I, Paul, myself entreat 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 beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. – 2 Corinthians 10:1-6 ESV
They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. But Paul’s experience was just the opposite. His long-distance relationship with the Corinthians had created some significant leadership issues for him. While he had been away, a variety of different individuals had shown up who questioned his apostolic authority, accused him of heavy-handedness, painted him as a coward, and labeled him as weak. A good portion of this letter contains Paul’s defense of his actions and authority. He felt compelled to defend himself because, ultimately, an attack on him was an attack on the very gospel he preached. And he saw the battle as a spiritual one. This wasn’t just a case of one man’s opinion over another’s. This was about the integrity of the gospel.
Paul uses military terms to describe what is going on. And he indicates that the conflict is taking place behind the scenes, in the spiritual realm. So those who were attempting to raise doubts about Paul’s integrity and undermine his ministry were actually being used by Satan himself to damage the cause of Christ. And Paul makes it clear that the attacks against him called for something other than a “fleshly” response. He was human (of the flesh), but his actions were anything but fleshly (according to the human means). He says, “we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:3b ESV). Paul wasn’t going to resort to human means to fight a spiritual battle. Manipulation, deceit, slander, lying, self-promotion, power-grabbing, and hypocrisy had no place in a battle that was spiritual in nature. Paul’s enemies were waging war according to the flesh. They were using any means possible to tear down Paul and destroy his influence among the Corinthians. They spread rumors about him. They raised questions about his integrity. They insinuated his lack of trustworthiness. They flatly denied his apostleship. They accused him of timidity when he was present with them, but of an arrogant boldness when he was writing his letters from a safe distance.
But Paul has a different fighting technique. He says, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). He knows the source behind the attacks of his enemies, and it is none other than Satan. What Paul was facing was more than a battle of words and whits. He describes the verbal attacks of his enemies as “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5a ESV). When these people attacked Paul and his ministry, they were really speaking against God Himself. And like Satan himself, these pawns of the enemy were really attempting to cause people to doubt the veracity and reality of God and His offer of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. The NET Bible translates verse five as, “we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.” Paul wasn’t going to let the false opinions and deceptive teachings of his enemies just slide by. He was going to attack them and make them his captive, forcing them to surrender to the sovereignty and Lordship of Christ.
Paul was ready to come and clean house. But he wanted to make sure that the Corinthians were obedient to the will and Word of God. His primary concern was their obedience. Once that was taken care of, he would do business with the rebels in their midst, punishing their disobedience once and for all. Paul was anything but politically correct or tolerant. He did not operate on the notion that everyone is free to have their own opinion. At least not when it came to the message of the gospel. And since the gospel, including man’s salvation, sanctification and ultimate glorification, was what Paul’s entire ministry was all about, he was anything but tolerant of those who claimed to teach a different version of the gospel. He was not going to put up with those who questioned the validity of his claim to have been commissioned by Christ Himself. There was too much at stake.
The phrase, “Taking every thought captive” has often been construed to mean that believers are to manage their thought lives. They are think right thoughts and to control the inner workings of their minds. And while this is true, it would seem that Paul’s point has nothing to do with our thoughts, but with those of the enemies of God. We are to do battle with these false teaching and vain philosophies, taking them captive, like prisoners at the end of a victorious battle. We are to force those thoughts to submit the Lordship of Christ, like captives kneeling before a conquering king. They have proven insufficient and inadequate to overthrow the King of kings and Lord of lords.
In order to stand for the truth, you must know it. If we are to do battle with the false teachings and the subtle lies of the enemy, it is essential that we know what the truth is. We can’t spot the counterfeit if we don’t know what the real thing looks like. Our familiarity with the truth is what gives us the ability to stand against falsehood. And our commitment to that truth is what motivates us to fight against the lies, no matter what form they may take. Exposing the lies of the enemy is one of our primary functions as believers. Paul was at war and he knew he was on the winning side. He was willing to go out swinging, never letting up or giving up, until the Lord called him home. Which is why he could write to Timothy and say, “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NLT).