Visiting historic Doylestown, Pa., with my sister and brother-in-law, my mind happened to alight on a Bible verse, but I was struggling with one of the words. Here is what I could remember:
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the … of the devil.”
It was important to me to summon the correct missing word, so as to know God’s mind exactly and not to put words in His mouth. (There is altogether too much willy-nilly substituting of our vague impressions for the precise teachings of the Bible, and I had no wish to be guilty of misrepresenting God, as the apostle Paul noted in 1 Corinthians.)
I tried a few plausible possibilities:
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the power of the devil.”
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the evil of the devil.”
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the damage of the devil.”
One reason we drove 15 miles north to Doylestown was to browse through the used bookstores, so I could have walked back to the last shop, where we had just rummaged through novels and cookbooks, for a Bible someone had discarded. But just then I remembered the missing note:
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
And because the correct semantic item had been withheld from me for a few frustrating moments, and because I am convinced the Spirit was meticulous in selecting exactly what He wanted to say at all times and did not allow the second-best word choice, I was suddenly much taken with the Bible’s careful hand-picking of the word “works” with reference to the activity of the devil. So then, I thought, the devil’s machinations toward us are a type of “works.”
The word “works” here—as in the case of its usage to describe the “works” of an artist or a plumber—suggests a nearly human process of careful observation, assessment, study, purpose, design, crafting, execution, and sustained effort on the part of the one who “works.” It is time to eliminate from our thinking all inchoate notions of the devil as a vague chemical ether or influence. No, his offensives against us (what Scripture calls “temptations” and “schemes”) are well-thought-out snares and sand traps. I do not suppose that Satan reads our minds, but rather that he gleans information enough from our habits, past pitfalls, and observable character issues.
The edification value in realizing that the devil has done a fair amount of intelligence “work” in trying to bring me down is the understanding that in order to be a match for him I must shake off complacency and “gird up the loins of my mind” to outsmart him. One outsmarts the devil by believing, and by obeying with alacrity, every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.