Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Tearing Down Strongholds
by Rev. Gavin Beers, Ayr
Text: 2nd Corinthians 10:4-5
Date Preached: 10/02/2008
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" -2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Our Conference has the title Tearing Down Strongholds. That title is not original, it is from this portion of God's Word and in particular v.4 of 2 Corinthians 10 where the apostle says we are pulling down [or tearing down] strong holds. We have said that we are with this in the realm of Christian apologetics, that is, the defence of the faith. That defence of the faith in scripture in couched in the terms of warfare. This portion of God's Word is another example of that because the apostle Paul is looking at an old military figure, if you like, to describe to the church in Corinth just what it is we are engaged in in the Christian life.
By way of introduction I simply want to develop and expand upon this military image to set the context for what we are going to say in the rest of the sermon. Think of this - Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. If you're here this morning and you are a Christian then you have known Christ as King, but your King has many enemies. They have all been led astray by one Satan who is a pretender to Christ's throne, and though they cannot see it they are in terrible danger. For His own glory and for the good of these souls He sends out His Church, an army of apologists and witnesses to lay siege to the fortresses and castles that these rebels are held in. You must besiege these fortresses, you must destroy these strongholds and you must take these rebels captive for our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what the apostle Paul is teaching us here in this portion of scripture. He's telling us that we need to be able to tear down strongholds in the strength of God and lead souls captive to the obedience of Christ.
There are three things that I wish to leave with you from this portion of God's Word. First of all, we have spiritual weapons. Secondly, we have shattered strongholds. And in the third place we have submitted minds.
1. SPIRITUAL WEAPONS
As we come to the first of these - spiritual weapons - let's read again verse 3 of this chapter: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh" (v.3 - text). The apostle is saying here that you and I, we walk in the physical world but as we war in the physical world we do not war in a physical way. You think of Islam for a moment and you will discover a religion that believes in brute force ultimately, in order to achieve its goal of world domination. They may well subvert nations by way of military might. They have done from the very inception of that religion; and whoever will not submit will simply be wiped away. They speak of this of course as Jihad, and we Christians get quite alarmed hearing Islamic people speaking about Jihad. But, you know, Christianity has its own Jihad, and Christianity has its own goal in mind with respect to its Jihad - and that is world domination: that the kingdoms of this world would become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and that he would reign for ever and ever (Revelation 11:15). But here is the difference - what Islam teaches is a military campaign with physical weapons of warfare to overthrow governments and subvert nations. Christianity teaches a holy war which is spiritual. As we read into verse 4 of our text we learn that in this holy war we are to employ spiritual weapons: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [that means they are not fleshly, they are not physical], but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). So, you see, you and I are to conquer the world for Christ and we are to employ the use of spiritual weapons.
The Christian solider according to the apostle as he writes to the Ephesians, has an armour (Ephesians 6:13-17). He has the belt of truth and that is at the head of the list. That word 'truth' means sincerity and it tells us this, the person who engages in this warfare needs to know that he is a sincere Christian and that he is not hypocrite. A hypocrite is a man who believes something inwardly and who acts differently outwardly. He is not a real Christian perhaps but he pretends to be a Christian. The apostle says first in this armour is sincere Christianity. Therefore we need to ask you this morning, are you a real Christian, or are you just playing about with Christianity? Do you have a form of godliness while at the same time you deny the power of that godliness? So we need the belt of truth.
Then we have the breastplate of righteousness. It's not primarily our own righteousness but it is the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ which justifies us at the throne of God: a perfect garment of salvation. It is also our endeavour a consistent, holy life because we need that if we are going to witness in the world. Then we have the shield of faith wherewith we are able to quench all the fiery darts of the devil. In our hand we have a mighty sword. There is none like it. It is the Word of the Lord.
Here we are as Christians with all our spiritual armoury; we are clothed both for defence on the one hand, and also for attack. But when we come to 2nd Corinthians 10:4-5 we see a little bit more about this Christian warfare. We are to employ these spiritual weapons in the fight against false ideas and un-Christian world-views. Therefore the weapons that we are considering here for this fight are all that we can use: the gifts and talents that God has given to us, that we have returned to Him and consecrated to His service; everything that we have and all that we are, employed in this great work. That means it involves your mind, it involves your talent, it involves the arguments that you will employ in this great work. That does not in any way detract from the whole spirituality of the warfare. When I speak of the mind, the mind is a faculty of the soul. That soul is a regenerated soul, and that mind is a regenerated mind which is governed by the truth of God and it has an outlook in life which is being regulated by scripture and which is wholly biblical. Therefore you and I in the spiritual warfare need to be busy studying the Word of God and learning how to apply the Word of God to the world around us and also to what men believe within that world. Do you see that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, they are spiritual - spiritual weapons?
But these spiritual weapons are also very powerful weapons. Is that not what the apostle says here: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (v.4 - text). My friends, you will notice very clearly from this text that the power does not reside in the weapon, neither does the power reside in the person who is using the weapon. Look very carefully: "the weapons...mighty through God" (v.4 - text). The word 'mighty' in Greek is 'dunatos' and I believe we get from it our English word 'dynamite'. These weapons are like dynamite in the hands of Christians, but the power does not reside in the Christian or in the weapon itself. I submit to you that's why at the end of that list of armoury the apostle Paul gives to the church in Ephesus, he refers to prayer, because you see if these weapons are only mighty through God and you can't make them powerful yourself well then, you need to have God working with you don't you in order to make these weapons powerful. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians after this list of spiritual armoury; he says: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Ephesians 6:18). You see Paul knew that he was engaged in a warfare but ultimately this warfare required the power of God to succeed.
Here you are engaged in this battle. You want to employ these weapons and you must apply yourself to learn how to be the most efficient in using these weapons. But at the same time you must never forget that the power belongs unto God. You must never forget that! It doesn't depend upon your argumentation. It's not about your wisdom or your guile or your pleasantness and how nice you can project yourself before men. These things are all good and they have their place, but we are wholly sold out upon the power of God. The Lord Jesus Christ once said, "Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). It struck me last night when we were gathered together for these testimonies; we had that statement to do with intimacy with Christ and service. Unknown to you but known to me, this is what we were going to be looking at this morning: the whole idea of power coming from God. When you look at that passage in John 15:5 "Without me ye can do nothing"; what He says before that is ye must "abide in the vine" (John 15:4); "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit" (John 15:5). Without that intimacy, without that living, vital relationship which is upheld and maintained in the life of a Christian, we will be rendered impotent as we seek to engage in this battle that we are to fight in the world.
But friends if we have the power of God working with us then the strongholds of men are going to fall like the walls of Jericho. Think of the Israelites walking round the walls of Jericho. Think of the inhabitants of Jericho inside. They are looking over the wall and thinking, "What on earth are those Israelites doing? Why do they keep walking round the wall? Why are they not talking? Why are they silent? Why do they keep blowing that trumpet every now and again?" Then they all stop and they shout. What happens? Spiritual weapons pull down the walls of Jericho. Why? Because they did it in obedience to God and they did it with the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of the presence of God, going round and round those walls with them. My friends, when we labour in the power of God in that way, we can expect the walls of Jericho and all these strongholds of men to collapse. But we need God; we need the power of God working us.
You can think also of the apostles. There they are in the upper room in Jerusalem and they are praying according to the commandment of Christ that Christ would pour out the promise of the Father upon them, the Holy Spirit. They pray and after they pray they go out and they labour, the Lord working with them. Twelve men, yes they were leaders, others were involved with them, but twelve men, the nucleus of the church, saw profound advance of the kingdom of God because they pray, they abandon themselves to obedience to Christ, and they saw the Lord conquer the heart of Jew and Gentile throughout the known world in the first century. We have spiritual weapons.
2. SHATTERED STRONGHOLDS
Then that brings us to the second point, which is shattered strongholds. Paul says, "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (v.4 - text). What I want to do here in the first place is to give you a description of men's strongholds. It is always helpful for a preacher when you come to a text like this and you don't have to go searching for an illustration because the apostle Paul is actually preaching an illustration here to the church in Corinth. But in this illustration he gives us the description of men's strongholds because you see this word 'stronghold' means a fortified town, a castle, a fortress or a fortified walled city. You might be able to think about the city of Jerusalem, and there it had its walls, and even within that city there were different segments of walls that they could retreat behind even if the outer walls had been breached. I don't know off the top of my head if there are any walled cities in Scotland - I'm not native to your country - but those of you who are privileged as I am to be from Northern Ireland, you can think of the city of Londonderry and all of its history about those walls and how they were defended in the seventeenth century. It was a fortress. Well, says Paul, men have fortresses like these.
Then he goes on to tell us what these fortresses are. In v.5 of our text he says: "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God". These are the strongholds he is speaking about in v.4. Then he tells us in v.5 they are imaginations - literally it means reasonings or arguments. If you don't have the Authorised Version - maybe you have a new King James or something - it is very likely it will be translated in your Bible as 'arguments'; tearing down or casting down arguments or reasonings. Then he says: "every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God". What's he speaking about? He's speaking about God's revealed will. He's speaking about the truth. He says you as Christians need to understand that men are held out in strongholds - these fortified cities - but these fortified cities are reasonings, arguments, every high thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. So you see we are thinking here about every system of thought that is anti-Christian - all of these 'isms' that we have been considering over the past two days, which men have invented in the pride of their heart to oppose the truth of God. That's what these strongholds are.
But then we can go a step further and perhaps make that more relevant for all of us here today. It includes every excuse that you might invent for not believing the truth of God and not humbling yourself before the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ. This is what they are: they are men's attempts to build a wall of defence around themselves where they can hide from the thought of God, from the realities of life and death, and from the ultimate reality of eternity - heaven and hell. But you see every man who makes himself this little stronghold, he closes the door and thinks he can shut God out, he soon learns that he can't shut God out because God gets into the stronghold; He speaks in conscience, He disturbs our peace, He show us our emptiness. We have a remnant that is created in the image of God. We have a remnant even if we are unconverted of the law of God written within our hearts. We know that there is true morality and ultimately that is inconsistent with what we were looking at last night: this whole idea that there is no absolute morality. God is actually speaking in our conscience and saying, "You're mistaken sir! You need to think again."
But then what men do according to Paul in Romans 1, even though they understand it and they recognise it, they try to silence the voice, they hold the truth in unrighteousness. That doesn't mean that they hold to the doctrine of election and they hold truth in that way. That's not his point. He's saying they hold it in the sense of a wrestler pinning it down. So conscience arises and they try to gag it, they try to force it down like a wrestler and pin it down against the floor. Paul says they know who God is, and there they are in their strongholds, and God gets over the walls of their strongholds and He speaks to them in their stronghold. They still continue suppressing the truth and kidding themselves. It's a bit like what were singing earlier in Psalm 139: "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea" God is there. If I make my bed in heaven or I make my bed in hell, behold God is there! So that is a description of these strongholds, these imaginations, these reasonings, these arguments, these systems of thought that men invent within the world and all of your excuses for not believing the truth of God and submitting yourself to Jesus Christ.
But then we have the destruction of these strongholds. God says to us in this portion of His Word that you and I are to pull down these strongholds, literally in Greek it means destroy them, demolish them. You and I are to pull down these strongholds. As soon as I say that I hope that you see the importance of the theme we have been looking at this weekend. What are these strongholds? They are arguments, reasonings, strongholds, fortresses that men try to hind themselves in from the thought of God and God says to you that you are to pull them down, you are to destroy them. To understand how to do that, know the weak points. Imagine the British and they are in France. They come to a walled garrison town in the medieval period and they are looking for chinks in the armour. They are thinking that the wall is seven foot thick here but round the corner it is only two foot thick. There is the weak point. They get their catapults loaded up with their heaviest stones and that's where they aim for. You are to know the weak point in these arguments and you are to resolve them. Then you are to understand that there is no foundation. You are going to expose that there is no foundation.
After you do that you are going to assault the wall and you are going to bring down these walls and leave those who are inside this fortress recognising that they have no defence, that it has been removed from them, that their world-view is built firmly in mid-air. That means that you show them the logical contradiction, the inconsistency. That means that you push these little pressure points that exposes the folly of what they believe. As you do all this, you are not doing it for the sake of argument or to make yourself feel a little bit better and intellectual and a good reasoner. Friends, you are doing it for the good of these people's souls, for this reason: their refuge is a refuge of lies. The Word of God tells us in Isaiah 28:17 just exactly what God is going to do with a refuge of lies: "Judgement also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place". Do you see that? God is going to destroy this refuge of lies but He sends you out to do it by way of Christian witness and apologetics to show men that this refuge will not serve them, to show them before it's too late. If you don't shatter their world-view and show them Christ then God at last is going to shatter it for all of eternity. God is going to take them out of this world, God is going to come at last in the person of His Son and all of these high thoughts that exalt themselves against the truth are going to be swept away as a refuge of lies in a fierce and violent storm. Friends, that is why you as a Christian need to engage in this world, because men are perishing, hiding from God and ultimately they are going to lose their souls.
I want to ask you this morning before we move on any further, if you have come here and you are not a Christian; maybe you have discovered you are a relativist or a materialist. I want you to see this morning that you are held out in a fortress like this, which has paper walls and no foundation. When God comes in judgement you are going to perish for ever because you have a lie in your right hand. You who have been brought up in a Christian church and have excused yourself from coming to Christ and you are very proficient in reasons why: too young; not the done thing for me to profess faith at this age; when I get through school or university. Maybe you want to get things ironed out in your life first. All of these excuses, how ever reasonable they sound to you, are exactly the same as this - a refuge of lies. You need to come to Christ now otherwise God is going to sweep away your refuge of lies and He will damn you for eternity. Shattered strongholds - strongholds are here described and strongholds are here destroyed.
3. SUBMITTED MINDS
Thirdly - submitted minds. It is not enough for us as Christian witnesses and apologists to simply tear down a stronghold. When we do that a man will begin to hide under the rubble. The natural man is enmity against the truth and he will start trying to hide himself under an old broken door of that fortress that you have torn down. Or if he realises that he can't do that then he is going to run to the nearest fortress that he can get to, somewhere else to hide out against the Lord. So when you expose the error you must present the truth and that is what is in view here in v.5. We are tearing down strongholds in v.4 and then in v.5, "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (v.5 text). Now you see how the illustration develops.
Up to this point we have been laying siege to this stronghold, we have been attacking it, we have been tearing it down. Now we have torn down this stronghold what are we doing? We are taking captive all of the souls who are held out in this fortress; in order to do that we need to bring them to the truth. We are bringing them captive to the truth of God. We are leading them captive as this scripture tells us, to Christ: captive to the obedience of Christ. If this is true friends, we must bring them to Christ in the Word because the only way that they can be saved and delivered from this awful situation that they are currently in is that they hear the gospel.
Remember that we were looking at spiritual weapons and we were learning that these spiritual weapons were mighty through God to the tearing down of strongholds? Well the apostle Paul says that the chief spiritual weapon is the gospel. He says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). Therefore when you engage in this whole work of Christian witness, the pre-evangelist part is to tear down the stronghold, with the goal of getting here, of getting to the gospel which alone can save.
What will happen as you begin to witness to people is you will get embarrassed because Christianity is not popular and you'll start thinking that if you say something about Christ and about Christ crucified and being saved through this Jesus, they are going to think that's really strange. You are ashamed of the gospel. But tell me, why on earth would you be ashamed of a weapon that is able to shake the world. Why would you be ashamed of that? These guys are firing with peashooters and you have got a canon that causes the earth to shake. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Romans 1:16) - that means everyone: every nation under heaven. There is not a man in the world that this gospel is irrelevant to. There is not an ethnic group in the world that this gospel is not relevant to. There is not an 'ism' in this world that this gospel is not relevant to.
God says for you to take that gospel and after you have torn down that man's stronghold you tell him that all who are not in Christ are lost, but that Christ Jesus came into the world and died for poor rebellious sinners who deserved eternal damnation, but all who come to Him by simple faith and trust are saved - perfectly and with an everlasting salvation! Tell him this is the only thing that is going to satisfy the soul and that this gospel is freely offered to all. It is not to be worked for, it is not to be laboured for. There is not an apprenticeship that you have to serve first before you can come to Jesus. You come now and you come as you are. You lead men captive to the obedience of Christ because Christ the great King sends you out as an ambassador with this call, that all must submit to His mercy, repent of their sin and believe the gospel and become His obedient servants. You are to lead them captive to the obedience of Christ.
My friends the question is relevant to us is it not, and it comes first in this form: are we captives to the obedience of Christ? Are you a Christian?...or are you still that rebel continuing to hold out against the knowledge of the truth? Have you come yielding all that you are as a helpless, hopeless sinner and given yourself without reserve to Jesus Christ? Are you Christ's captive? If you are do you realise that the implication of your captivity to Christ is that you fulfil this command of scripture and you engage in this great work of tearing down strongholds and leading others to a knowledge of the truth. Your whole life service, no matter what vocation in life that you have, is aimed at this goal: that I might glorify God; that I might see the church of God built; that I might be of use to my friends and my community and the people I work with; that I might be endeavouring with whatever gifts and talents that I have to bring sinners to Jesus. We are to lead souls into captivity to Christ.
We also have here the captive mind. I want you to look at the extent of this captivity that the apostle speaks of: "...bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5) - "every thought to the obedience of Christ". That's the extent of the submission that Christ commands of men: every single thought. That means that you as a Christian must in the first place bring every single one of your thoughts in to the obedience of Christ. I know that you are sinners, I know that you struggle with this, I know that indwelling sin causes all sorts of havoc in our spirituality; but this is still the goal: every thought in any area and in every subject of life becomes a captive to the obedience of Christ. Then because ideas have consequences and because thoughts translate into actions, when the thoughts are captive to Christ the life is held captive in obedience to the Son of God our Saviour.
Now you see the extent of our submission to Christ: every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Do you have this view of Christianity? But then it also means as defenders of the faith in tearing down strongholds in men's minds and in society we are aiming at the same thing, we are seeking to take dominion for Christ in every area of life, just like we are told in Genesis 1, just like Noah was told again after the flood. He was told the same thing as Adam: there's the world; go and bring it into subjection to Me in every conceivable area. That's the work of the church of God and it's about time we wakened up to it and this whole idea that we would retreat into a wee evangelical commune, batten down the hatches and wait until Jesus comes.
The Word of God teaches an advance of a kingdom and you are soldiers in that army. You are to be continually engaged in this great task of bringing every thought in your own mind, every thought in society, into the obedience of Christ for this reason, that He is Lord of all. There is no square inch in the whole of the material universe in all of the spiritual realms of this world that Jesus Christ does not say, "I am Lord!" No where; not one square inch.
We were reading of it yesterday in Colossians 1, and I want to remind you of what is written there: "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible [that's material and spiritual], whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (1st Corinthians 1:16-20). Because of that Paul says to get out and fight in this warfare and seek to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ because He is Lord of all and in all things He must, and will, have the pre-eminence.
As we come to a close this morning, maybe you are sitting there thinking this all sounds tyrannical. Here we are, we are to besiege strongholds, we are to rip them apart, and then we are to enslave men to Christ. You are not a Christian and you are thinking, "Let me out of here! I don't want anything to do with this kind of slavery. I don't want to be a slave." But, you know friends, you already are slaves. You are held captive in the worst kind of slavery imaginable because your lord is not Christ who gives unto His people an easy yoke, who is a shepherd and a Father unto His people. Your lord is Satan who deceives you, who lies to you, who mocks you, who torments you. Your lord is sin that promises you so much and then kicks you when you are down. You are a slave and therefore this warfare that is pictured, of destruction and enslaving men, is actually liberation. It is actually freeing men from tyranny and slavery.
What you who are not Christians need to do on the understanding of that is immediately run from your stronghold and run into the arms of Jesus Christ. Say to Him, "He is my Lord and He is my God!" Take unto you that yoke which is easy and that burden which is light and you will discover the true meaning of freedom, because whom the Son sets free, is free indeed (John 8:36).
May the Lord by His kind mercy bless to us His truth.
The Rev. Gavin Beers is a native of Northern Ireland and a graduate of the Free Church Seminary, Inverness, Scotland. Since 2006 he has been minister of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) congregation at Ayr, in the southwest of Scotland. He is married and is the father of four children.