2 Corinthians 2:11
Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
The reference here made to Satan must be regarded as figurative. It should not be used as an argument for the existence of a supreme evil spirit, however the existence of such a spirit may be assumed. St. Paul has elsewhere used the figure of "delivering unto Satan" (1 Timothy 1:20). By this we are to understand a solemn excommunication or expulsion from the Church, possibly with the infliction also of some bodily disease. The offender was to be left to feel all the physical and social consequences of his wrong doing, in the hope that, through suffering, he might be brought to a sense of his sin. Satan is thought of as the power which leads men into vice and then torments them when they have followed the leadings. The apostle conceives of God as overruling the very sin, and consequent suffering, for good, through them bringing the sinner to a hopeful penitence and humility of heart. There was, however, this danger to be recognized and guarded against. Satan might, as it were, outwit the Church, in its dealing with erring members, and make the suffering following on sin produce remorse rather than repentance. "Penitence works life, remorse works death. The latter is more destructive even than self-righteousness, for it crushes, paralyzes, and kills the soul." There must consequently be a judicious limitation of the punishment, and a watchfulness for the first opportunity of showing mercy and granting restoration. "Not to release the offender from the bondage when he was truly penitent would be to afford the enemy of souls an opportunity of which he would not be slow to avail himself. Nothing is so likely to plunge a man into every kind of crime as despair." For St. Paul's experience of Satanic schemes, devices, and strategy, comp. 2 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; Ephesians 6:12. We may treat the subject in its wider and more general applications if we illustrate the following and other ways in which Satan may be said to get advantage within a Church: -
I. BY OVERMASTERING INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS. Failure does not come to the Church as a whole, but to individuals in it. All are exposed to temptation and evil. We must be in the world, and Christian men may yield themselves to the power of the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." Some of the gravest of our Church anxieties arise from the moral failure of individual members. Illustrate cases occurring in youth time; but especially cases in men's middle life, when the passions for wealth, sensuality, or drink often gain an overmastering energy. Show also the force that may be gained by the suddenness of the temptation, and by the condition of spiritual unwatchfulness in which the man may be found. The forms of failure which we usually find are dishonesty, immorality, or self-indulgence in meat or drink. But, by the law that those in the Church are members one of another, the failure of one is the shame, and should be the distress and grief, of all. Satan disturbs and injures a whole Church if he can gain influence over one member; and to do this is ever "one of his devices."
II. BY SECURING THE HARSH AND UNLOVING TREATMENT OF THOSE WHO FAIL. Perhaps it would be true to say that Satan never more certainly gets the advantage over Churches than when he makes them exaggerate punishment, overpress discipline, and fail to temper judgment with mercy. The action of a Church must be exactly in harmony with the action, when he was with us on earth, of the Church's Lord. He was quick and keen to discern sin. He was swift and severe to punish sin. But he was watchful for signs of gracious influence effected by the punishment, and ready at once to restore and forgive the penitent. He never "breaks the bruised reed or quenches the smoking flax." Man's punishments are always in danger of running to excess. Man cannot judge motives or read hearts, and so he too often fails to recognize soon enough when discipline has accomplished its work. Explain the evil influence exerted by unwillingness to forgive members of a family or of a Church; and show that a most mischievous conception of God himself, and wrong relations with him, would follow if we were not quite sure that he is "ready to forgive."
III. BY MAKING A CHURCH INDIFFERENT TO THE MORALITY OF ITS MEMBERS. Laxity, carelessness about purity of life, uprightness of relations, and consistency of conduct, often do creep into Churches, and they are among the most grievous of "Satan's devices." Illustrate from the evil work done by Carnal Security, in the town of Mansoul, as described in John Bunyan's 'Holy War.' The evil influence is felt, not only by the erring brethren, who come under no kind of correction, but are left to go on in sin, until "sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death;" but also by the Church, which is defiled before God by the taint on its good name, and which fails to be duly sensitive to the Divine honour. Illustrate by the lesson that was taught in the failure of Israel at the siege of Ai, when the "accursed thing" was in their camp.
IV. BY PERSUADING A CHURCH TO MAKE ITS FORGIVENESS A FORMALITY, NOT A FULL RESTORATION. Too often tills grave mistake is made: the offender is formally restored to membership, but he is not really taken back into the love and trust of the brethren, and he receives no signs of restored confidence and no help back to goodness. He is a blighted man, and it seems to him that his slip or fall can never really be forgotten, never really be wiped out, and therefore he must hang down his head among the brethren to his dying day. The Church's forgiveness and restoration must be like God's, a help to the erring one towards realizing the glorious completeness of God's forgivings, forgettings, and restorings. For he casts our sins behind his back, and into the depths of the sea. "As the punishment of man is representative of the punishment and wrath of God, so the absolution of man is representative of the forgiveness of God." Impress, in conclusion, the extreme painfulness of the possibility that, in regard to her discipline, the Christian Church may be out-manoeuvred by Satan, and come really to do his work. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.