When contrasting himself with false apostles, of which there were (and are) many in Christendom, Paul manages to say something interesting about Satan and the way he operates in 2 Corinthians 11:5-15: “For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things. Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows! But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”
Glory and boasting are frequent elements of Paul’s discussion to the Corinthians in both 1 and 2 Corinthians, and it is a matter in which the contemporary tendency to lack self-awareness and to be incredibly and dishonestly boastful about one’s intends and one’s actions is highly evident. In contrast, Paul’s boasting always contains a tone of humility and vulnerability, a reminder of his humanity and his flaws, and presents itself as an implicit (where not an explicit) rebuke at the lack of self-awareness that the Corinthians show about their own motives and behavior. That 1 and 2 Corinthians is so obviously relevant to our own contemporary concerns suggests that like the neophyte brethren of Corinth we are frequently divided against each other where we should be united, glorying in ourselves where we should glory in God, boastful and proud where we should be humble and reflective. And it is that question of humility and boastfulness, and what indeed we should be boasting about (if only ironically) that leads to Paul’s insight about Satan’s nature.
How is it that Satan and his demons appear as angels of light? For such a thing to happen some deception must be in order. It is little surprise that Satan would be deceptive or that demons would want to appear as angels of light. They would certainly be a good deal less popular with the ordinary population of those who at least think themselves to be good if they appeared as they are. And deception is no particular new thing for either Satan or those who follow him. The desire to appear as something other than one is expresses on some level a dissatisfaction with reality and a desire to have others validate one’s own imaginations rather than to get on with the difficult and sometimes unpleasant task of accepting and dealing with that reality. The fact that reality is such a hard thing for contemporaries to accept, to the point where massive amounts of coercion are undertaken so that people may be seen by others according not to the reality of what they are but according to how they vainly imagine themselves to be suggests that this problem of essential dishonesty is by no means something that Paul was addressing in the past but something that remains relevant to ourselves at present.
Mixed in with that deception, though, is another angle that Paul wishes to address, and that is the problem of boasting. One of the ways in which people dishonestly seek to proclaim themselves as something that they are not, in the same way that Satan and his host claim to be angels of light when they are in fact angels of darkness involves boasting about being or doing something where the credit belongs to someone else. This is something that Paul appears to recognize as a personal temptation, and the remedy he suggests is one of humility. Paul wonders aloud if it was a good thing to humble himself so that the Corinthian brethren could be exalted, because what was likely meant as an act of service to others and the providing of a good example (rather than mere moral bromides that lack application in the life of the one giving the lesson) was instead taken at face value and not reflected upon at all. Paul certainly did not want the Corinthians to become boastful and arrogant beings like Satan, but it is hard to encourage others to be humble because the act of telling others that they need to be more humble is not often taken as a sign of humility in the speaker and is often counterproductive when the human tendency to defend oneself when attacked comes into play. Paul therefore discusses this topic in a more implicit matter than might be expected because his goal is not to justify himself but to encourage humility in his audience, which is an immensely difficult task, not only for Paul but for anyone who wishes this.