False accusations, false beliefs; you know, as the devil does.

1 Thessalonians 2.17-20.

Added to the Thessalonians’ hardships was the fact the apostles couldn’t get to them. We don’t know the specifics; we only know Paul really wanted to, and tried, but couldn’t. Maybe it was logistics; they tried to find a boat headed for Thessaloniki and just couldn’t. Maybe they were officially banned from Thessaloniki. Or maybe they were unofficially banned, and warned that if they set foot in town they’d be murdered. I point out that a lot of foolhardy Christian missionaries nowadays will ignore death threats and go to such towns anyway; I’m not claiming they had more guts than Paul (which is why I call ’em foolhardy), but I am pointing out that Paul darn near got murdered, more than once, which tends to make you take death threats more seriously. The criminal justice system in the Roman Empire was a joke, so death threats weren’t always just talk.

And Paul did eventually get to see them—sorta. After Paul and Silas were rushed out of town, Ac 17.5-10 Paul and Timothy returned to Macedon some five years later, Ac 20.1-2 and if they couldn’t make it to Thessaloniki, they at least ran into two Thessalonians: Arístarhos and Sekúndos. Ac 20.4

Anywho here’s where they express that desire to return.

1 Thessalonians 2.17-20 KWL
17 Fellow Christians, being separated from you for a length of time—
out of sight, not out of mind—we all the more tried our best to see you in person.
It was our great desire 18 because I, Paul, wanted to come to you
and once or twice Satan hindered us.
19 For what is our hope, joy, or crown—our boast, if not you?
which we make before our Master Jesus at his second coming,
20 for you are our glory and joy.

Blaming Satan.

In verse 18 Paul claimed “once or twice Satan hindered us.” And I believe him.

Not so much other Christians who blame Satan for every bad thing which happens to them. Honestly, the way some Christians act about the devil, you’d think it has as much power as God to control circumstances, weather, people, and the forces of history. Satan’s not almighty. It’s clever; I’ll give it that. It surely wants us to think it’s mighty, and pulling the strings behind every evil deed in the world. It wants us to fear it, and be wary of confronting or challenging it.

But when bad stuff happens, it’s not always Satan. Most of the time it’s just our meaningless universe, sucking as usual. It’s the usual accidents, inconveniences, deaths, and circumstances. It’s other people, who are just as selfish, uninterested, apathetic, or willing to do the bare minimum as usual, who are looking for any excuse to not do their jobs and vent their frustrations by shafting customers. And sometimes it’s us, getting in our own way, but refusing to accept responsibility and blaming anyone or anything else. Like Satan.

For a lot of Christians it’s a full-on martyr complex: “I wanna do [GREAT BIG THING] but Satan wants to steal my blessing. Get thee behind me!” Yeah, like you’re so important and worthy, God thinks that blessing is safe with you in the first place; or so potentially damaging to Satan’s plans, it’s gonna stop tempting the Congress and focus all its energies on you. You ain’t all that. People could be, when they follow Jesus more, but y’notice the mammonistic nature of the “blessings” they covet, and their crappy attitudes and general fruitlessness, indicate Satan’s more on their side than not.

And a good deal of that bad fruit is the snap judgment that if it’s against you, it’s automatically the devil. Y’ever considered the fact the Holy Spirit frequently tries to stop us Christians from ruining ourselves? Yeah, Paul said Satan was trying to keep him from Thessaloniki, but elsewhere in the bible, Luke wrote the Holy Spirit kept the apostles from going to Asia Minor. Ac 16.6 Not Satan, God. “The devil’s in my way” isn’t always the judgment of a Christian gifted with discernment. More often it’s a superstitious person who can’t tell the difference between God’s will and the devil’s.

But like I said, I believe Paul. He did know the difference between God’s will and the devil’s, and knew Satan was involved in getting ’em out of town in the first place. It began with all the false accusations.

Acts 16.16-22 KWL
16 While we went to prayer, a certain girl who had ‘the spirit of Pythia’ happened to meet us. She brought great profits to her masters by fortune-telling. 17 The girl was following Paul and us, squawking and saying, “These people are slaves of the Highest God, who preach to us the way of salvation!” 18 and she did this for many days. Tired of it, turning to the spirit, Paul said, “I command you in Christ Jesus’s name to get out of her!” and it came out of her that hour.

19 The girl’s masters, seeing their hope of profits had also come out, grabbing hold of Paul and Silas, dragged them to the city square to the city leaders. 20 Bringing them to the generals, they said, “These people are making trouble for our city; they’re Judeans 21 and propagate customs which aren’t right for us Romans to accept or do.” 22 The crowd joined in against the apostles, and the generals tore off the apostles’ clothes and ordered them to be caned.

Paul had done nothing illegal. Preaching the gospel wasn’t illegal (not at that point in time, anyway). Exorcism wasn’t illegal; their witch doctors did exorcisms all the time. Pharisaism wasn’t illegal either. These slaveholders had nothing on Paul, so they trumped up a charge of him teaching something seditious, didn’t even name the sedition, and got ’em caned. Illegally, I should point out; Paul and Silas were Romans, and they had been caned and jailed without trial Ac 16.37-38 —a fact which might’ve got the city generals in big trouble had it been reported to Rome.

Accusation is Satan’s specialty. If a legitimate accusation isn’t available, it figures a false accusation works just as well. And like I said, Roman criminal justice was a joke; Paul got caned a lot more often than any Roman citizen should have been.

Whenever false accusations come our way, that’s a sign the devil’s mixed up in it. Not always; people have little trouble spreading false witness on their own. But the devil’s pretty good at riling people up with wild claims. It’s found it’s really easy to get people to stop thinking and start raging. It’s not the devil’s only tactic; just its favorite.

We Christians unwittingly fall into it whenever we blame our sins on Satan—because it’s so easy to ignore our own culpability. It’s Satan’s fault for tempting us. It’s its fault for throwing stumbling-blocks in our path. (Never mind the fact sometimes the Holy Spirit lays the stumbling-blocks.) We just want excuses which take the responsibility away from us—though it is our fault.

The apostles didn’t blame Satan for no good reason. They were honest about their own sins and failures, as good Christians will be. They didn’t blame the devil for anything but its actual actions. We mustn’t be quick to do such things, and misinterpret what’s really going on behind the scenes. Sometimes nothing is.

Assuring the Thessalonians.

Since the devil’s big on accusations (“Satan” means “accuser,” you recall), no doubt Satan had been messing with the Thessalonians by suggesting there were other, more evil reasons the apostles hadn’t returned. The apostles’ letters in the bible were mainly written to do damage control about false teachings, false information, false witness. Fixing errors with truth.

So y’notice the apostles did a lot of encouraging and praising. It’s not just to be nice; it’s certainly not to suck up to them. It’s to fix a lot of the wrong ideas these churches had. The Thessalonians suspected Paul, Silas, and Timothy didn’t really care about them. So the apostles were telling them otherwise. Go through the book and you’ll notice all the positive statements—and we can easily deduce all the negative beliefs the Thessalonians suspected were true. All Satan’s false accusations.

APOSTLES’ STATEMENTSFALSE BELIEF
We always praise God for you. We can’t forget you. 1Th 1.2 They never think of us. They took us for granted.
We remember your good deeds and great faith. 1Th 1.3 They forgot what we do.
We know you’re fellow Christians, selected and loved by God. 1Th 1.4 God forgot us too. Doesn’t love us. Hasn’t saved us. Maybe he’s not even there.
Our gospel didn’t come in words but power, by the Spirit. 1Th 1.5 Their “gospel” was only nice-sounding platitudes. Just words.

I could go on through the entire letter, but you get the idea.

So when the Thessalonians doubted how good they were as Christians, 1Th 1.6 or whether anyone remembered or cared what they’d been through, 1Th 1.7-8 or whether God was any improvement over the pagan gods they quit, 1Th 1.9 or whether Jesus was really coming to save them, 1Th 1.10 every word from the letter dismissed the false accusation devilishly planted in their minds, and taught them no: God is looking out for them.

And the apostles did have a high view of them, and love for them. “For what is our hope, joy, or crown—our boast, if not you?—which we make before our Master Jesus at his second coming, for you are our glory and joy.” 1Th 2.19-20 The Thessalonians weren’t just another notch on the belt; not an afterthought. Not some people they met, then abandoned, and never thought of since. Ignore the false accusations in your minds: You’re their glory and joy.

We need to pay attention to what God’s actually said about us, and what other Christians have actually said about us. Not the worried imaginations of the devilish sort. Not the darkest fears from dark places. What has God said about you? Cling to that.