Summary: Exposition of 1 Peter 5:8-11)
How Healthy Churches Resist the Devil
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
How do healthy churches resist the devil?
It should be remembered that these congregations throughout the Roman Empire were being persecuted. There was probably division in the church, as the young men were not submitting to the elders (1 Peter 5:5). Peter in the last chapter of the letter essentially encourages them to be healthy. He speaks to the leadership and the congregation. He calls them to humble themselves under God’s mighty hand during their trials.
He ends the letter with a final warning. He calls them to be alert and to resist the devil. This was very important. It should be noted that it is often in the midst of a trial that Satan attacks the hardest. It was while Jesus was at his weakest physically that Satan attacked him in the wilderness. It was in the wilderness that Israel was tempted to complain and turn away from God. It was when there was famine in the land that Abraham left the promise land and went to Egypt.
These scattered churches needed to be very aware of Satan and his attacks in the midst of their trials and their persecutions. No doubt, the enemy would seek to bring discord amongst the believers: try to draw many away from the faith and make many give up. It has been said God uses trials to strengthen our faith and Satan uses trials to weaken our faith. We always must be aware of his attacks, but especially during trials.
Another, aspect of a healthy church is their vigilant fight against the devil. C. S. Lewis talked about how there were two extremes in our understanding of the devil. There is the extreme of seeing Satan behind everything. He brings every sickness; he is the cause behind every sin. Satan, often, gets way too much credit in the church.
However, the other extreme, which is far more common, is that most Christians don’t recognize Satan at all. They blame their roommates, they blame the government, they blame their wives, they blame themselves and sometimes blame God, but Satan gets none of the blame. Paul said this:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 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.
It is possible for Christians to see and blame everybody else and not recognize the spiritual war we are in. This would be particularly important for these Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. They needed to realize that Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31) and he is working behind the government and all aspects of society, to come against the plans of God. They needed to be alert for the devil. This would keep them from blaming God or blaming others.
Because of this sober reality, healthy churches and church members need a strong awareness of the enemy. Look at Paul’s awareness of the enemy:
For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us (emphasis mine).
He saw Satan hindering the work of ministry, as Paul was trying to visit Thessalonica. Similarly, look at what Paul said to married couples in 1 Corinthians 7:5,
Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (emphasis mine).
Paul saw Satan active in seeking to destroy marriages. In fact, Paul was so aware of Satan that he studied his schemes in order to not be tricked by them. He said this, “In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor 2:11).
Paul saw an awareness of the devil as very important for a healthy church and thus a healthy Christian life. He calls for these Christians, who are scattered throughout Asia Minor, to be self-controlled and alert because Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
As we go through this lesson, I want you to ask yourself, “Do you have a healthy awareness of the devil?” and “How do we properly resist the devil, as a congregation?” These questions are, especially, important as we go through trials.