Got Questions: Who is the Devil? (Message for July 8th, 2016)

Scripture:  Ephesians 6:10-18

     Outside of extremely old games like chess and checkers, it is probably fair to say that the best known board game is Monopoly.   It seems that every family in the United States has a copy of Monopoly.   This is not always a good thing.   As you know, my family kind of likes to play games together, and more than once after someone learns that about us they say they do not like board games.   Usually, their dislike of games is traced back to Monopoly.   People will always complain about how Monopoly takes forever, and it usually ended with a younger sibling flipping the table.   The funny thing is that Monopoly should not take forever to play.  In fact, even at a slow place when playing by the rules Monopoly should wrap up in no more than two hours.   This is at odds with the experience of many people, and the reason is simple:  most people do not play Monopoly by the rules.    For instance, when a player lands on a property that is not owned and they choose not to buy it, then the property immediately goes up for auction and any player can buy it.   This is in the rulebook and it has always been in the rulebook.   However, the vast majority of people do not play with this rule.   Yet, there are many people who play with the free parking rule.  This rule is that any money paid to the game through taxes or card chance cards goes in the middle of the board.  Then when someone lands on the Free Parking space, they get all of the money in the middle.   Even though a lot of people play that way, it is nowhere in the rules.    Auctioning off properties makes the game go faster, and Monopoly is designed to draw money out of the game to bring it to an end.   When all of that money comes back into the game, it just adds to the game length.   There are dozens of other unofficial rules or unused rules that different people get wrong about Monopoly.  It is kind of odd if you really think about it.   Every single copy of Monopoly ever sold comes with a copy of the rules, yet so many people play it completely wrong!    In part, this is because the vast majority of people learned the game without reading a rulebook.   Monopoly was originally published in the 1930’s, so nearly four generations have been taught Monopoly by someone who themselves were taught monopoly without ever looking at the actual rules.   Given that it is no wonder that so many people do not understand the game and get it wrong.  

            I mention that because the subject of our question today is kind of in the same boat as Monopoly.   All of this month we are taking time to consider questions that you asked.   One of the questions that was asked a couple of different ways can be summarized as “who is the devil?”   When it comes to Satan there is a lot out there, but like the rules of monopoly it is all passed down second hand, often it is distorted, and not quite right.   Quite honestly a lot of what people know about the devil comes more from a Charlie Daniels Band song than the bible.   By looking at the scripture we can quickly learn what some of our misconceptions are, and what our response as faithful followers of Jesus is to be.  

            We are going to be answering this question a bit on the surface level.  I will be throwing out a bunch of scripture references, and I realize that this attempt to answer the question may just create more questions.  If that is true for you, then I would love to sit down with you sometime this week and have a much more detailed conversation.  To be completely honest, this is a question that I am very hesitant to answer.   Because the devil is a spiritual being, we always get drawn into the supernatural.   Quite frankly, this often ends up being a distraction.   Since things beyond the natural world are beyond our understanding, we end up getting caught up in conjecture, hearsay, and looking for supernatural signs.    We can take our eyes off of following God, to follow shadows of proof.   One of the great mistakes that believers often make about the devil is to focus too much on him, which is quite honestly what the devil wants.  If we are so focused on Satan and his evil plots in the world, then we are not focused on loving God and loving our neighbors.   Of course on the flip side, the other great mistake is too ignore the devil completely.   The gangster movie “The Usual Suspects” has a very prophetic quote in it “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”   That quote does seem to ring true today.   There are many who believe that the devil of the bible is a symbol for evil and not an actual entity.    As followers of Christ our focus should be on how we can be disciples above all else, but we cannot ignore the devil, because as it warns in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be alerts and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prows around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”     

            Even though the devil is mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament there is frustratingly little we actually know about the entity, and a lot of it is open to interpretation.    For instance several people will claim that Ezekiel 28:11-19 which is addressed to the King of Tyre is in fact directly referencing the devil.    While there may be some validity to that it is also not plaining stated.  It is an interpretation, so for every biblical scholar who states that scripture refers to the devil another is convinced that it is only speaking of the earthly king.   Another example of these kind of issues is in Isaiah 14:12.  One of the common beliefs is that the devil’s name is Lucifer.   However, that name actually arose from a mistranslation of Hebrew to Latin, where a descriptive word meaning light bearer was accidently translated as a proper noun or name.   We do not know really know the name of the devil.  Even the word Satan is also not a formal name, but a Hebrew word that means accuser or adversary. 

            Even though there is a lot we do not know about the devil there is quite a bit we do know from the scriptures.   First, the devil resides on earth, not in hell.   In Job 1:6 when God asks Satan where has been he answers “roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”   In John 12:31 Jesus refers to the devil as the prince of this world, and in Matthew chapter 4 during the temptation of Christ, the devil promises Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshipping him.    A couple of places in the epistles, Paul refers to the devil as the “prince of air” because he is what is over the earth.    From various parts in the bible, such as Revelation chapter 12, we get the understanding that the devil was cast out of heaven for rebelling against God.   We know from the temptations of Jesus in Matthew, that the devil seeks to get people to join him in rebelling against God.  The devil opposes God, which means the devil opposes truth.  Jesus states this in John 8:44 “When he lies , he speaks his native language for he is a liar and the father of lies.”       It is in these two things we see the devil’s power.    The devil’s power is to tempt, lie, and deceive.   The devil works in the world to bend it away from God.   The devil takes rebellion against God and sales it as true freedom.   The devil takes what is wrong and tries to spin it as a virtue.   The devil tempts us to turn our hearts and minds away from God and focus them on ourselves.    The devil’s goal is to have lies be believed as truths, to have love replaced by hate, and to have faith perverted into cynicism.   Unfortunately, we do not have to look far or get very far into a newspaper to see the devil’s handiwork in the world around us.    

            Evil is not an abstraction.  It is a very presence in the world.   When it comes to resisting the devil, what should we do?    That is where the scripture from Ephesians is so very helpful. This scripture talks about gearing up for battle.  It talks about the armor of God, and about fighting evil and resisting the devil.   Obviously this armor is metaphorical, there is not a literal breastplate of righteousness hidden somewhere that grants superpowers.    In understanding how the metaphor of this spiritual armor applies to our lives, there are three things to keep in mind.   First, everything but the sword is defensive in nature.  The armor of God is not meant for us to go out and beat evil upside the head, but rather it is meant to keep us safe when we are confronted with evil. 

            When we look at the individual pieces of armor they make sense.   If we list out the pieces of armor and then take away the physical component, such as the breastplate we are left with righteousness.   If we do that with all of the pieces we have an impressive list of virtues:  truth, righteousness, gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.   This represents the second important thing to keep in mind.  The armor of God represents our connection to God.   Righteousness is a churchy word for how good of a job we are doing living out our faith.  We are righteous when how we live matches up with what we say is right.   Faith, truth, and salvation are the ways that we have an assurance that we are connected to God.   When we put on the armor of faith, it means that we are suiting up as Christians.  It means that our faith is not some small part of our life.   It is our life.  It surrounds us, molds us, shapes us, and completely covers or defines who we are.    When our faith has this level of importance in our lives then we are ready to stand against evil and oppose the devil. 

   That is the final aspect of this scripture to keep in mind.   Verse 11 of the scripture states, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”   Then verse 13 states, “When the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything to stand.”    In both of these instances the emphasis is on standing.   When it comes to us resisting evil and being a positive force of good in the world standing our ground is key.   We are not to actively try to take justice into our own hands.   That is God’s job.  Our job is to stand our ground and we do that in two ways.   First we personally stand our ground.  We keep the armor of God on, so that we do not fall into evil and buy into the devil’s sweet lies.   When we act selfishly, when we are prideful, when we devalue other people then in small ways we contribute to the evil in the world.   We are either actively not listening to the devil or we are part of the problem.    When we personally stand our ground, then like Jesus did in the wilderness we do not give into temptation but instead we live righteously, seek the truth and keep up our faith.   

            The second way we stand is that we do not abide evil.  When we see evil in the world, when we see the fruit of the devil growing wild, we call it out.  We stand in its way.  We plant ourselves by the river of Truth and we say to the evil in the world, “No you move.”   Evil is like darkness, it only exist in the absence of light.  The devil can only truly flourish where the light of Christ is not present.   When we seek to follow Jesus’ example, to live righteously and let our faith define our lives.  Then we shine.   We reflect the light of Christ, and the devil has no choice but to flee.   We can do this in small ways.   When people are being bullies and cruel we can stand up to them, when people are not being fair to others we can be more than fair, and when someone makes derogatory comments we can call them out.  We can stand our ground and call out evil for what it is.   However, we must do this while wearing the full armor of God, and we must remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.   We must love even those we disagree with and we must be willing to forgive those who commit evil and follow the devil’s plans.   We must not buy into the lie that enemies do not deserve mercy.   We can stand in truth, but we must also always act in love.   When we do this, then the devil cannot prosper against us.  

            To answer the questions: “Who is the devil?”  The devil is the accuser, the great tempter, and the father of lies who would like nothing more than to devour our faith and lead us astray.  In a world that is fallen in sin and rebellion against God, the devil has a level of authority.    However, the devil is not truth, the devil is not good, and the devil is certainly not God.   I have read the good book, and Spoiler alert:   The devil loses, Jesus wins.   May we take heart in that, and may we seek to follow Jesus.   When the devil seeks to tempt us, lead us astray, or bend our hearts with lies may we, wearing the full armor of God, stand our ground and say “not today, Satan, not today.”   May we fix our eyes on Jesus, may we follow him, and may we stand strongly as disciples of Christ and children of the one true God.