Give the Devil his due

I didn’t get a lot of feedback from folks after my sermon on Jesus as the strongest man (Matthew 12:22-29), but I did hear two things pretty consistently. First, that people hadn’t heard a sermon about the devil in a while, and second, that they appreciated the strong biblical content. Jeff Knight told me later that Christians don’t like to think about the devil or darkness because they don’t want to believe that they can be touched by the demonic. They want to believe that Jesus took care of all that so now they don’t have to think about it. Well that’s a half-truth – and you know what they say about half-truths!

As I tried to point out in the sermon, Jesus definitely took care of the devil through his victory over him on the cross (Colossians 2:15). But even though the devil is a defeated foe the bible is clear – he’s still on the prowl and he’s still dangerous. He may not be able to do whatever he pleases as he could before, but he still maliciously seeks to do all that he can to thwart, frustrate and derail the advance of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

The New Testament warns us, and teaches us about the on-going nature of this spiritual battle we’re caught up in. Here are the points and references from the sermon about the “works of the devil” that we are no longer ignorant of. In each of these cases, we are able to identify the devil when he’s at work and respond accordingly, using the authority Jesus has given to us as His disciples (Matthew 10:1).

·       He blinds the whole world (2 Corinthians 4:4)

·       He is a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44)

·       He is a thief, who comes to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10)

·       He is the tempter (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5)

·       He thwarts the work of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 2:18)

·       He undermines the things of God (Matthew 16:23)

·       He is a schemer (2 Corinthians 2:11)

·       He is an accuser (Revelation 12:10)

·       He holds people prisoner (Luke 4:18)

·       He is pretentious and vain (2 Corinthians 10:5)

·       He afflicts with illness and suffering (Job 2:7; Luke 16:13)

·       He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14)

The list could likely go on, but you get the point. The devil is never the central figure in the New Testament, but he is always in the shadows. And for this reason, we are frequently reminded of his efforts to turn us sideways in our life of faith. This is why we are encouraged to learn the art of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18). When we remain ignorant of the devil’s schemes and devices, he can win temporary, and unnecessary, victories over us and our efforts to advance God’s kingdom on earth.

Don’t believe me? Check out the Apostle Paul’s statements in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 and 3:5. Paul’s desire was to visit the church in Thessalonica but, as he says, “the devil stopped us.” Paul was concerned as well that the devil was having some success in misleading the church there – and he wanted to make sure that wasn’t allowed to continue (3:5). Now these statements can seem benign enough, but when we look deeper we see just how difficult the devil’s opposition was for Paul. Paul wrote this letter while he was in Corinth, and he describes his life in Corinth this way: “As for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day – I mean that brothers – just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained?” (1 Corinthians 15:30-32).

As Christ’s disciples, we don’t live in fear of the devil or his attacks. They don’t come as surprises to us. We recognize them for what they are, and we know how to respond to them. Our primary concern is not overcoming the devil – it is presenting and proclaiming the powerful presence of the kingdom of God on earth. That will likely provoke spiritual opposition and warfare – but let’s be of good cheer. It means we’re on the right track!