My Dear Friends,
In the parable of the weeds (Matt.13:24-30), Jesus introduced his disciples to a spiritual reality that is rarely highlighted in the church today - the malignant presence and activity of the devil. In response to the disciples' question, “Where then did the weeds come from?”, Jesus replied, “An enemy did this.” Throughout the whole course of his earthly life, our Lord Jesus experienced the unrelenting hostility and planned wickedness of this “enemy”. We see the wickedness of this enemy’s hostility when Herod gave orders that all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under be killed. We see it surfacing dramatically as our Lord publicly embarked on his God-ordained mission, when the devil tempts him face to face to abandon the course of obedience that would lead him to the cross (see Matt.4:1-11). We see it at “the last hour” in the taunt, “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God.” The enemy never relented in his consuming desire to turn God’s Son away from his calling as the Saviour of the world.
The experience of our Lord, and of his servants throughout history, lie behind the New Testament’s emphatic and reiterated warnings to us to “resist the devil” (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9), to “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph.6:11), to “watch and pray” (Matt.26:41), to “not give the devil a foothold” (Eph.4:27), to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The solemn fact underscored by these verses is that our “struggle is not against flesh and blood (though we so often live as if it were), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph.6:12). Paul is reminding us that the great enemy who confronts the church in its life, worship and mission is a powerful, malignant, spiritual, and unseen enemy. Behind all the opposition, hostility, difficulties, and discouragements you and I face as we serve our Lord Jesus Christ, lies the enemy of our souls, that “ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev.12:9).
It is said that the first rule of warfare is that you know your enemy. Do you know your enemy? He is an unseen enemy, but God’s word exposes him and highlights his “fingerprints”. Paul could tell the Corinthians concerning Satan, “we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor.2:11). Clearly the apostle recognised that behind the difficulties, and worse, that he was experiencing, lay the “schemes or strategies” of the great enemy of God and his Church.
Satan does not act haphazardly or thoughtlessly. He has schemes, well thought out, carefully prepared strategies, all seeking to harm, hinder, and destroy Christ’s cause and people. There is little doubt that Satan’s schemes are most particularly directed towards ministers, elders, deacons, missionaries and others in Christian leadership. As in human warfare, the devil’s tactic is: Attack the leadership, disable (or better destroy) the churches leaders, and leave the sheep un-shepherded and prone to wandering.
Is this something we seriously reckon with? Do we pray as faithfully as we should for this congregation’s ministers, elders and deacons? Beyond ourselves, do we pray that the Lord will protect his ordained servants in all the earth, many of whom are at the sharp end of ministry and mission? Are we surprised when we hear that Christian leaders and their families are facing sore trials? Of course, Satan hates all Christians, but he is particularly hostile to those men and women who are invading his kingdom with God’s word and equipping God’s people with that word to “stand against the devil’s schemes,” and with a strengthened faith to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph.6:16).
When our Lord Jesus Christ stood on the threshold of the cross, he lifted up his heart to his Father in prayer. In that prayer, which takes us into the innermost recesses of our Saviour’s heart, Jesus prayed these words, “protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). There is an evil one and we need protecting from him. He is powerful, the essence of all wickedness. He blinds the minds of unbelievers “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor.4:4). But never forget that he is a defeated enemy. By his cross our Lord Jesus has “disarmed principalities and powers” (Col.2:15). It is our God who reigns. And yet, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn.5:19). This alone is enough to remind us to “be sober-minded (and) watchful,” because our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” Is it any wonder our Saviour exhorts us to “watch and pray?”
Yours watchfully and prayerfully