Monday, June 21, 2010

The Strategy of Satan Against the Church In Acts

In Acts chapters 4 - 9 we see Satan attacking the early church at least 5 times.  In studying this section the past couple weeks I have seen a strategy of the enemy unfold that I think will encourage us in the gospel and help us stand against him in our local churches.

It's easy to read the different passages between Acts 4 and 9 as separate and isolated topics.  But when we back up and look at the big-picture-context of these passages we see a common theme: Satan is attacking the church. We also begin to see that he is alternating between internal and external attacks; hitting the church from within, and turning up the heat from the outside.  Of course, in all these things it is actually God who is sovereign, not Satan. God has a plan, and will not fail! And he uses even the attacks of the enemy to purify the church and scatter the gospel.

Here are 5 attacks of Satan against the church in Acts 4-9:

1. Internal Attack - Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). 
Description of the attack: Satan fills the heart of a couple in the church (5:3) to lie to God by lying to the church where the Holy Spirit is at work. Their pride, greed, & deception flies right in the face of what the Holy Spirit is building in the community (unity, love, generosity).
Purpose of the attack: Satan is attempting to inject hypocrisy into the early church. This will grieve the Spirit in their midst and hurt the testimony of the gospel (their lives won't back up what they are preaching).
How the church fought back: God showed up and presided over the first case of church discipline; he killed them on the spot. Church discipline, then, is a counter-attack against Satan; it keeps the church pure and ensures that our lives back up the gospel word we preach.
Outcome of the attack: Satan failed.

2. External Attack - Persecution (Acts 4; 5:12-42).
Description of the attack: The authorities in Israel are jealous of the believers and opposed to their gospel. They first warn them not to preach in Jesus' name, and then arrest them and ultimately have them flogged for continuing to preach.
Purpose of the attack: To silence the gospel witness.
How the church fought back: The apostles took the severe flogging and went home rejoicing that they could suffer for Jesus. They then continued preaching - everyday (5:42). They refused to stop preaching the gospel!  Boldness and continued preaching is a counter-attack against Satan's attempts to shut up the church.
Outcome of the attack: Satan failed.

3. Internal Attack - Distracting the Teachers (Acts 6:1-7).
Description of the attack: A dispute over food distribution forces the apostles to make a decision about their ministry priorities.
Purpose of the attack: Apparently Satan thought that if he could not silence their gospel preaching, he could at least DISTORT their message. He tried this by attempting to distract the teachers and church leaders from prayer and the ministry of the word, with other things (food distribution). If the teachers were powerless from lack of prayer and too busy and distracted to consistently and faithfully teach the church, then over time the church would lose hold of the gospel and false doctrine would creep in.
How the church fought back: They chose men to serve as deacons to free up the apostles to concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word. Deacons are a counter-attack against Satan! And, more generally speaking, ALL who actively serve in the church are freeing up the teaching elders from distractions. This, over time, preserves the church's hold on the gospel and protects against false doctrine. Pick up a broom and protect your church from Satan!  Free your pastor from 'other things.'
Outcome of the attack: Satan failed.

4 and 5. External Attacks - Martyrdom & Increased Persecution (Acts 6:8-9:31).
Description of the attack: "Ok. You're gonna get some deacons to protect the teachers?  I'll just kill them!"  Satan attacks from the outside again by heightening the persecution from beating the apostles, to killing the deacons who were protecting and serving the apostles (and thus the whole church). Stephen is stoned to death. This leads right into an increased persecution against the church, led by Saul.
Purpose of the attack: To cripple the church with fear and intimidation, and silence the gospel.
How the church fought back: The church was scattered to other regions. But, "those who were scattered went about preaching the word" (8:4). They fought against this fear and persecution by continuing to preach the gospel wherever they went!
Outcome of the attack: Satan failed again.  In fact, his effort to silence the gospel was actually used by God to spread the gospel! The church preached the gospel wherever they were scattered, and God converted Saul!

Notice the common theme? Satan's attacks against the church are aimed right at the bullseye of their gospel preaching!  Satan does not want the church to preach the gospel (because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe, Romans 1:16). He will attempt to silence the gospel, distort the gospel, and hurt the testimony of lives that back up the gospel. He will attack from within or outside the church to stop the church from preaching, preserving, believing, and living the gospel.

This whole section ends in Acts 9:31 with these words: "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied."  I thank God that Satan cannot destroy the church (Matthew 16:18b), and will not be able to silence our gospel witness. He cannot stop the triumph of the gospel to the ends of the earth! 

Let us be wise in our local churches to the efforts of the enemy. He will still repeat this strategy in our day. Let us be faithful to Christ - no matter what the cost - laboring inside the church (church discipline and purity, joining with the Spirit of God to build love and unity, serving so that our teacher/preachers are not distracted) and outside the church (living and preaching the gospel) for the glory of God in Christ, shown in the gospel ministry of the church. We are fighting from the victory; we are overcomers in Christ!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! A popular but very un-Biblical doctrine has crept into my own church following--though not immediately--a natural disaster. The pastor has become distracted with relief efforts and food distribution and this doctrine has crept in without anyone realizing its dangerous nature and the threat it poses. Thanks to your post, I now know this is a direct attack by Satan.