Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
—Matthew 28:18, NIV
[Jesus] was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
—Acts 1:9, NIV
The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
—Hebrews 8:1-2, NIV
One weekend I visited the Christian bookstore at Fair Oaks Mall near where I live, and while I was thumbing through one of the new books on display, I came across a chapter entitled, Your Devil Is Too Small. It was obviously intended as a clever play on the title of Your God is Too Small by J. B. Phillips some decades ago. I scanned the text briefly and discovered that the chapter essentially teaches that certain spiritual ills come from an under-appraisal of Satan. So I was left to ponder the spiritual question, “Am I giving Satan enough glory and honor?” It took me only a nanosecond to realize the absurdity, so I put the book down and directed my acquisitive lust to more edifying books.
There is evil in this world, that goes without saying, but what is the proper response to it? If we were dealing with two equally powerful adversaries and the sides were clearly marked, we would have to avoid giving our enemy any advantage, lest we contribute unwittingly to his victory. We would also have to take care to avoid capture, lest we find ourselves in a prisoner-of-war camp so far behind the lines that we could not be rescued.
Fortunately, this is not the case.
In Jesus Christ we see God’s strategy in action. It is not a strategy of conquest, but of conversion.
Jesus views sinful people as prisoners of war who must be released. Jesus claims to have already defeated evil in Matthew 28:18. In Acts 1:9, He ascended triumphantly to heaven, where He sits upon His throne in glory (Hebrews 8:1). The war is over, and the good guys won. However, it happens many times that many years after an enemy is vanquished in a war, there are still soldiers missing in action or trapped in prisoner-of-war camps that outlived the war itself. For these prisoners the war rages on. We must go to them, inform them that the victory has long been won, and release them from their captivity. That is why it is safe for us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every living creature. There is no such place as ‘enemy territory’ because the enemy has no legitimate claim. He lost. All things are the Lord’s. (However, not all things are in the greatest of shape, that’s why He took us as slaves, to clean it up!)
Thus it is that we can afford to return evil with good, because God is victorious, and evil is defeated. When our enemies slap us across the cheek, they expect us to hit them back; that is their point, they are goading us to descend to their level and play by their rules. When our enemies appropriate our cloaks or compel us to carry their burdens, they expect us to become angry at them and confirm thereby that they have mastery over us. When our enemies hate us, they want us to become so consumed with hate for them that our higher morality is paralyzed. We become slaves to our passions, our suspicions, and our lust for revenge. Just by getting us to play their games, they get us to assent to their rules, their values, their morals—and they pull us down by no other power than the power of our own lusts and passions! They set a trap for us, and we fall, but only because we sinned in our own hearts and participated in the very evil we set out to oppose.
Therefore, confident of Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness, we can always walk in light. We do not need to hate our enemies. We do not need to get revenge. We can live as children of the light even during a local eclipse.
Jesus said that a tree is known by the fruit it bears. One way to control the growth of a plant and the number of flowers and fruit it bears is to prune it carefully. It is not a complex science, it requires some training, but it is basically a matter of cutting off what you don’t want in order to encourage the growth you desire. I’ve learned this just by pruning my azaleas.
I exhort you to prune your soul. You do not want to be a hateful person, so cut off hate whenever it sprouts. An especially good time to do that is when someone tries to ensnare you in hatred by hating you. You do not want to be callous and uncaring, so cut off those shoots before they set their buds. The best time to do that is in a situation where indifference is the social norm. You do not want to be carried away by the passion of the moment, so lop that off as well. A really opportune time to do that is when someone slaps you across the cheek. Instead of slapping back, turn your cheek and invite more. They will cover their confusion with taunts, but if you persist, they will be brought to their knees in befuddlement and defeat.
Jesus’ advice in this passage from Matthew’s gospel is not idealistic, it is quite practical. He prescribes a method of personal discipline for spiritual growth, a practical way to handle adversity without being consumed by it. His technique is based on the premise that good is stronger than evil, so if you don’t believe that, you will find it difficult to live by His words.
You are to live to the Lord, and not to the world. Therefore, do not react the way the world would act. You don’t need to worry about how things will balance out, if you trust Him. Therefore, when you are beset with attacks from your enemy, model your response not on the provocation, but on the Lord’s commandments.
Is my devil too small? Yes, he is too small to have any power at all over me.