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Monday, November 14, 2016

The Wiles of the Devil

I love that phrase, "the wiles of the devil". Sounds so devious. The word is defined as "cunning stratagems employed in manipulating or persuading someone to do what one wants." Of course, modern translations don't use it. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." (Eph 6:11 ESV) Okay, fine ... "schemes". But don't miss the "stratagems employed in manipulating" part.

As it turns out, an alarming number of people -- self-professed Christians and even pastors included -- do not believe in Satan. We cannot include the Bible in that list. Scripture is abundantly clear; Satan is quite real. Satan's task is to oppose God. Indeed, Satan suffers from the same issue that humans do -- "I will be like the Most High." And he'd like to inflict this on others. Of course, our world is already pretty well infected. He has done his job. So he doesn't have to do much with most people. "The devil made me do it" sounds like a reasonable excuse, but Scripture says, "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." (James 1:14) Still, there are those pesky Christians. As followers of Christ, we are headed in the opposite direction. So Satan has to spend most of his time working against us. He is the adversary, the accuser, the tempter, the father of lies, the murderer, the deceiver, the enemy. I think we get the trend here.

As in most things, there are two basic approaches: the "carrot" and the "stick". Either lure them or force them to a place. In terms of Satan's work, in most cases the strategy of the "stick" only works so far. In far too many cases, martyrs make for more converts, not less. Persecution, according to Scripture, makes for better believers (1 Peter 4:12-13; James 1:2-4, etc.), not worse. If Satan aims to "deceive the very elect", he's going to have to use a different method. As it turns out, the "carrot" method works much better. Rather than beating us into submission, Satan's primary ploy is to distract us with pleasures.

Oh, he's good. He's really good at what he does. Sure, there are the temptations to evil and all that. But think about it. Most of what he does is tempt us to good. Look, we know that God gave us food to enjoy. So Satan tempts us to food ... too much food. We know that sex between a husband and a wife is a gift from God. So Satan tempts us to enjoy that gift ... in other ways. Paul wrote, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (Phil 2:4) So looking out for your own personal interests is a given, an expected and good thing. And Satan urges us to do that ... and more. Satan takes God's good gifts and asks us to use them and abuse them.

The first trick has worked well for him for a long, long time. Remember? He asked Eve, "Did God say ...?" And Eve "was deceived" (1 Tim 2:14). She "saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise" (Gen 3:6). Aren't these good things? These, in fact, show precisely the three issues John wrote about. "For all that is in the world -- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life -- is not from the Father but is from the world." (1 John 2:16) Eve failed to keep in mind what God said. And we run the same risk when we ignore or twist Scripture to get what looks good to us.

One of Satan's documented schemes is turning believers against believers on the basis of righteousness. Paul wrote, "Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs." (2 Cor 2:10-11) The context is the fellow that was "delivered over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh" in 1 Cor. 5:1-5. It appears from 2 Cor. 2 that he repented. Paul said it was important "to forgive and comfort him" (2 Cor 2:7) and "to reaffirm your love for him." (2 Cor 2:8) You see, a believer who falls into sin will often find it hard to be restored because fellow believers will refuse to forgive, comfort, and reaffirm love for them. That -- "righteous indignation" and its fallout -- is one of "his designs", one of the ways that Satan outwits believers. This is one of the reasons Paul warned, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." (Gal 6:1)

We know about Satan. He is real. We know he is the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). We know he is the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10). Peter describes him as a stealthy lion seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Paul calls him "the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4) and tells us he disguises himself as "an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14). Two of his favorite schemes are to tempt us with good things in a way God never intended and to pull us away from God's Word. He tempts us with money and fun and television and worldly pleasures and all sorts of "good" that, when taken as God never intended, become sin. We know, also, that we are to "Resist him, firm in your faith," (1 Peter 5:9) remembering that "you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4) So "Be sober-minded; be watchful." (1 Peter 5:8)

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