Beware Satan’s Old Trick—Sowing Discord
Philip Shee—Dubai, UAE
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And
if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mk
3:24–25). While Jesus made this remark in defense against the
accusations of the scribes, it reflects an underlying truth: “Though one
may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold
cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl 4:12). The importance of unity amongst
God’s people is easy to comprehend. However, as much as we appreciate
this and strive to unite in faith and service to the Lord, building on
the foundation of love, Satan often seeks to weaken this foundation of
love, sowing discord to destroy the unity among us.
Guard the Unity and Love in Our Families
A Christian family united in love can accomplish much for the Lord and
bring much encouragement to others. Such family units are the building
blocks of a strong, united and glorious church. Consequently, as we
build up our families in the Lord and serve Him as family units, we must
exercise extra vigilance and guard against Satan’s attempts to taint the
love among family members and sow discord within the family.
The story of Adam and Eve is frequently quoted during Christian wedding
services to depict the pure and deep love between spouses. “This is the
bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 3:23). Adam’s spontaneous
remark when Eve was first brought before him is probably one of the most
touching descriptions a man could make to express his feeling for his
wife. His love for Eve was way beyond just skin deep. If his entire
physical being constituted the collection of his bones wrapped beneath
his flesh, then he certainly did not see Eve as just an ordinary part of
himself. But as bone of all his bones, and flesh of all his flesh, he
loved her as the most precious and an indispensable part of himself. As
bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, there was no way he could have
loved himself without first loving her even more. Such love was
selfless, as he deemed his spouse more precious than himself. This union
was instituted by God with the intention for man to be fruitful and
multiply and fill the earth with godly people (Gen 1:28; Mal 2:15). By
this, God was to be glorified, and His very nature of love would have
been manifested in man.
Unfortunately, this bond of love did not last very long as Satan
promptly started his work to taint the love between Adam and Eve. When
they fell to sin through their disobedience to God’s instruction,
selfless love gave way to selfishness. When questioned by God, Adam did
not shoulder the responsibility but was quick to deflect the blame to
Eve. Eve’s status as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” was
promptly relegated to an impersonal and debased status of “the woman
whom You gave to be with me” (Gen 3:12).
When Christian couples first exchange marriage vows in church, the bond
between them is undoubtedly similar to that between Adam and Eve when
she was first brought before him. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to
see even Christian couples’ relationships wane over time. This is often
due to differences that surface with time or intolerance over character
flaws that were previously camouflaged or conveniently overlooked. While
they may physically remain together out of basic fear for God, Satan
successfully blemished the love between them. Undoubtedly, Christian
couples ending in this state are negatively affected in both their faith
and their service to God. This provides an important reminder to
Christian couples to make special effort to nurture their relationships,
to endeavor to have God remain as the foundation of their relationship
and not to give Satan any opportunity to plant any seed of discord
By the wonderful arrangement of God, the siblings, Aaron, Miriam, and
Moses were blessed with the opportunity of serving God together, playing
the critical role of leading His people in the journey through the
wilderness. While they had worked well together for some time and
undoubtedly loved and cared for one another, strangely, there came a
time when Aaron and Miriam partnered to turn against Moses. They spoke
against Moses and were quick to find faults with him. They criticized
His marriage with the Ethiopian woman. They questioned his authority,
and reasoned that God had also spoken through them and not just through
Moses (Num 12:1–2).
It is not obvious what wrong Moses had done to trigger such adverse
change and senseless hostility from his siblings given that “he was very
humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3).
However, this discord between the siblings threatened the work of God,
as it could have compromised the great partnership among them. It would
weaken their ability to stand before the people as positive examples of
a godly family. It could also have created confusion and triggered a
division among the people. God’s reaction reinforced Moses’ innocence,
which thankfully, triggered Aaron and Miriam’s repentance.
The incident further reminds us that we are vulnerable to dissension.
Although Aaron and Miriam were not evil, unfaithful to God or unloving
to Moses, they were senselessly caught up in initiating the dispute.
Christian families fervent in serving God together must pay even more
attention to this. Satan attacked the family of Moses, of David and many
others. It is not unlikely for the same trick to be applied to us.
Therefore, as we serve God together as a family, we must be constantly
on our guard against Satan, who will likely attempt to sow the seeds of
discord to compromise our service. After all, squabbling families don’t
bring any glory to God and the unhappiness will likely distract members
from their service.
Extend the Right Hand of Fellowship to Co-workers
“After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent
them two by two before His face into every city and place where He
Himself was about to go.” (Lk 10:1)
By sending His disciples out two by two, the Lord showed that the work
of God is not the exclusive privilege of any individual hero. He wanted
His disciples to support one another and work together. This remained
the approach in the early church. As the church grew following the
downpour of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles
continued to work as an integrated team of co-workers, teaching the new
believers as “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine”
Though Peter was a well-respected apostle, he did not operate alone but
frequently worked together with John. They prayed together, and,
together, they performed the miracle at the gate called Beautiful (Acts
3:1–11). They continued to preach to the people and were taken into
custody together (Acts 4:1–3). Both of them then faced the council
together and jointly responded to their threats (Acts 4:18–20). Even
when the people in Samaria had already believed and were baptized by
Philip, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John together to work
with Philip, to help the new believers pray for the Holy Spirit (Acts
8:5–17). Such integration and unity in service among co-workers
contributed to the continued growth of the apostolic church.
Paul’s conversion marked the next phase of growth in the early church.
He was an important apostle who was personally called by the Lord to
minister to the Gentiles (Acts 9:4–18). Unlike many believers in the
early church, Paul’s training in the word was not on account of the
apostles’ teaching but from the abundance of direct revelations from the
Lord (2 Cor 12:7; 1 Cor 11:23; 2 Cor 12:1–4).
Notwithstanding, Paul did not get carried away to initiate a separate
line of ministry divided from the other apostles or the wider church. On
the contrary, Paul humbled himself and took the initiative to go to
Jerusalem to see Peter, with a clear intention to join the disciples
(Gal 1:18–19; Acts 9:26–28). He maintained that integration with the
apostles in Jerusalem throughout his ministry, visiting them again
fourteen years later together with Barnabas (Gal 2:1).
Paul and Barnabas also did not make their individual conclusion over the
dispute that arose around the necessity of circumcision for salvation.
Instead, they consulted the apostles and elders in Jerusalem and
participated in the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:1–29). In response, Peter
and the other apostles gladly accepted Paul, appreciated his calling,
and gave Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship” (Gal 2:9).
With no rivalry or personality conflicts among the co-workers, such
unity in service triggered further growth within the church.
While the apostles enjoyed such unity in service, Satan started to
strike. Peter gave way to his weakness and displayed his hypocrisy when
he visited Antioch. Before certain men from James arrived, he would eat
with the Gentile believers, but he withdrew himself when they arrived.
Such inconsistency was unacceptable, as he not only failed to uphold the
truth courageously, but also set a bad example for Barnabas and the
other Jews. He also risked hurting the Gentile believers by his double
This led to Paul confronting Peter (Gal 2:11–14), which was a dangerous
development, as two very important workers could have fallen out and
compromised the ministry of the Lord. It would have been disastrous if
Peter had let his ego surface and reacted negatively to Paul’s rebuke.
It would have been equally disastrous if Paul had regarded this one-off
weakness in Peter as his inherent nature and lost his trust and respect
for Peter. Thankfully, both Peter and Paul were spiritual workers who
did not fall into the trap of Satan to allow this incident to drive a
wedge between them. This was evident in Peter’s second epistle, in which
he addressed Paul as “our beloved brother,” recognizing his wisdom and
also endorsing the epistles that Paul had written (2 Pet 3:15–16).
Another incident also threatened the unity between two co-workers, Paul
and Barnabas, who had differing views over John Mark. Barnabas was
determined to bring Mark along for their missionary journey, but Paul
was adamantly against the idea. The contention became so sharp that both
actually decided to part with each other. Paul then started working with
Silas while Barnabas continued with Mark (Acts 15:36–40).
This was another dangerous development, as the work of God could have
been hindered. Thankfully, the church continued to be strengthened and
to increase in number daily (Acts 15:41, 16:4–5). While it was not
ideal, on the surface, for Paul and Barnabas to part ways, both were
spiritual workers who remained integrated into the wider church.
More importantly, while they had different opinions, they respected each
other’s opinion and did not undermine each other’s work. In reality,
both had valid reasons for the different stand they took. Paul regarded
the work of God very seriously and did not feel that Mark was ready for
it as he did indeed leave the ministry midway in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13).
Barnabas, on the other hand, was true to his name as “Son of
Encouragement” (Acts 4:36), and he wanted to give Mark another chance.
This was consistent with his very nature, just as he trusted Paul and
sought him out in Tarsus when others were still wary of him (Acts
9:26–28, 11:25–26). Over time, both Paul and Barnabas were proven right
as God blessed their work. Paul continued to strengthen the church while
Mark was turned around, such that even Paul finally acknowledged Mark to
be useful for the ministry (2 Tim 4:11). This also points to the fact
that Paul and Barnabas must have remained integrated through the church.
As these developments in the early church provide a glimpse of Satan’s
work in the church, we can learn several important lessons. Firstly, we
must recognize that even good, sincere, and spiritual workers, like
Peter, can have their moments of weakness. Hence, even if we observe a
mistake in a co-worker, we must not be too quick to judge that to be an
incorrigible character flaw and thereby completely lose our trust and
respect, writing the co-worker off. While we may very well point out the
errors of our co-workers, let us do so with the intention of turning
them around rather than writing them off.
Secondly, we must accept that upright, sincere, and spiritual workers
may have good intentions, which trigger different views. In such
situations, it is critical to prevent different views from developing
into animosity and suspicion of each other’s intention, goodness, and
sincerity. Like Paul and Barnabas, we need to remain respectful of the
differences and not undermine or discredit our co-workers. We need to
resist the temptation of devoting our efforts thereafter to proving our
view to be right and our co-workers’ to be wrong, which is
counter-productive. We should, rather, learn from Paul and Barnabas in
moving forward, focussing on progressing the work of God.
Endeavor to Keep the Unity of the Spirit in the Church
The early church started united, as they “continu[ed] daily with one
accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate
their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46). The
believers were so united and selfless that they had all things in
common, and even sold their possessions and goods and divided them among
all (Acts 2:44–45). For this reason, the Lord added to the church daily
those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
However as the church grew bigger, Satan also started sowing discord in
the church to distract the church and disrupt the ministry of God. As
the number of disciples multiplied, there arose a complaint against the
Hebrews by the Hellenists because their widows were neglected in the
daily distribution (Acts 6:1). If this was not handled appropriately, it
could have resulted in unhealthy factions within the church, with
growing mistrust and sensitivities between the factions.
It is interesting to note how people so readily and naturally gravitate
towards a common grouping and start to take sides. Thankfully, the
apostles exercised their wisdom and addressed this issue effectively by
having the disciples elect seven men to assist in the work. This
resolved the issue, and furthered the growth in the number of disciples
in Jerusalem (Acts 6:5–7).
Taking reference from the solution, it would suggest that the original
issue was not necessarily triggered by a deliberate, systemic neglect of
the Hellenist widows by the Hebrews. Rather, it was the lack of more
dedicated resources to share the workload with the apostles. The
additional resources provided capacity to exercise more care and
diligence in doing a fair and better job at serving the tables. However,
it is interesting to note the sensitivities of the Hellenists in banding
together and concluding wrongfully that they had been victimized.
Satan’s attack intensified over time as the church spread to other
cities. In Corinth, the division in the church was among clusters of
believers who separately deemed themselves to be of Paul, Apollos,
Peter, or of Christ (1 Cor 1:11–12). This was strange as the workers,
Paul, Apollos, and Peter themselves were united as one and also, Christ
is not divided (1 Cor 1:13). Hence, it was senseless for the believers
to use Christ or any worker as an excuse or the basis to be divided.
Thankfully, Paul did not allow himself be flattered by his fans. Instead
he corrected them by pointing out directly that they were not baptized
in his name and that he, like Apollos, was merely a minister through
whom they had believed, that they were complementary co-workers planting
and watering, with God being the one who gives the increase (1 Cor
As we reflect on these challenges faced in the early church, we must
recognize that Satan will try various means to stir up differences
between members in the church. It may be one nationality against
another, or one age group against another, or people who speak one
language against another. There is no end to the differences we can
find. We must remember that we are one after we have been baptized into
Christ, with no more distinction between Jew or Greek, slave or free,
male or female (Gal 3:27–28). If we were to be less sensitive and
suspicious, we would not be easily stirred up, like the Hellenists, to
believe that we are being systemically victimized and hence, have the
need to band together with “fellow victims” to create a faction in
church. Similarly, we must exercise extra caution not to fall into the
trap of “hero-worshipping” any church workers.
As we observe how Satan has worked within families, among co-workers,
and within the church, let us stay vigilant and endeavor to keep the
unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).