I myself, Paul, appeal to 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!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as humans but do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
The strongholds here refer to everything that is set up in opposition to the knowledge of God, all that is contrary to God. I think now of systems of evil benefiting some, often a relatively small number of the rich and powerful at the expense of many. Oftentimes such an arrangement is seen as necessary for this or that reason, with arguments like that’s the way things are, and that’s the way life works. Those on the bottom rung can be thankful they have work and an existence, even if it’s dismal. But the dismal aspect is ignored if not denied on the basis that somehow this is all these people deserve or are able to achieve. And that those over them even somehow are being generous. That is so antithetical to the good news of God in Christ which is not only about the individual soul, but about all things, all of life. Unless the entire Bible doesn’t matter. Only through reading it all can we fully understand and appreciate the good news in Christ.
What Paul is directly talking about here is everything set up against the knowledge of God as given in the good news of Christ. This is especially critical to those who do not have faith, who have not yet received it. But Paul is writing here to a church that indeed has received it yet are thinking and acting in ways contrary to it. The good news in Christ is meant to crush all strongholds. And what is especially critical in Paul’s mind which we see time and again in his letters, not the least in this letter is the relationships believers have with each other and how believers relate to the world. It’s meant to be all in love in accordance with the gospel.
When I think of strongholds, I typically think of that which hinders us from the fullness of experience of the gospel, by God’s grace the righteousness and peace and joy that accompanies it. It is noteworthy that just two chapters later in our Bibles, Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, the tormenting messenger of Satan that Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove. But the Lord wanted Paul to live in that. It’s hard to parse this out, because I don’t believe such weaknesses would include bents toward sin which would leave us susceptible. But such experience can help us draw near to God in ways we otherwise would not.
I believe we need to seek to claim and live in God’s promises which are “yes and amen” through the good news of Christ. We need to plead and insist that God answer. Such prayer is probably entirely necessary for us, because we’re so given to being not that serious about whatever it is. So it’s good that we keep praying for ourselves and others and not let up. And even wrestle with God in the process.
It is the gospel, the good news in Jesus which tears down all kinds of strongholds, whether systemic evil in the world, the sin which binds people, or the struggles we experience as believers in the spiritual battle we’re in. Something to think and pray about. God will help us as we persevere. What once was a stronghold can be like Paul says above, destroyed. With the new thoughts Christ gives us as we commit ourselves to full obedience together. In and through Jesus.