“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” 1 Peter 5: 8–9
Imagine that you lived during the first century and somebody informed you of a lion prowling outside. But you need food. So there would be several options available to you.
On the chance you were buddies with a local centurion, it might be a good time to call in any outstanding favors — perhaps they could spare a platoon of legionaries for an hour or two. Alternatively, you could opt for denial, throw open the door, and hope a family emergency suddenly called the lion away. Barring these, the last sensible option available to you would be to acknowledge the danger, gird up your loins, and proceed with caution.
Though the threat of lions in the streets probably rings a little hollow to those of us living in the modern western world, Peter reminds Christians today we face an equally dangerous enemy. To respond rightly to this threat, we might take to heart the strategy of the Chinese general Sun Tzu: ‘’If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Know Thy Enemy
Where it concerns the devil, many Christians tend to run to either opposite extremes. On the one side are those who grant him functional omnipresence to the point where his sinister dealings lie behind every full parking lot and medical diagnosis. On the other side however, are those we find whistling in the midst of war zones; these poor souls vastly underestimate the reality and power of the devil who, we are told, is cunning, well-staffed, and fueled by draconic rage against the church (Rom. 12:17).
Towards the latter, Peter reminds his readers of the remarkable similarities between Satan and a threat they were all too well acquainted with. Firstly, he prowls, or ‘roves.’ He is always on the look-out for a chink in our armor, of which, let’s face it, there are many. If he stayed in one place, we could brace the defences, but he is always on the move, a reminder that to let down our guard for a moment is spiritual suicide.
Secondly, Peter makes the intentions of our enemy clear — he means to devour us. Just as we must assume that as long as there is a lion pacing outside, we are in danger, so as long as there is a devil in this world, he must be hungry. If you are a Christian, Satan is not disinterested, he is not distracted, he is not preoccupied with other things; he wants to destroy you.
While we want to avoid spending too much time in the labyrinths of introspection, we must still occasionally take time to ‘examine ourselves’ (2 Cor. 13:6.) As we read through Peter’s letter, it soon becomes apparent its readers were in danger of being devoured by a specific, finely honed temptation: Discouragement in the wake of persecution.
Persecution, and suffering in general, often produces a disorienting effect on the individual. The world shrinks to the circumference of our problems at hand, and soon questions begin to rise: “Why is this happening to me? Doesn’t God love me? What will happen to my family?”
How do we respond?
Peter tells his readers to acknowledge the trying situation with both alertness and sober-mindedness. This is more than just avoiding inebriation. It is analyzing the situation in light of the way things really are; it is attempting to set aside reactionary fear and respond with the truth of God’s word.
Peter reminds the church that they are not alone, but that “the same kind of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” The experience of suffering is the common lot of those who call on the name of Christ – far from being discouraged however, they, and we who also suffer, should be encouraged that we are permitted to share in the sufferings of our Savior (Philippians 1:29). In this way, we escape being swallowed by despair – and avoid a grisly end in the lion’s mouth.
The reality is that when, instead of anxiously considering the very real dangers outside, we set our minds to know Christ, a strange thing happens: we find we no longer fear lions or persecutions — even death itself now seems like a scrawny tabby. To know Him is to know both the ultimate powerlessness of the devil, and the overcompensating grace of God in light of our weaknesses.
Practically this means praying for daily supplies of grace to equip us to live intentional, disciplined Christians life. It means crying out for the mind of Christ to so saturate us that no place for fear remains; it means accurately assessing our weaknesses; it means growing in awareness of the enemy’s strategies without living in terror of them; and finally, it means resting in Christ, through whom we have the victory.
In short, it is living in such a way that you don’t end up a lion chew-toy.