That leads me to remember that we're in a spiritual conflict, that our opposition is very powerful, that we don't mess around, that we don't goof off. In this spiritual conflict our weapons are not simply good organization and meticulous care to detail; the weapons of our warfare are spiritual. If we don't bear that in mind, it is quite possible that Satan will be free to hinder us in our work.
If that sounds complicated, you haven't heard anything yet. In Acts 16
, Luke gives the account of Paul and his friends trying to go into different areas of ministry. They were in Asia and wanted to go into Misha, Bithinia, and all kinds of other places, but were hindered from going there. Incredibly, Luke doesn't attribute that to Satan; he said the Holy Spirit was stopping them.
In our spiritual experiences we can run into all kinds of roadblocks that become very difficult for us; if we're not careful our faith will founder. Sometimes the roadblocks might be there because of Satan's activity, but it is also possible the Spirit of God is trying to tell us something. You need to be pretty smart to figure out which is which, and that is why it is so imperative that we don't stay shallow in the faith. That is why it is imperative that we stand firm, are strengthened, and that we are banded together encouraging each other to stand firm.
The second thing to notice about Satan's activity is his tempting activity. One of Paul's major concerns about sending Timothy to Thessalonica was that in some way the temptor might have tempted him. Satan puts very tempting opportunities in front of us which, if we go through with them, will deliver us to spiritual shipwreck. Yet every temptation to go wrong is also an opportunity to do right. That is why, when you read in the New Testament about temptation and testing, the same Greek word (Parasmos) is translated temptation and testing. A temptation becomes a test whem, instead of succumbing to the temptation, you say 'no' and you come out stronger. That is why we need to encourage each other to stand firm.
Notice the second impediment to standing firm: the advent of trials.
The Apostle Paul says that he sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonicans in the faith so that none would be unsettled by their trials. They were having a very difficult time. Paul, understanding their physical danger, the psychological stress, the personal anxiety, understanding they are young believers without adequate leadership, also wants to make sure that even with everything stacked against them they will stand firm in the faith.
How is he going to do it? He does it by simply pointing out to them that there's nothing unusual in Christian suffering. Paul says, when it happens don't be surprised as if something strange is happening. Right from the very beginning, Jesus said if you're going to be my disciple you lift up your cross. The very first thing Ananias told Paul was what great things he would suffer.
We have to recognize that there will be all kinds of suffering. Why? One reason is we follow a crucified Lord who, according to the epistle to the Hebrews, learned obedience through the things that He suffered. If Jesus, in some mysterious way, learned obedience through the things that He suffered, how in the world do we think we're going to learn to be obedient without suffering? Donald Carson, in his new book How Long Oh Lord, says: "If even Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered, what ghastly misapprehension or arrogance is it that assumes we should be exempt?"
Why does God allow His people to suffer? Number one, because whom the Father loves He chastens and disciplines; number two, it is only through stress times that we discover how weak we are, and it's only when we discover our weakness that we discover what it means to be strong in Him. In Christ we learn to stand firm and we encourage each other to do it.
What are the incentives to standing firm? 1. Knowing that you're not alone, that helps. 2. Knowing that you're prayed for. 3. Knowing that how you stand firm affects other people (if you collapse they collapse; if you stand firm they stand firm). 4. Knowing that a genuine work of grace produces people who stand firm. 5. Knowing that one day you'll be out of it and you'll be in His presence. 6. Knowing that God is working in your life in such ways and with such means that He might present you holy and blameless -- that's what He's working toward.