What are Satan’s Schemes? (Part 2)
In Part 1, I presented the need to understand the schemes of Satan as he seeks to wage war against the church. Rather than chasing the sensational, believers must understand that Satan’s exploits are far more common than we might imagine. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Our enemy is not only powerful but is also subtle…. His methods and the variety of his weapons are such that we cannot afford to take anything for granted. We must never relax…. There is never a holiday in the spiritual realm.”
So far, we have seen that Satan seeks:
1) To exploit carelessness in our walk with Christ (Eph 6:11b; 1 Pet 5:8) 2) To foster perpetual immaturity among believers (Eph 4:14) 3) To exploit division in the church (Eph 4:26–27)
4) To exalt pride in ministry (2 Cor 12:7; 1 Tim 3:6–7)
Pride in ministry is like a spark that has potential to cause destruction wherever it catches fire. No pastor or elder is immune to the temptation to exalt himself in ministry. Those like Diotrephes who love the place of prominence are like a cancer in the flock (3 John 9). Others, like Alexander the coppersmith, do harm to the ministry by constantly opposing biblical teaching. For this reason, Paul foresees some of the elders in Ephesus divisively leading the flock astray (Acts 20:30).
Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul explicitly connects such schemers with the work of Satan: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor 11:13–15).
Added to this caution is the need for young elders to be proven in the faith because the alternative will spell disaster for the young minister and the church. The elder must not be “a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Tim 3:6). Young pastor-elders are especially open to the deluge of immature pride, because their lives may be one of clear confession but they have not been sustained through hard-won perseverance and faithfulness.
Even the seasoned stalwart of the gospel is not immune to such devilish pride. Paul himself confessed, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” (2 Cor 12:7). Regardless of what his “thorn” happened to be, the Lord actually allowed a device of Satan to teach humility to His apostle.
5) To fill Christian relationships with selfishness and worldliness (James 4:7; 1 Cor 7:5)
James addressed the fledgling church and its proclivity to wage war upon itself. The source of conflict was not anything other than their own sinful pleasures which were allowed to rule and potentially ruin their fellowship (Jam 4:1–3). Additionally, their worldliness, which was like a friendship of adulterous cohabitation with a mistress, was actually hostility to the one true God (Jam 4:4). What was James’s counsel to this caustic pride and worldliness? “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jam 4:7). The church’s struggle was only felt on a human level, but Satan lurked behind the scenes. James’s counsel is not to take a proactive stance against Satan but to take a submissive posture to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Satan’s schemes are also felt in the relationship of holy marriage. The physical union of marriage is given as a gift to the husband and wife but Paul warns that it not become a source of arbitrary bargaining or wistfully discarded. He connects this selfish temptation with the work of Satan. He writes, “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:5). Guarding the integral purity of our marriage and enjoying God’s gift is spiritual warfare for every married couple.
6) To veil the gospel to the lost (2 Cor 4:3–4; Luke 8:12; Eph 2:2)
Since the beginning, Satan has sought to cast doubt upon the Word of God with his repeated refrain, “Has God really said?,” also seeking to compromise the redemptive and cosmic work of Christ (Gen 3; Matt 4; Luke 4).
In various ways, not all revealed to us by Scripture, Satan blinds the minds of the unbelieving. In 2 Corinthians 4:3–4 Paul writes, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In a similar way, Jesus said, “Those [seeds] beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).
Our life before Christ is described as being under the control of Satan’s temporary domain. Paul says, “You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2). The good news is that “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).
What we see in all of these schemes is that Satan is exploitive yet people are often complicit in doing his bidding (even if unknowingly). The reality is that the exploitive work of Satan often intersects with the daily lives of God’s people. For this reason, it’s vital to understand this is a spiritual battle and not a mere human endeavor. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies” (Eph 6:12).
Yet, it is also fundamental to understand that God, the Lord, has fully equipped His church with everything we need to stand faithfully, uncompromised, and steadfast in the strength which He supplies. Never once are we exhorted to “bind” Satan, to speak out at him, or to unduly trouble our souls with his devious exploits. Rather, we are counseled, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10). The triune God, revealed in the work of Christ, empowered by His indwelling Spirit, in fellowship with His Church, and standing firmly in His Word is enough for you. So, Luther was right: “We will not fear for God hath willed, his truth to triumph through us!”
Paul Lamey is the pastor of one of our nine TES campuses, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002.