One of the problems the apostle Paul dealt with in the church in Corinth is how the Corinthians exalted the fleshly and the worldly. We know from 1 Corinthians 12-14 that they wanted flare and attention getting, as seen in their elevation of tongue speaking over all other spiritual gifts. They praised speaking style and entertainment value of the speaker as seen in 1 Corinthians 1-4. They elevated displays of boldness and power. The book of 2 Corinthians reveals that some were very critical of Paul’s suffering and sacrifices. This was such a problem that some doubted his apostleship because of all he experienced in suffering as an apostle. What is interesting about these problems Paul dealt with is that Paul would have a similar problem today. Today we are very much about style, entertainment value, speaking ability, flair, and excitement in speakers. Being bombastic and outlandish is praised in our culture today. We can see some of this criticism of Paul in 2 Corinthians 10. In 10:1 Paul is criticized for being humble when in their presence but being bold when he is gone and writes his letters to them. In 10:10 Paul even quotes one of the criticisms of him.
For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” (2 Corinthians 10:10 ESV)
His lack of persona and style in person caused some people to not listen to him. It is interesting to consider because one wonders if a church today would support Paul to preach for them. So what Paul must do in 2 Corinthians 10 is teach Christians what our spiritual warfare looks like as we follow Jesus and keep us from warring in a worldly way. As we look at this text we are going to see how we are to engage the world, have relationships with each other, and deal with sin and temptations in our own lives. Particularly, we are going to learn how to fight right.
Warning Against Walking According to the Flesh (10:1-2)
What is stunning is that the Corinthians have mistaken Paul’s lack of boldness and power as a lack of strength and ability. Paul says in verse 2 that he does not want to have to come there and show them boldness. But there are those who are walking according to the flesh. The irony is that those who are charging Paul with “walking according to the flesh” are actually themselves the ones walking according to the flesh.
Listen to verse 1. “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ….” What Paul has done for them is not walk according to the flesh. Rather, Paul is exhibiting the meekness and gentleness of Christ when he is with them. Here is a church with all kinds of problems and yet when he is with them he shows the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He does so to such a degree that he is actually criticized for his humility. When it comes to understanding how we live our lives and deal with one another, these are the characteristics people should see in us.
So often what Christians think they are to do is be loud and cantankerous. It is almost as if the louder we get and the more stubborn we get, then that shows how right we are. We think that we can loud or rude or boisterous and in this way we can force others into yielding to our way. Is this how Jesus acted when he was challenged? Is this how Jesus acted when people resisted and rejected him? Where do we ever see Jesus being loud, boisterous, cantankerous, rude, pushy, or bully people around? The whole idea of the word “meekness” is a person who has power but that power remains constrained and under control. Listen to this description of Jesus:
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18–21 ESV)
It is worldly thinking and walking according to the flesh when we quarrel, cry aloud, make noise, draw attention to ourselves, be bold and loud, and run over others. This is not what we see in Jesus. This is not what we see in Paul who is having to defend the gospel and his own ministry.
We Do Not Wage War Like The World (10:3)
The apostle Paul drives this point further in verse 3. We live in the world but we do not wage the battle the way the world does. We are human but we do not wage the war as humans do. Just because we are human does not mean that we act like worldly people. Think about this: how we handle disagreements and issues is not to be like how the world handles such things. We are not to handle these things with anger, clamor, malice, egotism, withdrawal, and the like. Friends, it is so easy to watch these behaviors on television and watch these behaviors in our work place and bring them into the assembly and handle each other that way. We think that we need to be pushy and exert ourselves. But Paul says that we do not wage war like the world does.
However, before we leave this verse we must consider something else. We must acknowledge that the Christian life is described as a battle. What Paul is not going to say is that we do not engage other people at all. Paul is not going to say that we do nothing. This is easy for us to do, isn’t it? When someone who claims to be a Christian and draws attention to himself by being loud or pushy or intimidating, what do we so often do? We are tempted to recoil and do nothing. I have seen this when it comes to elders, preachers, leaders in the church, and Christians in general. Someone makes a lot of noise so that they can try to look like they are right. Someone intimidates another person by how they act, by using anger, egotism, malice, fear, and the like. So what do we want to do? We want to just avoid the person. But friends, Paul does not leave the Corinthians in that condition though they have people who are acting this way. We are in a war but we do not wage war like worldly people.
Fight Right (10:4-6)
Now it is easy to read verses 4-6 as how we fight the thinking of the world. While we can make applications to this, this is not the context of what Paul is talking about. The context is the worldly thinking of these Christians in Corinth. Paul explains how we are to fight right. Paul already told us that we are to maintain the meekness and gentleness of Christ as we have relationships with one another. Look at verses 4-6 and notice what else Paul points out that we are doing.
Notice that the goal is to get us and others to change the way we think. Paul says that we are destroying arguments and lofty opinions that are raised against the knowledge of God. We are taking every thought captive to make it obey Christ. The battle begins with the way we think, not what we do. We should know this truth because of how often Jesus taught this very principle. Our actions follow our hearts. So bringing the war to our actions is going to fail. Friends, this is why we fail in trying to conquer weaknesses, temptations, and sins. What we do is we try to change the behavior. But trying to change the behavior alone is never going to work because the behavior comes from the overflow of our minds and hearts. Obedience to the Lord does not come by trying harder. We have all tried to try harder and it does not work. One of the purposes of the Law of Moses was to show that by trying harder is going to cause every person to fail.
So what has to happen? We need to change the mind. We need to transform the heart. We need to change the way we think. This is what Paul is describing here. We need to change the way we think. We need to take every thought captive. Now what we like to do is believe that everyone else’s thinking is wrong and ours is right. But we need to accept what the scriptures teach us. The scriptures teach us that our thinking is broken. Your mind and the way you think is just as broken as my mind and the way I think. Look at Ephesians 4:17-24.
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17–24 ESV)
Paul tells us to not act like the world. No longer walk as the Gentiles (people outside of the covenant of Christ) do. What does that look like? “In the futility of their minds,” “darkened in their understanding”, and alienated from the life of God “because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (4:17-18). We must fight for our own minds and hearts, taking every thought captive. We have to change the way we think. What we learn from our culture is wrong. The values that we have are wrong. The only way to define what are right values and what are proper truths is not from the news or television shows or movies but from God’s word. What people tell us is right and wrong are not going to be true unless they are grounded in the scriptures. Our thinking is broken. We must start with this truth. Before we can defend the gospel and change the world we must first start with the acceptance that our thinking is completely broken. We are probably acting and thinking selfishly, and we have to address that first.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11 ESV)
This is the point the apostle Peter made. The passions of our flesh are waging war against our souls. The things that are screaming at our minds are often not godly things, but our own selfish desires and passions. We cannot fight worldly thinking until we fix our own way of thinking. We cannot fight worldly thinking unless we know what right thinking actually is. If we are going to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4), we need to first consider what strongholds are in our own minds that stand in opposition to Christ. Am I thinking selfishly? Am I thinking worldly? Am I failing to show the meekness and gentleness of Christ? Only then are we in a position to try to change how others think about Christ.
How are going to change how people think? By bullying them? By intimidating them? By being angry at them? The weapon of our warfare is simply the gospel message, not us. We are going to exemplify the gospel in our lives while our tongues speak the gospel.
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2 ESV)
This is the only way we can change people. You realize that you cannot change people, right? How many people enter into marriage thinking they can change the other person! You cannot change them. But God can. God changes people with the gospel. This is what Paul has that possesses divine power (2 Corinthians 10:4). We are going to be compassionate, patient, gentle, humble, and meek.
But this does not mean that we ignore sin. We see this in 2 Corinthians 10:6. Paul says that after they have become fully obedient, he will punish everyone who remains disobedient. At some point disobedience must be exposed. Paul is giving the Corinthians a chance to deal with these who are walking according to the flesh before he gets there. Paul gives people the opportunity for correction. We need to give people time to change. We need to give people time to obey. But we cannot ignore sin. We cannot ignore sin in our lives nor in the lives of others. We are not helping ourselves and we are not helping others by ignoring sin because our souls are eternally lost if we do that. We need the truth. We need sin to be exposed. We will need to be corrected and admonished. But we can do so with meekness and gentleness just as Jesus did.
We are in a spiritual battle but the weapons we use are not to be fleshly, worldly weapons. We will use the message of the gospel and show the love of Christ toward others as we go to war against the strongholds and thoughts that stand against Christ.
We have a world whose thoughts stand in direct rebellion to the Lord. We must be ready to use the gospel to change the way people think about life, culture, values, truth, and their worldview. We will show people in the world the love of Christ with all humility and gentleness while still declaring sin to be sin.
We have relationships with each other in Christ and it is easy to forget that we are family and we are treat one another like family in Christ. We are not going to treat each other in worldly ways. We are not going to angry with each other, fight with each other, intimidate each other, exalt ourselves over each other, give the cold shoulder to one another, or any other worldly response. We will show each other the love of Christ with all humility and gentleness while still declaring to each other the need to repent and confess our sins, making the life changes we need to make because our minds are being transformed from corruption to godliness.
But it begins with ourselves. We need to take every thought captive and make it obey Christ. We cannot engage the world or engage each other until we engage ourselves. We have heart problems. We have thought problems. We are not here to win. We are to put others ahead of ourselves and sacrifice ourselves just as Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Entreat by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.