Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Three-Pronged Attack of Satan
In that high theological treatise that is The Wizard of Oz there is a scene where Dorothy, the scarecrow the lion and the tin man see what they think is the Great Oz himself. Mighty and vaunted with smoke and fire and a frightening visage bellowing out orders. Then Dorothy’s dog Toto (of “and your little dog too” fame) runs up to the front and pulls away a curtain to reveal a weak old man running the controls and speaking into a microphone. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” Oz orders. But of course, the secret is out. The Great and Powerful Oz is but a fairway barker and magician who hides behind an artifice.
This, it turns out, is a great illustration of what the Thessalonians, Paul the Apostle, and we ourselves face daily as we seek to live life as a follower of Jesus. Our foe is none other than Lucifer or “Satan” which means opponent. Satan’s plan is to keep as many people as possible from falling in love with Jesus and to keep those that he’s lost from trusting God and being an effective witness for Christ.
How he does this is a three-fold strategy: internal temptation and discouragement aimed at stopping us from trusting Jesus; external pressure to bully us from living our Christianity on the outside; and interpersonal tension and strife to get us to mistrust each other. But while he is employing these tactics, he tries his best to do it without our awareness. Like a mosquito injecting you with an anesthetic prior to biting you so you don’t feel it – Satan is the most successful when you have no idea that it is he that is working.
Paul told the Corinthian church that “we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor 2:11). But all too often we react to the situations around us and take them at face value, being ignorant of the real struggle going on and the real man behind the curtain pulling the leavers around your life so you remain in the dark and end up doing his bidding.
In Chapter 3 of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians we see Satan’s schemes unmasked and how Paul effectively dealt with that three-pronged attack of internal, external and interpersonal. Remember now that Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica prematurely when the Jews caused a riot over people receiving the gospel. His worry over what had happened to them, and if Satan was successful in planting doubts about Paul’s methods and motivations.
We pick up the story in Chapter 3.
After leaving Thessalonica, Paul eventually came to Athens (Acts 17). His ministry partners, Silas, and Timothy, stayed on in Berea. Paul, surrounded by idols, spoke the gospel to limited success. Eventually Timothy joined him in Athens but Paul was so concerned about the church in Thessalonica that he sent Timothy back there. Look at the emotion expressed here: Paul could “no longer stand” not knowing whether Satan has been successful in trouncing this little church. He sends Timothy even though this would cause a bitter loneliness for the apostle. Imagine being in a place where no one believes you, no one accepts you and no one understands you. The Greek is very strong here. This was no light matter. Paul isn’t trying to make them feel sorry for him; he wants them to know just how vital they are and how real the struggle is they face. He is willing to face aloneness in an enemy camp to send an emissary to his new friends.
2 – 3
Timothy’s mission was two-fold. He was to “strengthen” and “encourage”. “Strengthen” means “to establish” and comes from a word meaning “to set fast.” The idea is that the persecutions they were undergoing were seeking to uproot them from trusting Jesus and trusting that Paul had been sent by God. Just like it takes a while for concrete to set, it takes a while for the Christian faith to set as well. Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The idea of the good soil in that parable is that the seed “took root.” Has the seed of the gospel taken root in your life, or could it be easily uprooted by some other idea?
The other word “encourage” is the same root where we get the Holy Spirit – the Parakaleo—one who comes alongside to help. So not only could Timothy explain some things, he can also be as one who serves them.
The end purpose was so they would not be “shaken” which is akin to the Greek word used to describe a dog’s tail wagging. The end-game of Satan’s three-pronged attack was to get them to unsettled and to waiver in their full trust in God no matter what.
He finishes this idea with the point that trials should not be a total surprise. The Apostle Peter echoed this in his first letter:
1 Peter 4:12-14 (HCSB) 12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. 13 Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory. 14 If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Though counter-intuitive, persecution means you are sticking it to the enemy. And it means one day we’ll be able to rejoice when the trials are over and the Lord’s hand and victory become apparent to all.
4 – 5
Paul tells them that he’d warned them about persecutions against him—so persecutions against them shouldn’t be a surprise either. Timothy’s ultimate purpose was to find out the enemy’s tactics had been successful. Getting you to stop trusting in Jesus when everything around you screams otherwise is a temptation. It started back in the Garden of Eden when Lucifer said: “Did God really say?” In all this, remember that is his ultimate aim—to get you to mistrust the Lord.
6 – 10
Paul writes this after Timothy’s return, and he expresses the incredible relief in that:
- They still trust Jesus
- They have the character of Christ (love)
- They still trust that God sent Paul
- They still have love for him as well
It leads him to great thanksgiving. He now prays often and earnestly to 1) see them and 2) help them grow in their faith.
What follows is one of the most beautiful benedictions in the New Testament.
11 – 13
Paul knows that only the Lord can clear the way for him to see them in person. That’s prayer one. Secondly, he identifies what is lacking in their faith:
- An outer expression of love.
Paul prays for an increase in both the quantity and direction of their love. The agape love of God should start with the church but then should overflow onto everyone we meet. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35.
- An inner transformation into God’s character
It’s not just the outer methods but the inner motivations that are important. Christians are to be people of integrity, which means the same on the inside as on the outside.
With Paul’s help, when the Lord comes back and reveals all we have done for Him, there will be great rejoicing in that day. Keeping the end in mind is vital to Christians. Today might seem black, but there is purpose in it, God’s controlling it, and it’ll end well.
So how are some ways that we can combat the enemy’s attacks in our lives?
- Internal discouragement
Often Satan’s methods start internally. He pivots off our weaknesses and past sins to tempt us. It’s often to do something that we think will fulfill a natural need but in a way that God did not design. Then when we think, say, or do that thing—he turns around and accuses us of failing to live our lives with a godly character. I know you’ve all experienced this. “Why are you still loving and serving God?” he taunts. “You don’t deserve to call yourself a Christian. You’d better just close in and fall back because your witness has been compromised!” Internal discouragement can also come from external pressure. Times are so tough that you are just exhausted and can’t find the strength to go on and feel weak and vulnerable, like perhaps the Thessalonians did. So, what to do?
- You are not alone (others also get discouraged and Jesus went through all the things that discourage us 1 Cor 10:13, Hebrews 4:15)
- You are not alone in that the Holy Spirit comes alongside to comfort you and God’s hand is in everything that’s happening (working all things for the good – (Romans 8:28)
- You are not alone in that others who have suffered similarly can comfort you (2 Corinthians 1)
- God knows you will fail (just like He knew Peter would deny Him). As important is the failure, so too is the returning (Luke 21:13)
- External pressure
Paul worried that the persecutions in Thessalonica would “shake” the faith of the church. If the enemy can’t get you to stop trusting God by discouraging you, he will out and out attack you. It won’t be by demons with pitchforks. It will come by him inspiring others to do his will and harm you. What do you do when that happens?
- Remember who the real enemy is (“We wrestle not against flesh and blood” Ephesians 6:12)
- Remember the real goal is to get you to stop trusting Jesus, so don’t stop!
- Remember to pray for the enemy you can see (Matthew 15:43-48), resist the one you cannot see (James 4:7)
- Think of the impact long term, not the pain in the short term. James said the testing of your faith produces a product (James 1) which is the character of God. Trials are a way of God supplying what we lack, which is more trust. In the long term these trials will result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7)
- Remember Jesus: “For the joy set before Him he endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2)
- Interpersonal strife
This is an often-unseen ploy and quite effective. Satan will use hurt pride, and whispers in the ear to get us to mistrust each other. He tried to do it in Thessalonica. It is probably the single most powerful weapon in his arsenal and has been responsible for destroying families, friendships, and fellowships for millennia. How to combat it?
- Don’t talk about other people’s business (1 Timothy 5:13 and others)
- Speak in ways that build up but be quick to forgive when others don’t (Ephesians 4:29)
- Believe the best in others first, not last (1 Corinthians 13)
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19)