|Christian Life and Doctrine||December 1958|
The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” —Matthew 10:16
CONDITIONS in the world are somewhat different today than they were when Jesus sent his disciples out into the ministry and said that they would find themselves in the “midst of wolves.” Nevertheless, our enemies as Christians are like wolves, willing to devour us. These enemies are definitely desirous of destroying our spiritual lives. They are enemies of God, enemies of Christ, enemies of the truth, enemies of the kingdom, enemies of the proclamation of the message of the kingdom. These, our enemies, are the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
Why is it that the world is our enemy? The world is our enemy because it has a wrong set of values, and because its spirit is one that will not help us make our calling and election sure. It is a spirit that will hinder us in our endeavors to overcome the things that are of little worth. This point is very plainly and very strongly set forth in the words of I John 2:15-17, which read:
“Love not the world, neither the things in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”
A proper appraisal of true values has emphasized in our minds the truth of the scripture that says, “The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Cor. 4:18) Every one of us recognizes as Christians that this is a true presentation of values. We might also say that the things of the world are temporal, while the things of God are eternal.
The spirit of the world as we come in contact with it today has emphasized in our minds that pertaining to the things of God it is the spirit of indifference. If that spirit should enter into the church it would find its expression in the spirit of lethargy, in the spirit of complacency, the spirit of taking things for granted, the spirit of Laodicea’s lukewarmness, being neither cold nor hot—unconcerned, indifferent to God and the kingdom, indifferent to battling against our enemies, the world, the flesh and the Devil.
The cares of this life are the cares of the world. In Matthew 13:22 our Lord made this statement: “He that receiveth seed among the thorns is he that heareth the Word; and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the Word, and he becometh unfruitful.” In this parable the Master tells us of two very definite enemies which we meet in the world. The care of this life is a frontal attack from the enemy. Every one of us has the cares of this life. We cannot avoid having the cares of this life. The question is, what do we do with them? Then there is the deceitfulness of riches. We can have the deceitfulness of riches whether we possess the riches or not.
Our Lord told us to watch out for these two “generals” in the army of this world, because if we do not, they will outsmart us, and win the battle. They will have us so completely surrounded by thorns that our spiritual life will be choked out, Therefore they must be fought wherever they are found.
The cares of this life are found in the homes, they are found in our social activities, they are found in our neighborhood contacts, they are found in our business life, and they have to be fought wherever they are found. It is easy to become involved in so many things, and so easy also to justify our involvement in them. We owe it to our husband, we say, or we owe it to our wife, or we owe it to our children as long as they are in school, we owe it to our business and to our business associates. And, of course, we do! We owe something to every one of these.
But the main question, the question that we have to answer as we fight the world, is, are we depriving God of something that he has a legitimate right to expect? Because we owe something to God too. Are we rendering unto Caesar more than is his meet? Are we rendering unto God less than is his meet? That’s the question.
In I Corinthians 2:12, the Bible makes this statement: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” If success in the affairs of this life, or if success in the deceitfulness of riches to any extent seduces us from our consecration and devotion to God, then, as Christians, we are failures.
There have been many “successful” failures among the brethren. But also there are many whom the world may and does classify as failures who will be able to tell a real “success” story as they sit with Christ upon his throne, partaking of glory, honor, and immortality, eternal life.
If we want to know how rich we really are, we should not ask ourselves the question, how much will we leave when we die? The important question that we have to ask is, how much will we take with us when we die? That will be very important then. Let us be rich toward God.
Let us be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse world, among whom we shine as lights in the world. If we have fought the battle against the world to the extent that we have become lights in the world, holding forth the Word of life, then we have attained some success; we have gained some victory over the world.
The flesh is an enemy—with its ambitions, its passions, its human desires, its dreams. The flesh is subject to temptation from without and so prone to weaknesses from within. Our battle is not merely to control the urges of fleshly gratification. It is more than that. It is a battle of human nature against spiritual nature. It is the proper, wholesome aims and ambitions—to which the world has a legitimate right—versus the aims and the desires and the hopes and the prospects of the child of God. It is the battle of self-will against the doing of God’s will.
Again it is the proper appraisal of values, because again the things of the flesh are temporal. The things of God are eternal. Here is a very common text of Scripture to us as Bible students. Every one of us loves it—Romans 12:1,2. It says: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
How can we avoid being conformed to the world? How can we stimulate the work of being transformed into the image of God’s dear Son? This is a work that must go on in our life. The 3rd verse helps us to understand that. It reads, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly.” This is a wonderful text. And another one is the 16th verse of the same chapter, because here, in concluding his argument, the apostle says: “Be not wise in your own conceits.” And in Galatians 6:7,8 Paul also says: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
Some people just naturally love possessions. Consequently they have to especially fight the world and the spirit of the world and the inordinate desire to gain possessions. And then again there are some people who love themselves. They have to fight themselves. We all have to fight ourselves to a degree. We have to fight pride. We have to fight natural selfishness.
People in the world do not have that fight. They want to be masters of their own destiny. That is based upon pride. As children of the Lord, in humility, we depend upon the providences of God in our life because we know that he giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And again, in Philippians 3:3, we read these words: “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” And in the 2nd chapter and the 3rd verse, he says: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” To do this is to control the natural pride and the natural selfishness of the flesh. To do this it is essential to be good children of the Lord. It is essential if we would win our battle against that enemy which we call our flesh.
Besides the world and besides the flesh, there is always the Devil. He is a very sly foe. He convinces some people that he doesn’t exist at all, that is very disarming. Then again he tells others that even though he exists, he is bound and helpless, and has been for many years. That is also disarming!
The Devil is busy all the time. The Word of God says: “Your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist steadfast in the faith.” (I Pet. 5:8,9) This text of Scripture tells us one of the ways in which we must resist the Devil; one of the ways in which we can fight him, because he is a lion seeking whom he may devour. We are to resist him, “steadfast in the faith”—a very simple weapon, a very effective weapon, a very necessary weapon. Hence the importance of remaining “steadfast in the faith.”
Our faith is being assailed toe day—every truth that has separated us as a people of God; every truth that has given us an understanding of the lengths and the breadths, and the heights and the depths of God’s love; every truth that has been used to reveal to us the justice, wisdom, love, and power of God as it is expressed in the divine plan of the ages—every truth is being assailed at the present time. We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices. Let us “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil,” Paul says. (Eph. 6:11) Let us remain steadfast in the faith! Let us stand for the purity of the Gospel of the kingdom!
In Luke the 8th chapter and the 12th verse, our Master says: “Then cometh the Devil, and taketh away the Word out of their hearts.” He has done that to individuals. Most of us could name individuals to whom that has been done. He has done it to whole organizations. And he can do it to us if we do not remain steadfast in the faith. “Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.”—Heb. 2:1
And so we must fight the world, the spirit of the world, the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of the world, the lethargy of the world, the complacency of the world. Yes, we must fight all of these things. We must also fight the flesh with its pride, with its selfishness, with its desire to be somebody, with its desire to honor self instead of honoring the Lord. Then, also, we must fight the Devil with his attempts to confuse the issues of the truth, and to stand by the Word of God; because if we do not, the Devil will take the Word of God out of our hearts.
This is a battle, but we are not in the battle alone. If we were in this battle alone we would be defeated almost before the fight started. Let us, therefore, consider our comrades in this fight, the ones upon whom we can depend—the Lord, the truth, and the brethren. “With us is the Lord our God, to help.” (II Chron. 32:8) That is one reason the fight is worth while.
“The Lord is my strength.” “I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” (Heb. 13:6) “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9) Is there not great consolation in these words? We realize that it is in his strength that we will win the conflict. Because the conflict rages, decisions have to be made, and sometimes it seems that we fight alone; but brethren, we have never fought alone! No one fights the good fight of faith alone. Even though we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death,” we will “fear no evil: for Thou art with me.”
“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Yes, in this battle the Lord is always there—“whithersoever thou goest.” And it is because of our knowledge of this that the battle is really worth while. It gives us courage to know that we are fighting under the banner of the Captain of our salvation, and to do his bidding and to keep his commandments is the desire of our hearts.
There is dew on one flower and not on another simply because one flower opens its cup to receive the dew and the refreshment that comes with the dew, while another closes its cup and permits the dew to fall away. So also with us. If we open our hearts to the promises of God, the promises of help and strength for every time of need, the promises of the providences of God, then we will go forth strong in the realization of the goodness of our God toward us, of his understanding, of the assurances of his mercy and of his grace; and also in the strength that these promises have always given to all the people of God. It is because of these promises that we do not shrink from the battle.
And we also have the truth. What a sanctifying power the truth has been to us in our life. It has helped us not to be conformed to this world because it has given us an understanding of true values, and it has helped us in our transformation into the likeness of God’s dear Son. It has told us what the will of God is, what is good and well-pleasing and perfect in his sight.
Every one of us has thrilled with the words of the song, “Truth, how sacred is the treasure! Teach us, Lord, its worth to know. Vain the hope, and short the pleasure, which from other sources flow.” Yes, if we hold on to the truth, the truth will hold on to us.
If the Devil cannot take the truth from us by injecting erroneous doctrines into our minds, he will try to do so by making us complacent. He will try to do so by making us forget that we are Bible students. One of the pressures today is conformity to a pattern. This is not searching for truth. This contains within itself the seeds of indifference. The Lord has given us fundamental doctrines. These fundamental doctrines are the truths of the harvest. They are the truth. They will never change. Let us study that we might grow in grace and in a knowledge of the truth, because, as we grow in an understanding of the truth we will undoubtedly keep within the framework of this harvest message.
Let us never be afraid of the light of God’s Word. And on the other hand, let us never submit to teachers who do not put a proper evaluation upon the fundamental doctrines of the Word of God, because we realize that it is only as we appreciate these fundamental doctrines of the truth that we are able to realize the privileges that we have in connection with them.
And then we also have the brethren. We have each other to help us in this fight. The apostle chose his words well when he wrote, “to them that have obtained like precious faith.” (II Pet. 1:1) Just think of the beauty of those words, and think of the beauty of that truth as it has affected us! What a blessing it is to have fellowship with those of like precious faith. It has been a source of encouragement to us that we have others who can share our fellowship and participate in our mutual love for the Lord and for the truth and for the brethren. The brethren have been a source of stimulation many times when zeal and faith have lagged.
Oh, we know that the brethren are also a source of trial and testing. We will do everything within our power to get one acquainted with the truth and after he has made the truth his own and become one of us, then, thoughtlessly we will do much to discourage him. This is a part of the testing. It is part of the battle. Let us who are in Christ bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder encouraging our brethren as they fight the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
In Malachi 3:16,17 we read, “Then they that feared [reverence] the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”
We know for whom this text of Scripture was written. It was written for us. We speak often one with another because we need the help, and the encouragement of one another. We forsake not the assembling of ourselves together because we need the fellowship of one another. Even when there are only two or three, nevertheless they can rejoice because they know that he says, “They shall be mine … when I make up my jewels” [margin, my ‘special treasure’], and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”
Our battle will be won or lost, not by the big things we do, but by the little things—little sacrifices; overcoming pride and self-will; small expressions of sympathy; little acts of unselfishness; considering others better than ourselves; little victories over little temptations; taking advantage of small opportunities to witness to someone sitting beside us on the bus, to someone over the back fence, to a casual acquaintance—small sacrifices, in unity with others, by which the greater witness to the kingdom can be given. Brethren, if we take care of the little things in this battle, the big things will be taken care of by the Lord.
Selfishness is attractive only to one’s self. But these little expressions of love and sympathy and understanding, these little sacrifices, the willingness to suffer with him, to die with him, attract the Lord into our lives.
We have deeper and sweeter fellowship with him. They attract the truth into our hearts with a deeper appreciation of its beauty. Teach us, Lord, its worth to know! It also attracts the brethren into a deeper and closer fellowship with us. So, then, together with the Lord, the truth, and the brethren, we continue to fight and by God’s grace we shall gain the victory over the world, the flesh, and the Devil!