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Friday, April 09, 2010

Tearing Down Strongholds

What comes to mind when you think of a fort? The traditional picture that comes to the western mind is a large wooden square structure of cut trees with perhaps four “towers,” one in each corner, attended by soldiers in the American west. The younger generation today might recall the movie version of Narnian castles or Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Helm’s Deep, the seven levels of Minas Tirith or Mordor’s Barad Dur from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Remember Superman’s Fortress of Solitude—it sure has changed over the years! However forts are pictured today, they seem to represent a place of safety but are somehow aloof from everyday life. Fortresses, strongholds, and castles with all their keeps, towers, prisons and stores were synonymous with entire cities in the ancient world. Jericho, Nineveh, even Jerusalem—these were all fortress/cities. The word used to describe them can also be “strongholds.”

Strongholds are an interesting concept as at one time they represented a safeguarded life. The fortress or stronghold provided not merely safety because of their location (usually built on top of a hill) or their walls (with the very the slope as their base), but because they were immense storage houses for food and armaments. Excavations at various sites reveal many complex systems of fortifications in the Ancient Near East; for example, it was not uncommon for limited defense perimeters to consist of a moat against a wall, whose outside layers consisted of packed earth covered by a slope of loose rocks (the moat was at the bottom). This made poor foothold for an enemy and provided enough distance to prevent siege works (such as ladders) from being set against it. The image of a moat at the base of steep walls (like some European castles) was not found in the ancient near eastern world.

The apostle Paul used this common feature of the city in his letter to the Corinthians when he wrote, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4). What did he intend by this using this picture? Paul used the image of the stronghold, or fortress, to describe “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.” (10:5) While positively the stronghold was used as a defense against an invading enemy, this causes one to imagine a mutiny or rebellion where the enemy attempts to protect himself as he tries to dwell in what should be friendly territory.

What are the strongholds to which Paul is referring? Simply put, Paul means to describe a wrong idea about God; particularly, an argument against the knowledge of God. When we consider the kinds of arguments raised against the knowledge of God, the first and most obvious is the argument that says, “One cannot know anything” (the argument answers itself). Science Fiction writer Ray Bradbury demonstrates the downright insanity of this argument through his short story, "No Particular Night or Morning" (nothing is sure in space, where there is nothing on top, nothing on bottom or sides and we just float in the middle). The second argument is closely related, which basically says, “do we want to know anything?” If the answer is “yes,” then one is free to enjoy the benefits of knowledge; on the other hand, one must live with the consequences of a negative answer. Whether we call this belief or unbelief, both take a measure of faith.

Paul says that an argument, a lofty opinion against God must be pulled down with weapons that are powered divinely; that is, with spiritual weapons. An illustration of the difference between weapons of flesh and spiritual weapons can be seen in how we respond to a point of disagreement in government. Greg Laurie writes in a devotional thought, “So often when something is going wrong in our country, we want to organize a boycott or want to protest. But did you know that as believers, we have something more powerful than boycotts? It is called prayer, and the Bible tells us to devote ourselves to it.” Driving the spiritual principle home, Laurie writes in another place, “Both James and Peter were in prison. Tragically, James was put to death. But Peter remained alive in prison. Though all doors were closed, one remained open: the door of prayer.” The point is how believers used the spiritual weapon of prayer. “Although the devil struck a blow against the church, the church gained victory through prayer as Peter was miraculously released.”

Another weapon closely related to prayer is the use of words in a spiritual sense, not blunt force. John Piper writes, “Seek to win others to saving faith in Jesus by persuading with words, not imposing with force. This was the way the gospel spread among many religions in the early centuries of the Christian church. The earliest teachers said, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11). When the New Testament speaks of the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) or “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Corinthians 10:4), it clearly means the word of God and power of spiritual persuasion.” (Sept, 20, 2006 “How Christians Should Respond to Muslim Outrage at the Pope's Regensburg Message About Violence and Reason”).

The principle is that thought raised against God is to be torn down, demolished. Every argument from human reason must be taken captive by the truth of scripture. Henry Morris III of the Institute for Creation Research reminds us of what this principle does and does not teach. “Nowhere in these verses is there permission or an implied need to learn the thoughts of the enemy before we can bring them into captivity. Biblical data insists that the flesh has ‘no good thing’ (Romans 7:18) and cannot understand the things of God. The weapons we have are not fleshly (i.e., natural thinking, natural emotion, human reasoning, etc.). Our weapons (Ephesians 6) are the ‘sword of the Spirit’ (offensive) and the ‘shield of faith’ (defensive), and we’re protected by the full armor of God—praying always. It is not possible to learn all the subtle arguments of the enemy. What is possible, however, is a knowledge of the truth through our having the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16) that will make us sufficient for ‘all things that pertain unto life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1:3).”

Justin Martyr (100 – 165 A.D.) understood this principle when he wrote, “Henceforth, ye Greeks, come and partake of incomparable wisdom, and be instructed by the Divine Word, and acquaint yourselves with the King immortal; and do not recognize those men as heroes who slaughter whole nations. For our own Ruler, the Divine Word, who even now constantly aids us, does not desire strength of body and beauty of feature, nor yet the high spirit of earth’s nobility, but a pure soul, fortified by holiness, and the watchwords of our King, holy actions, for through the Word power passes into the soul.”

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