Overcoming Our Enemy

1 Peter 5:8-9

Construction of the Lusitania finished in 1907, the same year it took its maiden voyage. At the time (five years before the Titanic), it was the largest ship in the world, yet it was most famous for its speed. It averaged nearly 24 knots in its transatlantic crossing between Liverpool, England and New York City, faster than any other such ship. For reference, cruise ships today travel at 18-20 knots on average.

In 1915, in the midst of WWI, the Lusitania was returning from to Liverpool from New York with 1,959 passengers and crew. German U-boats (submarines) had recently sunk ships off the south Ireland coast, prompting British officers to warn Captain Turner to avoid that area. They further advised adopting the evasive tactic of zigzagging, changing course at irregular intervals to confuse U-boat attempt at plotting a course for torpedoing the ship.

For whatever reason, Turner, ignored this guidance, and on the afternoon of May 7th, a German U-boat, commandeered by Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger, sighted the ship just off the coast of Queensland. Seeing an opportunity, he fired one torpedo, penetrating the hull just below the waterline, then triggering a second, heavier explosion among the ships steam engines and pipes.

The Lusitania sunk below the water within 20 minutes. 1,198 people drowned, including 128 U.S. citizens. What’s remarkable is not only ship’s prestige or the number of deaths, but that the attack was no surprise and could have been avoided. In addition to the advance warnings given by the British military, Germany had also ran advertisements in The New York Times warning of the ship’s impending doom. These ads had run for several weeks, all the way until the morning of the ship’s fateful, final departure from NYC.

With the verses before us, Peter provides a similar kind of warning and advice as the British officers provided to Captain Turner. The question is whether or not you will listen.

The central message here is that following Christ through suffering requires serious awareness. Why? Because as Peter describes, following Christ is more like hiking through the African savanna than strolling through a zoo. At the zoo, the lions are confined at a safe distance from the public, separated by walls, windows, pits and fences. On the savanna, however, the lions roam free, hunting for their prey, prowling wherever they like.

When you encounter a lion in the wild, how should you respond? According to prevailing advice, you should stand your ground. Don’t run but retreat slowly. If the lion charges at you, you should remain standing while yelling as loudly as possible and raising your hands. If the lion attacks, keep standing and kick or punch him in the eyes or forehead.

Peter offers similar advice to us as we follow Christ, only from a spiritual – not physical – standpoint of course. Are you practicing serious awareness of Satan’s tactics as you follow Christ day by day, or are you easy prey for him to target?

We must remain spiritually alert.

Be sober, be vigilant… (1 Pet 5:8)

To practice serious awareness in following Christ, we need to be sober and vigilant. Together, these words describe the mindset we should carry into everyday life.

  • To be sober from a negative standpoint means to be undistracted and free of mental clutter. From a positive standpoint, it means to think clearly and to be in full control of your thought processes. To be drunk is the opposite of being sober.
  • To be vigilant means to be observant of your surroundings. This carries Peter’s advice beyond merely seeing and thinking clearly to actually making rationale and sound decisions based upon what you are seeing. A sleepwalking person is not vigilant.

So, to be spiritually alert requires both a clear mind and situational awareness. It means that you are both able or in a position to make informed, responsible choices and actually making such choices.

What might be distracting you from remaining spiritually alert today, clouding your focus and causing you not to pay attention to what’s happening around you?

Why is such mental clarity and situational awareness necessary? Because, when a predator is on the prowl near a farm- or pastureland, both the shepherds and sheep must exercise careful attention to their surroundings. If the shepherds (which Peter has been addressing and discussing in this chapter) are not sober and vigilant, the sheep will be more vulnerable to being attacked. If the sheep themselves are not spiritually alert, then they also increase the risk of being picked off.

Paul describes the need to be spiritually alert another way when he says (Eph 5:15-16):
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

He uses the word circumspectly, which means “to look or see” (spect as in spectator or spectacle) and to see all around you (circum as in circumference or circle). The idea here is to envision the way that you walk through a cow pasture trying to avoid stepping in brown piles vs. running through an open field, or the way that you would walk through an uncleared minefield in a warzone rather than how you would play tag in a playground.

  • For the Christian, this world is an arena, not an armchair. (John Blanchard)
  • Jesus invited us not to a picnic but to a pilgrimage; not to a frolic but to a fight. (Billy Graham)
  • The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground. (Warren Wiersbe)

People like me who’ve lived in more densely populated and crime-affected areas like New York City find it fascinating that people in the Fargo-Moorhead area don’t lock their car doors or house doors, because in New York City, that’s what everyone did all the time. Peter here is describing a kind of caution and vigilance that recognizes we’re living in a hostile environment not a friendly one.

We are being hunted by our enemy.

Here we see that we must remain spiritually alert to the serious danger of our enemy.

Because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Pet 5:8)

Are you familiar with the classic short story, The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell (1924)? In this story, also published as "The Hounds of Zaroff," a big-game hunter from New York City falls from a yacht into the ocean and swims to what seems to be an abandoned, isolated island. Rather than find shelter on the island, he ends up being hunted by a Russian aristocrat who is also a big game hunter who has successfully hunted every other big game animal but wants to hunt down another big game hunter as his ultimate prize. The story unfolds in riveting fashion as the marooned American, through many twists and turns, evades the Russian hunter for his life.

I bring up this story because it illustrates well the true nature of our everyday life of following Christ. If you feel that your daily life is more like a walk through the zoo, with some minor, occasional challenges, than a life-and-death battle of wits for survival on the African savannah, then you need to take Peter’s teaching to heart.

Here Peter describes our primary, ultimate adversary in three ways:

  • A description – our adversary
  • A name – the devil
  • An illustration – a lion

Adversary describes this person as our enemy, opponent, and accuser. This is a unique word used only here in the NT and means the same thing as Satan, which the NT uses multiple times. Satan is working hard to disable you and to prevent you from following Christ. In particular, he is like a high-profile, prosecuting attorney who is laser-focused on proving your guilt, finding ways to get you to sin and contradict your faith in Christ.

Devil (or diablos) means the same thing and emphasizes that this one ardently opposes us. He is not a neutral party but a determined and serious foe who is fixated on our destruction.
Lion here refers to a carnivorous animal like a lion, panther, puma, or some other wild cat that prowls expertly through the grasslands, jungles, or mountains. As it prowls, all of its senses are tuned to tracking down some prey that is unaware of its presence and tactics. Its feet stepping softly, its muscles carefully controlling every action, its eyes, ears, nose, and tongue focused intently on the sights, sounds, and fragrances all around it.

Peter calls him a “roaring” lion, which may seem confusing because after all, lions don’t roar when they’re hunting, right? Don’t they hunt in a quiet, stealthy manner?

Lions roar for a different reason. They roar (esp. at sunrise and sunset) to establish the boundaries of their territory. A lion’s roar is one of the most frightening sounds in nature. A full-throated roar may be heard up to 5 mi. (or 8 km) away. The purpose of this roar is to say, “Stay away, this is my territory. If you come any closer, I will attack.”

We live in the devil’s world. He is the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4). The presence of people following Christ unnerves him. The gospel threatens him, and the church makes advances into his territory.

Lions roar for another reason, too. When a lion hunts its prey and comes close to the kill, it will let out a spinetingling roar to stun its prey, giving the lion an additional moment or two to makes its move. He also roars to strike fear in the hearts of those who follow Christ.

Why does Satan roar? Striking fear in our hearts is not his ultimate goal. His ultimate goal is both to destroy our faith and testimony for Christ and – if possible – to destroy our lives completely. Devour means to “gulp down,” describing how a bloodthirsty beast gulps down the carcass of an animal it has slaughtered.

Peter recognized, of course, the deadly, bloody spectacle which occurred at Rome in the Coliseum and in other smaller stadiums throughout the Roman Empire in which followers of Christ were released into the arena to be hunted and devoured by ravenous lions before watching crowds. Perhaps this is the backdrop that he had in mind. Whether the believers he was writing to would face this or not, the fear of this possibility would be enough of a “roar” to cause any follower of Christ to pause and reconsider whether they would follow Christ faithfully or not.

What are some ways that Scripture specifically says Satan attacks God’s people? To answer this question, please keep in mind that unlike God, Satan is not omnipresent (present everywhere at the same time). However, it may seem as though he is everywhere at once because he commands a vast company of other fallen angels called ‘demons,’ who carry out his plans. That said, let me point out several ways that the Bible specifically describes as how Satan attacks us.

First, know that God may allow the devil to attack a believer directly by damaging or destroying our material possessions, circumstances, and even family relationships. This happened to Job nearly six millennia ago (Job 1:12):

The LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

This also happened to Paul (2 Cor 12:7):

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.

This “thorn in the flesh” was either a physical condition or an actual person whom Satan directly used to cause serious problems in Paul’s ministry.

Some members in the church at Smyrna were going to be thrown into prison for their faith thanks to the devil himself (Rev 2:10):

The devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.

Second, know that Satan seeks to devour us through our most personal human relationship – marriage. Scripture tells us that when one spouse does not treat another spouse well, the offending spouse gives Satan a strategic advantage (1 Cor 7:3-5):

The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

When one spouse deliberately withholds the physical relationship from the other, Satan may more easily tempt the other spouse to sin as a result of being neglected. This does not excuse the neglected spouse, but it does mean that the spouse who is withholding must recognize a measure of responsibility as well.

Third, Satan may specifically attack the pastoral leaders of a church. For this reason, churches must choose men with godly, proven character to lead and serve them as shepherds. Why? Paul explains (1 Tim 3:7):

He must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Finally, it is important to know that Satan attacks believers through the temptations of sin, just as he attempted to attack Christ Jesus himself in the wilderness, when he tempted him directly through three specific categories of sin: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. He tempted Adam and Eve the same way, and does for us today, as well. That’s why John tells us this (1 John 2:15-16):

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.

  • The lust of the flesh refers to any temptation which urges us to feed those natural human appetites in ways that contradict and distort God’s good and intended purposes.
  • The lust of the eyes refers to any temptation which urges us to want things which God has not permitted or provided for us to have.
  • The pride of life refers to any temptation which urges us to achieve or become something we are not and to exercise power and control which does not belong to us.

Through these means, “Satan walks around like a roaring like seeking whom he may devour.” And make no mistake, he desires to destroy you and your testimony for Christ.

At the same time, through how Satan desires to destroy you, God intends to test you so that through the attacks of Satan you may actually become an even more compelling and effective testimony and witness for Christ (1 Pet 4:12):

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;

And as Joseph told his eleven brothers who had sold him into slavery (Gen 50:20):

You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

Knowing that Satan is on the prowl, looking for ways to gain a strategic advantage over us, to put fear into our hearts, to cause us to fall away from following Christ, and to damage or destroy our testimony for Christ, Peter tells us what to do. We must not only remain spiritually alert, we must remain committed to Christ and not run away.

We must persist in following Christ.

Here we see that we must remain spiritually alert to the truth of the gospel and the foundational teachings of Scripture.

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

Dead fish go with the stream, living ones against it. (William Tiptaft)

Resist means to “stand firmly in your place and push back strongly.” This is what offensive linemen are supposed to do to protect their quarterback from the defensive linemen of the opposing team. The opposite of this is to run and hide, but we are not supposed to do that. We are supposed to stand firm and push back. How do we do this?

We resist by being “steadfast in the faith.” Steadfast means firm and solid and “the faith” refers to the unchanging truth of the gospel and the clear, foundational, timeless doctrines, teachings of the Bible. We must remind ourselves of what Scripture teaches and keep that firmly in mind, meditating regularly upon biblical teaching, studying the Bible, and placing ourselves under the regular influence of the biblical teaching, counseling, and mentorship of our church. As the apostle, Jude, wrote (Jude 1:3):

Earnestly contend for the faith.

Don’t let your feelings overwhelm you. Don’t forget what you’ve been taught. If you’re lacking some teaching or understanding, let your shepherds feed you through biblical counseling and teaching.

What happens when we stand firm in the clear teaching of God’s revealed Word (Jam 4:7):

Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

James tells us that Satan will run away.

And yes, you should realize that you are not experiencing an extra-special challenge that no one else has faced. You are encountering the same kind of difficulties and suffering that your brothers and sisters are experiencing throughout the world. Peter reminds us “that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Pet 5:9).

Why is this important to say here? Because every lion knows that the best way to capture your prey is to get them alone and isolated from their parents and their herd. When Satan can persuade you that you are all alone, getting you to withdraw from your close relationships and esp. your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – #thebrotherhood – then he takes one strategic step closer towards devouring you, drawing you away from following Christ and destroying your testimony for Christ.

We’ll take a look at 1 Pet 5:10-11 next week. For now, let’s remember the demise of the ship, Lusitania, which I shared at the introduction of this message. This was a ship led by a captain who ignored all the warnings and refused to take the advice he’d been given. As a result, his shipped was ambushed by an enemy submarine and destroyed.

Let me share another example of a stunning failure which could also have been avoided thanks to a fair warning, but one which is more personal and spiritual in nature, which illustrates what Peter has taught us in 1 Pet 5:8-11. In fact, this is a story from Peter’s own experience of following Christ (Lk 22:31-34).

The Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”

In the hours leading up to Christ’s trials and crucifixion, just as the Lusitania sailed confidently into the Atlantic, Peter boldly claimed that he was prepared to follow Christ as far as prison or death, if need be. He said this in spite of Christ’s clear and sober warning that Satan was lurking in the shadows, preparing to challenge and destroy Peter’s faith. Indeed, he was going to influence Peter to distance himself from Christ.

To this Peter replied, “I am ready to go!” But he was not ready to go. As Christ predicted, Peter would go on to deny his identity with Christ not just once but three times, after which he fled in embarrassment and shame.

Thankfully, just as Peter prayed for the believers to whom he wrote in 1 Peter, Christ had prayed for Peter, that his faith would “not fail.” The word fail envisions a solar eclipse, in which the moon moves between the Earth and sun, entirely blocking the sun’s rays from reaching Earth.

Like Peter, are you being hunted by Satan today? Are you being distracted by other pressures, people, and priorities or allowing your mind to be controlled by other influences? Is Satan luring you away from your close relationships and church family so that he can isolate you in your circumstances and feelings, making you more susceptible to his attack? Is he attacking you in one or more of the specific ways that I described from Scripture?

If so, let me encourage you to stand firm in what you know to be true. Continue to obey and follow Christ by faith and do not withdraw into an isolated, self-absorbed, “feel sorry for yourself” mindset. Doing so will only make you easy prey for the enemy. To follow Christ through suffering requires serious awareness. Awareness of the enemy and awareness of the clear teaching of God’s Word – a commitment to stay put in that teaching and in company with your fellow believers in the church. This is how we suffer well for Christ.

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