We assume Jesus died in A.D. 33 and that 1 Corinthians was written in A.D. 55. It is tragic that it took only 22 years for the church to become corrupted by immoral and unethical false teachers.
This phenomenon is a testimony to how quickly humans can leave a life-changing relationship with Jesus for something that is false and destructive.
In the remaining three chapters of 2 Corinthians, Paul addresses false teachers, who are referred to as “super-apostles.”
Jesus taught that evil spirits can and will use other humans to oppose God’s purposes. Paul reckons this fact to be true in his ministry.
— 2 Corinthians 10.1-6 – I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ — I who am humble when face to face with you but bold toward you when I am away! —
I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards.
Indeed, we live as humans but do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.
We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
We are ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete.
Let’s examine Paul’s thoughts one at a time to best understand this important passage.
(1) Three words that Paul used to refer to his relationship with the church were meekness, gentleness, and humility.
These attitudes are seen as excellent character traits in our era. However, in the first-century Greco-Roman world they were seen as character defects.
Part of Paul’s problem was that he imitated the meek, gentle, and humble Jesus rather than the status-seeking leading citizens of Corinth.
This problem was so significant that Paul had to defend his humility, gentleness, and meekness to the church.
(2) The New Revised Standard Version translation, “human standards,” in these verses is the word “flesh” in the original language.
The New Testament uses “flesh” to describe a person who lives their life apart from God.
A spiritual person is someone who is activated, captivated, and motivated by the Holy Spirit.
A person of the “flesh,” is dominated by willfulness and self-seeking.
The people who oppose Paul in Corinth are operating according to the flesh. Their thoughts and motives are influenced by self-will and not the Spirit of God.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians exposes the difference between living according to the Spirit and the flesh.
— Galatians 5.16-17 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
— Galatians 5.19-21 – Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
Idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
Envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(3) Paul did not match “flesh” with “flesh.”
There is a mistaken belief that “the ends justify the means.” The truth is that humans become like the means that they use.
Paul knew this and was led and empowered by the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and power to combat his opponents.
As we think of warfare that the Spirit empowers, let’s not lose sight of Paul’s approach to the church in meekness, gentleness, and humility. When Paul interacted with the church, he was characterized by a Jesus-kind-of-life.
(4) Empowered by the Spirit, Paul sought to destroy strongholds, false arguments, and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God.
He intended to take every false thought captive and bring it in obedience to the reign of Christ.
In the chapters which follow we will see how Paul used a Christ-like life and Spirit-led logic to dismantle the false teachers in Corinth.
As a practical note, we can destroy strongholds, false arguments, and proud obstacles in our lives by imitating Paul’s actions.
We can imitate Paul’s attitude of gentleness, meekness, and humility that will enable us to be led by the Holy Spirit.
We will be far more effective against mental strongholds and false arguments if we seek to be activated, motivated, and captivated by the Holy Spirit. When this takes place, the flesh will have little room to operate in our lives.
A Little Meddling
Sometimes I tell a congregation, “I’ve now stopped preaching and gone to meddling.” Here is some meddling about spiritual warfare.
Paul models for us the proper attitude and actions that should be taken when we engage in spiritual warfare.
(1) By definition, spiritual warfare involves the Holy Spirit empowering us to be victorious over God’s opponents.
(2) The attitudes of gentleness, meekness, and humility are qualities that are helpful for victory.
(3) The flesh, our willfulness as opposed to the willingness to follow the Spirit’s lead, will not gain a victory.
(4) The most effective means to conquer spiritual enemies is to be activated, captivated, and motivated by the Holy Spirit.
Please test your views of spiritual warfare against these standards that are presented in 2 Corinthians. Then, adjust your attitudes and actions accordingly.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel. As always, Rudy adds an excellent dimension to the discussion.
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