In these 40 days of Lent, we started out the journey in reminder of how Jesus began His ministry days in going out to the desert, where He fought the devil.
Our desert scene in the church can be a reminder than these 40 days of our own can be some devil fighting times.
Now, maybe too often, I can be fighting myself and fleshly concerns over spiritual ones, so the devil has to wait a turn, but I am sure that this Foe/Enemy still will be taking his shots. We need to be aware, as in the Light of Faith and Light of Christ, of how we need our defense. For surely, the battle for our soul is being waged. Lent is a good time to remind ourselves of that.
I’d like to key on one single phrase from St. Paul on the matter, and it comes from Ephesians 6:11, which says:
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,” (Eph. 6:11)..
Our English word “wiles” is generally used to express deception through trickery and includes all the methods that would be part of that. It has to do with cunning or skill applied to no good purpose. The word ruse is a synonym with stress on the creation of a false impression. Our enemy is master of the fake out, and humanity is gullible.
I remember a parishioner who heard me give a sermon on this—and thought it too elementary or unnecessary. I begged to differ with him. A year later, that proud man was separated from his wife and kids, for a major cheating scandal with his secretary. The wiles of the devil are serious.
Our foe is a liar, but wants you to think it wasn’t a lie he had you fall for. Just cravings, desires, lusts, human passion—and he starts there to try to have us believe some lies about our behavior, as not immoral but normal. It’s all a ruse. He lies to us, wants to trap us, discourage us and snare us. He will do anything he can do with cunning satanic variety to weaken us and destroy us. He goes to work daily to produce discouragement, confusion, indifference and imbalance. He is our chief enemy, but deals in wiles and stratagems. We should be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves—as Jesus says—on our going about the day-to-day living. We are children of the Light, not of the devil’s darkness nor even his shadows. We have been born of God, for God, to be with God and His reign—all by choice. God gives truth; the foe fakes.
So here is a four fold“briefing” (to borrow military intelligence terminology). Four things to watch for:
1. The devil exaggerates the pleasures of sin while minimizing the true nature and outcome of sin. Of an example from Moses, he had the temptation to identify solely with Pharoah and the privileged life, but rather, in God’s Spirit, he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,” (That line is from Heb. 11:24,25—on the Hall of Fame chapter from Hebrews—to play the game right, Moses was not willing to “enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”
The devil, though, approaches us with exaggerated emphasis on the pleasure we can enjoy if we will sin. He is asking us to invest in something with promise of immediate return – but without telling us about the risk, the outcome, the ugly side! The devil is counting on the fact we will see the fun, the pleasure – the joy of satisfied appetite – and jump at that, acting impulsively.
Here’s advice in this briefing: If you stop and think; if you inquire; if you look deeply and consider consequences – you frustrate the wiles of the devil. The devil wants us to act on the immediate pleasure of the tempted behavior. If you show some patience and discernment, then you likely will better see the ruse.
Therefore, Satan is annoyed when we stop to think; when we inquire about some tempted behavior; when we think in terms of long-term consequences – – when we study and pray and consider if something is right or not! Satan exaggerates the immediate gratification, while minimizing the true nature of the sin. The bait looks good, but when you take that bite you have taken in the ugly poison of sin.
‘Ready for your briefing point #2?
- The devil sees an opening into our lives through emotions or mood, to try to get us be carried away with it. Yet God says we can exercise self-control and a guard on our actions, even while in deep feeling experiences. Sure, we might get angry, as a feeling—yet need not be led into sin. (Eph. 4:26—“In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”). People have said to me: I knew I shouldn’t be drinking, but I was depressed. I know I’m married, but this other woman made me feel so good. Sure it’s wrong to lie, but I was under such pressure! It was a sin to treat those others the way I did, but I was so mad!What’s happening? The devil is watching. When we fall into certain moods or we are overcome by various kinds of emotions, the enemy steps in to defeat us; to lead us into sin. The wiles of the devil include this cunning ability to find openings through our moods and emotions. Paul wrote on this to the Ephesians because it was an issue probably for him, as well as others: Anger sometimes was ok, as a normal feeling in his life and others, but he saw how it went out of control, to break people apart, when the Church was meant to have unity. Here’s how he likely meant to say it: “Be angry, but do not sin with it—learn the control the Spirit offers to us..:’do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil…just don’t hold on to it. Feel the emotions, but don’t be ruled by them, for you also are of spirit and of will and mind in God.”
When I’m angry and I take that anger with me into the next day, and carry it along with me for weeks and months and years … I might as well wear a bull’s eye target. The devil will find me and seek and entrance into my heart for his evil purpose and to my downfall. Use the Word of God and prayer – to take a careful inventory of your moods; your emotions; the grudges you carry. Expel the hurt feelings you can’t seem to turn loose of; the habitual, destructive thoughts you entertain. The devil can use those things to slowly erode your character; to lead you into sin to gradually turn you away from God.
- The devil will use people to lead us astray. Not long into His public work our Lord warned men of men. He told people to be careful about people! He knew the devil can use or manipulate people to lead us astray. So Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves,” (Matt. 7:15). When He sent His disciples out He said, “Beware of men,” (Matt. 10:17). Jesus wanted us to know this: the devil can use people to lead us astray. Through words of invitation into sin; through false teaching, or false example or false witness—much hurt and division can result. We see this form of attack on the Church everyday and everywhere now. If you don’t hear the battle sounds, then you are out of touch. It’s a time of much spiritual warfare, and the devil has got inside the camp to do harm.
One of the common wiles of the devil has been to use other people to corrupt us believers. The secular humanistic culture has invaded already to this nation of churches, if you haven’t noticed …. Now I hear people who name themselves Christian using vulgarity, curses, accusatory tones, meanness, and worse. Christianity is turning more secular looking than sacred: a bad trend. In the same vein, I see worldliness that does try to imitate something that is religious and good, but it is laden with a lie. It’s just an imitation of the good, but teaches by practice that acceptable that one could serve both God and the world. Yet Jesus said: “You cannot serve both God and mammon,” Jesus also said: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, for all things to be given to us.” There shows the difference. To whom do we serve with our lives: God’s glory or humankind or self?
The devil will use people to lead us astray, even right within the ranks of the Church. As for the march into the Catholic Church of infiltrators of darkness, we have some false witnesses and teachers abounding in the ranks. Yet it has been a trouble before. Read 1 Tim. 6:1-5. Paul warns Timothy about men who preach and teach as if for ‘the church’ but do not maintain loyalty to “the doctrine which is according to godliness,” and here the devil can step in through that entrance and seduce many—in some fake Christianity or compromised, worldly version of it. Paul describes the risk to Timothy then he tells his disciple: “From such withdraw yourself.” Paul warned the Colossians in a similar way – “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument,” (Col. 2:4). So, be wary of people leading folks astray from the sacred truths and sacraments and holy identity of Mother Church. They are pawns of the evil one.
Finally, 4. The devil is the master marketing agent; he packages sin in neat, attractive bundles (Heb. 3: 12,13). What if someone came to you with a garbage bag; trying to hand to you a garbage bag of foul liquid stench, rotting things, oozing with insects. You likely won’t take it. It’s rubbish.
But what if someone comes to you, neatly dressed with a pleasant smile. And they hand to you a beautiful package, like it was professionally wrapped at an expensive department store. It has matching bow and ribbon; perfectly wrapped and absolutely beautiful. Your reaction would not be the same – as with the garbage bag!! The devil is the master market executive. He knows how to package sin so that it doesn’t look like anything bad.
One of his great deceptions today is having immoral things to be dressed up and called good. There are many things packaged that contain a hidden death wish in it, but he gets people falling for it all the time. God is Life, and the devil is about death, but won’t tell you that, but call it choice or rights or your freedom or some other ruse. Yet, in the end, he fools people into death measures that are quite anti-human. He also tries to distort the beauty of sexuality and life and their unity, and disconnect responsibility to God, so to get dramatic rebellion going versus God. He is a hater. He hates you. He hates me. He would hate us to death, but has to ruse us to do it. Don’t fall for it.
Conclusion: Take a stand against this wily enemy. Don’t be afraid. Take your faith seriously. Do a prodigal son move and head directly back to the Loving Father Who is the Almighty. Or as Paul says in Ephesians 6: We need to take sin seriously and put on some armor, for we are under attack. St. Paul told to his church in Ephesus: 10Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand….18praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints,” (Eph. 6:10-18)
Work with those images and advice for a fitful Lent with God.