Patience Prevails Against Hindrances (Fri. Nov. 26)

The word of the day is “hindered.”  In our reading of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-19, Paul speaks of the hindrances that retrained Paul’s work among the Gentiles of this important port city. Yet, despite these obstacles, Paul gives thanks to God for their enthusiastic reception of the Gospel.  And he assures them that they are with him in his heart and that he desires to see them face to face (vs. 17).

Hindered from Reaching the Gentiles

In our reading, Paul speaks of the frustrating roadblocks to his plans, both human and supernatural. First, there was the opposition of the Judaizers who insisted on the circumcision of Gentile believers.  Paul writes that the Thessalonians had suffered persecution just as the Jewish Christians in Judea (vs. 14). The Jews who would not accept Gentiles into the church stirred up a mob against the new pagan converts.  Not finding Paul, they dragged Jason and other believers to court and made them pay for a bond to guarantee that they would keep the peace (Acts 17:8). Thus, in Thessalonica and neighboring Berea, Paul says that the Judaizers were “forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles lest they be saved” (vs. 16).  The Greek term expresses more precisely that they “hindered” or “restrained” Paul’s preaching.

Hindered from Staying in Thessalonica

According to Acts, Paul and Silas fled Thessalonica by night (Acts 17:10).  Perhaps they intended to stay away from the city for a “short while” and to return when the trouble had passed.  But the Judaizers incited the same kind of ugly incident in Berea (Acts 17:13).  So, the believers sent Paul away by sea to Athens. And from there, he arrived in Corinth where he stayed a year and a half.[1]

Paul uses the Greek word that literally means “being orphaned” (Strong’s #624, 38) to describe his separation from his beloved congregation at Thessalonica. He assures them of his love and his longing to see them face to face.

Hindered from Meeting Together

However, Paul says that time and again, “Satan hindered us” (vs. 18).  The Greek word comes from the thought of being “cut into,” that is, the devil “cut off” his plans.  He stood in the way of the Apostle’s progress (Strong’s #1461, 75). You see, Satan is the adversary who leads the resistance against God’s will (Strong’s #4567, 224). Therefore, Paul attributes his inability to carry out his plans to him.

For Reflection

It is said that the “devil made me do it.” That is an excuse, not an explanation.  St. Cyril of Alexandria said, “The devil is able to suggest, but he has no power to force himself against our choosing. It is by our choice that we sin.”

In the same vein, the devil has no power to lead us astray unless we are willing to be led.  Rather, as we see in our reading, the devil specializes in obstacles. He is the great adversary who blocks our path. His power is in hindering and not in helping, in obstructing and not in clearing the way, and in impeding and not in facilitating.  For example, the Lord called Peter “Satan” because Peter wanted to prevent him from taking the way of the cross (Matthew 16:23).  And the Lord allowed Paul to be tormented by his “thorn” in the flesh.  Paul appropriately called his affliction a “Messenger of Satan.” His role was to prevent Paul “from being exalted beyond measure” (vs. 12:7).

How should we deal with this great Master of Hinderances?  Yes, we must resist temptation (James 4:7).  But trying to climb over the devil’s hurdles often leads us to frustration and even despair.  Our weapon against the obstructions of the devil should be patience, the attitude of St. Paul in today’s reading.

Our Nativity Fast is a test of such patience. Forty days seems like a long time to practice prayer, fasting, and acts of charity especially when our culture is partying and feasting. However, by our spiritual disciplines we learn to wait for what is better than immediate gratification and to hope for what is better than toys and trinkets. And the celebration of the coming of our Savior in the flesh will be a foretaste prelude to the surpassing joy that we will have when the Lord returns in glory at the end of this age.

Notes

[1] At the time of writing this letter, Paul had been away from Thessalonica about six months.

Notes

[1] At the time of writing this letter, Paul had been away from Thessalonica about six months.

 

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