“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” (2 Cor. 10:1–5 ESV).
In the Corinthian letters, Paul battled against false teachers who won the church over with the fleshly weapons of smooth, entertaining speeches of human wisdom. They captured their subjects through physical appearance and manipulation. Paul later said, “For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!” (2 Cor. 11:20-21).
Paul’s weapons, however, were not fleshly in that he did not come with “lofty speech” or “plausible words of wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:1, 4). Instead, Paul stated, “I decided to “know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified…that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:2, 5). For Paul, making and keeping disciples always meant turning people to the word of God and the power of God so that their faith rested in God and not in men. Paul was even careful about his visits to Corinth: “But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (2 Cor. 1:23–24). Paul did not want to “lord it over” their faith by pressuring them with a personal appearance.
Instead, Paul’s weapons were “divine weapons.” These divine weapons use the word of God to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.” We need to be impressed that God’s method of making disciples is through arguments, though not argumentative. The world was in darkness and Jesus came into the world to show the light, that is, to use evidence to argue for what is true and expose Satan’s lies. Jesus won people by teaching, not by coercion or manipulation. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him… It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:44-45). Satan, on the other hand, uses carnal weapons by offering people teachers “to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3). These carnal teachers use “smooth words and flattering speech to deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18).
Understanding Our Goal
Please remember, one of the main reasons we come together and discuss the scriptures is because we are in a quest for truth (Eph. 4:12-13). We do not come together to study what we have always believed and rehearse an unwritten creed. Unfortunately, there are those who are quite determined to only rehearse what has always been believed and take a shotgun to anyone who suggests otherwise. The mistake in this is fourfold:
- Every generation must go through the process of developing their own faith based on scripture. We are not allowed to simply tell them what they are supposed to believe based on our faith and our discoveries. The process must start fresh with every person. This may be one of the main reasons new, youth generated churches have formed – they were told what to believe without careful, patient explanation from the word of God. And in some cases, told what to believe when there was no scriptural foundation.
- We must always recheck our own beliefs, no matter how firmly we believe our positions are correct. Our original studies could have been flawed and there are truths we may have missed. Consider how far off base the Pharisees were, and yet they firmly believed they were correct. Their self-surety kept them from reexamining their understanding of the Messiah and caused them to murder the Son of God!
- A church truly reflects God when it does not fall into the trap of trying to control the way everyone thinks or acts. We are not enforcers; we are teachers. We are to use God’s word to make disciples of Jesus, not disciples of us. The only way disciples are made is by teaching. Only by using the method of patiently teaching (2 Tim. 2:24) can we be assured of avoiding a system of traditions that become creedal. Even the elders are not allowed to be enforcers. Concerning elders, Paul states, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). Elders are not allowed to make rules; God has already taken care of that. Elders are to use sound teaching to “silence” those who are teaching “what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11).
- Our primary allegiance must not be to a group, a brotherhood, or a set of distinguishing beliefs. Our allegiance must be to the truth regardless of the consequences or how others respond to us, negatively or positively. None of us have a corner on the truth market. We are to be seekers, knowing that we too can be wrong and that we too must “grow in knowledge” (2 Pet. 1:5). Paul reminds us that people perish when they do not “love the truth” (2 Thes. 2:10). All of us who teach must respect the process of growing in knowledge. Paul cautions, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
What are the weapons of your warfare? Divine weapons lead to kindness and patience in teaching, correcting opponents with gentleness. Do we want people to be saved, or are we just seeking a carnal victory?