For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. (2 Corinthians 10: 3-6)
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard parts of these verse preached on in relation to spiritual warfare, and concede that there is truth in many of the teachings I have heard. Spiritual warfare is real – Jesus Himself teaches us that – but the tendency is to focus on the confrontation between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God, and to exclude human or fleshly weakness or tendencies from the equation. This is both dangerous and deceptive.
We should never, ever, discount the reality and the validity of either the existence of Satan, or of his determination to either deceive or destroy the people of God. His agenda has, and always will be, to steal the worship and glory that rightfully belongs to the Lord, and he’s not particularly fussy about how he does it. Seduction and destruction are his primary activities, and that’s not going to change any time soon. This is a reality – I’ve had personal, first hand experience that reminds me, in very powerful way, that Jesus’ teaching, expounded on by Paul, is not to be taken lightly.
However, there is a propensity among Christians to overlook a fundamental truth that makes success that much easier for Satan and his minions. This is the natural, or fleshly, tendency of man to transfer the blame or responsibility for things anywhere but on themselves. To understand this, we must understand the nature of warfare.
While a lot is said about courage and boldness and honour on the battlefield, any good general knows that the ultimate victory is that which is bought at minimal cost. Consider, for a moment, the Trojan horse. The leader of the Greek army, Epeios, commissioned the building of a wooden horse in which a contingent of Greek soldiers would be hidden. It’s significant that this plan was conceived after a fruitless ten-year siege of Troy. Outright confrontation and prolonged harassment had both failed. Something more devious was called for. Epeios knew that further conventional, or expected, efforts would fail and be costly to his army.
The Greeks built the horse and left it where the people of Troy could see it, then sailed away in apparent defeat, leaving a single soldier to convince the people that he and the attack had been abandoned. This happened at night – the soldier lit a beacon to attract the attention of Troy – and they gleefully pulled in the horse, believing it to be a spoil of war. In other words, they believed they had the victory. They believed their enemy had retreated and they were now untouchable, beyond defeat, victors in every sense of the word.
The Greeks returned, however, under cover of darkness. During the night, while Troy partied, the soldiers inside the horse crept out and opened the gates for the real enemy to enter. We should note that the small contingent of soldiers alone could not take the city. It required the real army to do that. But that handful of men was sufficient to open the gates and allow the enemy full access while the city had no clue what was happening. Needless to say, Troy fell will minimal bloodshed. It cost the Greeks a bit of lumber, and a few hours of work to take a city that had withstood them for a decade.
That’s a sobering thought when considered alongside today’s passage of Scripture. There is a lot of noise around spiritual warfare and ‘tearing down strongholds,’ most of it focused on ‘territorial spirits’ and ‘binding the strong man.’ There may well be relevance in the larger arena, but I believe Paul is speaking, first and foremost, to the individual believer. He is talking to us first. We need to apply Scripture to ourselves, first, before rushing out to do battle in things we are both ignorant and ill-prepared for. Unless we first learn discernment for the issues in our own lives, we leave ourselves wide open for the enemy to take us out, one by one, and defeat God’s army before it has even begun the battle.
The clues are there for us – casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. This starts with us. We have to look at and deal with our own ‘strongholds’ before we look to our neighbours or our city, or the world at large. Lest we dispute this, Paul continues: bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. We cannot bring anyone else’s thoughts into captivity, only our own. The word captivity refers directly to the spoils of war. The war is not only ‘out there.’ It’s ‘in here,’ in our minds, in ourselves. Our fleshly nature and old, bad habits are the first enemy we must confront. Finally, he tells us: and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. Take note: your obedience. Not your neighbour’s, or the guy down the road, or the local government… Yours.
Our own thoughts, desires and attitudes are potentially our ‘Trojan horse.’ They are the way for Satan to get inside, to undermine us from the within, to open the gate to his army to effect our defeat. He doesn’t have to do much work at all with many believers – all he does is ‘dangle the bait’ and it’s pulled in like the horse. We get lulled into complacency and a sense of victory, our guard is down, and we’re celebrating instead of keeping both eyes open and remembering that we are, in fact, ‘at war.’ We’re seduced into believing that the ‘real army’ has sailed away, but in actual fact we’ve invited it in to join our party.
The war is very, very real. So is the fact that, if Satan can use our own nature, our weakness and our wrong thoughts, to bring us down, why expend unnecessary ‘soldiers’ to do the job? We’re doing his work for him by letting our guard down. Instead of focusing continually on the grandiose panorama of heavenly battle, it’s time get down to earth and deal with things in our own backyards. What is in me that raises itself up above the knowledge of God? What is my particular disobedience that needs addressing, however small, and what is it that I hang onto even though I know it’s not part of His plan? The only ‘secret’ to victory is being immersed in the Word, in the truth that sets us free. That is our guide, our defence, our protection – Jesus said, abide in Me. Everything will follow from that.
The best military force is the one that travels light, has trained and trained some more, has cut loose anything that will hold it back, and will keep its eyes on it’s commander at all times, making obedience the perfect, ultimate, purpose. Why do we find so many ‘wounded soldiers’ in our churches? It’s because something has gone wrong with the training. People are being pushed into battles for which they’re ill prepared, because they’re still carrying the spiritual baggage – misconceptions, wrong thoughts and desires, and misinterpreted Scripture – that slows them down, weighs them down, and sets them up as perfect targets for an enemy that has had eternity to plan his campaign. To defeat Satan, victory starts with the Trojan horse
Lord Jesus, You who are the Commander of the armies of heaven, help me to see the truth that will truly set me free. Show me, through the working of Your Holy Spirit, those things in me which I need to take captive to Your perfect obedience. Help me to recognise and surrender anything that raises itself above the perfect knowledge of You, and forgive me for the times where I may have focused on the battle instead of Your saving, transforming grace. Make me, through Your transforming grace, the kind of soldier You require, not the kind I think I should be.