But Satan Hindered Us – I Thessalonians 2:13-20

As your pastor and the primary preacher/teacher here for 29 years – one of my fears is“tediousness.” For example, I often preach the gospel, but there are only so many ways in which it can be done, and I work hard not to say the same things in the same way all the time. I fear becoming “tedious.” “Tedious” is a Biblical word, but it is used only once. It came from the lips of the lawyer Tertullus as he began to accuse Paul before the Roman governor, Felix. He said, “Notwithstanding, that I be not further TEDIOUS unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a FEW words.” To be “tedious” is to be “wearisome; tiresome from continuance; a slowness in coming to a conclusion.” And for an example, Webster very appropriately says, “a minister (may be) tedious in his sermon. We say also, a discourse is tedious when it wearies by its length or dullness.” In preaching the gospel, a well-intended message may become “tedious” when it is too technical, or too long or so boring that its good intent is ruined.
What has that got to do with our text? Is this message already becoming “tedious?” Hang in there for a few minutes before you make up your mind. Paul had a special affection for the brethren in Thessalonica. We don’t know the key to that affinity, but it may have been due to their instant love and service for Christ. “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” For the first two chapters, Paul’s love and praise of these brethren pours out. He longed for their fellowship and another opportunity to help them grow in the things of the Lord. And then he says, “Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.” Despite Paul’s desire, there is no evidence he ever personally returned to Thessalonica. And no matter what might have occurred later, at least initially, it was Satan who hindered him.
Despite the passing of 2,000 years; despite the arrival of the Industrial Age and the Age of Technology – the desperate need of sinful humanity has not changed. The wrath of God against sinners has not changed, and the gospel has not changed. Furthermore, God’s enemy, the Devil, Satan, has not changed. He may use modern techniques and new technology, but he is still in the hindering business. Which means he has an interest in our little church and even in you specifically. How many times since your salvation, has “Satan hindered you” in some way? Hundreds? Thousands? I believe that if he thinks we can do some spiritual good on the Spokane Reservation he will hinder us. If he thinks that you might become a more useful servant of God in this church, he will try to hinder you. I will try to show you some more examples as we move along.
But first, what does Paul mean when he says “Satan HINDERED us.”
The Greek word is used 4 times in the Bible. And, surprisingly, the first time is in Acts 24:4 where Turtullus says that he hopes not to be “tedious.” “Tediousness” often results in hindering, and “tediousness” in the service of God, plays into Satan’s hand. After this verse, it could be argued that all the other references point to the Devil in one way or another. In Romans 15:22 Paul says he was hindered from visiting the brethren in Rome. By whom was he hindered? And in Galatians, he chides the brethren, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” There Paul was referring to the Galatians’ acceptance of false doctrine which was certainly encouraged by demonic forces. The last verse which uses the word is here in I Thessalonians 2:18 which directly accuses Satan.
Here is an example where philology and etymology can become fun – at least to me. The Greek word means “to cut into” and was a military word for digging a trench across a field or across a road to impede the advance of an opposing army. M.R. Vincent in his “Word Studies” paraphrased Galatians 5:7 this way – “Who broke up the road along which you were traveling so well?” In the case of the Thessalonians, Satan had destroyed the path which would have taken Paul back to them. But don’t picture a road covered by an avalanche or a bridge washed out in a flood – which he could do. In this case the ditches and road blocks were spiritual – or at the very least – not physical.
Before we get to Satan’s hindering methods –
It is important to consider WHY the Devil is in the hindering business.
“Why did Paul want to return to Thessalonica?” We are not given any specifics. All we can do is to use our imaginations and make one or two educated guesses. The church in Thessalonica was young and vulnerable; it needed to be protected from false doctrine. Paul’s presence there could have been important for theological reasons. He might have seen some of the Judaisers lurking nearby, like wolves ready to pounce on the lambs. And the believer’s confusion about the second coming of Christ could have been more easily settled if he had been there to hear their questions and to look them in the eye as he answered. And the Thessalonians were being persecuted; people were dying and others may have been jailed. People were losing their jobs; losing their families and friends. A well-written Hallmark card is not the same as the actual presence of the human comforter. And Paul, as a certified Roman citizen, might have been able to help with legal problems. Perhaps Paul pictured specific people to whom he had witnessed who were close to salvation, and he wanted to speak to them again of the marvelous grace of Christ. Maybe there were a couple of young men who were ready for ordination, and he wanted to be a part of their ministerial preparation. “Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.”
The Devil has always had the same agenda – to hinder progress in Christ’s kingdom and the work of His church. We might be tempted to think that Satan’s goal is to elevate, promote and glorify sin. Without doubt, he is not opposed to anyone’s sin, but that is only a means toward his real goal. He doesn’t merely want to see you in hell, he would like to see Jehovah in hell if that is possible. He wants to dethrone God and install himself as king in God’s creation – and in the hearts of humanity. He “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God (He may) sit in the temple of God, (pretending) that he is God” – to paraphrase II Thessalonians 2:4. He has said, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” – Isaiah 14:13. Just has he had the Macedonians of Thessalonica, he has held the people of the Spokane tribe for several hundred years, and he’s not going to give up his claim easily. But they are only an illustration – the tip of the iceberg – he wants the people of Post Falls just as badly. He wants to hear you “curse God and die” – whether you are a Christian or a hell-bound unbeliever. So he will do whatever he must to throw up a road block, or a ditch, between you and the Lord. He will hinder you from any progress toward the Lord, toward the work of the Lord as God’s glory.
And WHAT TOOLS does he use in this hindering?
What might he have done to keep Paul from returning to Thessalonica? He first drove the missionaries away through physical persecution and violence. And those threats were still in place. There may have been well-intended people who told Paul it would be foolish to try to return – his life was too valuable to risk in that way. Satan may have had a group of murderous Jews laying in wait to ambush and kill Paul had he left Athens or Corinth to return to Thessalonica, but the missionaries learned about it. You doubt it? Well then read Acts 23.
Perhaps Satan hindered Paul from returning by using his Epicureans and Stoic philosophers. While Paul was in Athens awaiting the return of Timothy from Macedonia, “his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” So he began preaching Christ first to the Jews who lived there – and then to anyone else who would listen. “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoicks, encountered him,” challenging him to a great meeting in the forum on Mars Hill. Paul accepted. But what resulted from that meeting? Other than a small handful of souls – nothing. Certainly no church. Could it be that while Paul was preparing and debating with those pseudo-intellectuals, the door closed for a possible return visit to Thessalonica? Satan is not above sacrificing a few of his people to faith in Christ, if he can gain a bigger victory. All of this is a part in a great spiritual war, with the enemy moving his resources in various ways. You and I may count a single soul as worth more than the combined wealth of the world, but Satan’s vision is greater than even that.
Then the Devil may have further diverted Paul’s attention towards the great spiritual needs in Corinth. That commercial city sitting next to the Mediterranean Sea was far more important than Thessalonica. Satan may have either detoured Paul to Corinth or encouraged him to stay there as the needs of his friends in Macedonia were brought to him. He may have forced Paul to choose between two very good things with the intention of hindering the work up north.
Leaving thoughts of Thessalonica, what other tools does Satan have at his disposal for hindering our service? The prophet Zechariah was given a vision which he described in chapter 3. He speaks an unusual man with a measuring stick in his hand – apparently an angel of the Lord. “And he shewed me Joshua, the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ), and Satan standing at his right hand to RESIST him.” The devil can call up or incite allies within the Lord’s own church, causing the people of God to stumble in the work to which that church is called.
We don’t need to confine ourselves to Old Testament illustrations. As the Lord said in Matthew 10:36 – “A man’s foes (may or) shall be they of his own household.” One of Jesus’ own disciples was a tool on the utility belt of the Wicked One. And how did Christ describe him in John 6:70 – “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Satan was thwarted, but he tried to use Judas to hinder the eternal plan of God. And there is an even more startling attack upon that degree of God in Matthew 16. There the Lord Jesus was teaching the disciples about His upcoming journey to the cross. Without a doubt the crucifixion was Jehovah’s will – it was the eternal plan of God. But in verse 22 – “Then PETER took him, and began to rebuke HIM, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord, this shall not be unto thee.” Peter was attempting to hinder the decree of God. And how did the Lord reply? “He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”
God’s saints can be used of the Devil to hinder the work of the Lord. They rarely intend to serve Satan, but they can become as blinded as the lost man. In the bulletin several weeks ago, I included a letter from Adoniram Judson to his future father-in-law, John Hazeltine. In that letter he wrote, “You may never see your daughter again. Are you willing to sacrifice her for the sake of lost souls and for glory of the Lord Jesus Christ?” What if Satan had pressured Mrs. Hazeltine to pressure her husband to forbid their daughter’s marriage to the foolish missionary? Out of love for her daughter – and herself – she may have hindered the work of evangelism in Burma. If you believe that has never happened, think again. Hundreds of times Satan has used Christian wives to hinder their husbands in their service for God in a new ministry – in missions – in stepping out by faith toward some bold effort to glorify the Saviour. Is that happening even today, keeping some young preacher from moving to Washington State? Wasn’t Lucifer’s attack upon Adam and Eve an attempt to hinder the glory of God? What tool did Satan use upon Adam? Wasn’t it the man’s wife?
In almost every Biblical description of personal temptation we can see Satan’s attempt to hinder something. For example, things were going well for Israel for a while under David’s reign. The Ark had been brought to Jerusalem and preparations were under way for construction of the Temple. Israel’s enemies had been sufficiently subdued – there was peace in the land and economic prosperity. Under the circumstances, the people were quite willing to worship the Lord, and Satan was on the run so-to-speak. But then I Chronicles 21:1 says, “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” The Devil hindered the prosperity of Israel by encouraging the king’s pride. Despite his counselors’ advice David forged ahead, and in the end 70,000 people died.
So one of Satan’s hindering tools is pride, and another might be described as prominence. Matthew 4:1 – “Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” In the will of God, it was necessary that our Saviour be fully tested and that He pass those tests before God’s enemy could be properly silenced. Satan would have loved to break up the road which lead ultimately to Calvary. So Christ Jesus was tempted with hunger, but He was not defeated. Then Satan tried pride and the twisting of the promises of God, but again Christ parried the attack. Eventually the devil attempted to put our Lord on a pedestal – on the Pinnacle of the Temple.
One of Satan’s well-used tools is promotion. Give that Christian some sort of spot-light – a pinnacle on which to stand – and then add a bit of false doctrine, and watch that church hit the ditch. Some of God’s greatest servants have been Baptist deacons – like Stephen. And some of Satan’s great servants have been deacons as well – or Sunday School teachers – or other prominent leaders.
The Apostles were prominent people in the early churches. But Paul had to remind the Galatian churches that Satan almost used Peter to derail God’s work in Antioch. “When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” – Galatians 2:12. And even the Lord Jesus alluded to the possibility of Apostolic hindrances. Luke 22:31-32 – “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not…”
Okay, if we assume the Devil intends to hinder us – or hinder God’s work through us – what can we do?
First, by the Lord’s grace recognize the attack for what it is. Paul was able to say in this case…. “Satan hindered us.” But sometimes, what we might think is Satan, is actually the leadership of the Holy Spirit. After Paul’s successful ministry in Lystra and Derby in what is now central Turkey, he set his sights toward the west coast. But Acts 16:6 says, they “were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia.” Then, “after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not.” It was the Holy Spirit who was hindering their work in certain places – in order to direct them ultimately toward Philippi – and eventually Thessalonica. The point is, in order to proceed despite Satan’s hindrances, we need to know that they are really his hindrances.
And that ultimately means, watch the road before you through the lenses of the Lord. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path” – Psalm 119:105. Is it scriptural to yearn to see a mission established in the Silver Valley, in Sandpoint or on the Spokane Reservation? Of course it is. But what if Satan should take away our contacts on the Reservation? Or our meeting place? That would be a distinct hindrance, but it wouldn’t change the command we have to go into our Samaria with the gospel. The Devil might throw a ditch across our path, but we have a commission to look toward engineering a bridge in order to go on. Maybe our plans and the details of our route might have to change because of the Devil’s hindrances, but we must still march forward. Unless, of course, the Lord wants us to go in a different direction. Please, O God, make thy will clear.
Paul wanted to return to Thessalonica. “Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.” What would it have meant to Christianity if those missionaries had been able to return? There is no way of knowing even a tenth of what might have happened in Thessalonica. Paul might have died there. We don’t know. But one thing is for certain – there wouldn’t have been either of the Thessalonian epistles IF he had made the trip. We would not have some of the most precious scriptures of the New Testament. God knows how to make very tasty lemonade.
The key to dealing with Satan’s hindrances, is to find the path the Lord wants us to follow and march on. It may be to turn to Troas instead of Ephesus; Corinth instead of Thessalonica. It may be to write a letter instead of preaching a sermon. It might be to pray for the Lord’s blessings instead of pushing forward in our Christianized flesh.
The Devil has a thousand times more strength than you and I have. And he has more than 6,000 years of experience in implementing his wiles. But he cannot defeat the Lord in any battle or in the outcome of his war against Jehovah. And Satan cannot crush us when we are wearing the Lord’s armor and when we are leaning on His strength.
Satan’s hindrances should drive us back to the Lord to rethink, rearm and refresh ourselves for our next step. Paul said, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” In other words, “I know what it is to be attacked, to be hindered, and be slowed to a crawl.” But moving forward, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
As a church and as individuals we have work to do, and we’re running out of time to get it done. And Satan knows that he is running out of time as well, so his anger is intensifying, his hindering is ongoing. We cannot afford to be thwarted or discouraged in the Lord’s work. As Paul said to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith” – “war a good warfare.” Keep moving forward.