Stronghold 12: 2 Corinthians 10:5 (Take Captive Every Thought).
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 10:5)
This is a more aggressive kind of stronghold. Some strongholds you simply shelter in or take comfort from; others need to be more proactive. As Christians we shouldn’t only ever be on the defensive – we can and should be on the offensive. Some of us need to be bolder in our faith. This kind of muscular Christianity won’t be to everyone’s tastes – some don’t like confrontation and some think that it doesn’t become men and women of God. I respectfully disagree. It might come easier to some than to others, but we all need to be more muscular in our faith – mentally and spiritually vigorous.
I love this verse because it portrays followers of God as tough and able, not the wimpy do-gooders of the popular imagination. Paul was about as zealous and courageous as a Christian can be – he was always on the move, always taking a stand for the Gospel and never shied away from a fight when the truth of Jesus was at stake. Here he is defending his ministry to the Corinthians, justifying his apostolic conduct in the face of criticism and comparison to other more dubious evangelists who were less stern and less authentic.
There are two things we can take from this verse. Firstly we need to be firm in the truth and ruthless with anything that undermines it. Secondly, we need to mentally vigilant and mindful of things that might creep into our thinking that are harmful to our relationship with Jesus.
First then, we need to be firm in the truth. When Paul talks about the ‘knowledge of God’ he’s saying there is objective truth – there is an authentic Gospel and it needs to be preserved unaltered. The only reason Paul needs to ‘demolish’ arguments and pretensions is because at the time there were attacks on the core truths of the Gospel – some more subtle, some less; some well-intended, some malicious. But all watered down or compromised the truth. Whether it was adding to the work of Jesus something we need to do to be saved or insisting on x other rules, these things were damaging to the message of Jesus and were leading people astray.
This is no less true today. There are lots of fake gospels and distorted gospels out there, lots of ways in which people add to or detract from biblical truth. We need to have a firm handle on the truth so that we will know something different when we see it. How can we defend the truth if we don’t know what it is? It’s not enough to guess or know vaguely, we need to be firm, otherwise we’ll be knocked about by every idea and fad like waves in the ocean (James 1:6). People misquote the Bible, make salvation based on works, deny who Jesus is and obscure our mission of reaching the lost in a haze of postmodern relativism. These are arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. They need demolishing.
That doesn’t mean we have to be harsh or excessive in how we speak. It means we need to take a firm stand for truth. We need to be willing to engage in apologetics, being ready with answers to tricky questions or how to handle common objections to Christianity. Know your stuff – church history, biblical doctrine, sound teaching. Don’t be ignorant or unprepared, lest you get taken in by a pretension. There’s fake theology out there as well as fake news. Know how to spot it.
It’s also worth comparing and contrasting this verse with 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”. There is no contradiction here, just a difference in style between two faithful men of God. Paul was more combative; Peter was milder. There’s room for both, so long as we don’t compromise on the truth. But notice the difference in who the apostles are dealing with – Peter was responding to earnest enquirers; Paul was confronting people who were wilfully warping the Word of God. These different kinds of situation call for different kinds of response, so we need discernment and moderation to know which is which. There’s no use trying to argue someone into believing, but there’s only one way to deal with lies: call them out.
In the second part of the verse Paul goes on to say ‘and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’. We all have a lot of thoughts, and not all of them are helpful or in harmony with Jesus. A lot originate from our selfish nature, and a lot are triggered by unhelpful stimuli in the world – sights, sounds and examples that entice us to greed, lust, envy and selfishness. Guys, when you see an attractive woman and find yourself thinking lustfully – capture that thought. Surrender it straight to God, because if you don’t it’ll drag you down into sin with it. When you’re scrolling through someone’s Instagram feed and wishing you had what they had – capture that thought. When a tweet or radio host is encouraging hatred in persuasive terms – capture that thought. When you find yourself still bitter about that slight from weeks, months or even years ago – capture that thought.
These are the thoughts we need to take captive. That means stopping them before they run riot in our brains. It’s a mental and spiritual discipline. It’s well known that you can’t not think about something just by not thinking about it, but this verse offers a more proactive alternative. Take it captive and make it obedient to Christ. That means countering it with Gospel truth straight away. It means spotting it early and neutralising it with something more effective. As Rick Warren says, don’t resist, replace. Don’t just resist unhelpful thoughts, replace them with better ones.
This stronghold isn’t just a set of walls to shelter behind, like an empty castle. No, this is fortress bristling with sentries and anti-siege weapons. It has catapults filled with prayers and Bible verses and arguments of faith, ready to fight the lies and false gods out there. It has nets and cages for taking captive those rogue thoughts which try to scale the walls of our mind like castle attackers on ladders. All too many of us have a faith like an unmanned castle and too few of us have a well-provisioned fortress ready for war. Ephesians 6 makes clear that every single one of us is in a spiritual war, all the time, and whether we like it or not. So you might as well be ready for it. Grab your spiritual weapons and man those walls. Take the fight to the enemy, and be strong in the Lord.
(come back next week for Stronghold number 13: Ephesians 6. You can find my first 11 Strongholds here: Numbers 6 , Psalm 23, Psalm 84, Psalm 121, Psalm 139, Proverbs 4, Isaiah 40, Jeremiah 29, Zephaniah 3, Romans 8:28 & Romans 12:1-2).