By Dick Brogden
The devil has many names—most descriptive among them are Satan (adversary) and devil (slanderer). He accuses, confuses, blinds, mixes up, misdirects, and makes a mess. Lying is his native tongue and he is good at it. He tells half-truths, white lies, and twisted truths about God, others, and ourselves. His motive is to steal, kill, and destroy, and he loves to wreak havoc in the family of faith. The devil takes a most twisted pleasure in bringing pain to Christian marriages, pastoral staffs, or missionary teams. When the adversarial and slandering devil is at his best, he is doing his worst damage WITHIN the body of Christ.
This is evident on the mission field in contexts where “Satan has his throne.” The devil sneaks or leaps into relational conflict like a wolf bounds into the sheepfold, and in that contained space he begins to snarl, bite, and wound until all hell breaks loose. Much of missionary attrition is linked to the combination of the devil loose among us and our foolish compliance with his adversarial and slandering schemes. The devil starts the maiming and the sheep in their confused hurt finish it. He whispers and the silly sheep shout out his lies.
I have been guilty of compliance in the devil’s work. It perhaps sounds strange to admit, but we all have been spokespersons for the devil. Like Peter our same mouths have declared truth about Jesus and then moments later declared lies. Satan can work through God’s people. Personally, I am emerging from a season in which I realized the wolf got in among us and sowed the seeds of adversity and slander. All involved—including myself—were tricked and joined in his vile game. I’m not writing this to prove a point or to sneakily accuse others; I’m writing to put this in the light and cry: “Lord, have mercy on me, on us, for we are foolish sinners.”
The devil is not really that creative because he doesn’t have to be. In his intelligence, he realizes that we fall for the same tricks over and over, so he stays with what works for him. We are not ignorant of those devices; we just, in weakness, succumb to them.
Here are the two primary signs that the wolf is loose and is deceiving us:
Adversity Between Christians
The word Satan means adversary. John Lindell, lead pastor at James River Church in Springfield, Missouri, points out that this word is used 57 times in the Bible and that Satan works primarily in an adversarial role against God, the Bible, the Church, and the Christian—in short, anyone and anything connected to Christ (see his teaching entitled “When the Devil Knocks: Who’s There” on Apple podcast or YouTube).
When Christians become adversarial towards one another, that is Satan working through us. We need to recognize it quickly, repent from it, rebuke it in Jesus’ name, and allow no place for it in our hearts, minds, or community. When we feel adversarial emotions in our heart (either towards others against us or us against others), it is Satan at work. When we make others the villain and ourselves the victim, it is Satan at work. When we form alliances and frame events to get others to agree with us against the other, it is Satan at work. When we exaggerate, twist, manipulate, alter conversations, selectively interpret, assume the worst, collect grievances, solicit criticisms, or scheme for the removal of the other, it is Satan at work.
Adversarial postures, words, actions, feelings, and thoughts towards one another are satanic ones. When they are evident, the wolf is loose among us—and he is stealing, killing, and destroying.
Slander Between Christians
The word “devil” is used 37 times in Scripture (the Greek word is diablos from which we get the English word diabolical). It literally means the one who slanders and trips up. As Lindell points out, the devil knows our weaknesses, sees our tendencies, and knows how to work situations to his diabolical ends. He is a crafty, sneaky slanderer. He slanders God (“Did God really say?”). He slanders the Holy Spirit. He slanders the Bible. He slanders the body of Christ. He delights in getting us to slander one another.
When one church slanders another, that is the devil at work. When one mission slanders another, it is the devil at work. When one brother slanders another, it is the devil at work. When we slander other Christians and colleagues, the devil assassinates through us for we become his unwitting accomplices. When we misrepresent the other, it is the devil at work. When we condemn by faint praise or obvious negative body posture, it is the devil at work. When we rejoice in sharing a failing of the other, it is the devil at work. When we expose (i.e. not cover in love) the mistake or sin of the other, it is the devil at work. When we listen to slander, it is the devil at work. When we pass on slander, it is the devil at work.
Slandering anecdotes, jokes, accusations, gossip, thoughts, and even dreams towards one another are diabolic and devilish ones. When they are evident, the wolf is loose among us—and he is maiming, wounding, dividing, and conquering.
Known as Christians by Our Love
The Bible reminds us that the world will know that we are Christians (and that Christ is real) by the love we have for one another (John 13:35). No adversarial Christians slandering in spirit toward one another will be used to make disciples and plant the church.
Lord, have mercy on us. We repent to you and one another. Forgive us for letting the wolf leap into our collective hearts and wreak havoc among us. Help us forgive one another. Shepherd of our souls, drive the accuser and deceiver and his adversarial, slandering ways far from us. Help us, Jesus, for we cannot help ourselves. Help us not only to recognize his ways but to also absolutely refuse and overcome them. In Jesus’ name, amen.