In the books of Corinthians, Paul is writing to a church that has many problems including idolatry, rebellion and false teachers. In this letter, Paul is urgently trying warn the Corinthians against the threats facing them from their own behaviour and attitude. In verse 1, Paul starts by telling them his intention, which is to appeal to them with humility and gentleness, in Christ’s example. He is aware that some people in the church were mocking him as being a “timid” speaker who was probably not very charismatic, but “bold” in writing to them. They were mocking him as a coward, or in the current internet age, they would have accused him of being a “keyboard warrior’. This kind of talk was happening amongst people in the Corinthian church, because they did not respect Paul or his teaching. They did not want other people to pay any attention to his warnings either. By writing verse 1, Paul is telling them that he knows all about what they call him behind his back. He asks them to reconsider their actions in verse 2, so that he would not have to “be as bold as I expect towards some people who think that we live by the standards of the world’. He is saying that he hopes he would not have to admonish some people as severely as he expects that he has to. Those of us who are parents, probably know this feeling well, when we hope we will not have to deal with our children as severely as we might have to, should they do something wrong.
What did Paul mean by “the standards of this world”? In verses 3-4 he writes, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world”. In this context, Paul was talking about the strategies that trouble makers in the church were using to lead others astray and to establish their own personal agendas; slander, false accusations, gossip, and general mischief. These weapons can be very harmful and destructive within a church. However, Paul does not bother to contradict any of the accusations made against him. He merely acknowledges that this is happening and informs them that he is aware of their actions. Then he reminds them that as Christians, we do not fight dirty like the world does. We fight with God-given weapons that have divine power to demolish strongholds. These weapons are truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the word of God (Ephesians 6:11-17). With these weapons, we can breakdown and defeat any strongholds. You may be wondering what strongholds are. The answer is in verse 5; they are arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. A stronghold is a habitual pattern of thinking that is strongly held onto. Clearly if your relationship with God is a stronghold in your life, this is a good thing. However, what Paul means in this passage are arguments, thoughts or opinions that are against the knowledge of God, that are strongly held and that hinder us from a full and obedient relationship with God. These strongholds can have deep roots such as fear, pride, unconfessed sin, unforgiveness and lies that you have believed. We can only successfully defeat these problems with divine weapons. We should not fight as the world does even though we live in it (verse 3) because that would be foolish and pointless. Do not fight slander and mischief with the same kind of behaviour. Instead, fight it with the word of God and with the righteousness that comes from Him. He has already given us the victory and His promise that he will never forsake us. Do not fret about what people say. Move on with your walk with God and keep going forward. Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (verse 5). This means we should gain control of our own thoughts, recognise and challenge thoughts that are not consistent with God’s word. Choose to live in obedience and peace knowing that God will take care of everything that you need.
In verse 6, Paul writes, “And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete’. This verse does not mean physical punishment, as verses 3-4 have already told us that the weapons we use are spiritual weapons. Paul is talking about spiritual punishment. We will all be called to account for our actions on judgment day. I believe Paul is also talking about spiritual punishment on earth. Sin has serious consequences, both eternally and here on earth. We would be foolish to think that God would allow us to act as badly as we wish, without rebuking us. Paul’s main concern here is that all would repent and be obedient to God’s word. This is really why he has written this letter, in order to warn the people that they should take the opportunity to fully repent and turn their lives according to God’s will.
Take some time to examine your thoughts, attitudes and behaviour. What are the areas in your life that could be spiritual strongholds? Is there unconfessed sin, bitterness, jealousy, unforgiveness or pride? Are there things that you have believed that may not be true? Are there patterns of thought and behaviour that have caused you problems repeatedly? Ask God to help you to tear these spiritual strongholds down and to stop them from being re-established in your life. You may have to deal with painful issues, but trust God to help you. Let him take over as the secure stronghold of your life. Meditate on 2 Samuel 22:3, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my saviour – from violent people you save me.” Amen.