Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.—Ephesians 6:11
Satan is a schemer. That’s what the Bible tell us in the above verse from Ephesians 6. The question is, what is he scheming to do? To tempt us, for sure, because he knows that sin does damage to us, to the people around us, and to our relationship with God, and then it continues to do damage as it paralyzes us with guilt and shame. But is there anything else? What else is he scheming about?
I have heard people talk about everyday struggles as if they were attacks from the devil. They get a bad cold or an unexpected bill in the mail, and they’re quick to say “Satan is really trying to bring me down.” Well, maybe. It’s true that sometimes discouragement can have a negative effect on our spiritual lives. But not necessarily. Sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes it’s the hard things that bring us closer to God. Satan is smart enough to know this, so I don’t think he’s content just to make us angry or sad or stressed. He’s got his sights set on something bigger, so his schemes are a little more complex than a flat tire or a bad day at work.
I have also heard people talk about conflict with others as if it were the devil attacking them. This is closer to the truth, but it’s still a little off. These people say things like “that person was criticizing me, but I knew it was a spiritual attack, and I just said ‘Not today, Satan.’” In their thinking, the person they had the conflict with was the tool Satan was using to bring them down. Again, I would say “maybe.” But let me tell you what is more likely:
What’s more likely is that you were not Satan’s target at all. His target was the relationship between you and that other person. That being the case, you did not win a victory against Satan when you recognized his attack and refused to let it bring you down. Satan won a victory, because he accomplished his goal of sowing seeds of division between people.
I’m sorry if that’s hard to hear. But here’s the truth: All through the Bible, we see that God really values relationships. He values unity. He says the greatest commandment is the commandment to love. And since He values unity and love so much, you can bet these are the things Satan will set his sights on.
Specifically, the Bible teaches us about two sacred relationships, two institutions, which God has created to show the world His power and goodness and love. These two things are marriage and the church. Without quoting a dozen Bible verses, I’ll just say that God loves these two things with a special love, because they are intended to reflect His very nature to the world. God Himself is characterized by unity; He is one God eternally existing in three persons. When He created people, He said “let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” and then created us “male and female” (Genesis 1:26), so that through the marriage union the world would get a glimpse of the unity and love that are at the core of who God is.
In the same way, the church of Jesus Christ is intended to be a place where people from all walks of life are united by the incredible love of God. Men and women, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, officer and inmate, all become one through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It’s supposed to be a place where the world sees unity and love on display in such a compelling way that they are driven to ask, “what makes this possible?”
That being the case, let me say it again: very often, you are not the target of Satan’s attacks. Your relationships are the target. Your spouse is not the enemy, and Satan is not using them to attack you. Conflict with your spouse is the tool Satan is using to attack your marriage. That person at church is not a tool Satan is using to bring you down; your conflict with that person is the tool Satan is using to bring your church down. Satan hates marriage, he hates churches, he hates families, he hates friendship. Satan hates love. The goal is not for you to “stand strong” against the attacks of Satan as a rugged individual. The goal is for us to stand strong together against his attempts to damage our relationships.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about someone who had been disciplined by the church, in an appropriate way, for some type of sin. He had experienced the natural consequences of his actions, and lived with the painful reality that sin damages relationships. Sometimes, when we sin, we need to feel the sting of painful consequences, so we learn the lesson that sin always hurts us and others more than we expect. But now that person had repented, and there was a new problem: the danger that the relationships might never be healed, and that he would continue to be isolated, alone, and sad. Paul recognized this, and gave the church these instructions:
The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now, instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.—2 Corinthians 2:6-11
Originally, Satan’s scheme had been to tempt this man into sin, and he had succeeded. But now there was a new scheme, which maybe had been the real goal all along: to use shame and unforgiveness to keep him isolated. To divide people who had once lived as brothers and sisters. But Paul told the church, “Don’t be fooled. Pursue love and unity, because that’s what our enemy is really trying to destroy.”
In your life today, can you identify the relationships Satan has set his sights on? How can you pursue love and unity within your marriage, your family, your friendships, and your church family? Who can you forgive? Where can you show love? What small things can you let go of for the sake of unity? Let’s not let our enemy have any victories in our homes or our church. Let’s not be unaware of his schemes to divide us.