Sermon July 26, 2020

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1454

July 26, 2020 2 Corinthians 10.1-18

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Taking Every Thought Captive”

 

10 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

7 Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. 8 For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. 9 I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. 12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

 

  • Speaking to the Church

 

In my last sermon a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned this passage and the call to take every thought captive. In that sermon the context was under the influence of being in Christ and in His love and seeking to be obedient to Christ in our thoughts, but also seeking to take the thoughts of the world captive to Christ as well. Some folks have criticized the church because we have failed to keep our voice active in the public square discourse. That might be true. So I wanted to speak more on this chapter in 2 Corinthians as we think about and react to the context of our nation and our national conversations.

Paul begins this chapter defending his approach to the church whether in person or through his letters. It is much easier to work together in gentle ways when we are together. We are created to be social beings. We are also created to be able to see one another’s faces. We are created to relate in ways that require less than six feet! I’m not advocating we eliminate our safety procedures yet. But we cannot effectively work together as a faith community if we are forever banded from seeing one another. So Paul was perceived as more gentle in person than through his writings. Paul is tougher in his writing probably for two reasons. First, he is addressing issues that have popped up after he left. This should not be happening and so his tone is harsh because they have fallen into all kinds of problems precisely because they have forgotten the teachings of the gospel. Second, just as it is easier to work together when present, it is more difficult to convey gentleness through letters or emails or tweets! We know that we cannot always show a certain feeling or meaning when we are not looking at one another or making a remark with a particular tone to show sarcasm or humor.

Paul is upset with the church because they have begun to walk according to the flesh, that is, they are reverting back to sinful practices. And he is telling them that while they are in the flesh, they cannot let the flesh and its passions guide their way of life. Their lives must operate according to the Spirit, in the spiritual realm and understanding that our battles are not of the flesh but of the spirit. So Paul is acting out of tough love calling on them to hold firm in faith and strength against the teachings of the world. I suspect that Paul would call on us today with that same tone of tough love, that we need to be more active in following the Lord and responding in obedience to His Word, to live worthy of our calling.

 

  • Work to Do

 

I would imagine that Paul did not want to have to argue about his gentleness or the strength of his letters. He has more important concerns, primarily that the church cannot be obedient while walking according to the flesh. I almost get the feeling that the Corinthian church had been offended by the force of Paul’s writing. Were they like many today who get offended by everything? I doubt it was that bad, but Paul had to deal with their apparent sensitivity of Paul’s teachings.

One of the most important phrases, I believe, in this passage is divine power. We have with us a divine power whether we consider that the Word of God or the Holy Spirit or both, there is work to do in this power. We cannot forget God’s divine power at work in us, through us, and in the world. Paul indicates that we are at war and that this war is of a spiritual and rhetorical nature. It is about words and that push against the knowledge of God. I titled this section of the outline “work to do” because I do think we have lost something of this warfare, even the awareness that we are at war, to destroy strongholds, arguments, and lofty opinions. The church in general has failed to take our story to the public square. We have been told the lie that we might offend, or use language that is politically incorrect, or that we are irrelevant to the conversations. We are deemed as non-essential in the world. We have work to do! We have a great calling and there is a huge need in our world to destroy the rhetoric that divides, the lies that entrap, and the arguments that lead to death in our society. We have work to do and that work is found in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ which is empowered by the divine power of God.

 

  • Warfare of Speech

 

One of the major problems in all fields of today’s society is that there are very few who submit to God’s Word in making decisions or imagining ways of solving problems. So what we get are all human ideas, no divine influence, and everyone bows to the thinking of Facebook or Twitter or other media sources. Let’s have CNN or FOX bring in a Christian thinker who is steeped in Scripture to address some issues. I know, it’s not going to happen. What they will do in bring in some knucklehead who twists Scripture into something that sounds good to itching ears (2 Tim 4.3, For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions).

Paul speaks of three areas where we contend for truth: strongholds, arguments, and lofty or arrogant opinions. Strongholds are those things that are entrenched into the society in ways that seduce people away from faith. I think of consumerism, materialism, and any “isms” that oppose God’s way of thinking. Arguments would be positions people take like that of atheists, agnostics, or just flat out evil. Lofty opinions I would place in the hands of social media and main stream media and any place where opinions override truth and simple reporting of what has happened in any news item. We could probably spent a day or so sorting out all that is going on in the world and place them in one of these three categories. This is the battleground where we wage a warfare of speech, of rhetoric, of thoughts and ideas but the difference is that we have divine power through the Word of God to destroy all these strategies against God’s knowledge.

Once again we cannot forget that we are not alone in these things. God’s divine power is at work as we point people to Jesus and His Word. As Dallas Jenkins has said, ours is not to multiply the bread and the fish but we only bring the bread and fish. We are not called to destroy strongholds but to present the Word, the Gospel, so that God may do the work in His power to defeat falsehoods and wickedness.

 

  • The Knowledge of God

 

What is at stake in Paul’s thoughts here? It is any thoughts that oppose the knowledge of God. What is the knowledge of God? All that we have of that knowledge is the Bible (2 Tim 3.16), and the witness of creation itself (Psalm 19.1-6), and the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 15.26). Our most tangible knowledge is directly from God’s mouth in His Word. We can hold it in our hands and hear it and read it. It is in our language and given to us that we might know something of God. We cannot know everything of God, but we know the things revealed from the beginning and to the end. We know the Gospel of Christ, the love of God, and the grace that has been freely bestowed upon us. We know a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by this same divine power of the Holy Spirit that came upon the disciples at Pentecost. We know the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, who came to die for us, to forgive sin and to rise again to new life that we might know new life in Him.

We have intimate knowledge of Jesus and therefore we are called to share in His way of thinking. Paul says it this way,

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Phil 2.1-5).

Or in 1 Corinthians 2.16, “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

In the sense that we have the mind of Christ, we have the Words of Christ, the Spirit of Christ to the extent that we can share that knowledge with others to defeat the strongholds in their lives that keep them from knowing Jesus as well. To this end we pray that our thoughts might be taken captive to obey Christ.

 

  • Taking Every Thought Captive

 

Thoughts require thinking and thinking through what we have thought, weighing what is true and what is false, the only true measure for these thoughts is the Word of God. Others things may be true like it is not raining today, that’s true, but that is not the kind of truth we are speaking of in this passage. We want to take our thoughts and other thoughts captive to the one Truth, Jesus Christ. Paul had thoughts in minds that are put out for public consumption. Today is the most saturated time in history for thoughts such as these. Social media, main stream media, conversations in Kroger, newspapers, magazines, TV shows pushing agendas, and the list goes on. We have never had, in the history of humanity, the flood of thoughts. But, Paul reveals that we have always had thoughts that opposed one another. This is part of the problem in the Corinthian church, the divisions caused by disunity of thought about Christ and what it means to be in Christ. The church universal is as divided as the rest of the world to this day.

Such thinking requires using our imagination. We must be able to move beyond what is seen to what is unseen, to the Truth of God. One of the problems for all of us is that we become so deeply seduced by the thoughts of the world that are constantly knocking on our door, that we lose the perspective of the thoughts of the Bible. So, I think we have to ask ourselves, do we think about God’s Word when making decisions on the issues of the day? What might the Bible say to political issues, to medical issues, to economic issues, to every day decisions we are called on to make? It cannot just be CNN vs FOX or this doctor over that doctor or one so called expert in any field over another. We don’t have every issue nor every thought processed specifically in the Bible, but we do have everything we need to discern what is needed for life and salvation. There is nothing in the Bible specifically about the technological issues we sometimes face today, but there are endless possibilities for what it means to have life in abundance and when technology and that abundant life collide, we must take those thoughts captive when life is threatened or diminished in any way.

Paul speaks of the eyes of the heart in Ephesians 1.18, I want to read more of that section beginning at verse 15,

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

The eyes of the heart are, I believe, our ability to imagine what cannot be seen. We use our imagination to bring the Word of God into the battle of thoughts. This takes work! It takes energy and time and devotion to study the Scriptures and prayer and worship and just flat out giving serious thought to things. We don’t see that very much in the public realm. All we get are flashcards of idiotic statements that have poor grammar and even worse logic. Twitter is not a place to think through our thoughts, it is mostly just a quick reaction to events and the thoughts of others and ninety percent of the time, those thoughts are not well thought out and certainly not taken captive to obey Christ.

Here is a list of things for us to consider as we enter the battle of thoughts:

 

Philippians 4.8 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

 

Colossians 3.1-3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

 

Matthew 6.33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

 

Psalm 16.5-8a The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me;

 

Deuteronomy 6.4-9 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 

I would argue that each of these passages teaches us how to think. Think on heavenly things. Seek the kingdom of God. Put the Lord before you in all things. Talk about the Bible to your children, while at home, on the way somewhere, keep it ever before you.

What all these passages tell us is that we are to put ourselves in position to think like the Bible. You and I don’t actually take our thoughts captive nor do we take other’s thoughts captive to obey Christ, but it is by the divine power of the thoughts of God. All we can do is put ourselves in position to think in terms of holiness and righteousness and grace and mercy and love, and we do that by enveloping ourselves in the Scriptures. We hide God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119.11) that we may not sin against God. Let me suggest that we take sometime today to read Psalm 119 and notice how many times it references walking in the Word, keeping law, clinging to God’s testimony, and all of those phrases, and many more, are ways we put ourselves in position to take every thought captive in ourselves. But I don’t think that is Paul’s primary concern in 2 Corinthians 10. His concern is taking the thoughts captive of those who oppose the knowledge of God. So, while the first concern is persuading others, it is also our concern that we are well versed in the thoughts of God throughout the Scripture.

Jesus did this with the disciples in Luke 24 when He went through all the Scripture to help them see the truth of His death and resurrection…

Luke 24.27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24.44-45 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,

Jesus opened their minds; this is the divine power at work of which Paul speaks. Jesus still opens minds to understand the Scriptures and to destroy all that opposes the knowledge of God. It appears that it will take a mighty divine work to get our society to obey Christ. It may seem overwhelming for any one of us, but together with God’s divine power, the impossible become possible. Let us put ourselves in position to take our thoughts and the thoughts in opposition to the knowledge of God, that we all might obey Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

 
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