1 THESSALONIANS 2:13-20
13We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers. 14For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, 15who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God's wrath has overtaken them at last.
17As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you - in person, not in heart - we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. 18For we wanted to come to you - certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again - but Satan blocked our way. 19For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20Yes, you are our glory and joy!
I do not like to highlight Satan. But I do so for today's devotional because of all the things that Paul writes in this passage, the statement, "but Satan blocked our way," got my interest. It's not as though other things that Paul writes about are somehow less significant. But for whatever reason, it's curious to me that Paul would attribute the hindrance of his visit to Thessalonica not to natural causation (like weather) or human obstacle (so-and-so holding us back) but the agency of the devil.
We don't get any specific detail about how in fact Satan blocked Paul's way to Thessalonica. We only get his statement. What are we to make of this statement? Most likely, Satan did not appear "in the flesh" and directly confront Paul, like wrestling Paul down to the ground. What probably occurred was a hindrance that seemed perfectly natural which Paul discerned was really spiritual in nature.
Discernment of spirits, the acute awareness of spiritual beings, gave the sense to Paul that Satan was active in blocking him from going to Thessalonica.
The tricky thing about the discernment gift is that it's hard to verify by outward, obvious signs. It's not like physical healing. There is verification when a person who's oppressed or demonized gets set free and the gift of discernment was used to detect the oppression or demonization. But in Paul's case of hindrance, it would have been difficult to verify in any public way.
The lack of public verification in no way disqualifies the gift of discernment. It's just what it is. It's like a person's gift of intuition. The fact that intuition cannot be verified does not mean it is somehow useless.
The good news about discernment of spirits is that it is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Meaning we can ask for it, we can grow in it, we can even excel in the gifting. It's true that this gift is usually not at the top of the gifts list for most people. Way below the gift of prophecy and healing. But in our world that's still much like Paul's where the enemy and his underlings are active, we would benefit if more believers were equipped with this gift to discern accurately.
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, we ask you to release the gift of discernment of spirits so that we would be better equipped to know what's going on. We know that not everything bad is fueled by the devil, but we also know that many things are influenced by the demonic. So impart this gift to us who desire this insight into the spiritual realm. Along with this gift, remind us of our authority in Christ. Discernment without authority would only mean we would be scared; but discernment with authority means confidence and action toward freedom. Release this gift, Jesus. Impart this gift, O Lord. In your name, amen.