A New Enemy
As we have made our way through 1Peter, we have identified some very positive aspects of our new existence in Christ. We have learned that what follows our new birth is a new longing for God’s Word(2:2)—a longing that is, in part, satisfied through our participation in a new community, the Church(2:9).
We have learned that our participation, and service, within this new community is not powered by natural effort, but by supernatural effort. We are to serve “with the strength God provides; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (4:11).
We have also been warned that our new identification with Christ requires that we share in His sufferings (4:12-14). The Christian life, we have been told, is not a life of ease and comfort, but a life of cross-bearing (Mt. 16:24) and persecution (Jn. 15:20).
And now, as we make our way to the end of Peter’s letter, we see what is (or, more precisely, who is) behind this persecution. Peter admonishes us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”(5:8).
I recognize that, in some churches, there are ministers who are reluctant to speak about the devil. And while I'm not comfortable focusing on the devil, I am compelled to speak about him when he occurs in the text I'm preaching on.
I also recognize that, in our day, most people do not want to even believe in the devil. It is likely that there are some who sit in church pews on Sunday who do not believe in the existence of the devil.
While some Christians are guilty of looking for the devil around every corner, Presbyterians are often guilty of pretending he isn't there.
What is it that prevents a person from believing in the devil? I maintain that there are, at least, 3 reasons for why believing in the devil has become problematic for some people.
First of all, we have been heavily influenced by our cultural standards. In our society, most people regard the devil as the invention of a generation obsessed with myths and legends. Be it through cartoons, through Halloween costumes, or through the names of professional sports teams, our culture has made light of a personality that the Bible warns against taking lightly.
Secondly, we have been heavily influenced by our personal experiences. I have yet to meet a person who has actually seen the devil. It is not as if we can interact with this being. Admittedly, we have no empirical evidence that he exists. But the trouble with basing our belief on personal experience and observation is that, as the apostle Paul describes, "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light"(2Cor. 11:14). And, as Charles Spurgeon has observed, “Usually when a man does not believe there is a devil, it is because he never experiences his attacks, and probably never will, for the devil does not take the trouble to go after those (whose eternal destiny) he is sure of.”
And thirdly, what is likely the largest obstacle to our believing in the devil is personal preference. Who would ever want to believe in such a being? I certainly do not want to believe in the devil—the idea, quite frankly, scares me. And since the idea of a powerful, evil, being is so frightening to us, many choose not to believe. But this kind of logic, of course, is plain silly.
I do not want to believe that there are people, this very hour, who are dying of hunger. I do not want to believe that, in some hostile region of the world, innocent people are being tortured and murdered. Reality, however, is unaffected by my personal preference.
I would greatly prefer to be six feet tall, and possibly, I could convince myself that I really am six feet tall, to the degree that I begin to tell others, and fill our forms, saying that I am six feet tall. But what really matters, you see, is not what I believe, but what is true.
The Bible speaks frequently of the devil, and Jesus, more than anyone else in Scripture, speaks of the devil. I maintain then, that since Jesus warns us of the threat of the devil, we would be foolish to doubt his existence.
The devil is not some fictional character. He is not some metaphor for the evil in the world. Jesus, the Son of God engaged the devil in a conversation in the wilderness—the devil is a personal being. And not only is the devil real, but Peter says that he is our “adversary” and that he “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”.
By employing this image of a roaring lion, Peter seeks to warn the church of a deadly danger. Our challenge is to fully appreciate this image. Our image of a roaring lion likely comes from the safe environment provided at the local zoo, or from the even safer confines of our living room as we watch The Discovery Channel. The image of a roaring lion would likely have had a stronger affect on Peter’s readers than it does on us. Peter’s readers would have been familiar with the scenes of the Roman amphitheatre, where fierce lions literally did devour Christians. And the threat Peter is speaking of is not even the lion itself, but a more ferocious enemy, the devil.
Peter’s words should certainly awaken us from a spiritual slumber, but they should not unduly alarm us. It is not as if the Christian is a helpless prey before the devil. The apostle John reminds us that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1Jn. 4:4). The apostle Paul instructs the Ephesians, “Put on the full armour of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). James promises his readers, and us, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). And Peter instructs us “be on the alert” and “resist (the devil)”(4:7).
The Christian is not helpless. Quite the contrary, the Christian has everything he needs to stand firm against the attacks of the enemy. I suspect that this is why Peter does not spell out an elaborate plan for defeating the devil. The call is simply to “be alert” and to “resist”.
The threat of the enemy depends on our readiness for battle. The danger exists for the Christian only if he will not watch and pray. The danger exists for the Christian only if he fails to resist and if he fails to put on the armour of God.
It has been said, ‘There is no temptation so hard to bear, as not being tempted at all’ (Toplady). The reason being that ‘When we think we have no occasion for our sword, we begin to unbuckle it from our side; we strip off our armor-plate piece by piece and, at that moment, we become most exposed to the attack of our enemies’ (Spurgeon).
Beloved, I fear that many Christians neglect to put on the armour of God. We mistakenly think that our battle is against ‘flesh and blood’ (Eph. 6:12); we mistakenly think our battle is against human beings and human institutions. As a result, we tend to arm ourselves with clever arguments and comprehensive policies, when what we really need to do is to “watch and pray” (Mt. 26:41).
There are many challenges before our congregation at this time. There are challenges that involve personal disagreements; there are challenges around financial matters; there are challenges around setting policies and procedures; and there are challenges around recruiting individuals for certain ministries.
I am neither surprised nor worried about these challenges. I would be greatly surprised if we didn’t have such challenges. From what I can see, these challenges affirm our progress. Jesus has promised, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hell shall not overpower it” (Mt. 16:18). As our church advances, I would expect the enemy to fortify his defense.
My concern is not so much for the challenges before us, but for how we respond to the challenges. If I liken this congregation to a skydiving team, my concern is not the force of gravity and the immense distance between the plane and the ground; my concern is that every member of the team has a functioning parachute that is properly fastened. Without the parachute, our demise is imminent, but with a parachute we may execute the task without fear or trepidation.
Friends, the force of the enemy is great, but his ultimate impact on our congregation will be negligible if we are wearing our parachutes.
Peter instructs us, “resist him, firm in your faith”(5:9). James likewise writes, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7,8).
There is a sense in which the devil is, indeed, our great enemy, the adversary. Yet, there is another sense in which we could regard him as a non-factor. If we were watching and praying, if our armour was fastened, if our sword was ready in its sheath, the teeth of the lion would be removed.
There is a sense in which the old adage applies, ‘I have seen the enemy . . . and it is us.’ If we are not a watching, praying, congregation, we are in grave danger. If we are not drawing near to God, we are making ourselves easy targets. If we believe that, as a congregation, we are safe from harm and we unbuckle our armour, St. Giles Kingsway will become vulnerable to attack.
My great concern is not for the devil and his schemes. My great concern is for whether you are a praying congregation.
We should not fear the roar of the adversary if we are drawing near to God. In times of spiritual conflict, triumph awaits the praying congregation. And, as our hymn well puts it,
At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver, at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise. Amen.