I remember back in my younger years wrestling against numerous teenagers at once. Because I outweighed them significantly, and because I was nearly twice as strong as any one of them, I met their challenge with relative ease. The key was to rid myself of one at a time, while giving the others a feeling of panic. On one occasion, there was a wrestler among the group. He was able to wait until just the right time to sneak in and put me in a foothold. When that happened, the tables were turned. I was isolated to one spot, and all of the teens were able to descend upon me at once. Their combined strength was too much for me to take, and they wore me right down.
Satan’s assault on believers is described as a wrestling match. Paul writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). While Paul states, “we do not wrestle with flesh and blood,” frequently that is not the case. Too often we are wasting our energy conflicting with people instead of bearing with them, loving them, and bearing their burdens (thus “fulfilling the law of Christ”). While we burn our energy inefficiently, we should note that, as a spirit being, Satan and his host do not seem to have a shortage of energy.
Satan does not work on our twenty-four hour clock. Paul hints at this with the use of the present tense. Our wrestling with spiritual wickedness is continual. This is truly a wearing task.
It is an understatement to call Satan intelligent. His intelligence far exceeds ours. We think we have Satan’s tactics figured out. It makes sense to us that Satan would attack us when we are most vulnerable. But the question is, when are we the most vulnerable? From a human standpoint, we are most vulnerable when we are tired, overworked, have great challenges, etc., but the more we learn about our spiritual lives, the more we are aware of the challenge we have when we feel strong, rested, and under control.
God knows when we are most vulnerable. It is when we are most likely to be self-reliant. Consider what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses — though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:2–10)
Who is behind this attack on Paul? The text clearly indicates that satanic forces are in play (“a messenger of Satan to harass me”). What was Satan’s motivation? Was he trying to prevent Paul “from becoming conceited?” Doesn’t Satan revel in the idea of a believer becoming conceited? There is where we have, in my opinion, an inside look at spiritual warfare. We don’t fully know Satan’s plan here, but we can surmise he is looking to thwart God’s work in Paul’s life. By oppressing Paul, Satan seeks to put him on his heels, maybe like Elijah was after God’s demonstration of power over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18-19).
At the same time that Satan is seeking to bring Paul into despair, God is at work in him. Rather than run, like Elijah, Paul sought the Lord in prayer. Paul did not like what he was experiencing. He sought rescue. God’s plan for his rescue was quite different from what Paul would have chosen. Rather than causing the “devil to flee,” God allowed the demonic oppression to continue because it is in the face of our desperation that we no longer rely upon our own resources. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” When we come to the end of our own resources, we are finally able to experience the power of God.
Satan tries to bring us to weakness so we will be frustrated and quit. God allows us to experience weakness so we will experience His grace. Our soul, in these moments, will learn to echo the words of Paul, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
As we continue to consider what Satan is trying to accomplish as he wrestles against us, we should be encouraged as we recognize what God is accomplishing in the process. Never forget: Satan is powerful, but God is almighty!