By Ryan Shaw
2 Corinthians 2:11 exhorts us not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices. As disciples we know Jesus has ultimate power and authority yet at present Satan possesses a strong measure of power.
Though we do not want to overly focus on Satan, Paul understood the importance of being aware of his schemes, identifying them in order to empower believers to live in victory.
In the letter to the church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17, we find help in identifying a few of Satan’s schemes.
Jesus gives two words of correction focused on the same issue. “But I have a few things against you, because you have there, those who hold the doctrine of Balaam…” “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolatians, which thing I hate.”
The church of Pergamum was tolerating false teaching. This teaching was breeding moral compromise and if not confronted and put away the whole church would eventually become infected.
The teaching of Baalam refers to compromise with paganism through idolatry and immorality. It was through this doctrine that Israel in the Book of Numbers was seduced into idolatry and sexual immorality.
Balaam is called by King Balak to curse Israel in Numbers 22. He cannot do so because of the restraint of the Lord. But his heart was not in it. He wanted to help King Balak. Through his advice, Balaam helps defeat Israel in a much slower (yet equally destructive) way.
Balaam proposes a plan to get the Moabite women to hold feasts inviting the Israelite men to join them. An intermingling in marriage took place. The Israelites began worshiping the Moabite gods and in the process took on the immorality that was part of the pagan worship.
Balak and Baalam knew God would have to judge Israel for openly disobeying His commands. This was their ploy all along. Through their deception, the Israelites would be defeated at the hands of God Himself.
When Satan comes against God’s people he has many schemes. If he does not succeed in one (the attempt to get Balaam to outright curse Israel) he will use another (Balaam’s counsel which inevitably caused an intermingling in marriage and adopting of pagan ways).
Satan succeeded as Israel lowered their standards, opening themselves to eating meat offered to idols and even at times worshiping those idols while simultaneously engaging in sexual immorality at the pagan festivals.
The Nicolatians taught believers can be followers of Jesus but don’t need to hold to the standards of Scripture. We can have a private spiritual life but not expect others to walk in the same ways. The teaching guarded believers from following Jesus according to Jesus’ own teaching on discipleship.
These two teachings have great application today. They are rampant in the church in many parts of the world. They teach believers do not need to keep the standards God lays out for His people in the Bible.
Satan’s tactics can be easily discerned through this Scripture. He influences believers to live their lives of faith in a quiet way, not concerned with the Biblical standard. He minimizes the clear teaching of Scripture, deceiving believers that compromise is acceptable because, after all, Jesus will forgive them.
If he can get believers to succumb to this influence, Satan nullifies their ability to produce fruit for the Kingdom of God. He is most afraid of believers living for Christ according to Jesus’ terms of discipleship.