Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, 3 and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. 4 Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. 5 That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless.
6 But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. 7 So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. 8 It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord.
9 How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence. 10 Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.
11 May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. 12 And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 13 May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 [NLT]
Leslie White writes about 6 Things Jesus Teaches Us About the Devil. Her list:
- The devil attacks when you’re alone.
- The devil attacks when you’re vulnerable.
- The devil wants to separate you from your walk with God.
- You are very susceptible to the devil’s advances when you’re upset.
- The devil will twist Scripture.
- The devil feeds on your pain.
There may be others we could list, but this is sufficient. And Paul recognizes the clear and present danger that the devil poses to faithful followers of Jesus. We are not immune to his attacks. We are not defenseless, nor are we destined to give in. But just because we follow Jesus doesn’t mean the devil will leave us alone.
In this letter to the church in Thessalonica Paul recognizes the first of the list Leslie offers: The devil attacks when you are alone. Jesus’ first head-on encounter with the devil occurred when he was alone in the wilderness. Having been there for forty days the temptor urged, “Command that these stones be turned into bread.” Jesus was alone and hungry (#2). But he resisted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the word of God.
Paul is concerned that these new believers would give in to the devil’s attacks. They were separated from him and apparently also from other spiritually-mature believers. He wanted to be with them to bring them courage and strength. That being impossible, he sent Timothy in his place, and Timothy brought back the good news of their continuing faithfulness.
Sometimes we simply cannot be present with others in the face of their struggles. We are limited by time and distance. Or we may simply not have the resources necessary to help someone through their troubled times. That’s when the Body of Christ is such a blessing. It’s not all up to us. We cannot do it all, nor should we try to. In fact we impede the growth of others when we try to be all in and all there for everyone. That’s not how the Body of Christ is designed to work.
The devil is a clear and present danger to our faith. He is the thief who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. Our prideful idea that we must take care of all things, never leaning on others, or asking for help, or sending others into the fray is also a clear and present danger. Sometimes people fall prey to that idea, thinking that only the pastor can provide spiritual care. They forfeit the prayers of the saints and miss the comfort of mutual conversation and consolation that brothers and sisters in Christ provide.
God’s love is mediated through the Body of Christ, and we’re all part of that body. Failing to take advantage of that gives the devil yet another opportunity to steal our joy, kill our hope, and destroy our faith. Thank God when he sends others to our side to help in that struggle.