3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; (2 Corinthians 10:3–5)
THE FACT OF THE WAR (10:3)
2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh [as human beings], we do not war after the flesh [human standards]:
Most of the time, people know whether or not if a war is going on. Can you imagine being a Polish citizen in September of 1939? The German Blitzkrieg was overwhelming the Polish from the West. From the East, the Soviet armies were marching in. Suddenly your town and home is being bombed, shelled, and overran. It seems so unfair, because of the desires of dictators in Berlin and Moscow, you no longer have a home. You have only the few possessions you can carry as you join hundreds of refugees walking down a road to a place that is safe (if there is a safe place). Most of the time, people know if there’s a war going on.
Did you know that, if you are a Christian, you are in the midst of a war? You might say, “Well, from time to time, it sure does feel like it!” Maybe when you’ve had a bad day at work, or a bad argument with your spouse, or an illness suddenly besets you. Those days do indeed feel like a war.
But our text tells us that we are in a war all the time.
Other passages confirm this truth, for instance,
12 For we wrestle [present tense] not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)
The word “wrestle” is present tense, indicating a continuous action. The same is true of “war” in 2 Corinthians 10:3. We are always wrestling, always warring. Really? It might not seem like you are a Polish citizen in the midst of bombing and shooting, but you are in a war. It’s a war not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces in your life.
The lustful thought that you had this morning? It’s a spiritual war. The depression you have because you think your life is rotten? Spiritual war. The angry attitude, thoughts, or words that you struggle with? Spiritual war.
Church, make no mistake, there’s a war going on, and you are in the midst of it, because it is inside you!
THE NATURE OF THE WAR (10:3-4)
2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh [as human beings], we do not war after the flesh [human standards]:
The word “flesh” (sarx) can be used in a number of ways in the Bible. Usually we think of it as referring to the sinful nature, but that’s not how it’s used here. In this verse, “flesh” is used in two different ways. The first time it just refers to being a human being—“For though we walk (or live) as human beings.” The second time “flesh” is used in this verse it refers to human methods, standards, and philosophies.
This gives us a clue as to the nature of the war. If it was a war like World War II, you would use guns and tanks and bombers. You would use human tactics and strategies (well, unless you were Joshua and the city was Jericho!). But something is different here and we find out more in verse 4—
2 Corinthians 10:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [human weapons], but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
Our weapons in this war are not “carnal”—they are not human weapons. Instead our weapons in this war are “mighty through God.” They are divine weapons.
What are the human weapons that Paul is thinking of? Everything that is characterized or championed by humans, especially when we are thinking sinfully. Human wisdom; human deception; human ego. What are examples of carnal weapons? Anything that appeals to our sinful nature is a carnal weapon. These are methods that we are not to use:
8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. 9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; (Colossians 3:8–9)
21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. (Mark 7:21–23)
One thing is clear: the Christian style of warfare should be different than the world’s style of warfare. If you find yourself always responding to life’s battles the same way the unbeliever does—then something is wrong with your warfare.
In December of 1944, as Hitler launched a last-ditch counter-offensive known to history as the Battle of the Bulge, one of his colonels ordered the massacre of 84 Allied prisoners of war in a field. When the tide of the battle turned a few days later, some Allied soldiers executed several German prisoners of war. General Patton ordered the incident covered up—why? Because he knew it was wrong. Revenge is the world’s way of doing warfare, and Patton knew that the American public would disapprove. So also the Christian must avoid responding and warring by using the tactics of the enemy.
Church, if you find yourself fighting using these tactics and methods, you are are on the wrong path. Don’t rationalize it by saying, “But they do it to us” or “I know it’s wrong, but in the end, there will be a good.”
What are the weapons we are to use?
The weapons we use are “mighty through God.” What does this mean? That they are “mighty” from God’s perspective.
We look at our worldly weapons—whether they be tanks or lawyers or insurance or political initiatives—and believe that they are strong. Then we look at God’s weapons—love, forgiveness, prayer, praise, assurance of salvation—and think that they are weak. How could prayer ever change things? How could forgiving an evil person who hurt us really be just?
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; (1 Corinthians 1:23–27)
Do we really believe that? Is that how we live?
From God’s perspective, the things that we think are strong are actually weak. The things that we think are foolish are actually strong. You have to have faith in God.
David and Goliath is a true account of God making something weak mighty. Lots of Bible students have tried to explain how David was actually highly skilled with a sling and that a sling was a highly deadly weapon. In doing so, they miss the point of the biblical record:
47 And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands. (1 Samuel 17:47)
Rather than beefing up the sling as a weapon, we should be recognizing that God didn’t need it at all. David could have won the fight with his bare hands. The weapon wasn’t important. David’s faith was. That’s because the nature of the war was spiritual, not physical. Anyone could have defeated Goliath that day—should they have had faith. Should they have had recognized the kind of war they were really fighting.
THE STRONGHOLDS OF THE WAR (10:4b-5a)
2 Corinthians 10:4b …the pulling down of strong holds;)
What are we fighting against? Paul says that our enemy has “strong holds.” This is a figurative reference to warfare in ancient days. Back then, as it is today, much warfare was concentrated around cities. Like Joshua and the Israelites did, you conquered a land by conquering the cities, one by one. In the case of Joshua, the first city they encountered was the mighty stronghold of Jericho. It had massive walls to keep invaders out, and it had cisterns and grain bins to feed and water the population through a long siege.
What are the strongholds that we face as Christians? We find out in verse 5—
2 Corinthians 10:5a Casting down imaginations, and every high thing [pretense] that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God,
What are “imaginations” (logismos)? The Greek word refers to mental work, calculation, reflection, reasoning, opinions, philosophies, and so on. He’s not saying that thinking and reason are wrong, but that thinking and reasoning that is against God is wrong. Here are a few clear examples from today:
- Evolution is a major modern imagination that opposes God as the Creator.
- Any thinking that declares that man is basically good and that his problem is not sin, but that he was brought up wrong.
- The belief that God does not exist, that we are not accountable to a Judge, and that this Universe is purely a closed, naturalistic system (i.e., there’s no supernatural).
- That the resurrection of Jesus Christ is impossible.
- Bitterness and revenge being appropriate responses to trials.
- Pride in human accomplishments.
You get the idea—anything that imagines man as superior to God is what Paul has in mind here. They imagine themselves better than God. They exalt themselves against God and the knowledge of God.
These are strongholds that the world and Satan maintain against God and His people. As long as Satan can keep people believing in the wall of evolution, that gives the Devil a stronghold against people believing in God. It explains God away.
Can you see how the belief that man is good at heart and his failures are not his fault will keep a person from seeing his need for Christ? It’s no wonder that many preachers have stopped talking about sin and focused on just how Christ can give you health and wealth and your best life now.
Sometimes we think of spiritual warfare as being casting out demons. That does happen. But here Paul is referring to the more common form of spiritual warfare—the battle of the mind. Spiritual warfare is mainly the battle for people to see God as real and glorious before it’s too late for them. Because one day, everyone will see God as real and glorious , but it will be too late for most. The warning the Lord gave to Judah applies to us today:
11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, And the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. 12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, And upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low: (Isaiah 2:11–12)
The world’s strongholds will fall before God one day. Church, do not find yourself clinging to one of them! Find yourself safe in the stronghold of Christ.
10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower: The righteous runneth into it, and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
THE OBJECTIVE OF THE WAR (10:5b)
This last part of verse five tells us the objective of the spiritual war.
2 Corinthians 10:5b and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
Once again, Paul references ancient warfare. When an army finally broke through the city walls and defeated the defenders, the population would often be taken captive. They would taken into slavery; to labor for the conquering nation. This is what happened when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. This is what happened when the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. They were literally taken into captivity and enslaved.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Paul is only using this image figuratively. We are not to capture people and force them to live as Christians. That would make us like the Fundamentalist Muslims. We know that this isn’t what Paul means because he says in verses three and four—we don’t war the way the world does. We also know that this isn’t what Paul means because what he says here. The goal is to bring “into every thought to the obedience of Christ.” In other words, it’s not a physical captivity that is the goal. We want to win minds to the obedience of Christ!
What does Paul mean by “obedience of Christ”? The phrase “obedience of Christ” is a synonym for believing in Christ for salvation. Salvation is described that way in a few other verses, for example—
9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; (Hebrews 5:9)
Why does the Bible use “obey” instead of “believe” or “trust.”? Obedience in this context does not mean that you have to be perfectly righteous in order to be saved. It simply means that a believer is someone who has obeyed God’s will in how to be saved—namely, by believing in Jesus!
It’s like when someone offers you a gift that you are reluctant to accept. You say, “No, no, I couldn’t.” They say, “Please, take it…take it.” Finally, you give in and take the gift. What did you do? You obeyed their command to take it. When a person receives the gift of salvation by trusting in Jesus Christ, they are obeying God’s command to believe and be saved.
Our goal—the desired result—of our spiritual warfare is to see people come to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. That’s the main goal and really, that’s the only goal that will have eternal results. Political victories…cultural changes…laws that enforce morality…they might make life more comfortable for us…but their duration can be as short as a politician’s term of office.
What can we use to bring into “captivity every thought”? One word—truth. We see in Ephesians 6, Paul goes into great detail describing the armor of God. He begins in verse 14 with the belt of truth and ends with the only offensive weapon in verse 17—“and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The Bible is our weapon. The Bible is truth.
Spiritual warfare, at its core, is about truth. Satan wants people to follow his version of truth, and people, because of their sinful nature, are predisposed to follow Satan’s crooked truth. This crooked truth is against God. We can see this when Satan convinces Eve to follow his way of thinking, when he attacks God’s truth.
1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:1–5)
How do we fight with truth? How do we bring into “captivity every thought”? Let’s look at two areas. First, let’s look at an…
Outreach Application—Bringing The Thoughts Of Others Into Captivity To Christ
Jesus Himself told us that our main mission in life is to “teach all nations” (Matthew 28:18). Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That is, people who come to accept the Bible’s truth about Who Jesus is. It is Christians who must tell others and work to convince them that the world’s version of truth is wrong.
The unbeliever needs to hear from us what the Bible says about salvation:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23)
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)
This really is our main mission in this war. Bringing the thoughts of people into the saving captivity of Christ.
Personal Application—Bringing Our Own Thoughts Into Captivity To Christ
But as Christians, we can apply this passage to ourselves as well. As Christians, we have received Christ’s salvation by trusting in Him, but we still struggle to live out that salvation in our lives. That’s because Satan and the world and our very own flesh do not give up. They constantly wage war against our minds. Therefore, we must constantly be warring against them, even when we think we are winning.
In December of 1944, when Hitler ordered the massive counter-offensive that we call the Battle of the Bulge, part of the reason it was initially successful is because it took the Allies by surprise. It was after all, winter, a lousy time to do battle. The Russians were keeping the Germans quite busy on the Eastern front. The war was almost over. So the allies relaxed. General Bradly even thought it a good time to go see his friend General Eisenhower in Paris.
And then, totally taken by surprise, the American troops found themselves under a rain of artillery shells. And then they were swiftly attacked by Panzer tanks. The Battle of the Bulge would be the single battle of the war that cost the most American lives—because the Allies let their guard down.
We can’t let our guard down, especially in our culture where information is passed on to us constantly through television, radio, internet, and smartphones. We must always be diligent soldiers, bringing into captivity our own thoughts to the obedience of Christ.
We do this by committing ourselves to the Word of God—the truth.
1. Fill your mind with the Bible. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Don’t be satisfied with a weekly dose of it at church. Don’t be satisfied with five minutes of devotions. Make it the foundation of what you believe to be true, not just in name only, but in reality.
2. Strive to only let good things into your mind.
8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
3. Challenge negative or destructive thoughts at the gates of your mind. Demand of them, like a guard, “Who goes there?” Evaluate every thought according to the Bible, and if they don’t measure up, run them out of town.
Don’t give up in this war. If you have, pick up your weapon again and keep fighting. Don’t let Satan convince you that you are okay, that you can rest. Be a good soldier…never give up, never quit.
Levi Durfey—LDM-47-2 Corinthians 10.3-5-20191229FBCAM-SERMON