In 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5, we discover that Paul desired deeply that no one in the church in Thessalonica would be moved/shaken/unsettled by the afflictions/pressures that faced them. Because of this, Paul sent a person, Timothy to encourage them, to help them think clearly. In addition to this through his letter, Paul also reminded them of truth. He did so because it’s the truth that undergirds us, reinforces us so that we can face trials, stand firm when pressure situations hit.
So what truth did Paul seek to reinforce them with?
“YOU YOURSELVES KNOW that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (vs3-4)
He expected these believers in Jesus to know that pressure, suffering, persecution are not abnormal for the believer in Jesus but rather part of our normal experience.
We often say we are ‘followers of Jesus’, but did we forget that Jesus suffered from almost continual opposition during his 3yrs of ministry on earth and ultimately that Jesus died on a cross at the hands of His enemies!
Did we forget that Jesus said things like; “then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9 NLT) & “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13)
Jesus knew Paul knew that we are living through wartime, not peacetime this side of Jesus’ return. Having a biblical perspective and expectation regarding suffering, trials, persecution and pressure will help you massively when such things do come. So let’s not be naive, but rather let’s KNOW that we are destined for such things but also KNOW that greater is He that is within us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4) and let us KNOW that ;
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28&35-39)
Are you surprised when suffering or pressure comes? Does it knock you sideways?
Be strengthened by knowing what Scripture teaches in these verses & knowing that God has promised amazing things concerning His ever-present help to you IN what you are going through.
If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10. As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).
A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all. This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’! What’s the story behind that name? Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’. And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar! He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others.
How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity! How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.
What’s your name? Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?
Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day. That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus. He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)
We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus. Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to. There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees. According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus. But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention. And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…
Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus. When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced. “What will other people say or think?” or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.” And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.
But not Bartimaeus! Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48) And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)
Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him. Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him.
Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did. And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.
Three passages, three encounters that Jesus had with three different people who all had different struggles with the demonic realm. The constant is Jesus Himself and that the result of each of the people struggling under some demonic influence or another, was that they were instantly freed by Jesus!
There are two equal and opposite errors we tend to make regarding the demonic:
- We give the devil and his demonic minions too much focus, fascination and airtime
- Or we effectively deny the existence of the devil and demonic influence
May we always be way more focused on Jesus and His glorious victory on the cross, focussed on His resurrection and the resultant victory in which He defeated sin, Satan and death and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:13-15)! You and I as believers have no need to remain in fear, we ought not remain in a state of being influenced by or even bound by demonic forces since Jesus is our Lord.
On the other hand, to deny or to ignore the reality of the existence of Satan and the demonic realm and its ability to influence believers is to foolishly ignore clear warnings and exhortations of Scripture and to potentially allow the enemy to keep impacting you or those you love.
These three encounters in the Gospels are so helpful as they are all so different. Because of this, together they help us to have a balanced understanding of the whole range of types & degrees of demonic influence (‘demon possessed’ is an unhelpful translation in the NIV Bible translation as it indicates total control and has no room for degrees of influence) that is evidenced in Scripture.
The Mark 1 man (subtle under the radar influence): It seems likely that this man was influenced by the demonic to a limited degree. I say this because he was there in synagogue seemingly unbeknown to those around him, seemingly behaving himself in socially accepted ways, until he suddenly cried out because of Jesus’ presence! He had a demonic presence influencing him but it was undetected until the man came into close proximity with Jesus. There are lots of things we don’t know about how this influence worked itself out in his life, did he battle with fear, depression, a destructively low-self esteem, panic attacks…….? We don’t know, but he is helpful to us in that Scripture is clear that he had some form of demonic influence in his life – and so his example helps us to see that some demonic influence could be ‘under the radar’ because it doesn’t appear too bad, or isn’t too socially obvious. Are there maybe things we just accept as ‘normal’ or ‘this is who I am’ but in fact it is an area in which we as believers are just not free? The great news is that one encounter with Jesus and this man was delivered and set free from that influence.
The Mark 5 man (overt control and intense demonic influence): This man probably fits your prior notion of what a person with a demonic influence would present like. This is an extreme case of demonic influence, even a destructive one – the great news though is that one encounter with Jesus and this man is set free and left ‘clothed and in his right mind’ (Mark 5:15) – what a contrast to the description of him just moments sooner! No demonic influence is beyond Jesus’ instant transformation.
The Luke 13 woman (sickness attributed to demonic influence): Jesus healed many people of sickness and most times it was not attributed to demonic influence, it was just sickness as a result of the impact of the fall on all of humanity. However, in Luke 13, Luke (a medical doctor) recorded very specifically that this woman’s ailment had its source as being spiritual not medical, “And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” (Luke 13:11) Jesus Himself said; “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16) In our secular society and in the minds of many believers in the church today – her symptoms would not have been even considered as having a potential spiritual source! But that is exactly what Jesus and what Scripture attributed her symptoms too a demonic influence. The great news is that Jesus loosed the hold that this demonic influence had held over her body for these many years in an instant feeing her from her disability and the bondage brought from Satan (Luke 13:16).
Never be looking for a demon under every bush, never get fascinated with the demonic – be enamoured and amazed and secure because of Jesus. But also never underestimate or deny the ability for demonic influence and the spiritual realm at work in lives, in minds, in bodies. Know however that regardless of what influence their might be – we have been given all of Jesus’ authority to set people fee (Matthew 28:18-20) just like Jesus did.
Despite the opposition in chapter 4 & the challenges brought on by the famine conditions and oppression of the marginalised we read about in chapter 5 the work on the wall has continued. As a result, gruesome threesome of Sanballat, Tobiah & Geshem are not happy!
They know that the work on the wall is nearing completion, soon Jerusalem will have been restored and so their influence and ability to regulate and intimidate will have diminished!
So they introduce a new tactic, one far more complex than those that have gone before. Up to now they have tried to oppose using ridicule, mockery, intimidation & threats of violence. These have all been upfront and confrontational in nature.
Now in chapter 6, a new tactic is introduced that is both subtle & difficult to discern at times. Their plan is to get Nehemiah to compromise and in so doing to divert him from his God-given mission. They invite him to a meeting to talk things through.
Compromise is often subtle & therefore can come in under our radar undetected. The request for a meeting may have seemed reasonable at first, maybe meeting would help create an amicable environment in which the building work could continue unhindered.
Compromise is like that, it often doesn’t appear too bad, it might even appear reasonable at first. But Nehemiah’s reply is a model of clarity;
“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”(Nehemiah 6:3)
Nehemiah knew his priorities, knew what mattered most.
As finite beings, if we give ourselves to one thing that means we ignore something else.
So, if I decide to spend 5-6 hours playing a round of golf, by implication I have chosen not to spend 5-6 hours doing something else like spending time with family (unless they were playing with me).
Nehemiah turned down the request for a meeting because he valued his God-given mission higher than anything else! He refused to meet with the gruesome threesome because doing so would mean not continuing the work God had given him to do.
Bill Beckham said; “We value what we do, and we do what we value”
Nehemiah showed what he valued by what he chose to and what not to do! Knowing what we value will help us to avoid sin and self-centred compromise.
In vs10-14 under the false guise of a prophetic word Nehemiah is tempted by Shemaiah to look out for himself and his personal safety, to forget the wall…
Here again we see Nehemiah’s principals coming to aide his decision making process as he responds to Shemaiah with principals stronger than his personal fear of death.
My paraphrase: He says; ’Should a man like me run away? I will trust in God rather than try to save my own life’
Once again, the compromise seems reasonable. Surely God would want Nehemiah to consider his own personal safety? But doing so would have taken him off the wall and would have caused him to compromise & sin by doing what he was prohibited from doing.
More than this, Nehemiah couldn’t enter into the temple as he wasn’t a priest and God prohibited anyone from entering it who was not a priest. So, Nehemiah feared God more than someone who could take his life! More than anything else he wanted to hear God say over him one day; “Well done Nehemiah, with you I am well pleased.”
He valued God being pleased with Him above even a fear for his own life! This kept him from sinning. The power of sin is broken when we realise this: that in God and delighting in God we will be satisfied:
Is there any area in your life where there is temptation to compromise? It might seem reasonable but it will rob your focus from God’s call on your life. Identify the tactic of your enemy and resist like Nehemiah did (6:3).
Do a personal audit of your time remembering that; “We value what we do, and we do what we value”. Do you need to make any adjustments?
I love how the spirituality of the Bible is so practical. All through this chapter there are references to Nehemiah’s response to the opposition to rebuilding from both without and within God’s people.
The pattern that emerges is that Nehemiah’s first response was to respond to criticism/opposition, threats or doubt with prayer. We read of this in vs4 and again in vs9 which follow the pattern from Nehemiah 1:4, 2:4…
But what strikes me in Nehemiah 4 is the word; “AND”.
Some people are so spiritually minded that they are no earthly good! But this is not the spirituality of the Bible.
So with Nehemiah & God’s people they hear of the threats and the mocking of Sanballat & Tobiah and in vs4 they pray AND in vs6 we read “So we built the wall”.
Later in chapter 4:7-8 when Sanballat and Tobiah get angry at the news of the rebuilding, they plot together to come and threaten overthrow those rebuilding Jerusalem.
God’s people under Nehemiah respond to the threat; “so we prayed to our God” (vs9) AND “we set a guard as protection”. I love that!
They didn’t hear the threat and make a plan and then go to God when their plans had failed, no they went to God first in prayer AND they made a plan for protection.
This is attractive spirituality to me, it is trusting in, calling to God first but then it is thoroughly practical too, God gives us the facility of thought and the ability to make plans and it is not unspiritual to do so but is in fact us utilising the God-given talents we have.
So, when you face opposition and threats – whether they come in the form of internal monologue and doubts and fears (see vs10&12), or whether they come from doubt (vs10-11) or opposition from the outside, I urge you to respond first in prayer taking the trouble to the Lord AND then act, do what God’s told you to do, be decisive and use the ability and understanding God has granted you.
Making a plan with the resources you have is not to lack faith but to have faith believing that God has given you what you need to accomplish what He has planned for you.
So, don’t be immobilised but act (Nehemiah made a plan to arm the workers and to organise a strategy to gather if there was an attack, he posted watchmen by night).
Lastly, we read in this passage the crucial role that good leadership plays. There is a moment when Nehemiah stands up and counters the negativity that was draining their faith in God and says;
“Do not be afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, sons, your daughter ” (vs14)
Again, a wonderful balanced spirituality; “remember the Lord…AND fight!” (vs14). And because of these prayers AND action; ‘God frustrated their plan’ (vs15) as a result of their prayers.
PRAY AND ACT!
The Christian life isn’t like a battle, it is one. Christ Followers have an ever present enemy who will resist us, obstruct us and try to discourage us at any opportunity.
Most significant advances for God, whether those be personal in nature or corporate, will attract the attention and opposition of our enemy. In fact if there is no opposition it’s worth asking whether you’re attempting anything great for God in your life!
Nehemiah chapter 4 is an example of kingdom advance being opposed:
- In Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah called for the people to join together in rebuilding the wall
- In Nehemiah 3 we read about the rebuilding project having begun in earnest
- Yet as soon as that rebuilding project had begun opposition to it arose (Nehemiah 4:1-6)
Analysing the Opposition:
Anger/Rage (vs1) – the more you love God and serve God’s purposes the more you anger/frustrate and irritate the enemy. Advancing God’s kingdom through your life shrinks his kingdom’s influence. Don’t try to make people agnry, but anger in others isn’t always a sign that something is going wrong, but rather might well be that you’re doing something right as you serve God.
Jeering/Mocking (vs1-2) – opposition often takes the form of an attack on one’s identity, character, wisdom or ability. “What are these feeble Jews doing?” – said Sanballat. This is designed to humiliate, to influence the perception of others and to insert doubts into the mind and heart of the person being derided. We do well to remember that our enemies name is the “Accuser” of the followers of Christ and so ought not to be surprised when we face such opposition.
Doubt (vs2) – Another one of the enemies favourite tactics is to get into our minds and sow seeds of doubt. “Will they restore it for themselves?”, Sanballat questioned. Such questions can set off doubts that can cause the ones being opposed to back off, pull-back, to reconsider thereby capitulating to the opposition and being controlled by it.
Misrepresentation (vs2) – “Will they finish in a day?”, Sanballat said. At no point did Nehemiah or the Jewish people rebuilding the wall claim that they would be finished in any short-time frame. Opposition often takes the form of misrepresentation and distortion of what one has said or claimed they would do. Unjustified misrepresentation cuts deep as one often isn’t afforded the opportunity to correct misrepresented facts about oneself. Again the strategy here is to pull the rug out from underneath the person being opposed, distracting them from the task at hand and undermining their will to proceed.
Gossip/Slander (vs2-3) – Sanballat is making these comments and accusations in the company of his brothers, the army of Samaria and Tobiah. Opposition often takes the form of slander and gossip. When we face such things, we need to be careful not to get drawn into ourselves sinning too against those who slander against us.
Criticism & Exaggeration (vs3) – Tobiah joined the chorus claiming that the wall they were building was so weak that it would break down with even just a fox walking on it! We need to know who we are, we need to also know what we are doing to allow unfounded criticism to not disrupt our progress or sow seeds of doubt.
Responding to criticism
1. Take it to God! “Hear, O our God, for we are despised…” (vs4) Your Father is large and in charge of everything. You have free access into His presence because of Jesus and your faith in Him. You are the beloved child of the most high God. So take the opposition you face to Him, lay it out before Him because you can and because He loves you.
Their prayer at this point essentially was; ‘defend us God & vindicate us Lord’. When you take criticism and opposition to God in prayer it relieves you of the need to try to defend yourself or vindicate yourself. Letting go of your right to feel wronged helps one to keep focussed on what you have been called to do and to keep focussed on being like Christ in the midst of this opposition.
2. Get back to the job at hand. “So we built the wall” (vs6) After praying, they got back to the work at hand in spite of the opposition. Isn’t that the best response to opposition, to proceed with the course of action you know God told you to proceed with?
We will all face opposition to the mandates God gives us personally and corporately to advance His kingdom in our lives and through our church. May we never get drawn in by the tactics of our enemy, distracted from the task, tempted to sin, but may we take it to God in prayer and may we get back to the job at hand!