When it comes to the life and unity of the body of Christ, Satan is anything but a passive, innocent bystander. Although he may be invisible to the eye and undetected by physical means, you may rest assured that he is present, employing every imaginable device (and some unimaginable) to undermine the integrity of God’s people and to sow seeds of discord and confusion. Paul was himself extremely careful and deliberate in how he sought to resolve the problem in Corinth, lest they all “be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 5:11).
Make no mistake: Satan has a plan. Although sinful, he is not stupid. He does not act haphazardly or without a goal in view. He had “designs” for the church at Corinth and he most surely does for your congregation today as well. In Ephesians 6:11 Paul referred to the “schemes” (lit., methodia, from which we derive our word “method”) of the Devil. He has cunning and wily stratagems not only for the individual believer but also for the corporate body of Christ. It is essential, therefore, that we be aware of them and fully prepared to respond.
Here in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 we are made aware of his determination to incite disunity and division. This appears to be an instance in which Satan seeks to exploit the otherwise good intentions of the church. Certain people in Corinth, ostensibly to maintain the purity of the church, were reluctant to forgive and restore the wayward, but now repentant, brother. This harshness would give Satan an opportunity to crush the spirit of the repentant sinner and drive him to despair, most likely resulting in his being forever cut off from the church.
What are some of Satan’s other “designs” and “schemes” and activities in both the church and the world? Here are a few.
1. He works in active opposition to the gospel, blinding the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the truth about Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). There are at least two factors in spiritual blindness: fleshly, sinful, self-resistance to the truth, on the one hand, and satanic/demonic hardening or blinding on the other. Before we ever arrive on the scene with the gospel, Satan is exerting a stupefying influence on the mind of the unbeliever. In other words, we face more than merely intellectual obstacles. We face supernatural opposition. How does Satan do it? There is any number of possibilities. For example:
He distracts them when an opportunity to hear the gospel is at hand: interruptions, day-dreaming, the phone rings, an emergency of some sort, the sudden remembrance of a job or other responsibility that needs immediate attention, the intrusion of a friend (cf. Acts 13:7b-8), etc.
He stirs up hostility and suspicion in the person's mind concerning the competency and integrity of the person presenting the gospel. The unbeliever suddenly imputes sinister motives to the Christian: "He's in it for the money," or "She only wants to gain control over me," or "He's just looking for another notch on his Bible so he can boast to others of one more convert," etc. Sometimes the unbeliever will excuse his/her unbelief by questioning the intellectual and academic credentials of the believer ("he/she is so uneducated; what does he/she know anyway").
Satan also stirs up the non-Christian to distort what is being said into something the speaker never intended (cf. John 2:19-21; 6:48-52; 7:33-36; 8:51-53). He prompts them to draw false conclusions or implications from the gospel that make it seem absurd. He inclines their minds to link the believer with people who've disgraced Christianity in the past, giving him an excuse to reject what is being said (i.e., guilt by association). "All you Christians are just like those hucksters on TV! You're in it for the gold and the glory!"
He puts in their minds all sorts of questions and convinces them that if they can't get completely satisfying answers, Christianity can't be true. Right in the middle of witnessing to someone, he/she suddenly blurts out questions like: "What about evil?" "What about all the hypocrites in the church?" "What about the heathen in Africa?" "Why is there only one way? It seems egotistical." "Why are there so many denominations?"
Just as the gospel is beginning to make sense, Satan stirs up pride or produces feelings of independence and self-sufficiency: "I don't need a religious crutch. I'm my own man!" Before serious consideration is given, Satan snatches the seed of the gospel (Mt. 13:4,18-19) from their mind: on the way home from church the car breaks down, or the conversation turns to politics or sports, or a sexy billboard diverts attention, or something on the radio captivates his mind.
Satan might suddenly prompt him/her to place a higher value on things he/she might lose if one were to become a Christian: friends, fame, money, fleshly pleasures, approval of others. Satan stirs up feelings of hopelessness: "Not even this will work. There's no hope. My life is a lost cause. Not even Jesus can help."
Satan will do all he can to oppose and disrupt missionary endeavors (1 Thess. 2:18), by disrupting travel plans, influencing the minds of state officials to delay or deny the issuing of visas, inflicting illness, provoking military conflict, etc.
2. He is often (but not always) the source of sickness (cf. Acts 10:38; Mt. 8:16; Mark 9:17-18; Luke 13:10-17).
3. He can inflict death as well as provoke the paralyzing fear of it (Heb. 2:14; see Job 1:13-19; John 10:10).
4. He plants sinful plans and purposes in the minds of men (Acts 5:3; John 13:2; Mt. 16:21-23). It is instructive to observe that in the case of Acts 5 "it is not through some act of terrible depravity, but through an act of religious devotion, that Satan brings about the downfall of Ananias and Sapphira. . . . It is sobering to think that the very good that God's people attempt to do can be their undoing" (Sydney Page, 132).
5. On occasion, Satan will himself indwell a person (John 13:27). By speaking of Satan as "entering" Judas, John uses language reminiscent of demonization (cf. Lk. 8:30-33). It is important to note, however, that Judas's motive was also greed and nowhere is he exonerated from his action simply because he was indwelt by the devil.
6. He sets a snare or trap for people, perhaps with a view to exploiting and intensifying their sinful inclinations. According to 1 Timothy 3:6-7, Satan is able to exploit any blemish on the reputation of a Christian leader. In 2 Timothy 2:25-26, Paul appears to speak of believers who have been led astray through false teaching. Satan thus strives to hold people captive to do his will by deceiving them to believe what is false and misleading. If nothing else, this text emphasizes how crucial sound doctrine is.
7. He infiltrates the church and plants within it his own people (Mt. 13:37-39).
8. He tests or tries Christians, the malicious “sifting” “like wheat” of Peter’s faith being an excellent example (Luke 22:31). Clearly, Satan is unable to act outside the parameters established by the will of God but must first ask permission. He wanted to destroy Peter by inciting him to deny Jesus. But God's intent in permitting Satan to do it was altogether different. God's purposes with Peter were to instruct him, humble him, perhaps discipline him, and certainly to use him as an example to others of both human arrogance and the possibility of forgiveness and restoration. This points to the fact that often we cannot easily say "Satan did it" or "God did it". In cases such as this, both are true (with the understanding that God's will is sovereign, supreme, and overriding), but their respective goals are clearly opposite. Sydney Page's comments concerning this incident are important:
"Luke 22:31-32 reveals that Satan can subject the loyalty of the followers of Jesus to severe tests that are designed to produce failure. So intense are the pressures to which Satan is able to subject believers that the faith of even the most courageous may be found wanting. Satan is, however, limited in what he can do by what God permits and by the intercession of Jesus on behalf of his own [cf. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1]. Furthermore, those who temporarily falter can be restored and, like Peter, can even resume positions of leadership. It is implied that Satan cannot gain ultimate victory over those for whom Jesus intercedes" (124).
9. He incites persecution, imprisonment, and the political oppression of believers (1 Pt. 5:8-9; Rev. 2:10).
10. He is the accuser of the Christian (Rev. 12:10).
11. He performs signs and wonders to deceive the nations (Exodus; 2 Thess. 2:9-11).
12. He seeks to silence the witness of the church (Rev. 12:10-12).
13. He promotes false doctrine (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Rev. 2:24; 2 Cor. 11:1ff.).
14. He can manipulate the weather (but not by virtue of his own inherent power; it is only to the degree that God permits, as is clear from Job 1:18-19; cf. Mk. 4:37-39).
15. He influences the thoughts and actions of unbelievers (Eph. 2:1-2). It is a stunning thought, similar to that in 1 John 5:18, that Satan is at work in and energizes the disobedience of all unbelievers. This does not mean that all non-Christians are demonized, but it does imply that their unbelief and unrighteous behavior are stimulated and sustained by the enemy. Yet, they remain morally culpable for their actions.
16. He attacks married believers in regard to their sexual relationship (1 Cor. 7:5). Paul approves of the decision by married couples to refrain from sexual relations to devote themselves to prayer, but only for a season. To abstain entirely for a prolonged period of time exposes oneself to unnecessary temptation (i.e., lust and the satisfaction of one's sexual desires outside the bonds of marriage). Again, we see here an example of how the enemy takes an otherwise godly intention and exploits it for his own nefarious purposes.
17. He exploits our sinful decisions, most likely by intensifying the course of action we have already chosen (Eph. 4:26-27). Note that Satan is not credited with or blamed for creating the anger in the first place. We are responsible for it. Satan's response is to use this and other such sins to gain access to our lives and to expand and intensify our chosen course of behavior.
18. He confronts us with various temptations (1 Chron. 21:1; Mt. 6:13; 1 Thess. 3:5).
Yes, Satan has “designs” and “schemes” all of which, in one way or another, are intended to undermine our enjoyment of all that God is for us in Jesus. May God grant us both the wisdom to discern his stratagems and the strength and resolve to resist him at all times.