Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context
The book of 1 Peter is very much a letter of comfort and of encouragement, as Peter expresses his empathy at the trials that Christians of his time face. He encourages them to be steadfast in their faith and to take comfort in the grace of God, while reminding them to conduct themselves appropriately as Christians. In chapter 5, Peter warns about the threat of the devil and encourages them how to best counter him – an enemy who opposes the Lord. Likening the devil to a roaring lion, Peter uses a very strong image to remind the people about the power that the devil has. In today’s study, sticking closely to the image of the lion, we will examine the nature of the devil and how crucial it is that we stay alert spiritually against him.
Be self-controlled and alert – Self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit [Gal 5:22-23]. Paul tells us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled [1 Thes 5:6]. While I doubt he was referring to physical sleep, there are examples of people who fell asleep when they shouldn’t in the Bible, in a blatant act of lack of self-control. Peter himself, was one of those at the Mountain of Olives, sleeping when he should be praying. Jesus reminded Peter, Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation [Luke 22:46]. In an earlier verse in the book Peter uses the imagery of girding up the loins of your mind [1 Peter 1:13|Article] – which means to prepare to run, prepare to fight, prepare for action. Let us always be alert. Let us always be ready to run or to fight, spiritually. Let us make sure our armor of God is always put on.
Your enemy the devil prowls around – Some of us dislike having enemies – we’re natural peacemakers, and try to be friends with everybody. The idea of having somebody hating us is scary. But if we do not think of the devil as our enemy, we will most likely fall easily into his numerous traps, lies, deceits and temptations. If we fail to understand that an enemy, who is stronger than us who are mere humans, is always prowling around us, waiting at every opportunity to pounce at us, hating us and what we stand for – if we fail to understand that, then we will easily let down our guard and forget to be alert. All the devil needs, is a momentary lapse in our judgement. All the devil requires, is a small distraction. And that is more than enough to lead us away from the path of God.
The story of Peter at the Mountain of Olives was mentioned earlier. He fell asleep, just as the rest of the disciples did. Can we really blame him? They probably spent the previous night drinking away during the Last Supper. But this is a typical example of losing your alertness. They fell asleep when they ought to be praying, they fell asleep when they should be guarding Jesus, they fell asleep when they should have been alert to the enemies around them. When Peter woke up, what was the one notable thing that he did? He chopped off the ear of Malchus [John 18:10].
like a roaring lion – this is a very strong imagery, isn’t it? Lion – you don’t just call anybody a lion. Lion is a symbol of kingship, of power, of might, of sovereignty, of masculinity. You think of lion king, you think of Simba, you think of Aslan. Furthermore, I think of John Piper’s renowned description of the devil during his series on Job and Suffering – Satan may be a lion, but he’s a lion on a leash [Job: Reverent in Suffering]. Satan may be prowling around, roaring about – but much like the lion in the colosseum, he only has a specific radius allowed. God grants Satan limited power to cause pain, indeed – but God reigns him in according to his own sovereign purposes.
looking for someone to devour – A lion is obviously a predator, and majority of the other animals in the jungle are his preys. That is the nature of the environment. Who are his preys, then? Us. The lion is not hanging around looking for an opportunity to become bosom buddies with us. He’s not looking to help us, advice us, save us. He isn’t even looking to just trick us, laugh at us, and be done with it – no, he wants to devour us. Not lick, not taste, not bite, but devour. Eat us whole. Let us be sober and vigilant, alert and self-controlled, so that we can resist the temptations with steadfastness and faithfulness.
Peter wasn’t trying to scare his fellow believers. He was just warning them about a very real threat – a threat that is not visible to the eyes, a threat that we often forget about, a threat that we sometimes overlook. When we are aware of the threat, our guard is up, and we will be able to resist – Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings [1 Peter 5:9]. That’s the most important thing. The devil may be a lion, but he’s a lion on a leash. And worry not, because the one who’s holding the leash, isn’t someone who will ever lose it.