“Waging War”Categories: Bible, Discipleship, Morality
“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.” (2 Cor. 10:3-4)
The apostle Paul made many enemies throughout his life. At first it was his Jewish countrymen who opposed him. Then it was Jewish Christians who, in their stubborn efforts to bind circumcision on the Gentiles, became enemies of the cross. But a new breed of enemies who professed faith in Jesus stirred in Achaia. These were men who looked, spoke, and acted like they thought an apostle of Jesus ought to act. These enemies of Paul were out to discredit his apostleship (12:12; 13:3) and sought to elevate themselves in the eyes of the Corinthians in the process.
One charge leveled against Paul by these insurgents was that he walked “according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:2), that is, he conducted himself based on human terms or was motivated by self-interest. This seed of doubt was already planted in the minds of the Corinthians as Paul’s motives for changing his travel plans were questioned earlier in the epistle (1:12ff).
They attacked the substance and style of his preaching (1 Cor. 1:17; 2:1-5) while they held eloquent and professional oration in high regard. They questioned his motives for his refusal of financial support from the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 9:1-27; 2 Cor. 11:7-8) thinking he had a guilty conscience.
In short, they just plain didn't like Paul. He didn’t fit into the mold of what they thought an apostle of Jesus should be. Why was he so poor? Why was he constantly suffering, so bold in his letters but cowardly in person? They mistook his meekness for weakness, his patience for cowardice, and his gentleness for indecision. So they reasoned in their hearts that Paul was a fraud. The ramifications of their logic were severe. For, to disregard the apostleship of Paul was to disregard Christ himself, as it was Jesus who appointed him.
The war was on and the time had come for Paul to flex his apostolic muscles and exercise the full extent of his authority as a true ambassador of Christ. In the last section of 2 Corinthians (chs. 10-13) he wages an all-out battle upon the small but poisonous insurgency (10:1-2) at Corinth. He had suffered these “fools” (11:19) long enough. They were preaching a different Jesus (11:4) and were seducing the saints (11:2-3, 20).
But how did the apostle wage war? By the Spirit of God, he took up his pen and methodically refuted every charge brought against him and exposed, in the highest measure, what his opponents really were: “false apostles” (11:13), “ministers of Satan” (11:15), and “intruders” (11:3-4) who were destroying the faith of some.
He conceded to his opponents that he did live or “walk in the flesh” but certainly did not wage war “according to the flesh” (10:3). He drew a sharp distinction between walking “in” and waring “after” the flesh. Outwardly, Paul freely admitted he is a regular man, weak and wasting away in his “earthly tent” (5:1; cf. 4:1, 16), just as Jesus walked “in the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7).
Unlike Jesus in the flesh, Paul was weak in temptation and had a tendency toward rebellion, pride and passion. This being the case, he happily depended upon God’s grace in his weakness (12:9-10). But, as he walked “in the flesh,” Paul was very careful not to wage “war according to the flesh,” that is, he did not use the same tactics his opponents used against him: the carnal weapons of war, namely, judging according to appearances, using a standard of measurement other than the gospel of Jesus Christ (10:12).
This did not mean Paul did not wade into battle. He never backed down! The meek and gentle Paul (10:1) was also the mighty warrior of Christ, who defended the gospel with his very life. In this “good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12) Paul armed himself with “divine power” (2 Cor. 10:4) or weapons that were “mighty through God” (KJV) (cf. Eph. 6:11-17).
Paul understood the rapier of eloquent speech and the longbow of human logic were powerless to “pull down” the “mighty strongholds” (10:4 KJV) that men erect in their hearts to resist God’s word. If he wanted to be successful in destroying “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (10:5) he needed a bigger gun, that is, the dynamite of the gospel; God’s explosive “power unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Most importantly, throughout the defense of his apostleship, Paul exercised the love of Christ (10:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-25).
Herein lies a great lesson for us. We may be attacked for living the gospel. It is not wrong to defend yourself and your faith. In fact, it would be a disgrace to Christ not to (1 Pet. 3:15). But we must be careful not to wage war “according to the flesh” for if we do, not only are we bound to fail but we dishonor God.
Using carnal means to defend the faith (e.g. name calling, personal put-downs, emotionally charged but scripturally unsound points, etc.) might win the argument but they are powerless to win the heart of your opponent. It will not tear down the barriers that your fellow man has erected in his mind against God, these “mighty strongholds,” lofty towers of opinion “raised against the knowledge of God.”
Only when we speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) can we boldly brandish the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) with such precision that it will have its intended effect: “piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). That power belongs to God, not you and not me. Yet God has given it to us to wield in a loving and godly way in order to equip us with “divine power.”
Next time you are called to defend the faith don’t back down! Arm yourself with the same attitude and power that Paul was equipped with and watch as the walls of the opponent of the gospel fall like the walls of Jericho!