Many years ago, when I was a youth leader, the pastor emeritus—a man suitably ancient, with snowy hair, gravely-voice, wizened skin—spoke to our young people about the devil. I had high hopes for this talk. I wanted deep unto deep. I expected profound insights from a seasoned warrior.
I was hugely disappointed.
What he said, about all he said, was that in over 50 years of pastoral ministry he had come to the conclusion that the devil hates people. That was it. I wanted history. I wanted theology. I wanted Greek terms parsed and Hebrew words explicated and obscure texts exegeted.
And all we got was that the devil hates people.
But after 22 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve come to the conclusion that the devil hates people. Or, more precisely, the devil hates God, and resorts to what any terrorist with a powerful enemy does: goes after his loved ones, wife and kids. The devil’s hatred of people is an act of transference. It’s his bitterness toward God aimed at what God loves most. Job’s story, in some form or the next, plays out day after day, place after place, world without end.
Really, no surprises there.
But what’s been surprising is that the devil’s main act of hatred is not to destroy people (at least not at first), but to get them by masquerading as angels of light. The devil’s best disguise is piety. From the beginning, he’s cloaked damnable wiliness beneath a robe of theological inquiry—”Did God really say?”
For this reason, we should expect that most of the devil’s foot soldiers are some-where in the pews, and that they’re saboteurs more than warriors.
Paul warns Timothy, the young pastor, that he must not argue with his opponents but “gently instruct” them. Then Paul frankly describes such people: they’ve fallen into “the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
He does. Paul is talking about otherwise upstanding church members who spout the right creeds, subscribe to all the correct doctrines, espouse all the proper moral stances. But they’ve been taken captive to do the devil’s will.
This seems overstated—after all, these are people who sit on the deacon board, who work in the nursery, who play the organ on Sundays. Yes, it seems overstated, unless you’ve seen it a hundred times: the good man or woman, who, in the name of some righteous cause, creates so much division, suspicion, confusion and enmity that only Beelzebub wins.
But it shouldn’t surprise us. Think of the apostle Peter. He is the first disciple to declare Jesus’ true identity, to which Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:17-19).
But do you know the next thing Jesus says to Peter?
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matt. 16:23). Jesus says that because Peter has used his new “binding and loosing” powers to tell Jesus that his messianic mission will in no way involve the cross.
Peter, in a blink, goes from a blessed man walking in divine revelation and entrusted with holy power to a satanic stooge sabotaging divine purposes and substituting human concerns for God’s. From defying hell to collaborating with it. From proclaiming Jesus as Messiah to diverting Jesus from his messianic work.
From standing on the rock to falling into the devil’s trap.
Taken captive to do his will.
If that can happen to Peter—in the space of mere minutes—it can happen to anyone.
I don’t mean to be gloomy or paranoid. But in 22 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve come to the conclusion that the devil hates people. And his main trick is to get otherwise godly, committed people to ignore what God wants in order to advance what they want.
Almost always, that never involves a cross. It never involves dying to self.
Indeed, get behind me, Satan!