Resisting The Devil
In The Church
Mr. Cohn F. Anderson of Sudbury, Ontario, serves the Lord in a Bible teaching ministry. Our readers will recognize his name not only from past articles which have appeared in “Food for the Flock,” but from his occasional thoughts written for “Choice Gleanings Calendar.”
Recently, I challenged my growing sons with the question, “What does it mean to resist the devil?” With a mischievious grin the youngest replied, “I don’t know, I’ve never tried!”
How would you have answered? What does it mean to resist the enemy? It must be important. Only once are we told to be filled with the Spirit, but no less than three times to resist the devil (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9; Ephesians 6:13). By this we are not suggesting that being filled with the Holy Spirit is less important than resisting the devil, but pointing out what may be an imbalance in our emphasis. In any case, the result of obedience to this threefold charge is very rewarding — the devil will flee front us.
Probably many of us think of the command in relation to our personal life, the need to keep our thoughts under control or to restrain ourselves from becoming worldly. This is not quite the emphasis of the New Testament. No doubt we have to be concerned about our personal conduct, but in each of the three passages mentioned above, inter-personal relationships are found in the context. When James wrote, he had in mind “quarrels and conflicts” going on among his readers and closes that section of his letter with a strong appeal for the brethren to avoid speaking against one another. Peter addressed the elders in the church and exhorted the younger Christians to have the right attitude toward them. Paul, too, had the whole congregation of believers in view as he appealed to them to put on the whole armor of God in order to “withstand” the foe. Obviously, resisting involves standing together.
How To Resist?
Does the command mean that believers are actually to speak out loud when aware of attack and say to the devil (as our Lord did) “Away from me, Satan…?” We do not think so. To address the enemy in this way comes perilously close to rebuking the devil. Even Michael the archangel did not dare do that (Jude 9). It is doubtful, in any case, that a church would have a face-to-face encounter with the enemy. As far as the Biblical record is concerned, he rarely comes and deals directly with humans as he did in the temptation in the wilderness.
But, if he does not reveal himself to the church, how can she know when and in what way to resist hint? That is a good question and the answer lies in being able to recognize his activity among believers. Satan works by making suggestions or promoting teachings that are contrary to the Word of God — and he does it through individuals. The frightening thing is that he prefers to work through good rather than bad people. A Christian would suit his purpose better than a non-Christian. He will even use (or rather misuse) the Bible for his purpose (Matthew 4:6). He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). That is the way he tries to infiltrate and influence the church.
Examples of Resisting?
Peter came to Antioch and by his compromising action there was endangering the truth of the gospel. Other good men had been led astray — even Barnabas — by his conduct. Paul saw the danger to the church as a whole and “opposed him to his face,” correcting him publicly. This was not the first time for Peter. Earlier, when our Lord had spoken of going to the cross, Peter had said, “Be it far from you.” That is an example of the enemy’s method: he used a good man with a warm heart in an attempt to frustrate God’s will. The use of the word “resist” indicates that we speak up, confront, refute and oppose the action of the enemy. Obedient Christians have no choice when they see him at work in their fellowship. Resisting is the very opposite of being submissive (submission is to be shown toward God, not the devil). We must never submit or be quiet when faced with evil in the assembly.
On the other hand, we must be careful that we do not allow the enemy’s subtle approach to provoke wrong attitudes in us. If believers are righteously angry with someone, they must not allow sin to develop (Ephesians 4:26). And those called to oppose the one being used by Satan “must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26, NIV).
Who Is To Resist?
All Christians have to learn to resist the devil vigorously and in the way appropriate to each situation. For example, if a serious matter of conduct or doctrine comes up, the leaders of the church are responsible to deal with it (Acts 20:28). But my observation has been that on such occasions others are tempted to take sides. This, too, is a device of the enemy. Paul seems to have this in mind when writing to the Corinthians: “But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also … in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:10, 11 NASB). The apostle did not want any supposed difference of opinion to become a wedge between himself and the church. Similarly, it is very important for believers to stand solidly behind their elders when action has to be taken in an assembly. If some feel that treatment has been too harsh or too soft, then that ought to be brought before the elders in a humble spirit. It should never become a topic for debate among believers generally.
If someone slanders another Christian, damaging his reputation, or if you hear a brother or sister being spoken against in any way, what are you to do? Resist the devil — firmly confront the speaker; remind him that Scripture explicitly forbids such activity. Perhaps you could ask: “In the light of James 4:11, do you think we should continue talking this way?” To continue to listen to such juicy tidbits is to submit to the devil; to become a party to his wicked and wily schemes. Unfortunately, there are many people around with the ‘gift’ (?) of a critical spirit, but those who constantly criticize in this way are divisive. Scripture says such persons must be warned twice and after that “left to themselves” (Titus 3:10-11, NIV). Are you prepared to limit your friendship to those who “fear God and keep His precepts,” or is your circle too broad? (Psalm 119:63). None of us likes to lose friends, but faithfulness to Christ, to them, and to other believers, demands that we do not listen to a talebearer and that when we hear him we rebuke him, for he (or she, of course), is doing the devil’s work. The enemy is out to “sow discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16-19). Since he is a spirit, he can only do it through the brethren! Let us lend him neither tongue nor ear. He will flee from us.
There are other ways in which the enemy must be resisted, but this business of speaking behind another’s back is so common among Christians. Perhaps some might say, “Where love is cultivated, such teaching will not be necessary.” But God is wiser than we are, and he has not only told us to be filled with the Spirit, but also to resist the devil. Let us see that we do it — for the glory of God and the good of the church to which we belong.