Wrestling with Evil

An article from SVM Winter 2012

Jim Patterson

Managing Editor

An article from SVM Winter 2012

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul puts our struggle against evil in a proper perspective:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

From this straight forward statement, we realize that the problem of evil is much worse than dealing with human beings. Humans are only the vehicle of choice that is used at attempts to derail the Christian in his walk, and the activities of the Church of God. The spiritual powers at work to destroy a Christian are fueled by beings with mental capacities that exceed the physical, including the degree of wickedness. You cannot reason with evil nor negotiate a peace.

This passage of scripture is introduced with the admonition to stay strong in His power:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).

The use of power in this case is the passive form, that is, it is beyond our capability to muster. It is power from without. Strong is in the present tense. The Lord’s power is constant as the battle rages on. This is about spiritual warfare, and the battle is for the control of the heart and mind. Christians, in a sense, are those who are disloyal to the Adversary who is Satan, and this has not escaped his attention. Satanic control of the heart and mind does not come instantly, but through Satan’s “wiles”, that is by definition, through his patiently applied stratagem, that has an end goal that we would hand control, and therefore loyalty, back over to him.

Christians are in this battle and cannot hide from it or refuse participation. One side or another is going to win. The Father of Lights will win by our submission to Him having our minds transformed to holiness and purity, or the powers of darkness will win if the Christian hands his mind over to the control of the Evil One. One must win, and great is the battle— the stakes are high. A God’s life died for you and was given at much cost (a cost only truly understood by those who have a capacity for love). For the adversarial powers, their last tiny realm of existence, a hatred for anything that threatens their kingdom, must be destroyed; a motivation only understood by those who adhere to the same rules. More on this as we progress.

This article is about awareness. Knowing the motivation and subsequent behavior of evil designed against the Church of God and the awareness of it, will help protect us from immeasurable damage. When counseled to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), Paul is not speaking in mild terms. The evil day in verse 13 of the same chapter is any evil day in which we encounter it. The motivation behind evil is likely only fully understood by God, but we are not left ignorant of what we are wrestling with. Paul and Timothy claimed not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11), and we are given the task of maturing, and being able to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:14):

But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

This statement in Hebrews implies that the distinction between good and evil is not always easy to detect. In the context given, the writer is concerned with dull minds (slow and forgetful), contrasted to those that are sharp, by being exercised and ready and with discernment. The line between good and evil may take a spiritual mind to understand.

Satan’s Motivation

Satan is passionate about his kingdom. From scripture he is described as the ruler of this world, and he makes this claim himself that this world and its nations are under his control, and his to give. (Luke 4:5-7) With your eyes opened to the Truth of God, receiving God’s Holy Spirit, and walking in the light, you represent the Kingdom that will replace Satan’s. The Christian is also beloved of God and precious. These reasons alone make the Christian a target.

The Church of God is the Pillar of Truth on the Earth, and as such is a target to be destroyed if at all possible. Nothing is sacred, and Satan and his house will use all means at his disposal in an attempt to frustrate the Kingdom of God’s progress.

Christians represent, and can evoke the same power that is taking it all away from Satan permanently. We should not be so naïve to think he is going to quietly wait this out. Tyrannical kings and despots who have ruled on this earth now and in the past, who know they will not be around forever, wage wars against opposing forces within and without with all who threaten their domain, and take their war to the extreme. Their behavior did not come about independent of Satan; their motivation was inherited. In recent history we have witnessed the scorched earth policy of Saddam Hussein who set over 600 oil wells on fire without regard to the environment or if they could put them out (protected by land mines). Do not underestimate the extremes the evil in men will go to.

Evil is Complicated

Dealing with Evil is a complicated matter. We cannot wish it away nor pretend it is not there. It exists and is very real. As sheep we tend to default to conflict avoidance where at all possible, but as sheep we are paradoxically called to be brave.

First Complication: Evil Can Transform Itself to Appear Good

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Why do Satan and his ministers transform themselves into messengers of light? Because this strategy does work. It takes spiritual insight to sense that there is something not quite right. In the context this was given, the false teachers coming to the Corinthians desired to be highly regarded among them, and found it necessary to boast to achieve that end, even playing on their sympathies, claiming to be victims. They boasted in their righteousness, their service, and who was supporting them. They were winning over the affections of the Corinthians away from Jesus Christ to become loyal to their ministries. When you receive letters or material from an organization that promotes their ministries (financial wherewithal, personalities and successes) more than they glorify the Lord, they should be treated with suspicion. When we value toleration so highly and practice it so widely in the Church we need to learn from Paul’s example to call a spade a spade. Elders of discerning spirit are responsible to faithfully do the same if they are going to protect the naïve.

Second Complication: Entangled False Brethren

In the parable of the Tares, Jesus identified tares as “sons of the wicked One.” (Mathew 13:38) As sons they have the mind that Christ says they inherited from the Devil. This may not have been such a problem if the roots of the tares were not intertwined with the wheat. Removal of the tares will likely uproot and destroy the wheat. True and false brethren have relationships, and there are loyalties. This is a problem, and a severe complication.

Third Complication: Sleeper Cells in the Church

We are familiar with terrorist sleeper cells; they stay relatively dormant until called upon by their leaders. The goal is not to pull them out of the presence of the church body, but to remain in the brethren’s midst. Speaking of brethren whose minds have been won over by Satan, Paul hopes that

“…they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his (Satan’s) will” (2 Timothy 2:26).

 

These individuals unwittingly serve the enemy, believing they are doing the Lord a service, and they are called upon at their master’s convenience.

Fourth Complication: Pathetic in Vision

Another problem with Evil is that it is pathetic in vision. Perhaps this needs more   explanation. Satan’s Kingdom is tiny. In fact, a tiny spec of nothing compared to the vision of the Kingdom that has been in place from the beginning, but oh how Satan defends it. When we realistically look at Creation, and God’s promise of the kingdom that will have no end (Isaiah 9:7), Satan’s realm comes into perspective. Even now we are told the visible universe is 15 billion light years in expanse, an incomprehensible size to perceive by human limitations, and the earth is relatively infinitesimal by comparison; it can be circumnavigated by land and sea transportation in 80 days according to the popular story.

We see this played out in our realm of existence all the time. Men and their kingdoms, their institutions, and their churches, being claimed and defended. Despots of history have known to go to excessive means in actions and in word, designed to intimidate, punish and marginalize all who they even perceive to oppose them. This is all played out again and again; it is just a matter of scale. From a proper vantage point, evil is most pathetic indeed.

Our focus for awareness is not the world at large, because this behavior plays itself out in the Church of God, which is our area of concern. False leaders are driven to ascend, and control what they believe to be theirs and unwittingly are, or become, servants of the devil their master.

Driven or Led by the Spirit

With this background we can look at the Church of God today and ask the question: who are and who are not serving the Head of the Church in their leadership capacity?

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15,16).

Coming in sheep’s clothing implies innocence in appearance and approach. They may be very helpful and generous, participating in activities and zealous for the Truth. There is no need to be suspicious of that because their fruit will ultimately show, and it is the fruits which are ultimately of value. (John 15:8) We can be sure false brethren will produce bad fruit, and the genuine will produce good fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). Embedded in this passage of scripture is a commandment, you will know them by their fruits. This is not a guessing game. Jesus expects us to obey His words, and that is to identify false teachers when it becomes evident.

However, the Church of God has had a history of disobeying Jesus Christ when the fruits of leaders in groups and organizations become manifest, even when the damage is being done. They even attach themselves to them with blind loyalty. To ask ourselves why, is to try to find out the temptation. What is the temptation? We will attempt to answer it here.

Have you ever met a driven person? In the world of business and government they are the leaders, movers and establishers of organizations. They build companies or institutions, provide jobs and opportunities.   They are motivated to meet goals, to reach a vision, and perhaps make something of themselves. Drive can bring fortunate results to the driver and those who support him. Many people including myself have benefited by such individuals. Drive is in many respects what God has given us in the way of motivation (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Driven-ness to serve the Lord can be found in various ministries, now and in the past, and the Lord has directed such driven-ness to do His will. The apostles Paul and Peter come to mind, and some ministries of today. Driven-ness however, when left unchecked, can bring unfortunate results as well. Uncontrolled drive may become a constant concern about image and symbols of accomplishment. And there is always a price to pay.

It appears evident from experience and scripture that the drivers amongst men can be the type of individuals who have “ravenous” needs to be met. These individuals can be either called or not called by God. If called by God, it is when their drive continually supersedes their calling, when they get too far ahead of the Head, is when the trouble starts. They see opportunity to command respect of the less capable sheep and of their peers. They bypass the process that Jesus Christ has ordained for growth of the individual and of the church. They begin to control and filter the activities under their oversight. They absolutely believe in their own lie, and there will be no disputing their motives, which to them are pure.

“Within a few years of the founding of almost all religious groups, they begin to take on the characteristics of the average business corporation. Nepotism reigns; they become ingrown and far removed from the thinking of their constituencies…It was the nature of Jesus to be given to persons. It is the nature of organizations to be given to self-preservation… anyone with fresh insight or a prophetic word is stoned verbally or excluded from their Jerusalem (headquarters of the group). Only those who fit the prescribed pattern survive.” (The Jesus Style, Gayle E. Erwin p. 159)

Now the business world enters the Church world. Subordinates must obey and submit to organizational rules in which the uncontrolled driver has ascended. Over time, success and the vision and all that an uncontrolled driver does is about satisfying the driver himself—he is not concerned with satisfying the Head of the Church.

We should understand that growth is good, in numbers and in programs, and will be a blessing if it is ordained by God, that is, done by His process. When growth and   progress   come about by drivenness, it can become a curse. Goals must be met to maintain the reputation of the goal maker, and people are used to meet those goals. Obstacles must be dealt with, and with ever decreasing sensitivity. Over time it will become evident to some that there is a non-negotiable agenda that becomes supreme above all else. Where there is opposition in the ranks, they will soon discover and be confronted by the fact that the driver needs to win. Not just to win, but to win big, and win at all costs if necessary. When others do not share the vision, are deemed insubordinate, or leave the organization they  can be viewed as competition.

So we return to the question. What is the temptation to support and enable an uncontrollably driven leader because they get things done to accomplish objectives? In so doing they have made themselves indispensable.            With them a loyal inner circle develops. Loyalty trumps righteous conduct and judgment. Fear of man trumps the fear of the Lord. The uncontrollably driven though they carry with them the traits for a disastrous relationship there is no action without them. A trail of dead bodies is often found in their wake. There are also some un-negotiable terms that are dictated by God, that the driver in all of us should take heed to know.

For as many as are led by the  Spirit of God, these are the sons of God (Romans 8:14).

In Romans 8 worldly motivation is sharply contrasted to being led by the Spirit. If we are not led by the Spirit of God, we are serving the flesh, and it doesn’t matter if we believe it is in Christ’s service.

 

Biblical Examples of the Uncontrollably Driven

– Example 1: The Religious Elite

In John Chapter 11 we read the testimony of Lazarus being raised from the dead. After this event many believed in Jesus, and His growing popularity did not go unnoticed by the religious establishment. The  Pharisees perceived Jesus as a threat to their institution. They were not interested in the goodness Jesus ’ministry brought to the people, for it was not on their terms:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will take away both our place and nation.” (John11:47-48)

The men of this council viewed Israel as their nation rather than God’s and they did not want to lose control of it or their privileges as leaders. There was no mention here for the welfare of the people. Caiaphas appears to be impatient with his colleagues’ hesitancy in the solution to the problem to dispose of Jesus permanently. He felt Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary for the welfare of the nation, by which he meant its leaders. Although Jesus’ sacrificial death was precisely God’s intention, it was for different reasons. This institutional groupthink continues today, and again it’s a matter of scale. The result of the meeting was to plot the death of Jesus (John 11:53).

Christ recognized the fruits of these individuals before. Speaking to the Pharisees:

You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. (John 8:44).

– Example 2: Diotrephies

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the pre-eminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words (3 John 9).

In the third epistle of John we are given a small account of Diotrephes. From John’s brief letter, we understand Diotrephes is one who promoted himself more than the person of Jesus Christ. He rejected John the apostle because John challenged his pre-eminence. John was a threat. He lied about John, with lies very believable. Diotrephes’ use of malicious words was to project the seriousness of his cause against John.

But as stated earlier, driven types like Diotrephes need to win and win big. They are not content with small margins of victory:

And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church (3 John 10).

To protect his sphere of influence, he rejected believers associated with John. Moreover, if anyone disagreed with Diotrephes, particularly in his view of John, he dismissed them from the church.

We are going to take specific note that Diotrephes had the authority to put others out of the church, and that authority was given to him by brethren being willfully ignorant of the fruits he exhibited. The temptation for them was likely the same for us today to allow dictators and bullies to continue. Diotrephes baptized, he anointed, he prayed and he taught. He organized, and mentored others. Yes, in sheep’s clothing and we can be sure he was convinced he was serving the Lord and His people, but he was only serving his own belly. Diotrephes is as we described, a pathetic figure in history doing all he could to dominate his tiny world. John is not amused, and in verse 11 he gives his reader some straight talk we are trying to convey in this article:

He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God (3 John 11).

A Matter to be Taken Seriously

For I know this, that   after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore, watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears (Acts 20: 29-31).

We often don’t take the matter of false teachers and their teaching seriously enough. An account of Paul’s concern is given in Acts 20 before his departure for Ephesus:

For I know this, that   after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore, watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears (Acts 20: 29-31).

There   appear   to   be   two   types of threatening individuals:

Savage wolves: They will come from the outside with an aggressive agenda. The flock will scatter and some will be destroyed. This is because some will fall prey and some will follow the True Shepherd and His voice.

Those from among us: They were likely called, but their drive and ideas (of self and doctrine) got them ahead of the Head. Paul warned them day and night with tears for a period of three years. It is not a stretch of the imagination that his consistent and emotional appeal was a result of their relative indifference to the problem. “No problem Paul, we’ll identify these individuals quickly and nip it in the bud, we got it covered. Don’t worry.”

You are Responsible

For all in the Church of God, the message must now be abundantly clear from the pages of the Bible: Know Whom you serve. We all stumble over many things (James 3:2), but serving Jesus Christ leaves no room for enabling those with malicious intent by compromise.

The Devil plays for keeps, and it is not a game to play on his terms. James in his letter tells us to submit to God and resist the devil (James 4:7), when we do this, the devil will not just step aside, but will flee (run away, vanish, shun) from you. To flee implies fear, but the devil is not afraid of you, but he is afraid of the power of the Lord’s might that your obedience to the Lord evokes. Therefore, take on the whole armor of God. Partial armor will leave you vulnerable, and that vulnerability will be known. May God protect and preserve His people.

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