Every Thought Obedient to Christ
2 Corinthians 10:1-18
Key Verse: 10:5
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
In chapters 10-12, Paul defends his apostleship. Some false apostles were discrediting Paul to steal the Corinthian church for their own gain. Paul was compelled to help the Corinthians hold on to gospel faith for the glory of Christ and their own salvation. So he defended his apostleship. In doing so, Paul fights fiercely like Captain America against the forces of evil. There are many kinds of warfare: military conflicts between nations, psychological warfare, trade war, political fights, conflicts in relationships, and so on. However, we can simplify them into two kinds: worldly warfare and spiritual warfare. Paul engages in spiritual war. Paul tells what kinds of weapons he fights with, what the targets are, and how to discern the true nature of spiritual conflict. Let us talk about weapons of spiritual warfare first, followed by its targets.
- Weapons of spiritual warfare (10:1-6)
Look at verse 1. “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ when away!” Paul had served God’s flock with the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He did not raise his voice or exercise authority harshly, but was compassionate and tender like a mother. So he was misunderstood. Some criticized him for being ‘timid’ in face to face meetings while ‘bold’ when writing letters from a distance. Verse 10 says, “For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speech amounts to nothing.’” They saw Paul from a human point of view, not God’s point of view by looking only on the surface of things (7). They did not know how much Paul struggled to imitate the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
Paul wanted to imitate Jesus. In the past Paul had been a Pharisee who was strong and legalistic. He was far from being gentle and meek. But after meeting the Risen Christ he began to change. Paul said in Philippians 2:5-8, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” In the transforming power of God’s grace, Paul became gentle and meek, so much so that he was misunderstood as weak and “nothing”. However, when Paul fought against God’s enemies, he was like Simba claiming his throne and kingdom back from evil Scar. In fact, Paul was concerned that he might have to be bolder than he wanted to be when he visited the Corinthians.
Some people, whose minds were worldly, misunderstood Paul (2). They thought that Paul was a coward who was threatening in his letters from a distance, but timid in person. But Paul was the same present or absent. Paul hoped that they would correct their attitude before he arrived. If not, he was prepared to be decisive and bold in dealing with them. In fact, Paul was ready to wage war. Paul would not wage war the way the world does (3). Paul would engage in spiritual warfare. Paul knew that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). In the next verses 4-6 Paul explains what the weapons of spiritual warfare are and how to fight.
Look at verse 4. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” Paul contrasts his weapons with the weapons of the world. The weapons of the world are boasting, deception, arguments, pretension, self-righteousness, a rebellious spirit and a disobedient heart. The root of all these is pride that exalts oneself to dominate others, tear them down. That is why Augustine said that pride is the root of man’s sin. Romans 1:21a says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him….” Paul’s spiritual weapons were dependence on God (4), the truth of God (11:7,10; 13:8), love for others that built them up (5:14; 10:8; 11:11; 13:10), and sacrifice in order to serve others (11:7). Underlying all of these was humility (10:1, 13, 17-18). This humility was derived from Jesus (Php 2:5-8). Once Augustine was asked what were the qualifications to be God’s servant. He answered, “First is humbleness; second is humbleness; third is humbleness.” One thousand and a hundred years later, Martin Luther, when asked to name the three greatest virtues replied, “First, humility; second, humility and third, humility.” These are but two of the many great leaders who have stressed the importance of humility in the believer’s life.
What is humility? How would you define humbleness? Surprisingly, it is not a poor self-image, nor a denial of one’s gifts, abilities and accomplishments. C.S. Lewis describes humility not as having a low opinion of one’s talents and character but rather as self-forgetfulness. This demands a radical honesty with ourselves about ourselves that begins to free us from the denials, pretences, and false images with which we deceive ourselves. Thus, John Wesley described humility as “…a right judgment of ourselves which cleanses our minds from those high conceits of our own perfections, from the undue opinions of our own abilities and attainments….” We find the best example in Jesus written in Philippians 2:5-8, “… Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Proud people try to live without God. They build up their own ideas which are against the knowledge of God, such as theories of evolution that deny God’s existence, or a redefinition of human identity that is against God’s creation order. They are disobedient to God. They argue against God’s truth. They try to build up strongholds from which they can spread their ideas throughout the world. In recent years, a good example is Pride parade. In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states. Oxymoron, it is one of a few sins openly condemned in the Bible, but defending and promoting it became very popular into a point of pride and celebration. If one is caught by their forces, he or she cannot get out of it by their own power. However, Paul said that his weapons “have divine power to demolish strongholds” (4b).
Let’s read verse 5. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Paul helped people to repent of their pride and selfishness and to surrender their lives to Christ. Paul helped them to get rid of their rebellious spirit and to be submissive to Christ’s Lordship. Paul helped them to repent of their disobedient heart and to have an obedient heart toward Christ’s words so that they would make every thought obedient to Christ. In order to accomplish this, one must be equipped with God’s weapons. In the Ephesians (6:14-18), Paul described this spiritual armor: “…the belt of truth…the breastplate of righteousness…the gospel of peace…the shield of faith…the helmet of salvation…,” as well as two attacking weapons: “the sword of the Spirit…and to pray….” Our weapons are not missiles or nuclear bombs, but the gospel truth—the word of God—and prayer. The gospel truth is the most powerful weapon of all. We should be equipped with gospel truth so that we can demolish everything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and win the victory.
- Targets in spiritual warfare (10:7-18)
So far, Paul talked about the principle and weapons of spiritual warfare. In the second part, Paul explains which targets we should hit: boasting and a different gospel. We will talk about boasting only, for attacking a different gospel is based on chapter 11.
The first target is boasting (7-18). Some people criticized Paul based on their own superficial view, saying that Paul tried to frighten them with his authority as an apostle. They claimed that they belonged to Christ, so they had superior spirituality (1 Cor 1:12). This was the influence of false teachers (11:23). It was a sneaky form of rebellion by which they could avoid Paul’s spiritual authority. Look at verse 8. “For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.” They did not need to feel threatened by spiritual authority; rather they should regard it as a blessing by which they could be built up and become strong. Still, some wanted to ignore Paul’s letters, saying that he was really weak and unimpressive (10). Paul assured them that he would be the same in person as he was in his letters (11).
In verses 12-18 Paul contrasts his boasting with the boasting of the false apostles. The false apostles boasted according to their own standard and for their own glory; in fact, it was groundless (12). Furthermore, their boasting went beyond proper limits. They claimed credit for work done by others. At the root, they boasted out of their pride, without any real content. Pride is to think of oneself too highly. So Paul said in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” We can see this sober judgment in Paul’s boasting. Paul confined his boasting to the field God assigned to him and he did not go beyond proper limits. Nor did he boast of work done by others. His only hope was that as their faith continued to grow his area of activity among them would greatly expand. Finally, he gave a principle in regard to boasting. Look at verses 17-18. “But ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” Paul knew that he had nothing good in himself. But he could not deny that God had done mighty work in and through him. So he boasted about what God had done to glorify God and encourage others.
People boast about themselves a lot. They are proud of what they have and what they are doing. They boast about their beauty, number of followers and stars in Instagram, how good at singing, school grades, college they are admitted, children’s small successes, eloquence in speech, sports team, just to name a few. The contents of most conversations is self-boasting. It is about “me”. On the contrary, Jeremiah 9:23-24 tells what we should boast about. It says, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” We should boast about the Creator God and his beautiful character. We should boast about our Lord Jesus Christ, who shed his blood on the cross and died for us, and about his great humility, gentleness, mercy and compassion. We should boast about the work of the Holy Spirit who moves in power and wisdom to do mighty and wonderful things. Our Lord God is worthy to receive all glory and honor and praise, now and forever. Amen!
In the context of defending his apostleship, simply speaking, Paul is telling not measure by human standards (12-15a). Paul had planted the gospel in Corinth. The believers there were his spiritual children, so he was concerned when someone began to sow seeds of doubt about him among them. He did not measure his work by human standards but sought God’s approval. To Paul, boasting meant acknowledging God’s work in himself and, through him, in his sheep. He did not criticize the work of others, but sought to build up, not tear down faith. He did his best to plant the seeds of the gospel in the field God had given him.
Paul’s hope was that they might grow in faith, and that he might pioneer regions beyond them (15b-18). Paul was a missionary; he wanted to go on to other unreached areas. He wanted the Corinthians to share with him in the world mission task. God is the one who can make gospel seed grow and produce fruit, so we should boast only in the Lord.
Through today’s passage, we learn that our enemy Satan is working behind the scenes to plant doubt, fear, rebellion, a disobedient spirit and most of all, pride. Then he makes people prisoners in his stronghold. We must hold on to “the gospel”. We must remember and practice the humility of Christ. When the gospel truth rules our hearts, every thought will be obedient to Christ. Then we can be fully equipped with “the gospel,” our powerful spiritual weapon, and preach “the gospel.” God will empower us with divine power to demolish Satan’s strongholds. Let’s pray to engage in spiritual warfare on each of our battlefields by preaching the gospel so that God’s kingdom may expand.