In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
(2 Cor 2:11 NIV)
One of the Christian’s defenses against the devil’s stratagems is prior awareness of his purposes and methods. In 2 Corinthians 2:5–11, we discover several of those devilish schemes for outwitting and defrauding believers, culminating in Paul’s statement in verse 11: And we do all this “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor 2:11 NIV).
The background to this episode in Paul’s relationship with his converts in Corinth was this. Evidently, after Paul’s most recent visit to Corinth, a serious insult of some description had been directed against him or one of his representatives (vv. 5, 10) by a member of the church at Corinth who may have headed up the opposition to the apostle there.
Some unidentified disciplinary measures (possibly the temporary suspension of church privileges) had been inflicted on “the individual in question” (v. 6) by “the majority,” but now Paul counsels the church to terminate the discipline and so rescue the repentant man from inordinate grief, and to complete his reformation by forgiving and encouraging him and by a public reaffirmation of their love for him (vv. 6–8).
The implied minority of church members were probably a pro-Pauline clique, “ultra-Paulinists,” who regarded the penalty as insufficient.
In these circumstances, what can we infer about Satan’s designs or stratagems? First, Satan was bent on creating discord and wreaking havoc within the church at Corinth, either between the church at large and a dissident minority or between the repentant wrongdoer and his fellow Christians. Against this, as Paul elsewhere exhorts believers, “[Be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).
Second, the devil fostered an unforgiving spirit, at least among the minority at Corinth, in spite of the culprit’s repentance. Against this, Jesus’ direction was: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).
Third, the evil one wanted the man’s punishment to continue in retribution, so that he was “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (cf. v. 7). Against this, Christian discipline, administered in love, is not simply punitive or retributive; it is also remedial or reformative (1 Cor 5:5; 11:32; 2 Cor 7:9–10; 13:10). It aims at reinstatement after repentance, through forgiveness and reconciliation.
Fourth, Satan always wants to turn good (the man’s repentance) into evil (the man’s downfall through excessive grief over his wrongdoing). Against this, God specializes in converting evil into good (Gen 50:20).
Prior awareness of Satan’s techniques is part of the armor of God that enables believers to stand firm against the tactics of the devil (cf. Eph 6:11).
This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Bible Study Magazine. Slight adjustments, such as title and subheadings, may be the addition of an editor.