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When Satan tells the truth

Unsplash/Michael Carruth
Unsplash/Michael Carruth

You remember that, in describing the devil, Jesus said he, “does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). In saying that, does Christ mean Satan and his demons never tell the truth?

Not necessarily.

There’s a short and interesting Pauline episode recorded in Acts where we have the enemy surprisingly speaking with honesty:

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“It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment” (Acts 16:16-18).  

Why in the world would a demon publicly announce the truth about the proclamation of the Gospel? After all, “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:18).

Slipping in sideways

A long time ago, Julie Andrews sang, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, in a most delightful way.” I don’t think there’s a better example of that, in a devilish manner, than the above passage in Acts.  

We’re told the girl in question had “a spirit of divination,” whose powers were given much honor in those days. The cultural belief back then was that when a person lost “themselves” through spiritism, the mind of the gods assumed control, and therefore what they said was a message about the future.

The literal rendering of the text says that the woman had a “python” spirit, which came from the idea that the god Apollo was embodied in a snake at Delphi, also called pytho. Luke (the author of Acts) relays this to us because it was common for anyone with soothsaying or ventriloquist capacities to be called a pytho.

The fact that the woman was legitimately possessed by a demonic spirit is proven by the fact that Paul exorcised the demon and banished it from her life. Which brings us back to our question of why would the demon advertise the Gospel of Christ in the first place?

The answer is that error will sometimes fasten itself to the truth in order to gain credulity and an entryway into wreaking the havoc it ultimately desires. The way Jude describes this is by saying deceivers “slip in sideways” (literally in the Greek) via a way that is “unnoticed” (Jude 4) so that they become intimately associated with the very crowd they hope to destroy.

In becoming part of their opposition, the enemy superficially appears to have given in when, in reality, it’s a setup designed to take a foe off guard. It’s very much like the game Tug of War where you sometimes lessen your grip ever so slightly so that your opponent falls back and stumbles, which then allows you to strengthen your grasp and defeat them.

But Paul wouldn’t allow himself to be manipulated in that way. The man who would go on to write, “what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14) commanded the demon to leave the slave girl, which it did.

On that point, Matthew Henry says, “Thus Paul shows the way of salvation indeed, that it is by breaking the power of Satan, and chaining him up, that he may not deceive the world (Rev. 20:3), and that this salvation is to be obtained in the name of Jesus Christ only, as in His name the devil was now cast out and by no other.”

So, what’s the lesson for us here?

Our unhealthy cultural emphasis today on inclusion has Christians aligning themselves with the strangest of bedfellows. We forget God commands holiness and purity where our lives, alliances, and doctrines are concerned.

Syncretism, assimilation, and “mixing together” with the world have always been forbidden by God. Many of the seemingly odd commands God gave Israel in the Old Testament were physical reminders of this concept, like not weaving together two different pieces of material to make a garment (Lev. 19:19).

But combining a single truth or two with a cauldron full of lies is pretty common today where people have become more than adept at managing information to support lives that are built on falsehoods.

But because “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), we’re to live in the exact opposite way as well as constantly being on guard against Satan’s mouthpieces when they, every now and then, actually tell the truth. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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