“For we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (2 Corinthians 2:11)
2020 was the year we didn’t expect. In February, very few saw the challenges we would face. We assumed things would continue as usual, that our plans would move forward, that all would be well – until it wasn’t. As we close out the year, churches across the world have become depleted numerically, scattered and isolated from one another, fractured by political and social division, tense with preferences and selfishness, filled with anxieties and distractions, discouraged by death and defection.
In the whirlwind of 24-hour news cycles, re-wiring our habits and rhythms, adjusting to new schedules and expectations, have we slowed down to consider what’s really going on? We have an Enemy. We’re in a war. And, as the saying goes, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” Our great danger is when we forget that. Ephesians 6:12 tells us – “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”
The Enemy schemes against the people of God. He has tactics. It’s not a full on assault, but a shrewdly designed plot to wreck and weaken us. We must not be ignorant of his schemes. When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve those schemes won’t dissolve. They’ll still be in motion. So what are Satan’s schemes against us?
Scheme #1 – ISOLATION
Quarantining as an act of necessity is one thing. Quarantining as a way of life is an entirely different matter.Loneliness is an an epidemic that can’t be cured by social media. Being made in the image of the Triune God means that we’ve been made for community. It’s not good for man to be alone (Gen.2:18). Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, isolation is one of Satan’s tactics for you.
The story of Peter’s denial shows us two accompanying realities to isolation. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus told Peter, “Look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). Satan’s design in isolation is temptation and separation. The temptation comes to Peter when he’s separated from his brothers. Therefore, he’s more vulnerable. But there’s also a weakness that comes to Peter’s brothers on account of his separation. Notice Jesus says when Peter turns back he must go strengthen his brothers. Fighting sin is a community effort. The individual needs the church and the church needs the individual. Martin Luther put it this way: “No man should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one may help another. If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will” (LW 54:78).
As we reckon with Satan’s tactic of isolation, consider how you’ve been affected this year. Are you being defeated by a particular sin? Are you growing cold toward the gatherings of the church? Are you neglecting the encouragement that you need from others and others need from you? Don’t remain isolated. As one sister in our church put it, “Mask up and show up.” We need the encouragement that comes from gathering with the church (Hebrews 10:24-25). Let us not neglect this privilege and fall prey to Satan’s schemes.
Scheme #2 – EXPLOITATION
It’s been said that Satan’s temptations are like he’s playing chopsticks on the strings of our hearts. He knows what keys to pound. One person’s sin struggle may be different from another. Satan is happy to exploit us where we’re weak. Judas loved money (John 12:6). It was no mistake that 30 pieces of silver was the bait Satan used in his betrayal of Christ.
Individuals and churches have faced much temptation. We’ve been tempted to despair, to complain, to finger-point, to grow discouraged, to become apathetic. Why? Because there’s an idol that Satan has exploited. The man who is obsessed with control has to contend with ongoing outbursts of anger. The woman who is controlled by fear spends endless hours searching for answers online. The person who feels entitled to get what they want racks up the credit-card debt. The individual who is restless and discontent finds opportunity to abandon a relationship. Covid has sifted us, showing us the idols once hidden in our hearts. What has been revealed in your own heart? Do you see how the Enemy has exploited you? Run to Christ who died and rose again so you would not stand condemned and gives you the Spirit of freedom (Rom. 8:1-2).
Scheme #3 – FRACTURE
It was no mistake that after a few months isolated and separated that people clashed back together in the most anti-social fashion. Plugged into fear-mongering news reports, conspiracy theories, and an online avalanche of despair, people came back together biting and devouring one another. Us vs. Them never felt more real. Everyone was on trial and under suspicion. Virtue signal accordingly so you can appease your tribe, and prepare for the wrath of the other tribe! The result is a fractured nation.
Meanwhile, churches have fallen prey to this satanic device. While many Christians could have been loving their neighbors, they were arguing on Facebook. Satan would love nothing more than to see churches reflect the fracture lines of our country, not united by their common faith in their Lord and Savior, but divided by varied idolatries. Satan would love nothing more than to see Christians be quick to speak (or shout) and slow to listen, and do anything but weep with those who weep. The scheme is that Christians would pull away from their brothers and sisters, and churches would fracture – all for the world to see and conclude that Jesus can’t be who we say He is (see John 17:21).
Expect more of the same in 2021. But let’s also know this: “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” We don’t have to be weakened and wrecked by Satan’s schemes. Those who belong to Christ have the Spirit of Christ. And Christ is on His throne right now. For those who will humble themselves under His lordship, we can expect triumph (Rom.8:37). Through worship, fellowship, confession, repentance, mutual encouragement, and dogged commitment to unity and love, we can take our stand and resist Satan in the evil day (Eph.6:13).
“The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while. To him be dominion forever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11)