(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Making Sense of the Devil
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
The Old Testament said very little about a cosmic rebel against God called “Satan.” A few books (e.g. Job 1:6-12) mentioned “The Adversary” (Hebrew ha satan—a title, not a name). They showed him as an accuser, a prosecutor in God’s celestial council (see Psalm 82:1-4, Psalm 89:6-7, Exodus 15:11). In Zechariah’s vision, God rejected the Adversary’s charges against the high priest, and gave Joshua clean clothes, a sign of divine cleansing and grace.
By Jesus’ day, Israel saw “Satan” (the Hebrew word now used as a name) as the devil, God’s great enemy. The gospel writers told of a defining test between Jesus and Satan. It focused on whether Jesus would use his power for his own benefit, or carry out his mission in humility and service, living out God’s counter-cultural principles. The confrontation was crucial, but it wasn’t close. Jesus won, decisively, using God’s word as his guide.
Luke said Jesus sent out 72 disciples to share the good news of God’s kingdom and heal (Luke 10:1-16). As they returned, Luke described a side of Jesus we might overlook. The disciples reported God’s power to defeat evil, and Luke said Jesus “overflowed with joy from the Holy Spirit.” Unlike medieval artists or some filmmakers, Jesus never saw the devil as fearsome or overpowering. He understood evil’s power and danger, but was confident that God’s power is much greater than Satan’s.
1 John 3:4-10
John’s letter spoke to believers facing the false teaching that some “enlightened” Christians were “above” ways of thinking and behaving the “unenlightened” might need. John said the real division was between those who obeyed God and those who didn’t. He could not have meant the sharp line he drew to say that any slip or sin means you’re not God’s child (cf. 1 John 1:5-10, Romans 7:14-25). He used Greek verb tenses pointing to a person’s overall life direction, not each individual act.
1 Peter 5:6-11
Peter described the devil as a spiritual danger to the unwary. (He may have meant his image of a “roaring lion” to connect the lions some Christians faced in a Roman arena to Satan.) But Peter was also confident that it was possible to “defang” that lion. God, he wrote, will empower us to resist the devil by “standing firm in the faith” (v. 9).
Ephesians said God gives us the “armor” to defeat evil powers, to push back the darkness. The darkness is real, and it is serious—it ultimately involves the entire cosmos, or as we might say, the very nature of reality. The weapons God’s children receive are spiritual, not physical. The passage said truth, justice, peace, faith, salvation, the “sword” of God’s word and praying “all the time” are keys to success in the battle against evil.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
O God, we willingly put on your armor to push back the darkness and to spread your light throughout our world. We accept your offer of freedom and hope as we resist the evil around us. We want our lives to be characterized by righteousness, not sin. When we stumble, we seek your forgiveness and strength. Help us to resist temptation (including the temptation to judge the lives and struggles of others). In the name of Jesus, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Do you believe “the devil” is a symbol or metaphor for the evil in each of us, or you believe in a literal devil who commands an army of demons? Why? Is it important which of those we believe? How do TV and movies seem to like to portray the devil?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Zechariah 3:1-9. This Joshua was the first high priest after Israel returned from exile in Babylon. “The Adversary” (Heb. ha satan, or “the satan—accuser”) said Joshua wasn’t good enough to be high priest. God rebuked, not the high priest, but the accuser. What does this say about being judgmental or having judgmental attitudes? Why do we tend to be judgmental? How did God react to Joshua? If we accept God’s forgiveness, how can we hold to the direction that God gave to Joshua (and to us)? Which is easier, to emulate God or the Satan of this story? Why?
Read Matthew 4:1-11. By this time in Hebrew history, Satan is seen as the devil and as God’s enemy. What was the devil tempting Jesus to do? If Jesus had invoked his Godly powers, what effect would this have had? What was the significance of Jesus avoiding temptation? How does Christ’s decision compare to that of Adam and Eve? In what ways do we experience temptation? How effective are we in avoiding temptation? If, when we fail, we allow shame to envelop us, can that block God’s power in us? Can facing our inner struggles actually strengthen us?
Read Luke 10:17-24. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” Do you believe Jesus referred to a long-ago event, to what happened during the mission of the seventy-two, or both? What does this say about Satan’s real power? Why is this valuable for us to understand? Jesus then told the seventy-two, “I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy.” Was this power given just to them? As faithful followers of Jesus Christ, do we have similar power today? How do we use this power? Jesus said, “Nothing will harm you.” What does this mean, and does this apply to us as well? If God dwells within us, how much power over Satan’s evil ways do we really have? How do we make this power go to work in us and for us? How do we go about allowing God to have authority over us?
Read 1 John 3:4-10. John was not saying Christians do not sin. John is speaking here about whether righteousness or sin dominates a person’s life. No one lives a life of total sin or perfect righteousness. Do you think people tend to “become what they do”? Are you comfortable that righteousness dominates your life? Do you still need forgiveness for those times in which you make the wrong decisions? Who doesn’t? Can you see how, with Christ in you, you are actually transformed for the better as compared to who you might be without God’s strength and power?
Read 1 Peter 5:6-11. What does it mean to “humble yourselves under God’s power”? Why is this important? Peter admonished us to remember our fellow believers. Can this help us with our struggles against evil influences? Are we meant to face our struggles alone? Should we be terrified of the “raging lion”? Peter said for us to “resist him” (the devil). Are we alone when we offer that resistance? Who is there to give us strength? Is this to say that we should in any way tease or tempt the devil? If we found ourselves facing a real lion, would we tease or tempt him?
Read Ephesians 6:10-18. Have someone read, out loud, the comments under “Saturday” on page 1. Most of the believers in Ephesus came to the Lord from a background in magic, astrology, witchcraft, goddess worship, and various mystery cults. Can you see why Paul emphasized the armor of God as these people faced their world? What forces in today’s world have made it hardest for you to make, or hold fast to, your commitment to God? Which parts of the armor of God have been most important to you in pushing back the darkness in your own life, and in the lives of others? Do you feel greater confidence because Paul used the image of God’s armor?
From last week: Did you watch for private, difficult choices that came up for you which might involve good vs. evil? Did you seek God’s strength and advice? Did you make notes for your eyes only that depicted the situation, the choices you made and how you made them? What did you learn from this exercise?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon of January 13, 2013:
Over the years, I’ve heard from perhaps ten people who had actually had physical experiences with demons—they saw, heard and sometimes smelled them. Are these hallucinations or delusions, or did they really happen? My thinking is that it is possible to be a faithful Christian and see the devil as metaphorical way of talking about the temptations and evil and even the lies that deflate and defeat us. But I’m inclined to say, based upon scripture and the experiences of others, that there is a devil and demons who tempt, tests and seek to lure us from the path.
The reality for me is that either way, my experience of temptation and evil and my response to it is the same.
We’ve defined the idea that we’re meant to walk in a path that represents God’s will. The devil, however you define him, seeks to obstruct us from that path and lure us away. How does he do that and how much power does he have?
Back when I was a kid there was a television program on in the early 1970’s, called the Flip Wilson show. Wilson was a comedian who played a number of characters on his show. He used to dress as a woman and, when he did, he called himself Geraldine. Geraldine was always claiming, “The devil made me do it.” But the fact that this was a humorous skit pointed to a fact even nominally religious people understand: the devil DOESN’T make us do anything. That is above his pay grade. He is not given that power. He has the power of suggestion. We have the power of decision.
In our passage of scripture from Ephesians, Paul speaks of standing “against the wiles of the devil.” Ever wonder what a wile is? I had to look it up this week—it’s “a trick—a deceit, a cunning strategy intended to ensnare.”
How does he trick us, or deceive us? He knows our weaknesses, understands the pain in our past, he keeps track of all the old tapes that play from our childhood, and he understands how to make toxic things look appealing.
The reason why it is important to know the path God wants us to take, and the truth of the Christian good news is that it stands directly counter to what the devil wants us to do—what our shadow, our dark side, the devil in each of us wants to do….
The devil’s path is focused on the self, on self-indulgence, on over-indulgence, or self-pity, on self-destruction, or on self-loathing. He lies to us about what will make us happy, and seeks to convince us to do what will make us slaves.
He can’t make us do these things. He can only suggest and whisper, and we decide to listen and to give in. And over a long period of time, if we consistently listen to him, that path destroys us….
So many of you wrote on my Facebook page of the things you struggle with: food, alcohol, sex, pornography, hurts from the past, the old tapes that play from an abusive childhood that lead you to self-loathing and self-destructive behavior. And it is here that I find it helpful to name the devil. To say, “Devil, I’m not listening to this anymore!” To rebuke him in the name of Jesus Christ, “In the name of Jesus Christ, to whom I belong, leave me alone!”
A broad view – what or who is the devil?
The Devil (from Greek: διάβολος or diábolos = slanderer or accuser) is believed in many religions, myths and cultures to be a supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind. The nature of the role varies greatly, ranging from being an effective opposite force to the creator god, locked in an eons long struggle for human souls.
While mainstream Judaism contains no overt concept of a devil, Christianity and Islam have variously regarded the Devil as a rebellious fallen angel or demon that tempts humans to sin, if not commit evil deeds himself. In these religions—particularly during periods of division or external threat—the Devil has assumed more of a dualistic status commonly associated with heretics, infidels, and other unbelievers. But most Christians do not see evil as eternal, but as having a beginning and an end.
In mainstream Christianity, God and the Devil are usually portrayed as fighting over the souls of humans, with the Devil seeking to lure people away from God and into Hell. The Devil commands a force of evil spirits, commonly known as demons. The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) describes the Adversary (ha-satan) as an angel who instigates tests upon humankind. Many other religions have a trickster or tempter figure that is similar to the Devil.
To many Christians the Devil is known as Satan and sometimes as Lucifer (although it has been noted that the reference in Isaiah 14:12 to Lucifer, or the Son of the Morning, is a reference to the Babylonian king). Some modern Christians believe the Devil was an angel who, along with one-third of the angelic host (the demons) rebelled against God and was consequently condemned to the Lake of Fire. He is described as hating all humanity, or more accurately creation, opposing God, spreading lies and wreaking havoc on the souls of mankind. Other Christians consider the devil in the Bible to refer figuratively to human sin and temptation and to any human system in opposition to God symbolizes humans’ own lower nature or sinfulness. As such, the Devil can be seen as an allegory that represents a crisis of faith, individualism, free will, wisdom and enlightenment.
People often put the concept of the Devil to use in social and political conflicts, claiming that their opponents are influenced by the Devil or even willingly supporting the Devil. In addition, the Devil has also been used to explain why others hold beliefs that are considered to be false and ungodly.
Satan is often identified as the serpent who convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit; thus, Satan has often been depicted as a serpent. Though this identification is not present in the Adam and Eve narrative, this view goes back at least as far as the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, which specifically identifies Satan as being the serpent (Rev. 20:2).
In the Bible, the devil is identified with “The dragon” and “the old serpent” in Revelation 12:9, 20:2. Satan has also been identified with “the prince of this world” in the John 12:31, 14:30; “the prince of the power of the air,” and “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” in Ephesians 2:2; and “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. He is also identified as the tempter in the Gospels.
Beelzebub is originally the name of a Philistine god (more specifically a certain type of Baal, from Ba‘al Zebûb, lit. “Lord of Flies”) but is also used in the New Testament as a synonym for Satan.
This week, watch for evil trying to do its work in your life and in the lives of others. Without being judgmental, how did these battles seem to turn out? Look for situations that you might be able to tell the group about next week, without mentioning names.