When criticized in ministry we may be tempted to pull out the so-called big guns. If we’re not careful, we may respond to such criticism with some fairly offensive attacks of our own. However, the “I’ll show you” or the “Criticize this” approach won’t get us very far with our critics. When the circumstances require it, we need to respond in a different way with different weapons that are endowed with divine power. Just what, exactly, are these? Let’s look at the weapons Paul used as he waged war against the strongholds, arguments, and pretensions opposed to Christ.

We adapted these notes from the IVP New Testament Commentary. This twenty-volume commentary features readable commentaries by some of the best evangelical scholars and theologians.

Spiritual Weaponry

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 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. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

2 Corinthians 10:3–6

Paul readily admits that he lives in this world, “We do live in the flesh [en sarki],” (in the world, v. 3). His sphere of activity is indeed “the flesh”—the everyday world of human existence with all its limitations, frustrations, trials and tribulations. But while Paul lives out his life in the ordinary, mundane sphere of human existence, this does not mean that he conducts his affairs according to the flesh (kata sarka)—that is, as the world goes about things (by the standards of this world, v. 2). Nor does he wage war according to the flesh (kata sarkaas the world does, v. 3).

Wartime Mentality

During the latter years of the Great Depression, the American people were faced with mobilizing themselves for a second world war. They rationed their butter, meat, gasoline and other basic items. With the money they had left after purchasing the necessities of life, they paid wartime taxes and bought war bonds to provide even more funds for mobilization. They also sent hundreds of thousands of their finest youth abroad. It was a massive effort, involving great sacrifices and a tremendous expenditure of resources.

Paul pictures himself as involved in a similar war effort. In his case, however, the battle is being fought on a spiritual front. And spiritual warfare requires spiritual weaponry, which Paul readily deploys. What distinguishes his weapons from those of the world can be summed up in one word—power (dynatos). The weapons Paul fights with have divine power and, as a result, can accomplish what the world’s weapons cannot (demolish stongholds, v. 4). Paul does not identify these weapons here. But they certainly would include “the Holy Spirit,” “sincere love,” the true message and divine power (2 Corinthians 6:6–7). He may also have in mind “truth,” “righteousness,” “the gospel of peace,” “faith,” “salvation” and “the Spirit,” put forward as the Christian’s armor in Ephesians 6:13–17.

Weapons that Can Demolish Strongholds

Paul’s weapons are effective in doing two things. They can, in the first place, demolish strongholds (v. 4). Ochyrōma is a military term for a “fortified place”. The picture is of an army attacking and tearing down the fortified defenses of the enemy. In the ancient world a prosperous city would build not only a stout wall for its security but also, somewhere inside the wall, a fortified tower that could be defended by relatively few soldiers if the walls of the city were breached by an enemy. Once the stronghold was taken, the battle was over. In ancient times this was commonly accomplished through a variety of siege machines, the most common being battering rams, mobile towers, catapults for throwing darts and the ballistae for throwing stones.

The strongholds that Paul’s weapons lay siege to are arguments and every pretension (v. 5). Logismous are reasonings that take shape in the mind and are then worked out in life as action. Hypsōma epairomenon (“raised ramparts”) are human “pretensions” (NIV) or “arrogances” (JB, TEV, REB, NEB, RSV, NRSV) that have built fortresses with high towers aimed at repelling attacks by the knowledge of God (v. 5).

Weapons that Take Every Thought Captive

Such efforts, however, are to no avail. For Paul’s weapons not only can demolish strongholds (v. 4) but can also take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (v. 5). The verb aichmalōtizō means “to take a prisoner of war”. Paul pictures human thoughts as captured enemy soldiers. Once a city’s defenses had been breached and its fortified places destroyed, conquered soldiers were taken in tow as prisoners of war. In the Roman triumphus, the prisoners were paraded through the streets of Rome (see 2:14-16). Paul’s objective, however, is not to put human reasonings and pretensions on public display but to take captive every thought for obedience to Christ (v. 5).

What does this mean today? We live at a time when the mind is deemphasized and the needs of the individual elevated—so much so that our generation has been dubbed “the me generation.” By contrast, Paul affirms that the mind matters. Indeed, it is so crucial that he focuses all his efforts on taking every thought captive and making it obey Christ. Alister McGrath has written that the future of evangelicalism lies in the forging of rigorous theological foundations and intellectual credibility. For this to happen, Christ must reign supreme in our minds.

A Divine Arsenal

So, far from being the spiritual wimp that his critics in Corinth make him out to be, Paul has at his disposal a divine arsenal, which he will use on his next visit to punish every act of disobedience (v. 6). The term ekdikeō means “to take vengeance for” or “punish” something—the something in this case being disobedience (parakoē). The noun parakoē (literally, “to hear aside”) denotes a stubborn unwillingness to hear what is said and to act on it. The Corinthian intruders are primarily in view here—although any lingering dissenters at Corinth are not excluded. Their disobedience is not their unwillingness to bend the knee to Paul’s authority but their attempt to subvert the gospel. “I am afraid that . . . your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ,” Paul says (2 Corinthians 11:3).

What the punishment will involve is left unstated. But Paul will be able to carry it out once the Corinthians’ obedience is complete. Only with the church as a whole behind him can Paul operate from a position of strength against his critics. But once he has their support, his troops stand at the ready to be deployed (en hetoimō echontes —“will be ready”).

The Fruit of Paul’s Weapons

This is the reason for Paul’s tough talk in his letters. By adopting a stern approach, he hopes to avoid acting as the disciplinarian in person—not because he is intimidated by the Corinthians but because he loves them. We always make the effort to avoid causing grief or pain to those we love. In many ways it is easier to bear hurt ourselves than to watch the suffering of someone we care about. Paul was no different. The severe letter he wrote to the church caused him great distress and anguish of heart (2 Corinthians 2:4). But he wrote it so that when he was next with them, he might be a source of joy (2 Corinthians 2:1–3) and love (2 Corinthians 2:4), rather than a cause of pain.

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