The Works of Satan
We showed in the last lesson that even a beginning comprehension of God must take into account that He is a spirit, that He is light furnishing life and truth, and that He is love. His archenemy, Satan, is also a spirit, but in every other essential respect he is the opposite of God. In character they stand in stark contrast. Whereas God is the author of truth, Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Whereas God is the fountain of life, Satan holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14). Whereas God is love, Satan has always been a murderer (John 8:44).
Just as the two most powerful beings stand poles apart, so mankind is divided into two radically separate families, the children of God and the children of the devil (John 8:44). Each bears the unmistakable stamp of its father’s character. Because God is love, the children of God are joined together by bonds of love, and love is their manner of life (1 John 4:7). Because Satan is the inventor of sin in all of its wretched forms, the children of Satan forsake the ways of love and wreak violence and murder upon their fellow men (1 John 3:10-12).
We who name God as our Father must therefore be diligent to prove our parentage. If our profession is real, it will be evident in our lives. Our hearts will be loving, not hateful. Our lives will be constructive in their effects, not divisive or destructive.
Scripture gives us convenient checklists for evaluating ourselves.
One appears in Galatians 5:19–21. Paul says clearly that anyone who habitually practices the sins he enumerates cannot be a child of God. He is a child of the devil. Among these sins, which he calls works of the flesh, are some primarily contrary to love for God, but most, including the ones we will discuss, are also contrary to love for our brother.
First come the sexual sins.
- "fornication" (a general term for sex outside marriage),
- "uncleanness" (taking pleasure in anything incompatible with purity of mind),
- "lasciviousness" (habitual behavior showing contempt for moral decency).
In last place we find the sins associated with consumption of alcohol.
- "revellings" (primarily referring to pleasure-seeking parties running late into the night).
The middle of the list includes all the sins causing division between man and man.
- "hatred" (literally, "hatreds," defining the root of all these sins),
- "variance" (bickerings or heated debates),
- "emulations" (jealousies, rivalries),
- "wrath" ("wraths," naming the emotion triggered by hatred),
- "strife" ("strifes," originally a political term that referred to putting self forward by currying support among a faction or party),
- "seditions" (attempts to create division or dissension),
- "heresies" (a term not for false teaching, but for creating a party or sect that separates from other believers and goes its own way; in other words, schisms),
- "envyings" (meaning exactly what it says: jealousies).
All the divisive sins replay Satan's original rebellion against God. Don't you think Satan enjoyed great respect among the angels? Don't you think His case against God was smooth and convincing and cloaked with high virtue? Don't you think the angels who followed him believed they were acting in line with truth and justice? Likewise in every quarrel that Satan provokes within the church, the leaders of the rebellious faction are plausible men, and their followers view themselves as siding with a good cause.
A helpful list of sins contrary to brotherly love appears also in 1 Timothy 6:3-5. Paul labels these as the product of false teaching and the mark of religious hypocrisy. He mentions two in our previous list: envy and strife. Then he adds some more:
- "railings" (blasphemous speeches, offensive because they demean God),
- "evil surmisings" (evil suspicions),
- "perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth" (he is talking about men who quarrel with good teaching because they are desperate to justify their own twisted ideas or sinful practices),
- "supposing that gain is godliness" (he is saying that only a corrupt mind makes decisions based on pragmatism rather than principle; pragmatism pretends that truth is whatever serves some selfish purpose).
Paul closes with an urgent warning: "From such withdraw thyself," meaning that we should withdraw ourselves from those who practice these sins. But it is equally urgent that we refrain from these sins ourselves. So that we might bring glory to God by maintaining our testimony as believers and building our local churches and advancing His kingdom around the world, let us renounce the works of the flesh and instead do the works of the Spirit, for these translate love from the theoretical to the real.
The Bible especially warns against four violations of brotherly love. These are a serious threat to the body of Christ because they may cause wounds that heal slowly or never at all. The damage they do to the fabric of the church may be irreparable.
The New Testament repeatedly insists on purity within the church (1 Tim. 5:1-2; 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:3). It says that immorality should "not be once named among you, as becometh saints" (Eph. 5:3). In other words, the standard of purity should be so high among believers that no reasonable person would even suspect them of immorality.
Sexual sin in the church is a grave offense for many reasons. One is that the surrounding community will probably hear about it and then never forget it. A scandal stroking their desire to believe the worst about Christians will not easily pass out of memory. The church may never escape from the bad light it has brought upon itself.
Another reason immorality can be very damaging to a church is that it may create a victim (a cheated spouse perhaps, or an exploited young person) who then boils with desire for retribution. To forgive such an offense is extremely difficult (Prov. 6:32-5). It may require more love than the victim is capable of. Therefore, immorality within a church can do irreversible harm.
To deter this kind of sin, God threatens to avenge any victim (1 Thess. 4:3-6), giving us the impression that the judgment will be swift and severe, as it was with David. After David committed adultery with Bath-sheba and killed her husband (2 Sam. 11), God took the first child of the illicit union (2 Sam. 12:1–19). Then later within David’s family He permitted continuing conflict leading to the deaths of three out his four oldest sons (2 Sam. 3:2–4; 13:28–29; 18:14–15; 1 Kings 2:23–26). Within churches today, God may likewise bring severe judgment on a sexual offender.
Wrath is but a step from hatred, and hatred is the engine of murder. It is so harmful to the church that the Bible frequently warns against it (Eph. 4:31; Ps. 37:8; Eccles. 7:9; Gal. 5:20; Col. 3:8; Jas. 1:19). Unjustified anger is another sin that God vows to judge (Matt. 5:21-2). The only judgment in this life may be a leanness of soul (Ps. 106:15). On the outside the angry person may still look good, but on the inside he is shriveling up.
There are many forms of wrath, including bitterness, contention, and evil speaking. Evil speaking is using words to cut a person down, whether by tongue-wagging to his face or behind his back. Contention is argument fueled to some degree by anger. Bitterness is anger seething below the surface. If it becomes chronic, it produces a sour, crabby person.
Bitterness is responsible for much grief within churches. The reason it is so harmful is that it spreads easily from person to person (Heb. 12:14-15). The person with a bitter heart goes on a campaign trail to recruit others to his resentful way of thinking, and he may make his case convincing enough that many join his cause. Soon, he has divided the church into foes and sympathizers.
Lying to a brother is absolutely forbidden (Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:25). It is not necessarily difficult to forgive a person for lying. But we know from experience that someone who lies is probably a habitual liar. Therefore, when a church member lies to others in the church, it may take years before they regain confidence in his word. The offense is serious, because mutual trust is the backbone of harmony and cooperation.
The Bible forbids this sin under the name "talebearing" (Lev. 19:16; Prov. 11:13; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20). It refers to passing on some tidbit of news that should not be circulated. What should not be circulated?
- Anything false (Exod. 20:16). Not being sure that it is false is insufficient as self-protection. If it turns out to be false despite your gamble that it is true, God will hold you guilty of breaking the commandment. Therefore, certified truth is the only safe conversation.
- Anything harmful (Jas. 3:8-10).
- Anything not edifying (Eph. 4:29).
- Anything that the people concerned view as private. The rightful judge of whether talk is really gossip is not anyone doing the talking, but the persons being talked about.
If someone else approaches you with tantalizing but improper information, how should you respond? It is best to refuse hearing it, if possible. But if the gossiper catches you unaware and shares the unwanted news before you can protest, you must suspend belief and afterward keep the news to yourself. Don't believe it. Don't relay it to others. Remember that there are two sides to any story. What seems totally believable in the mouth of a gossiper may look pretty foolish in the light of full truth.
Whether the gossip is true or false, you have a responsibility to tell the gossiper that he is sinning against the people concerned. You must exhort him either to keep silent or, if he is expressing a personal grievance, to handle it in a Biblical manner, by taking it directly to those who have aggrieved him (Matt. 18:15-17). Jesus makes it clear that we should never speak criticism of our brother unless he is present to defend himself. If the gossiper is unwilling to do right, and if the matter is serious, you must let the concerned people know about the gossip so that they can defend their reputations from further damage.
To relay the good news that someone is getting married or the bad news that someone has died is not gossip, because no one is unjustly hurt by it. True gossip, lurking in the shadows with words of mockery or evil accusation, is wrong for many reasons.
- It is unloving. To circulate a negative report about someone without his knowledge is unloving, because it is not the way that you yourself would want to be treated
- It is always in some measure untrue. It is untrue if only because it gives one person’s perspective. Indeed, it may be altogether false even though it sounds absolutely convincing. Therefore, gossip is a form of lying.
- It is unjust. At the heart of our judicial system are three principles of justice: 1) a man is innocent until proven guilty, 2) a man accused has the right to present the best possible case in his own defense, and 3) a man accused has the right to confront and cross-examine his accusers. Except where these principles are honored, judgment should be withheld. Yet gossip trashes them all. Needless to say, the standard of justice among Christians should be no less demanding than that upheld by secular law.
- It is destructive. It tramples underfoot a person’s valued possession, his good name. It vandalizes his reputation. Moreover, if the gossip is what Christians are saying about a fellow Christian, it may leak beyond the borders of the church and harm the reputation of the church itself, confirming scoffers in their claim that all Christians are hypocrites. They will reach the same conclusion whether they believe the gossip (then the accused is a hypocrite) or not believe it (then the tale-bearers are the hypocrites).
- It is malicious. The motive behind gossip is never love. To speak evil about a brother always arises from love’s opposite, malice. To gossip behind someone’s back puts you in the same league as the unscrupulous and vicious enemies of Jesus (John 7:45-52).
In conclusion, we see that gossip is a violation of the Sixth Commandment, because it does injury to another. In some instances, it has been so damaging that it has driven the victim to despair and death, thus becoming murder. I once read a news story about a teenage boy who committed suicide because someone told a lie about him on Facebook. Gossip is also a violation of the Eighth Commandment, because it is robbery of what rightfully belongs to someone, his good reputation. And it is a violation of the Ninth Commandment, because in some measure it is false witness.
Satan’s agenda is to spread lies that will undermine truth, and the natural habitat of lies is darkness rather than light. That is why gossip is one of his favorite tools. As talk behind the scenes, as secret defamation of someone’s character, and as whispering in the shadows, gossip thrives in the dark.
America has always had a free-market economy, where producers seek customers by offering products either cheaper or more attractive than the competition. In the last few generations, as a result of burgeoning wealth and advancing technology, a consumer’s options in the marketplace have exploded. Every conceivable product for every conceivable use now exists in endless variety. When a consumer goes shopping just in a single discount store, he finds dozens of different cereals, light bulbs, and toothpastes. Online, his field of choice in the same categories expands into the hundreds. If he wishes to eat out, a restaurant nearby will exactly suit his taste and pocketbook. If he wants entertainment, he has easy access to countless options, including videos, electronic games, and live events—all waiting to tickle his fancy. It is no wonder that modern man looks upon reality as a playground designed to please him.
Sadly, though, he sees personal relationships as another consumer choice. From his spoiled perspective, he views friends, sexual partners, social circles, and even churches as products to be selected by the overriding criterion of what pleases self. After taking them home from the store of modern culture, he then feels free to use them so long as they satisfy, and finally to discard them if he sees something better. Virtually forgotten is the concept of commitment.
There was a time when people understood that marriage is a lifelong union for better or for worse, and that to break a marriage is a serious betrayal of a higher purpose in life than pleasing self. It is no less than an attack on the precious institution of the family, God’s provision both for rearing children and for educating us all in real love.
Another institution threatened by the self-seeking hearts of people today is the church. As soon as any problem arises within a local body, the first impulse many feel is to run away. Instead of tackling and solving the problem in a Biblical manner that will strengthen and preserve the church they are attending, they start looking around for another. Why? Because they see religion as another marketplace with competing products. Reared in the modern world, they think that life is a game of fulfilling personal preferences rather than a solemn quest to fulfill God’s preferences.
But people who have come together in the same local church must never let conflict drive them apart. It is a sin to separate. God’s will is always that unity prevail. Shopping for another church is never a solution God accepts unless the first church falls under the control of a false teacher (Matt. 7:15–20; 2 Pet. 2) or of a man that Scripture pronounces unqualified to lead (1 Tim. 32:2–7). Otherwise, church membership is a binding commitment, for better or for worse.
The apostles’ writings are full of admonitions to achieve unity among the brethren (1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:1-4; Phil. 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8). At the same time they are severely critical of those who create issues to justify breaking away from a legitimate church (1 John 2:19; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Thess. 3:6).
All sin is selfishness and all selfishness is sin. Thus, self-centeredness is more encompassing than the other sins we have considered. The only remedy for it is to walk in the Spirit rather than in the flesh (Rom. 8:1-5). Through the Spirit we can become other-centered rather than self-centered.
Other-centeredness is more than taking chance opportunities to be kind. It is a loving outlook that seeks to create such opportunities. It is living with a servant’s heart. It is putting true brotherly love into practice. How can this be done?
- Petition God to make you less self-centered.
- Repent of any tendency to feel contempt for people with problems. Don’t withhold help with the excuse that they are suffering the consequences of their own folly, so the right solution is for them to start living more wisely.
- Accept the discipline of a regular ministry to others. If you perform it faithfully, God will enlarge your love for those you serve.
Replacing Vices with Virtues
A sound strategy for defeating any sin is to strengthen the contrary virtue. A good starting point is Paul’s advice in Ephesians 4:1-3:
1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Paul is advising replacement therapy. He is saying that instead of yielding to devastating vices, we should cultivate wholesome virtues. The ones whose perfection Paul sets as our goal are meekness (humility), longsuffering (patience), forbearance (not taking offense), love, unity, and peace.