STRENGTHEN THE BRETHREN
T. PIERCE BROWN
This is the first of two articles dealing with the statement of Jesus in Luke 22:31-32, “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen the brethren.” May we suggest to you that in your Bible study, if such questions as the following are not automatically raised, deliberately try to raise some, and your study will be more productive–especially if you look for the answers. We are raising these questions in the first article in the hope that some of our readers will search for your own answers to them. In the next article, we hope that we will be able to provide an answer to many of them to which you may compare your answers and perhaps profit from a more in-depth study of them than we might otherwise have.
Are all temptations from Satan, or are we merely drawn away by our own lusts (James1:14) in some cases? Did Satan have to ask for permission to tempt Peter before God would allow him to do so? If not, why did he ask? If so, does he have to get permission for all temptations, or was this a special case? If it was special, what made it so? How did Satan tempt him? Does he tempt us in the same way? Did Satan put in the minds of the maids the thought that Peter was with Jesus and/or incite them to say so? If so, were they in any degree guilty as tools of Satan? If he put thoughts in their minds, or suggested to Peter’s heart the advisability of denying that he knew the Lord, does he do the same kind of thing today? If not, why not? If so, does this mean that Satan can or does influence the mind of man directly? If Satan can or does influence the mind of man directly, does the Holy Spirit do likewise in helping us to defeat his temptations? If Satan can only do it indirectly, how does he do that? If the Holy Spirit only does it (whatever He does) indirectly, does that indirect help come only through the Word of God–the Bible? Does the fact that we admit that all the converting power the Holy Spirit has is exercised through the Word, mean that the Holy Spirit cannot in any way influence us directly? Does Satan still have superhuman, though not necessarily miraculous, powers to present thoughts to our minds? When Satan entered into Judas (John12:27) did he do something that he then had power to do, but no longer has? Was this similar to demon possession? If so, does that mean that a person demon-possessed was morally wrong–sinful? If so, does that mean that all the Jews who rejected Jesus were demon possessed?
If Satan does have to ask for permission, does that apply to all persons, or only for those in the family of God? Did the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 apply to Peter, or just for those in this dispensation? If it did not apply, why not? If it did, why did Jesus have to pray that his faith not fail? For example, if God makes a promise that “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” do I need to pray for salvation even when I have done that?
For God to have answered Jesus’ prayer, what sort of things did He do, or may He have done to prevent Peter’s faith from failing? Does He now do the same kind of things to prevent ours from failing, or is it totally our own choice? Even if it is our own choice, can He influence it in any way and still leave us free moral agents? If so, how? Does Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit intercede with reference to our faith and its possible failure? If not, to what does the intercession relate? If Jesus had not prayed, would God have helped Peter anyway? If not, why not? If so, why did Jesus pray? Did Peter’s faith fail in spite of Jesus’ prayer? If so, what good did the prayer do? If not, what must Peter have done in order to show a faith that failed? Did he need this failure in order to strengthen the brethren properly? Or did he merely need the testing? Or did he really need either? If he really needed either or both, are we better able to strengthen the brethren after our faith has been tested? Does this relate to James 1:2-4? Are we better able to strengthen them after it has failed?
Are these “foolish and unlearned questions that gender strife” (2 Timothy2:23)? If so, how does one ask a question that is not foolish, since all questions indicate that one is unlearned? Should we search for answers to such questions, or should we reply, “The deep things belong to God” and forget it? If we cannot find a direct answer to such questions, and yet set forth our conclusions, is that a doctrine of man? Or is it a doctrine of man only if it is a false conclusion based upon false or unsound reasoning?
Those are but some of the questions that might be raised about this passage, and the following article will have but some of the answers we give to those questions. It is our hope that others may study and answer all of these questions in some fashion, then review, refute or amend any conclusion that I may have in the next article that you think to be wrong.