“…so that we might not be taken advantage of by Satan, for we are not unaware of his purposes” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
The word for “purposes” comes from the Greek noema and is usually rendered “device”, “scheme”, or “purpose”. According to St. Paul these “schemes” are well-known. Digging into Paul’s epistles we can uncover six, as well as the strategy he offers for dealing with them.
- He veils the truth from unbelievers:
And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
2. He infiltrates the Church with false shepherds:
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, who masquerade as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. So it is not strange that his ministers also masquerade as ministers of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
3. He deceives the faithful with lies as he did Eve:
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere [and pure] commitment to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).
4. He can test our faith:
For this reason, when I too could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had put you to the test and our toil might come to nothing (1 Thessalonians 3:5).
5. He can inflict physical pain and illness:
Therefore, that I [Paul] might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated (2 Corinthians 12:7).
6. He obstructs Christian evangelism:
Brothers, when we were bereft of you for a short time, in person, not in heart, we were all the more eager in our great desire to see you in person. We decided to go to you—I, Paul, not only once but more than once—yet Satan thwarted us (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18).
St. Paul reminds us that this is all done with the permission of God, since Satan has been overcome:
…obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he [Jesus] also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross; despoiling the principalities and the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it (Colossians 2:14-15).
By persevering in the faith, our battle with Satan will be to our benefit. For Paul this is a war, and holding to the truth, keeping the faith, and praying for ourselves and one another will lead to victory:
In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones (Ephesians 6:16-18).