“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #13)
Therefore we wanted to come to you — even I, Paul, time and time again — but Satan hindered us. (1 Thessalonians 2:18, N.K.J.V.)
How many times has Satan blocked the progress of God’s people? How many times has he ruined God-inspired plans? How many times has he thwarted God’s will? The apostle Paul has been called the greatest Christian who ever lived and yet even he fell victim to Satan’s hindrance.
Thessalonica was a major port city that boasted a population of 200,000. It was the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he and his ministry team visited the city and stayed in the home of a man named Jason (Acts 17:1-9). A fledgling church of Gentiles and believing Jews was formed, and Paul and his team planned to remain in the city for an extended time and get the new church off to a good start.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t allowed to happen as a roughneck mob led by unbelieving Jews stormed Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas (Acts 17:5). The two weren’t there at the time, so the mob dragged Jason before the city officials on the charge of aiding and abetting those who were teaching that Jesus, rather than Caesar, was King (Acts 17:6-7). A compromise was struck when Jason agreed to post a bond, evidently which was forfeitable if there was any more trouble (Acts 17:8-9).
That night the Christians of Thessalonica helped Paul and Silas covertly leave the city and begin the forty-mile trip to Berea. Once in Berea, the pair found that the Bereans were exceedingly open to the gospel (Acts 17:10-11). So, an effective ministry was begun there that continued until those unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica showed up there too and forced Paul to flee town again (Acts 17:12-13). By this time, Timothy had joined Paul and Silas in Berea, and so he and Silas remained there as Paul headed for Athens (Acts 17:14). Not long afterward, Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Athens (Acts 17:15).
Once Paul’s team was reunited in Athens, he sent Silas and Timothy back to Macedonia to minister to its fledgling churches (Acts 18:5). Prominent on that list was the new church in Thessalonica, to which Timothy was sent (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). Timothy remained in Thessalonica for a few months before rejoining Paul, who was now ministering in Corinth (Acts 18:1). Timothy’s glowing report of how well the young church of Thessalonica was doing warmed Paul’s heart so much that he promptly wrote the letter we call the book of 1 Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10).
I’ve included this background information on Paul’s relationship with the church at Thessalonica to help you understand his fervent desire to revisit that church. From his perspective, his ministry there had been aborted by those unbelieving Jews who had forced him to leave town. So, while he was delighted that the church had continued to thrive both on its own and under Timothy’s temporary leadership, he still thought of those Christians as his spiritual children (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12) and wanted to complete the start-up ministry he had begun there. More or less, all through his stops in Berea, Athens, and Corinth, he had been trying to get back to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:17). But he hadn’t been able to do it because Satan had hindered him.
The Greek word translated as “hindered” in the K.J.V. and N.K.J.V. is enkopto. It’s a word that literally means “to cut into.” It was used in reference to the breaking up of a road or the placing of an obstacle in a path. Other translations translate it as: “blocked our way” (New Revised Standard); “thwarted” (New American Standard); “stopped” (New International Version); “prevented” (New Living Translation); and “hindered and impeded” (The Amplified Bible).
Paul doesn’t explain precisely how he was hindered from returning to Thessalonica, but it seems likely that it had something to do with those unbelieving Jews who had run him out of town in the first place. Prominent commentators Charles Ryrie and John MaCarthur both suggest that the roadblock was created by that bond that Jason had been forced to post to avoid jail time in Thessalonica. Perhaps Paul knew that if he returned to Thessalonica his friend Jason would either be jailed or at least forced to pay the bond money.
If this working theory is correct, it means that Satan didn’t hinder Paul’s return to Thessalonica by stationing demons along the road leading into the city. He didn’t strike Paul with physical sickness. He didn’t order a demon to whisper into Paul’s ear and influence him to go to other places. Instead, he prevented Paul’s return by working through the individualistic, willful, ungodly actions of those unbelieving Jews and the circumstances those actions created.
In my own life and ministry, I can point to multiple times when Satan has used this same method to block God’s will from coming to pass in my life. I’ve been forced to watch helplessly as the devil has incorporated people’s sinful motivations, wrong decisions, and lack of discernment into his plans to keep me out of places and ministry fields where God wanted me to be. Trust me, it’s a frustrating experience. You know where God wants you to be, but circumstances beyond your control — circumstances used by Satan — prevent you from getting there.
The takeaway lesson from this post is simple: Satan is a master at using people and circumstances to thwart God’s will and keep the Christian away from God-appointed places. John Calvin spoke well when he said, “Whenever the ungodly cause us trouble, they are fighting under the banner of Satan, and are his instruments for harassing us.” Such people might not even realize they are fighting under Satan’s banner, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are.
Christian, if you keep living you’ll eventually find yourself in a situation where God wants you in a certain place but Satan has barricaded your road to get there. At that point the best you can do is what Paul did in Berea, Athens, and Corinth: Serve the Lord where you are! Yes, your Thessalonica is important, and you should never stop trying to get there. But even as you are doing that don’t forget about your service to your Bereans, Athenians, and Corinthians. After all, those people count too and your ministry to them will be God’s way of bringing very real good out of Satan’s very real bad.