Pastoral ministry is unrelenting spiritual warfare. There was a time in Protestant history when an emphasis on spiritual warfare in the Christian life and in pastoral ministry was standard fare. Such works as Richard Gilpin’s Daemonolgia Sacra, Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor, and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress reveal that the Puritans were no strangers to deep study on, long meditation upon, and conversation about Satan, demons, and spiritual warfare. The depth of insight they articulated in their writings shows how prevalent this subject was in the thinking of so many of our Reformed forefathers. Many of the Puritans were objects of great opposition—religious and political—and were, therefore, more tuned into the experiential nature of spiritual warfare.
Sadly, with few exceptions, the Reformed church in our day has largely dismissed this massively important element of the Christian life. An abuse of the subject of spiritual warfare in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles has fueled an overreaction to speaking about spiritual warfare in the Reformed church. Cessationists are particularly vulnerable to this danger. As such, we need to be careful to distinguish between the cessation of the revelatory gifts of the apostolic age and the ongoing spiritual warfare in which we are constantly engaged. We must not allow ourselves to fall into a functional supernatural cessationism—namely, a functional belief that nothing supernatural occurs in the Christian life.
Without reservation, we must accept the idea that the church of our Lord Jesus is the object of the most virulent and unrelenting attacks of the evil one (Revelation 12:13). The Apostle Peter explained that church members are to always “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1st Peter 5:8). The worst thing that the church can do is let her guard down. Both ministers and congregants alike must recognize that this is the case. In the context of the church being called to forgive a repentant and returning bother and to receive him again into the fellowship, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Lest Satan should take advantage of us…for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2nd Corinthians 2:11). The Church is called, not only to acknowledge the reality of satanic attacks, but to be skillful in understand the devices of the evil one.
Of all people, pastors should give themselves to a careful study of and meditation upon this subject. Faithful gospel ministers are, by virtue of their office and calling, the most susceptible to the attacks of the evil one in the congregation. We see this in Jesus’ statement to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked for you…” The “you” is plural indicating that it was all of the disciples for whom Satan had asked to sift like wheat. The Apostle Paul was extremely sensitive to the attacks of the evil one. He told the church in Thessalonica, “We wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us” (1st Thessalonians 2:18). And, he told Timothy, “The Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2nd Timothy 4:17). Paul was keyed in to the spiritual warfare in which he was constantly engaged.
Though there are hundreds of ways by which Satan seeks to carry out his malice against ministers of the gospel, consider the following strategies:
- Satan Tempts Ministers to Pride. In the list of qualifications for elders in the church, the Apostle Paul says that the man desiring the office cannot be “a novice (i.e. a new convert), lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1st Timothy 3:6). This is a perennial danger for ministers. Satan loves to prey on gifted ministers. A novice—a new convert—is more susceptible because he has not had a time of trial and maturation. He has not faced the challenges of pastoral ministry long enough to learn the grace of humility.
Of course, seasoned saints are susceptible to this attack as well. Age and experience is not necessarily commensurate with wisdom and humility. The more influence a man gains—and the more people listen to him week in and week out—the more likely he will be to becoming the object of this attack. Pride is always ready to well up within the heart of man. The Lord had given the Apostle Paul so much in the way of gifts and graces that he was conscious of the fact that he actually needed a thorn in his side—a messenger of Satan—to buffet him lest he be exalted above measure (2nd Corinthians 12:7). Ministers must guards their hearts and minds against this common attack of the evil one.
- Satan Tempts Ministers to Discouragement.Our enemy has a thousand different ways of doing this. Of course, one of the foremost is to use setbacks, schisms and discontentment in the congregation to tempt ministers to discouragement. Often, ministers succumb to this particular attack without being conscious of the fact that supernatural forces are at work against him in the church.
When the Apostle Paul said to the church in Thessalonica that “Satan hindered” him from coming to them, he was explaining that setbacks in ministry are often spiritual attacks of the evil one. Satan is always tempting ministers to think that they are ineffective because of the setbacks that they face. The Lord never promised that a man who was called, gifted and equipped for ministry would have a lifelong “successful” (by human standards) ministry. Too many ministers forget that while they are seeking to exalt the crucified Lord in their preaching and teaching, the one whom our Lord conquered on the cross is constantly putting obstacles in the life of the congregation or minister to tempt him to discouragement. A discouraged minister is a spiritually paralyzed minister. The Apostle Paul often felt these discouragements (2nd Corinthians 2:13; 2nd Timothy 4:16) but pressed through them, knowing that the Lord stood with him (2nd Timothy 4:17).
Satan only needs to work through one individual or family in the church to bring schism and discontentment in order to tempt the minister to discouragement. Satan filled the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3) to lie to the Holy Spirit about how much of the proceeds of their land they were giving to the Lord and the Church. The Lord struck them dead lest this great act of hypocrisy permeate the entire body and cause much harm to the purity and sincerity of the Church in the world. It only took one of Jesus’ disciples to betray Him (Matthew 26:14-15). Satan had filled the mind and heart of Judas to sell out the Savior (John 13:27) for a measly thirty pieces of silver. When an individual or family in a church is being used by Satan to stir up discontentment among members, this is a spiritual attack of the evil one against the ministry of the gospel. It is his goal to discourage the ministry. Ministers must watch and pray against such satanic attacks as would seek to set back the work of ministry through divisive and discontented people in the church. Like good shepherds, they must also be willing to get the rod and staff out to protect the church and the ministry as a whole.
- Satan Tempts Ministers to Fear.The persecuting malice of Satan is one of the foremost ways that he attacks ministers of the gospel. We see the fear that Simon Peter felt when he was outside of the High Priest’s house (Luke 22:54-62). We see how much we hate persecution in our flesh from the fact that the even opinion of a little slave girl (22:56) proved to be a potent attack against Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. This is also seen in the Apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy, who seems to struggle with the fear of man (2nd Timothy 1:7-8). The Apostle constantly charged his son in the faith to be vigilant in fighting against the spiritual hosts of wickedness who were tempting him to succumb to this fear. One of the things he does to help him fight against Satan is to remind him of the divine calling by which Timothy had been set apart for the ministry of the gospel (1st Timothy 1:18; 2nd Timothy 2:1-7).
- Satan Tempts Ministers to Stray from the Gospel. When Peter responded to Jesus’ prediction about His forthcoming death, he said, “Far be it from you Lord; this will never happen to You.” This desire to avoid the offense of the cross was met by Jesus’, “Get behind me Satan.” Satan was tempting Peter to move away from the cross—to embrace an easier path and a less offensive message than the message of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sin. Satan tempts ministers to preach an easier, more positive, and more “practical” message. Ministers must brace themselves with the same commitment as that of the Apostle Paul who said, “God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” and “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus–the Lord.” Faithful ministers must make war against the evil one by staying the course with the message of the cross.
What congregations and ministers need more than almost anything else today is a robust understanding of spiritual warfare. We need to be attune to our own weaknesses and sinful proclivities; we need to be skillful in recognizing our enemies’ devices; and, we need to be watchful and prayerful against them. We have the promise of the Lord Jesus that He is building His church and that “the gates” (i.e. the place of strategy and planning) of Hell will not prevail against it. May God gives us grace to meditate on these things and to guard our hearts, minds and congregations against the attacks of the evil one!
Nick Batzig is an Assistant Pastor at Wayside Presbyterian Church. He is associate editor for Ligonier Ministries, and has served as the founding pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond Hill, Georgia from 2009-2018, and as the editor of Reformation21 and the Christward Collective, sites of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Nick is a graduate of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and studied at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He regularly writes for Tabletalk Magazine, He Reads Truth, and Modern Reformation. He and his wife, Anna, have three sons, Micah, Elijah, and Judah.