“We are not unaware of Satan’s schemes” says Paul (2 Cor 2:11). That’s what the NIV calls them – schemes. Other translations say “devices” or “designs”, you could call them his “methods” or “plots”. In the latin Vulgate it’s the word “cogitationes”. The devil is always thinking – always cogitating – scheming to outwit us.
So what are his schemes? The context in 2 Corinthians 2 points to one of them – unforgiveness. Paul wants the congregation to forgive and comfort an unnamed sinner lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (v7). In this way they will resist the devil’s schemes. Satan is ever the enemy of grace and the number one champion of conditionality. He will seek to destroy my vertical relationship with Christ and my horizontal relationship with others through feelings of unforgiveness – first Christ’s for me, then mine for you.
It’s a devastating plot and it works a treat. But I want to focus on a slightly different strategy (though it’s very much linked). What we see in Scripture from the very beginning is a plot to make us serve ourselves.
In the garden, Adam and Eve had everything except the forbidden fruit. And all it took from Satan were a few words that denied the consequences, impugned God’s character and praised the fruit. Then...
…the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Gen 3:6-7)
They caved in to their appetites, served themselves and fell. This is plan A for the devil and he rarely has need for any other.
Think of Job. In chapter 1 Satan can only imagine that Job fears God because of the blessings (v9ff).
9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."
The way Satan thinks, people only love God because He pays them to do it – through blessings, wealth, health, family etc. In Satan’s cogitations people only ever serve themselves. And apart from Christ and those ransomed by Him, he’s right – people do only serve themselves.
In Ephesians 2 Paul speaks of our terrifying enslavement to the devil. Every human being naturally follows the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2). And verse 3 describes the essence of this bondage – we “gratify the cravings of our flesh and follow its desires and thoughts.” Precisely when I say I am "free to do what I want any old time" right there I demonstrate my slavery. Satan has us by the throat wherever we feed our own selfish desires.
With this in mind consider that famous verse from 1 Peter 5:8
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
If we don't consider the context in 1 Peter and if we don't consider Satan's fundamental 'scheme' we'll minsunderstand this. We might imagine that people are 'devoured' when they fall prey to financial or sexual scandal or some public apostasy. Those are certainly options for the devil - handy snacks along the way. But that's not his staple diet . His staple diet is self-serving comfort-seekers. The main way Satan devours people is by giving them an easy life.
In 1 Peter the whole message is that Christians are aliens and strangers, scattered in this passing age as we wait for Christ's glorious appearing, so don't be surprised by suffering, hang on because you know your brothers and sisters around the world are suffering with you. In that context, how will the devil swallow you up? He'll give you an easy life. Once you've taken that bait, he's swallowed you.
Anyway, just a thought. Let me get back to the wilderness...
Think again about Matthew 4. The wilderness temptations seem very puzzling on the surface. After all there is a distinct lack of voodoo dolls, heavy metal music and ancient Indian burial grounds. And – what a glaring oversight! – lust didn’t make it into Satan’s top 3!
We gravitate towards the Martin Scorcese school of temptation. If he was in charge of 'The last temptation of Christ' then a final fling with Mary would have been the lure. Surely that would have been a sterner test of Christ’s mettle? Why on earth does Satan mess around with magical bakery and angelic bungee jumping?? Is this the best he can do?
Yes. Satan knows exactly what he's doing.
Every man's battle is selfishness before it's lust. And it's selfishness long after it's lust.
When we watch the wilderness battle, we are watching the two masters of temptation. Satan is the master tempter, Christ the Master resister. We're all Padwan learners gaping in awe at their struggle. We have much to learn. But the learning begins with the realisation that these really are the most devilish temptations of them all - the temptations to serve, feed, protect and save self. In all his scheming, this is Satan's plan A.