Satan’s plans for your church
Satan has expansive plans for your church. He desires to cause difficulties, division and destruction. Please sit down with an open Bible as we look at three strategies which Satan uses to cause devastation in your church.
When we’ve been wronged (2 Cor. 2:3-11)
During one of Paul’s visits to the Corinthian church, he was publicly vilified. Paul’s concern however was not (v.5) the grief this had caused him but the damage this had inflicted on the church. So after Paul’s departure he took the difficult decision (vv.3-4) to write to the church instructing the people of God to discipline the ringleader.
The church obeyed but if the medicine was bitter it worked the cure. This man has now repented. So Paul is writing again to ensure that this sorrowful brother (vv.6-7) is forgiven and restored. Paul, having led the church into disciplining this man, now leads the church in his restoration. Paul says in effect, ‘don’t leave the prodigal outside in the cold but run to meet him with open arms. Forgive and comfort him otherwise he’ll sink into despair. So (v.8) go and assure him that you love him. You’ve come through the first test in that you disciplined him, now (v.9) graduate with flying colours in restoring him.’ And says the apostle ‘I’ll be at your side and (v.10) who you forgive, I forgive. In fact I’m one step ahead of you. If the offender needs to be forgiven, I’ve already forgiven him. I may not be face to face with the offender but before the face of Christ and with His blessing, I have forgiven this brother.’ So Paul’s readiness to forgive the man, who has so wronged him opens the way for their forgiveness.
Why is Paul ready to forgive a man who has so pained him? Paul’s answer is simple ‘lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices’ (v.11).
But are we ignorant? Do we let Satan get his foot in the door in our church? When there should be love, forgiveness and reconciliation, is there coldness, bitterness and division? When we’ve been hurt do we keep a record of wrongs? Do we hark back to the offence even when the offender is sorry?
Look at Paul; having been treated abominably by this man, he now freely forgives him and affirms his love. In fact, Paul plays down his hurt. Look at v.5: ‘Yes my concern throughout is not how I feel, but the welfare of the church, and besides the less I say the speedier the restoration.’ The same spirit is found in v.10 where Paul shows just how easy he is to win. He effectively says ‘if there’s anything to forgive, I forgive’. The matter is over and laid to rest. How wonderfully merciful! Do we know this same big-hearted concern to heal and restore; to play down our hurts and to freely forgive? Do we feel more aggrieved for any injury done to the body of Christ than for any personal grief? Are we easily won by a repentant brother? Are we Paul-like or should we say Christ-like? Are we determined that Satan should not drive a wedge between those in our church ‘for we are not ignorant of his devices’.
When we’re angry (Eph. 4:26-27)
It is not wrong to be angry. The Lord was angry on a number of occasions. Righteous anger is not wrong. It is right to be angry with what God is angry about, but says Paul ‘beware! – be angry and do not sin’. As Thomas Manton says, ‘Anger is not to be trusted, it is not as just and as righteous as it seems to be.’
After all I am a sinner and my heart is infested with the seeds of pride, jealousy and murder. How careful we must therefore be; we must distrust our anger, otherwise (v.27) we will be leaving the door open for the devil. Anger is not always wrong but frequently it is. ‘Be angry and do not sin.’
But what about righteous anger? Isn’t that ok? Only, says the apostle, if it’s short lived. ‘Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.’ So don’t go to bed angry, on the contrary bring your anger into the safety of God’s presence and tell Him all your heart.
So have we gone to bed angry? Have we slept on it? Have we brooded over the unfairness of it all? Then we are giving the devil every opportunity to exploit things to his advantage. Indeed, what began as righteous anger can have a thoroughly sinful end. We sometimes meet bitter Christians. Once they were wronged but they’ve nursed their anger. It has festered in the dark, giving birth to resentment, malice and bitterness. All because they went to bed angry! No wonder Satan hangs around angry believers.
When we are well-intentioned (Matt. 16:21-23)
Jesus asks His disciples, ‘who do you say that I am?’ Peter’s mind is clear and he answers ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ So Jesus now begins to explain to His disciples the purpose of His coming, ‘that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.’ What is Peter’s response this time? ‘Far be it from you Lord; this shall not happen to you!’ But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”’ Jesus was awake to Satan’s devices.
Do we see what Satan was up to? Wasn’t Peter Jesus’ right-hand man? Hadn’t he received a remarkable revelation as to His identity? Wasn’t he, as one of Jesus closest friends, motivated by a genuine love and concern for Him? Peter gives Satan leverage. Who better to use to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross? And so real and pressing is the temptation, that Jesus has to say ‘Get behind me Satan!’
This is a shocking episode. It is quite possible to be motivated by a love and concern for our nearest and dearest and yet be an instrument of Satan. How then can we avoid such things? Firstly, Peter did not listen to Jesus’ word. He was too sure of his own convictions. Let us make sure that when we take friends aside for a word, its Christ’s word and not ours. Good motives are not enough. Secondly, Peter’s misplaced concern was to deflect Jesus from going to the cross. Let us be sure that we never seek to deter any from taking up their cross and following Jesus, no matter how fanatical or costly their obedience appears to be. Let us be sure that unlike Peter, we are mindful of the things of God, not of men.
So Christian friends, have we been wronged? Have we been justly angry? Have we been greatly concerned for the welfare of loved ones? Then we can be sure Satan is watching, and laying his plans against us. He knows that within us all, bar the grace of God, are the seeds of our destruction and that of the church. Let us make sure that he doesn’t take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.
Gerard Hemmings is the minister of Amyand Park Chapel, Twickenham.