The children’s Sunday School class could no longer use the room. The mold was too persistent. It would be cleaned off, even bleached away, and still it would appear. Finally, the paneling and drywall were ripped out. There was the source of the problem. Holes in the outer stone wall of the old church building were allowing water to seep in.
Without addressing the behind-the-scenes issue, the before-the-eye problem would continue.
That can be the case with many of the issues we struggle with, both personally and relationally. We can take biblical measures to treat a problem but without recognizing another factor in play, without accounting for an unseen enemy, we make little headway.
Every New Testament writer raises the topic of spiritual opposition. God alerts us to an enemy who opposes us and seeks to undermine our walk with Christ and work for His kingdom.
While we might tip our hat to this teaching, we neglect to take it seriously. We are informed of an enemy crouching at our door (Gen. 4:7), a spiritual foe on the prowl to harm us (1 Pet. 5:8), yet we refuse to take measures to deal with him. We don’t factor in Satan’s schemes in our ministry planning. We don’t take note of his fingerprints all over our sinful addictions. We are not on guard against his infections, insinuations, and infiltrations.
We don’t rip out the drywall to look for what is feeding the problem. I wonder if that is what the Spirit is alerting us to in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.
The church at Corinth was a mess. Division abounded. Foolishness reigned. Immorality was tolerated. Spiritual gifts became a source of competitiveness fueled by pride, leading to disunity and dysfunction. Times of worship were chaotic, offering a cacophony of confusion rather than a symphony of praise. Paul even had to warn against idolatry. “Do not be idolaters” (1 Cor. 10:7). “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14).
In his second letter to the Corinthians included in the canon of Scripture, Paul revisits many of the same problems he addressed in his first letter. Only this time, he brings another consideration to bear, that of enemy opposition and spiritual combat.
Only the letter to the Ephesians has greater overt emphasis on the normative nature of spiritual warfare than 2 Corinthians for Christian life and ministry in this fallen world, a battleground that Paul calls in Galatians “this present, evil age” (1:4).
We face an enemy in our evangelism.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:3–4)
As Jesus pointed out in His parable of the soils, the devil plucks up the seed that falls on the path.
We face an enemy who would compromise us.
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Cor. 6:14–16)
Our Lord made clear that we are in the world but not of the world. In fact, He prayed not that we would be taken out of the world but that we would be protected from the evil one (John 17:15). Satan seeks to seduce us to spiritual adultery.
We face an enemy who seeks to take up captive to do his will.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” (2 Cor. 10:4–5)
We know his tactics. “Did God really say? Does God really have your best interest at heart? Is He depriving you, keeping you from full delight?” Satan urges us to bring God under our judgment, to become the arbiters of good and evil, and to do so by rejecting the counsel of God.
Yet as Martin Luther put it, the devil is God’s devil, furthering God’s purposes despite the enemy’s intent.
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (2 Cor. 12:7)
God brings trials for our good, but Satan is right there using that trial to tempt us to deny God, rebel against God, and rely on ourselves.
This perspective of 2 Corinthians gives us insight into the feeding factors behind the division, immorality, and heresy of 1 Corinthians. In the same way, we want to take note of the devil’s designs in our own life and ministry. We must call out to our Lord Jesus in whom the satanic strongman is bound to find all that we need to combat his efforts.
We must stand firm in the Lord and in the strength of His might. How do we do that? Against Satan’s accusations, we must stand in Christ’s atoning work and righteousness. Against Satan’s temptations, we must stand in the resurrection power of Christ that is ours by union with Him. Against Satan’s deceptions, we must stand in the Holy Scriptures, bringing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly.
Stan Gale is a pastor in the PCA and is the author of several books, including Warfare Witness: Contending with Spiritual Opposition in Everyday Evangelism, and What is Spiritual Warfare? (Basics of the Faith Series).