How to Fight the Lion
1 Peter 5:5-11
If you were here last week, you know that Peter used the metaphor of Jesus as our Chief Shepherd and Christians as his flock (5:2a,4). He continues with this metaphor, and adds another character—a lion (the devil) who wants to devour the sheep (5:5b-9).
I don’t know what you believe about Satan. Individuals and churches tend to be either superstitious (attributing too much power to him) or substitious (attributing too little power to him). Satan is equally effective with either error. What he doesn’t like is when we take him seriously and learn to resist him (contra substition)—but do so with confidence in the Chief Shepherd (contra superstition).
This passage teaches us how to fight the lion by doing both of these. Peter begins by explaining how to recognize the lion and fend off his attacks . . .
Recognize the lion & fend him off
Peter describes three ways we should expect Satan to attack us. I’ll spend more time on the first one because it is his most effective weapon.
First and foremost, Satan will tempt us to pride. At first glance, 5:5b-7 may seem unconnected to Satan. But its immediate context to 5:8 implies that this is one of Satan’s tactics. Other passages clearly teach that he tempts Christians to become conceited so he can ruin them (1 Tim. 3:6). And anyone who is experienced in these matters knows that this is the most common form of satanic attack! This is because pride is the default setting of every fallen human heart.
What is pride? Pride is a psychological posture that looks across and down. Pride is essentially horizontal and competitive. C. S. Lewis says: “Pride is . . . competitive by its very nature . . . Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next (person). We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.”
Before I met Christ, it was never enough to do well in school or sports or girls—I had to do better than others. And even after I met Christ, my pride simply “morphed” into other forms. I had to learn more Bible than others, teach better than others, grow bigger churches than others, etc. When I learned that humility was part of Christian spirituality, I made my boasting more subtle—and then looked down on others as less humble than me. When God re-awakened me to his grace a couple of years ago, I became proud that I understand grace better than others. And when my sins and problems are so obvious that I can’t look down on others, I can still be proud that my sins and problems are more difficult and exotic than others!
Why does Satan constantly tempt us to pride? Because pride devastates our witness for Christ in two ways:
Pride destroys Christian community (5:5b implication) so that instead of humbly serving one another, we compare and compete with one another (EXAMPLES). This no different than non-Christian society, so there is no attractive alternative to non-Christians (Jn. 13:34,35).
Pride also makes us anxious (5:7). Trying get or keep people’s praise and respect, having to be better than other people, trying to get other people to treat you a certain way, etc. is a pressure you were never designed to bear.
How do you fend off Satan’s temptation to pride? The antidote to pride is humility, but you can’t get humility by simply resisting your pride. This will be a hopeless failure (if you’re lucky), or you will become proud of your humility! Humility is the result of a psychological posture that looks up at God instead of across and down at other people (5:6). When you look up at God through the gospel, he shows you yourself, not in comparison to others, but for who you are before him (the only One whose opinion matters). This is traumatic, because he shows you someone who is full of sin and deserving of his condemnation. But he also shows Jesus, who loves you in spite of your sin—so much that he died for you. When you humble yourself under God in this way, he lifts you up—not above other people, but up to the joy of being loved by God even though you don’t deserve it.
The first time you “look up” this way is what the Bible calls conversion. Conversion is always painful because it involves the trauma of seeing your guilt before God. But it is always joyful because it results in the ability to experience God’s love and forgiveness. Have you been converted?
The more you keep “looking up” in this way (by focusing on God through the gospel), the more God works humility into your heart. He replaces the anxiety of having to be better than others with the peace of knowing that he delights in you just the way you are because of what Jesus did. And this grace from God begins to produce humility toward others. You feel less need to compare and compete with others, because you are loved by the only One whose opinion matters. You begin to be happy just to be God’s child, in his household, serving him and the ones he loves. You begin to think less about yourself, and more about God’s love and how you can give his love to others.
Second, Satan will try to deceive us. Peter portrays him as a prowling lion—sneaking under cover of brush or darkness to surprise its victims. This is why Peter says it is important to “be sober/on the alert.” We need to be alert especially for two forms of deception:
Satan will try to kill your enthusiasm for Jesus. He hates and fears this, because it attracts others (Christians and non-Christians) to him. Conversely, nothing suits him better than a Christian who “follows” Jesus out of joyless duty. How does he do this? Not by directly attacking your enthusiasm for Jesus—but by gradually displacing your enthusiasm for Jesus with inordinate enthusiasm for other good things (ENTERTAINMENT; HOBBIES; VACATIONS; JOB; MINISTRY; etc.).
This is why it is so important that you keep a watch over your heart—not just monitor your activities. You can be faithful in your “Christian” activities while your heart is in love with something else. How would you know if this is happening to you (DAYDREAM; LOOK FORWARD TO; SPEAK EXCITEDLY ABOUT)? If you sense this, admit it to Jesus and to a brother/sister. Remember what it was like to delight in Jesus, and tell him that you want to be renewed in this, no matter what it takes. Draw near to him in this way, and he will draw near to you.
Satan will try to misdirect your enthusiasm for Jesus. Like a judo expert, he will use your spiritual momentum to move you toward a counterfeit spirituality. He won’t try to get you to reject Jesus—he will try to lure you into a spiritual system that does not worship the real Jesus. He has hundreds of these counterfeits—ranging from religious systems that pay lip-service to Jesus but reject him as the Lord (EXAMPLES?), to “Christian” groups that misinterpret the Bible and create “another Jesus” (HEALER ON DEMAND; SOCIAL ACTIVIST; LIFE-COACH).
This is why it is so important that you learn what the Bible says about the real Jesus and authentic spirituality, and that you listen to the warnings of more mature Christians—especially those who have helped you meet and/or grow in Jesus.
Third, Satan will try to intimidate us. He is like a roaring lion—seeking to paralyze his victims with terror. This is why Peter says it is important to “resist” him.
Often, he does this through social persecution. That’s what was happening to Peter’s audience. Maybe he uses the image of a roaring lion because these Christians might face execution by being thrown to the lions in a Roman stadium. Many Christians in other countries face this kind of overt intimidation today.
Satan doesn’t threaten us with execution—but he does try to intimidate us in more subtle ways. Peter calls him “the slanderer”—he will try to overwhelm you with lies about God and yourself. He loves to roar in my head: “You are washed up as a Christian worker;” “I will take your children—& there’s nothing you can do about it;” “Your sins have ruined your spiritual life beyond repair;” “This suffering is too great for you to bear.” His hope is that I will believe his bluff and dishonor the Lord by deserting the post of service he has given me. How is he roaring at you?
Resisting him involves standing firmly on what God says (“firm in your/the faith”) instead of obeying his intimidating lies. One of his most intimidating lies is: “Your sufferings are unique—no one else can understand.” That’s why Peter says 5:9b. They can understand—so talk to them, and let them encourage you.
Focus on the Chief Shepherd rather than on the lion
If you follow Jesus, you will experience satanic attack throughout your life. And the more God raises you up in his service, the more you will be attacked. This can be unnerving—unless you focus on the Chief Shepherd rather than on Satan! We are to be watchful for Satan, but focus on God and Jesus. That’s why Peter ends this passage with this focus (read 5:10,11). God is sovereign over Satan! Martin Luther (who was sorely attacked throughout his life) said, “Even the devil is God’s devil.” This has two wonderful implications:
God will limit the duration (“after you have suffered for a little while”) and degree (1 Cor. 10:13) of Satan’s attacks so that it will never be more than you can bear.
Why does God permit Satan’s attacks within these boundaries? Because he works through them to advance his purposes in our lives (“God . . . will restore, strengthen, confirm and establish you”). This is why Peter ends by rejoicing in God’s sovereign power (5:11)!
Yes, Satan is trying to damage you—but God will work through his attacks to mend you. Yes, Satan is trying to weaken you—but God will work through his attacks to make you stronger. Yes, Satan is trying to make you fall apart—but God will work through his attacks to make you more stable.
Even your failures in this area are not outside of God’s sovereign hand. Just before Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (and Peter fled and then denied Jesus to save his own skin), Jesus told Peter (read Lk. 22:31,32). Yes, Satan would “sift” Peter and try to destroy his faith—but Jesus’ prayer prevented this. Even more, God would work through Satan’s attack to enable Peter to strengthen his brothers! That’s exactly what happened with Peter, and that’s exactly what will happen with us as we stay focused on the Chief Shepherd!
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1973), pp. 109,110.