“For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5).
Paul was delighted to learn that the Christians in Thessalonica were growing in faith despite the difficulties, persecution and affliction. He was concerned about their spiritual well-being, so sent Timothy both to edify them and bring news back about how they were doing.
It seems that Paul was in agony of soul while he waited for news from Thessalonica. He was concerned that Satan was destroying their faith and drawing them back into their old pagan ways. So Timothy’s commission was to deliver news from Paul, to encourage them in their faith, and to report back what he had learned. If the believers had returned to false religion and sin, then the effort spent bringing them to Christ was a waste of time. “If the devil cannot hinder ministers from labouring in the word and doctrine, he will, if possible, hinder the success of their labours” (Matthew Henry).
Was his worry reasonable? Paul knew the way Satan worked and schemed to undermine the gospel. “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11), and that no one was immune to temptation, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
We must not be ignorant about his ultimate aim, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Maybe the sending of Timothy was intended to prevent such a satanic attack upon them. Very soon false teachers would come to the church and sow the seeds of doubt. “That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). If the devil tempted Jesus to give up His ministry, then surely he will try to deceive us away from Christ too (see Matthew 4:1-11).
Paul knew that the enemy of the soul of man must not be underestimated. In fact this is the second time that he has made mention of Satan’s activity. “Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18). There are some in today’s church who think they are able to overcome Satan and so make foolish remarks about him. “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude :9). The devil will overcome the presumptuous, but we will be victorious over him as long as we stick to the guidelines revealed in God’s word. That is, we must walk in holiness, “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” (1 John 5:18), have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4), and submit ourselves to the Lord, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:7-8). It is by faith that the victory is won, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).
We will face times of affliction and persecution. It is possible for any one of us to fall away from Christ by abandoning the gospel. Nevertheless, God has provided us with all the necessary means to steadfastly resist Satan and grow in faith. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).