Engaging in Spiritual Warfare
A pastor friend of mine and his wife were visiting the country of Nigeria. They had gone to bed for the night and were sound asleep. All of a sudden, his wife cried out; someone or something was shaking her bed. So, they turned on the lights to see if they could see what was happening. But there was nothing under the bed and nothing attached to it that could make it shake. So, they went back to bed.
But it wasn’t long before the same thing happened again! This time, my friend said he thought about the possibility of an attack by a demonic spirit. So, taking his very frightened wife in his arms he prayed and asked God to rebuke the evil spirits in the name of Jesus and through the power of His shed blood. After the prayer, there was no unusual manifestation or anything like that. So, they went back to bed and slept peacefully for the remainder of the night.
Spiritual warfare is a controversial subject within Christendom today. There are generally two main responses to the topic. One is under-emphasis, and the other is over-emphasis.
Some people don’t believe there’s anything to it. “It’s all a figment of your imagination,” they say. So, they ignore it, even though the Scriptures plainly talk about it. There are others who blame every sin, every conflict, every problem, and every sickness on demons. And they’re convinced those demons need to be cast out. What is really needed is some biblical balance.
We know from the Gospels that Jesus cast out demons. But those events don’t make up the majority of the record. He healed many people of sicknesses, opened blind eyes, and cured leprosy. In most of those cases, there’s no mention at all of demons or evil spirits. Many of the ailments Jesus cured were simply the effects of living in a world affected by sin.
But spiritual warfare isn’t only about the things I’ve already mentioned. It’s dealing with wrong thoughts and words, whether our own or the ones others speak about us. It’s about dealing with temptations that arise out of our fleshly desires. It’s about controlling our thought processes. It’s about learning how to handle criticism in a Christ-like way.
In our study of Second Corinthians, we’ve come to chapter ten. In the first six verses of this chapter, Paul writes about engaging in spiritual warfare. However, we must note the context of this teaching. As I mentioned near the beginning of this study, this second letter to the Corinthians is largely Paul’s personal defense of the legitimacy of his ministry and his apostolic authority. There are several chapters in the middle, which we’ve covered, where he addresses other subjects. But here in chapter ten, he returns to the main subject, the defense of his ministry.
Remember, there was a stubborn minority of Judaizers in Corinth who opposed Paul. They resisted his authority. They constantly criticized him and tried to sway other people to join their faction. So, Paul, reluctantly, but forcefully calls them to account. This is a vital portion of Scripture for those in leadership, especially those who lead in the church. With that background in mind, let’s read the text, Second Corinthians 10:1 to 6.
Engaging in spiritual warfare is a demanding task. In this text, we learn several REQUIREMENTS for success in that struggle.
The First REQUIREMENT (for engaging in spiritual warfare) is,
Know Your Position
Paul’s critics in Corinth, mainly the Judaizers, accused him of being a hypocrite, of being two-faced. They said, “You’re really bold in your letters, but when you’re here in person you lack courage.” It’s like they were saying, “you seem like two different people; will the real Paul please stand up.” In verse two they questioned his motives and accused him of walking after the flesh. Of course, they would do that because Paul didn’t focus on keeping the Mosaic law as they did.
But Paul knew who he was and what his position was in Christ. He knew what he had been, and he knew what God had called him to be. And even though they attacked him unjustly, look how he responded. He said, “I entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” This is so important! Leaders are always targets for criticism. Some of it is deserved, but much of it isn’t. But it is critical that leaders learn how to respond in the meekness and gentleness of Christ. We can only do that if we know what our position is in Christ.
Now, remember that meekness isn’t the same as weakness. Paul’s response to these false accusations was calm and controlled, but it was also forceful. Meekness is not laying down and allowing people to walk all over you. Jesus characterized Himself as meek, but he leveled some blistering rebukes at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day.
Verse two in our English translations is difficult. Here is what I understand it to mean. “I pray that you may not make it necessary for me to show when I am present, that official authoritativeness, (in this case, apostolic) which I am minded to show against those who charge me with unworthy motives.” What is the official authority Paul is talking about? We find it in the opening verse of this second letter to the Corinthians. He wrote that “he was an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God…” He wasn’t self-appointed or even appointed by other men. That gave him unique authority in the church. So, Paul knew his position was established by God and he wasn’t going to back down.
As ministers of the Gospel, many of us, like the apostle Paul, know what it’s like to be attacked unjustly. And no, we’re not apostles. But if we’re convinced that God has called us and put us in the ministry, then we can endure the accusations of our critics just like Paul did. And we stand on the authority of the Word of God and the elders who ordained us.
Knowing who we are in Christ is a requirement if we engage in spiritual warfare.
Another REQUIREMENT (for engaging in spiritual warfare) is,
Know Your Weapons
As I mentioned earlier, Paul’s critics accused him of walking according to the flesh, which is living in a way that pleases natural desires. Paul kind of brushes that accusation aside and says, “yes, it’s true, we do walk in the flesh.” In other words, we live in a physical body in a material environment, a world made up of matter. But there’s a huge difference between walking in the flesh and walking according to the flesh. One is natural life, the other is allowing our flesh, our body, and its desires, to control our choices and our actions.
Paul admits we are in a war but reminds us that we do not fight according to the flesh or in the same ways that wars are fought on a physical battlefield. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, which means “of the flesh.” They are not the weapons of the unregenerate, those who don’t know Christ. Sadly, I fear we too often try to use those kinds of weapons in our battles with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Instead of approaching with meekness and gentleness, we come with a sword and overwhelming force. It would’ve done Paul no good to go to Corinth and start knocking heads together!
So, our weapons are spiritual rather than physical. And Paul says they are mighty, that is, they are empowered by God, for the pulling down of strongholds. There are some unique words used in this phrase. First, “pulling down.” We compare it with its usage in Luke 1:52. This is in the Magnificat, or the song of Mary, during her visit with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. In response to her being chosen to bear the Christ child, she said, “He has pulled down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly.”
The other word is strongholds. This is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used. It may be that Paul was picturing the rock forts on the coast of his native Cilicia. Though they seemed impregnable, they were pulled down by the Romans in their attacks on the Cilician pirates. The strongholds Paul is addressing in this text also need to be torn down.
If the weapons of our warfare are not physical, then the strongholds Paul is talking about aren’t physical either. Look at verse five. “We tear down arguments of human reasoning and every lofty idea that is raised against the knowledge of God.” So, the strongholds that need to be torn down are in our minds and hearts. The false reasonings and imaginations of man’s mind are to be treated as forts to be conquered. And there are plenty of them nowadays!
What are these false reasonings and imaginations of man’s mind? They are ideas that run counter to the truth of God as revealed to us in His Word. In this context, these are particularly false teaching found among those who profess to know God. The false teachers at Corinth were trying to persuade the majority that their way was best.
Their false reasonings included requirements other than faith in Christ for salvation. They taught that “yes, you need Jesus, but you also need to keep the law.” I recently heard a pastor say we are saved by grace through faith, but we keep our salvation by obedience to God’s commands. That statement is not biblically accurate. First Peter 1:5 clearly states that we are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” So, we are saved by faith, and we are kept by faith. Our obedience to the commands of Christ is in loving appreciation of the gift of our salvation, and according to John 14:23, it results in a deeper level of intimacy with Jesus and God. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. “
Further, “we take captive every thought to make it obey Christ.” Paul continues the military metaphor; leading away of captives after storming the stronghold. There are two possible meanings here. One is that we bring our thought processes completely under the control of Christ. We subject our reasonings to God’s truth and decide on that basis whether we are right or wrong. That is a valid understanding and an important one too.
But, given the context, I think what Paul is saying is that his goal is to bring the false teachers to the place their strongholds of human reasoning will be torn down and their minds will be captivated by their obedience to Christ. Paul’s desire is that the false teachers will leave the ruined strongholds of human reasoning and by their obedience to Christ be led captive into the new stronghold of proper belief and practice. This is the essence of intellectual liberty and freedom in Christ.
As Christ-followers our greatest weapon is the truth, but truth is somewhat abstract. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:17 and 18 that the tangible and practical weapons in this war are the Word of God and prayer. I would also add Peter’s words in his first epistle, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.” Our testimony is a weapon in this spiritual battle.
Brothers and sisters, if we don’t know our position, if we don’t know what our weapons are, or if we aren’t skilled in using them, we are not prepared to engage in spiritual warfare!
The Final REQUIREMENT (for engaging in spiritual warfare) is,
Know Your Enemy
Sun Tzu was a well-known Chinese general and military strategist who lived several centuries before Christ. He wrote a military manual, The Art of War, that is still studied by military leaders around the world. While the principles or maxims he wrote to deal with physical warfare, many of them can be applied to spiritual warfare too. Like this one.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
How does that fit in the context of Paul’s teaching here? He writes, “We are ready to avenge every act of disobedience when your obedience becomes complete.” It seems to me that Paul is continuing the military metaphor. After most of the rebels in Corinth have surrendered as proof of their obedience to Paul’s teaching, the rebels who remain will be punished.
Paul knew who his enemies were in Corinth. Remember, before his conversion he would have used very similar arguments to try to persuade his opponents. So, this terrain, to use a military term, wasn’t unfamiliar to him. He knew both himself and his enemy and this final verse of our text expresses his confidence in what the final outcome would be.
There are other portions of Scripture that detail for us some of the characteristics and tactics of our enemy, Satan. We should be familiar with those, but not become fixated on understanding every facet of the kingdom of darkness. In fact, we should be more familiar with the tactics used by false teachers to lead people astray so we can refute and defeat them.
One final point in this requirement of knowing your enemy; people are not the enemy, Satan is. He uses people as his tools. Remember when Jesus told the disciples of His impending suffering and death, Peter spoke up and said, “Lord this will never happen to you!” And Jesus said, “’Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’” While it’s important for us to know our enemy, you and I also need to be very careful that we don’t allow ourselves to become tools of the enemy.
In closing, let’s review one more time the requirements for engaging in spiritual warfare. Know your position, who you are in Christ, and what or whom you are responsible for. Know your weapons, become familiar with the Word of God, and prayer. And finally, know your enemy well enough that his tactics won’t surprise you. Above all conduct yourself with the meekness and gentleness of Christ.