2 Corinthians 10: Spiritual Warfare

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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 10:4-6 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a freshman in college, I took judo. Judo appealed to me for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important was the judo philosophy of using your opponent’s actions and weaknesses against them.  Instead of resisting an opponent lunging at you, you step aside, tug their collar, and trip them with a knee or ankle block.  Or, freak your opponent out with an uncommon technique—works even against a black belt!  But only for a while!  In my case, the black belt recovered his composure and I was quickly looking up from the mat on my back!

In the case of spiritual warfare, Satan is the ultimate black belt opponent—he knows all our weaknesses and has mastered all the moves.  In verse 17, Paul wisely cites the Prophet Jeremiah who writes

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

In the spiritual domain, the strongholds we face are false arguments and lofty opinions that arise, not from Christ, but promote disobedience (vv 4-6) and serve, not to build up, but to destroy (v 8).  Because our opponent is stronger and craftier than us, we boast only of God (v 17) and limit ourselves to the ministry with which God has entrusted us (v 13).  To speak about other matters is foolish (v 16) for it is the Lord who commends, not us (v 18).

Interestingly, Paul writes not about Satan and a fight with demons, but simply about his human opponents in the church at Corinth. Yet, we instinctively recognize that the physical realm and the spiritual realm share much in common.

The attack on Paul in Corinth starts with ridicule of his meekness and gentleness—attributes of Christ himself (v 1).  Yet, what do we hear today? … Don’t be a doormat like those Christians!  In Paul’s case, his critics say:  His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account (v 10).  Still, Paul’s defense is very plain—I simply practice what I preach (v 11).  He further points out that his critics simply work to make themselves look good by comparing themselves with others (v 12).

Do you think that Paul ever practiced judo?

A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust. (Proverbs 21:22)

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1 Corinthians 10: Temptation

Toilette_072013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry (vv 13-14).

One test of the truth of the biblical record is that God cannot be bribed.  Most ancient religions offered a provision for bribing the deity—usually a sacrifice and often a human sacrifice.  Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac fits the ancient pattern—until God intervened and substituted a ram (Genesis 22).  Jesus’ death on the cross likewise reverses the ancient formula—God provided the sacrifice.  God cannot be bribed and does not play favorites.

In chapter 10, Paul reminds us that God also does not like to have his patience tested.  Returning to the question of idolatry among the “strong” Christians in Corinth, Paul reminds them that while they have received blessings from God, so did the Israelites wandering in the desert.  Just like the Corinthians had spiritual food and drink in communion, the Israelites had spiritual food and drink—manna and water out of a rock (vv 1-4).  Yet, when the “chosen” people tried God’s patience, they suffered God’s judgment (v 5).

The parallel between the Corinthian situation and that of Moses’ generation has 4 parts:  Idolatry (v 7), sexual immorality (v 8), testing God’s patience (v 9), and grumbling (v 10).  The idolatry in view is the Golden Calf incident which Paul cites verbatim (Exodus 32:6).  The sexual immorality was an incident with Moabite women (Numbers 25:1).  In response to the people’s questioning of God’s generosity, God sent poisonous snakes (Number 21:5-6).  Later, after the people grumbled and rebelled against Moses, God threatened to destroy them all.  However, Moses intervened on their behalf with God.  God relented from destroying the people but vowed that the entire generation would die in the desert—except for Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 14).

If God punished his chosen people for these sins, then why do the Corinthians think that they will be exempt from God’s judgment in doing the same things?  Paul advises the Corinthians:  Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (v 31).  What about us?  We are to be good examples to those around us and not flaunt our freedom in Christ.

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