I’ve been seeking in these posts to give an overview of the many ways that Satan attacks God’s people. So far we’ve considered pleasing seductions and deceiving delusions. Now a third category of temptations; what I’m calling…
Satan does not always try to entice us or to deceive us into sinning. Sometimes he tries to scare us into sinning. He tries to so intimidate us as to make us fearful and discouraged and depressed so that we are unfit for the service of God. There are at least four ways Satan attacks God’s people I see in scripture that could be lined up under this heading of frightening intimidations.
First of all, the scriptures indicate that Satan sometimes has a hand in the afflictions that befall God’s people. So affliction is the first of Satan’s frightening intimidations. Now we have to be very careful here. I am not saying that affliction is always the work of the devil, whether bodily afflictions or material afflictions of any kind. I am not saying, nor does the bible teach, that all the afflictions that befall God’s people in this life are the work of the devil. But at the same time it simply cannot be denied that the bible indicates that Satan sometimes does have a hand in the afflictions that come upon the children of God. I’m not referring now to persecution. I’ll address that later. I’m referring to physical or material afflictions in general.
Do we not have a very clear example of this in the book of Job? We read in Job 2:7 that Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job. Now, of course, Satan was, and always is, under the control of God’s Sovereign providence. God gave Satan permission to strike Job for God’s own holy, wise and, ultimately, good purposes. But it was Satan who struck him. First, he brought destruction upon Job’s possessions and he afflicted Job’s family. But Job stood the test. So Satan came back to God and he said let me touch Job himself. Let me touch his body and then he’ll begin to squeal. Then he’ll curse you God and you’ll see that Job only serves you for what he can get out of you. So God said, “Alright you can touch his body but you can’t kill him.” And the scripture says, “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. “ “Ah”, someone says, “you’re trying to teach now that boils are always the work of the devil.” No, not at all; I’m simply saying that sometimes they may be. Of course, most diseases are due to secondary causes but they may sometimes be directly due to the activity of the devil.
What was Satan’s aim in afflicting Job the way he did? He was trying to intimidate Job into sinning and to cause him to turn away from God. He was also attacking God Himself. He argued that Job only served God because everything was great in his life. “Let me touch him, God, and then you’ll see that Job doesn’t really love you. Job, and by implication, all who serve you only do so with mercenary motives. It’s only for what they can get out of you, that’s it.” Well most of us know the story and what happened. The point is there were things going on behind the scenes in the spiritual world that Job couldn’t see and didn’t know about and in this case Satan had a hand in the afflictions that Job suffered.
Now we see this element of Satan’s activity in several places in the gospels. We learn there that the devil can cause dumbness; he can cause blindness. There’s the woman in Lk.13 of whom we read that, “She had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years and was bent over and could in no way raise herself.” And after Jesus healed her, what did He say about her? The ruler of the synagogue began to complain because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. Then Jesus said, “Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” Her condition, He says, was the work of the devil.
We find the Apostle Paul speaking about himself in 2 Cor. 12:7 with reference to what he calls his thorn in the flesh; apparently some kind of physical weakness or ailment he suffered. And he says, “Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” This thorn in the flesh, whatever it was, is said to be the result of a messenger of Satan that buffeted him. Now God allowed this in order to keep Paul humble but certainly that was not Satan’s purpose in it. Satan afflicted Paul in order to hurt him spiritually not to help him. But God was overruling and allowing Satan’s activity for Paul’s good. But the point is, whatever Paul’s particular affliction was, Satan had a hand in it.
So weaknesses, sicknesses and diseases, or any other kind of affliction, may sometimes be the result of the devil’s activity. Again, I’m not saying always by any means but, obviously, the scriptures indicate that sometimes they may be.
But now here is another important point regarding this matter. Even if, or when, the direct activity of Satan is not in anyway, or to any degree, the source of our affliction we still need to realize that our afflictions do always provide the occasion for Satan to come along side and to tempt us to sin and to turn away from the faith. Very often severe affliction and severe temptation go hand in hand. This is one of the reasons the Apostles write so much about this subject of afflictions and trials in their epistles. When times of difficulty, pain, or hardship come into our lives, often the temptation becomes very strong to doubt God, or to throw in the towel, as it were, to quit, to cast off our faith in God and His goodness; to become bitter; to neglect the means of grace. And, therefore, it is Satan’s manner especially to come after the child of God who is in the furnace of affliction. Satan is like a wolf that preys on the wounded sheep in the flock. So the N.T. writers often write about this subject of affliction to encourage the people of God not be thrown out off by it.
Brothers and sisters, whenever you find yourself in the midst of sickness, or painful disappointment, or pressured circumstances you need to realize that this is when you especially need to be on guard against the wiles of the devil. Affliction is a call to be watchful and to spend time on your knees crying to God for grace to resist the devil and crying to God, “Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from the evil one.”
This speaks a word to pastors as well, and really to all of us. We all have the responsibility to look out after one another’s souls and this tells us that we especially need to encourage and keep a caring eye upon those of our brothers and sisters who are suffering affliction. They are peculiarly vulnerable to the attacks of the devil.
There’s a passage that very powerfully illustrates the sensitivity of the Apostle Paul to this very reality and danger. In 1 Thess. 3:1 the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith.” Now what was the context in which Paul wrote these words? Well up in vv.17-18 of ch.2 Paul says that he was very eager to revisit these brethren in Thessalonica and that he attempted to do so time and again but Satan hindered him. 1 Thess. 2:1-8, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from your for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you-even I, Paul, time and again- but Satan hindered us.” Exactly how Satan hindered him he doesn’t say but it’s clear that Paul was very eager to be with these brethren. And now in ch.3 he says, “When I could no longer endure it..”; that is when my suspense and concern for you was so great I could hardly bear it..
“I sent Timothy to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith.” Now why was Paul so anxious about these people? Well he says, “I sent Timothy to establish and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for your yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain” (vv.3-5).
You see, Paul knew that these people were suffering affliction. And he was greatly concerned lest Satan, the tempter, might use their affliction as an occasion of tempting them to turn away from Christ and go back to the world which would, therefore, prove Paul’s previous labors on their behalf to have been in vain. So we need to imitate Paul’s example in taking special care of, and being especially concerned to encourage, our brothers and sisters who are going through difficult times.