture.

Indeed, Christ’s warning to His disciples proves to be true, “in this world you have tribulation” (John 16: 33). There is no reason for Christians to be shocked by the trials and struggles in this Satan-ruled world (1John 5: 19), and it continues to be a mystery as to why Christians base hope and security upon the world’s approval and acceptance.  Nevertheless, daily frustrations and suffering can make one feel as though he/she has been forgotten by God.

Facing opposition in our lives, especially when we have determined to live for God and to serve Jesus Christ, can also lead to confusion.  Why does God not do what we expect?  Why does God allow pain in our lives if He loves us?  Why can we not accomplish our goals and why do our efforts seem futile even when we are trying to do God’s will?  These questions are real in the minds and hearts of many of God’s children.

Lessons from Paul

“Therefore, we desired to come to you . . . “  Paul expresses frustration in not being able to carry out his plans but also reveals the reason for that inability.  Actually, Paul deals with the issue in several passages of Scripture (other texts will also be considered in this homily).  In 1Thessalonians 2: 18, he expresses his desire to return to Thessalonica to continue his ministry there.  The context of chapters one and two and a comparison with the account in Acts 17:1-10 reveal that Paul did not have a lengthy ministry in Thessalonica and was driven out by persecution.  His abrupt departure from the newly saved Christians in that hostile environment (cf 1:6; 2:14) brought him great distress.  In 2: 17, He mentions being “taken away from you,” not that he left willingly, and assures them that he was “eager with great desire to see” them again.

Paul’s concern was  that the pressure and fear which came from their conversion to being followers of Jesus the Messiah would shake their faith and cause the powerful testimony of the Thessalonians (1: 8-10) to be discredited and that his hard work there “would be in vain” (3: 5).  Paul understood that his mission was not complete by simply bringing the Thessalonians to a saving knowledge of Jesus, but he knew they needed to be strengthened and encouraged in their faith so as to not fall victim to the “Tempter” (3: 2-5).

we wanted to come to you” Paul made it clear that it was his desire/plan to return to the Thessalonican Christians.  The word “wanted” (qevlw/thelō) indicates one’s intention or preference.  It often has the connotation of one’s resolve, purpose or goal.  The new believers at Thessalonica were reassured by Paul of his love and concern for them in this short epistle delivered by Timothy.  Paul’s absence from them (“in person but not in spirit” 2:17) was not due to a lack of concern or a lack of commitment.  Paul notes that his attempt to return to Thessalonica was repeated, “more than once.” The Apostle again and again made his plans and set his mind to go, but constantly was blocked.

“even I Paul”   Paul’s emphatic use of his name has interesting implications.  When one thinks of Paul, his unique calling from Christ (Acts 9), his intense personal training by Christ (Galatians 1:1-11 and other passages where Paul makes comment as to the Lord giving him instruction), and his identity as the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), his special position in Christ’s program becomes evident.  The Lord called Paul “a chosen instrument of Mine” (Acts 9:15), indicating the quality of his role in Christ’s program.  Yet, even Paul, this hand-picked, uniquely authoritative Apostle of Christ, felt the frustration of being denied the fulfillment of his critical plans.

Why was it that the Apostle Paul could not do what he felt so passionately driven to do?  He states the problem clearly.

“Satan hindered us”   Paul’s opponent was the Devil.  Matthew 4:1, 3, 5 identifies the Devil as the one who dared oppose the Lord Christ by tempting Him to act independently of the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Here Paul recognizes that the persecution and the resistance to his work was from the same adversary of God.  If the devil can stop Paul from fulfilling his desire to complete the mission God had given him in Thessalonica, why should we be shocked that satanic opposition could also frustrate our plans?

One of the most fascinating accounts of demonic resistance to God’s servants is recorded in Daniel 10:2-13.  Daniel had prayed and fasted for three weeks with no apparent response from God (can you relate?), then a messenger (“angel”) was sent to him and states, “I have come in response to your words . . . but the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael one of the chief princes came to help me . .  .”  (vv12-13).   The servant of God prays, God sends a messenger to him, but the prince of Persia (referencing the non-human power behind the earthly king) gets in his way (lit. took a stand before me).  For three weeks these two non-human entities struggled to get a message to Daniel or prevent the message from getting to Daniel.  Then Michael comes to overpower the prince of Persia and allows the message to get through.  We modern Christians often fail to realize the spiritual war going on around us.  Satan attempts to thwart and frustrate God’s plan, and he does so by blocking the work of God’s servants.

Lesson to Learn

Paul’s example should serve to alert the believer, especially one trying to do God’s will, that Satan and his forces will certainly oppose anything that promotes the work of Jesus Christ.  If you have set out to serve Christ and minister to others on behalf of Christ, opposition should not be a surprise, nor should it be a discouragement.  If Satan did not fear what you were doing, he would not try to discourage you from your work.  If your plans are being hindered, evaluate them and pray for guidance.  If the work is truly from God and for ministry to the Body of Christ, do not lose heart and give up.  God will provide protection and assistance to fulfill your mission.

Other Opponents

It should be mentioned that there could be other reasons that one’s plans and wishes are being hindered.

Acts 16:6-7, Paul was proceeding on his missionary journey when Luke records that Paul was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” and as they were “trying to go into Bithynia . . .the Spirit of Jesus (the Spirit acting on behalf of Jesus) did not permit them.”  In this situation, it was not Satan who blocked Paul’s plans but rather the Holy Spirit.  Paul was going on his way knowing that his ministry was to preach the gospel to regions not yet exposed to the message of the Christ.  Here, the Lord redirects Paul by divine intervention.  After being forbidden to enter Asia and particularly Bithynia, Paul was given a new vision redirecting him to Macedonia (Acts 16:10).  This region became the basis of Paul’s most influential and lasting work in which he planted churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and other major Greek cities.  There are times when we may assume that we are serving God and we may carry on our work, but God closes doors and limits the productivity, preparing us to move in a different direction.  In my forty years of ministry, I have certainly experienced God redirecting and leading into a new ministry which was not anticipated.  When opposition to your work is obvious, prayer for discernment and seeking counsel from others may help understand God’s new direction for one’s life and ministry.

Romans 1: 13 & 15: 22-23,  Paul again mentions a scenario in which his wishes and plans are being blocked.  In chapter one, he states, “I often planned to come to you but have been prevented so far (v13).  Paul had never been to Rome and desired to go so as to have a fruitful ministry there as well.  Yet, his actually making it to Rome had been blocked.  In this case, his inability to make it to Rome was not attributed to his enemy Satan, nor to the Lord redirecting his mission.  In this situation, Paul’s explanation was more intriguing.  In chapter 15 he states, “for this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you.”  The “reason” is explained in verse 20, “I endeavor to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named so that I would not build upon another’s foundation.”  Thus, Paul’s personal philosophy of ministry (the vision for ministry which God gave him) gave a higher priority to pioneering evangelism than visiting a church someone else had planted.  In verse twenty-three he states, “with no further place for me in these regions,” meaning that since he did not see any new fields in which to plant a church, he was now free to come to Rome.  For many years he desired to go to Rome (15: 23) but his commitment to do evangelism in non-evangelized areas actually prevented him from taking the trip.  His calling to a particular ministry blocked his personal desire to visit the church at Rome.


When faced with disappointment and frustration in attempting to serve God, it is important to stop and evaluate why there is a hindrance of your plans.  Is it Satan trying to keep you from fulfilling your mission?  Is it God redirecting your life?  Perhaps your awareness of God’s calling upon your life simply will not give you the peace and energy to pursue something of a lower priority.

Only through sincere, persistent and humble prayer and perhaps with the counsel of trusted Christian friends can you make such a determination.

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