Paul used a war from the recent history of his native Cilicia to illustrate our spiritual warfare.
This was the most dramatic episode of its history and he would have known it well. There had been a longstanding and growing pirate problem.
Palestine was the food basket of Rome and the supply ships had to go past the rocky Cilician cliffs. The pirates had high rock forts (120 of them) called STRONGHOLDS - these were their Bases. They would come out of the strongholds, raid the ships, steal the food and retreat back to their secure stronghold high up on the cliffs. All the efforts to defeat them on sea failed. Even after successful skirmishes their bases were intact and secure and the root of the problem had not been touched. There was by 67 BC an army of 10,000 Pirates that had brought Rome to its knees by cutting off its supplies. They had their foot on the neck of Rome. The problem was urgent and could not be avoided. It was Rome's major problem. Rome's normal approach to warfare failed, their weapons ineffective, because this was a different kind of army- more of a 'underground' gorilla operation. The problem was so serious that the Senate commissioned top general Pompey to deal with the problem. They offered him whatever he needed and gave him 3 years to fix it.
He had a brilliant plan (STRATEGY). He designed and built special MIGHTY WEAPONS to attack their bases rather than the individual pirates. These were ships with huge grappling hooks that he sent in 11 directions to attack the strongholds. They catapulted the hooks up onto the cliffs to PULL DOWN THE STRONGHOLDS.The Roman fleet did not go after the pirate ships - instead every stronghold built in proud defiance against Rome was pulled down into the sea. Meanwhile Roman soldiers were positioned to capture any fleeing pirates. They brought them into captivity to the obedience of Rome (the captives are led into a new stronghold - brought under subjection to Rome). Most surrendered and came into obedience. Those who did not were punished (killed) for their disobedience.
The Pirates were overwhelmed and had no answer to these mighty weapons which were specifically designed for pulling down the strongholds. In just 3 months Pompey had totally defeated the pirates. What had seemed to be an insoluble bondage was broken permanently. Knowing that normal weapons would fail Pompey had absolute victory by using mighty weapons. There was no more Pirate problem. He overwhelmingly defeated them and the problem never returned. Later he became Emperor. Now the provisions could freely flow to Rome.
The only way to get a permanent solution was to pull down their strongholds, rather than try fight all the pirates individually.
This war is the historical background to our passage:
'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
(1) to the pulling down of strongholds - casting down imaginations (and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God)
(2) and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ
(3) and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled' (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
These verses describe aggressive spiritual warfare through the speaking of God's Word. The battleground is in men's minds (v4).
From the context we know that Paul is defending his ministry against the accusation that he is not God's representative but rather is using his natural powers to spread his beliefs:
'some think of us as if we WALKED ACCORDING TO THE FLESH' (v2b).
They had accused him of living by a selfish motivation and depending on fleshly (natural) power to get results. The word 'according to' is 'kata', meaning he is walking 'under the control of' the flesh, ie, under its power, motivation (selfishness) and its strategy (impulsiveness).
Paul's answer is two-fold (v3):
1. 'For though we walk in the flesh...' He concedes he acts out his life in the sphere of the flesh. The life from within must flow through his natural man. He is saying more than that he has a flesh body but that his education, personality, natural abilities are part of his preaching - and that's O.K. Be yourself in witnessing. Don't put on a religious front. Be natural and spontaneous. Let your personality come through.
2. Paul then says: '..we do not war after (according to) the flesh.'
His ministry involves spiritual warfare against powers of darkness. However, to get the job done he does not depend upon his natural power. Although his natural abilities are involved, the power source for his warfare is not in the flesh, neither is his motivation or strategy (see 2Tim 1:7).
Then he makes his main statement (v4):
'For the WEAPONS of our WARFARE are not carnal ('of the flesh'). Realizing that the flesh and its weaponry are ultimately weak to do God's will he does not use them. He has moved into a higher realm)
- but MIGHTY THROUGH GOD.'
There are two vital things from God in his ministry:
(1) Mighty Weapons and (2) A Divine Strategy.
The WEAPONS are the WORDS OF GOD released through preaching, confession, witnessing or prayer.
He is telling us about the power of the WORD.
Romans 1:16: 'The Gospel (Word) is the power of God unto salvation.'
Jeremiah 23:29: 'Is not My Word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.'
It has the power to burn through all resistance, to destroy satan's work, and smash all hardness and unbelief.
Jer 1:10: 'See I have this day set you (one who speaks the Word of the Lord) over the nations and kingdoms
to root out, to pull down and to destroy, to throw down (to reach up and pull down), and to build and plant.'
Jesus overcame the devil by the power of the Word saying: 'It is written'
Likewise we overcome: 'by the word of our testimony' (Rev 12:11).
'The word of God is living, powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword' (Heb.4:12).
There is tremendous power in the Words of God to save and transform.
They are weapons that can change a man's eternal destiny, defeating the powers of darkness over him, bringing him into the light. Even Paul with his natural ability had to come to the end of trusting his own power and instead depend on God's weapons. He changed the world using the ultimate weapon.
In Greek: 'mighty through God' (which describes the power of our weapons) literally means 'mighty in the sight of God'.
Mighty ('dunatos'), means 'inherently powerful'.
You see, in our sight, the sun is mighty. However, even the greatest natural power is not mighty in the sight of God for it is but the work of His fingers.
But these weapons are MIGHTY EVEN IN GOD'S SIGHT! This is a far greater, superior power - Divine Power!
Paul says he is not impulsive but has God's STRATEGY.
This is in the word for WARFARE (strateia) - where we get the word strategy from. This is not just a battle but an ongoing military campaign that requires strategy. So Paul says that his weapons and his strategy are not of the flesh but of God. We need both weapons and a strategy to succeed. A strategy is a plan of action whereby you focus your effort to achieve a goal. It's easy to defeat an enemy with no strategy because he reacts predictably when pressed. With no plan he is easily outwitted. We must planned strategy rather than move by impulse, reacting to each pressure. We should mobilise all our forces according to our plan as a general would during a military campaign. You can have mighty weapons but without the right strategy they will be ineffective.
Paul goes on to describe the Weapons and God's Strategy for using them.
In v4, Paul made his main statement which he now enlarges upon:
'The Weapons of our Warfare are Mighty through God.'
Anticipating our questions: 'how mighty are the weapons, how do they work and what do they do?'and 'What is the strategy for using them?', Paul answers us by analogy with the Pirate War. He traces the Roman battle plan to describe the war he is fighting, using a natural war to describe a spiritual war.
His spiritual weapons are designed for a purpose: They are MIGHTY THROUGH GOD: 'to the pulling down of strongholds' (v4b). The WEAPONS are the WORDS OF GOD designed for a purpose, they are Divinely powerful 'to the pulling down of strongholds' (v4b). These high strongholds refer to the Pirate fortresses on the Cilician coast, pulled down by the Roman grappling-hooks. The original meaning of 'stronghold' was a military fort or fortress (high military works thrown up, or lofty natural fortresses with their battlements of rock). From these Strongholds Pirates were stealing all the food going to Rome.
Interpreting this, Paul gives the spiritual parallel to 'the pulling down of strongholds': 'Casting down IMAGINATIONS and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God' (v5).
What are these strongholds, Paul?
They are imaginations, high, proud, deceptive thoughts in men's minds.
Paul was saying: 'My battlefield is the minds of men. Just as the Romans designed and used mighty weapons to pull down military strongholds, I use God's Words which are designed to pull down imaginations in men's minds.'
The 'high things' are false beliefs formed independently from God's Word.
They correspond to the strongholds. The real warfare is in the mind.
What are these 'stronghold - IMAGINATIONS'?
Imaginations ('logismous') are not just passing thoughts but false beliefs about God, oneself or the world; belief structures, inner convictions, settled conclusions based on evidence; reasonings erected against the knowledge of God.
They are manifestations of pride built on the foundation of a lie against God's character, a distortion of God's Word.
BELIEF STRUCTURES BLOCKING THE FLOW OF BLESSING.
PROUD PRINCIPLES OPPOSED TO GOD'S TRUTH.
MAN'S REASONINGS in REBELLION to God's REVELATION.
FOOLISH FALSE BELIEFS.
A stronghold is an inner belief, e.g. something happens that causes them to believe God doesn't love them, or that they are a failure (use the weapon of Eph 2:10), or that they are fearful by nature (2Tim 1:7) or that God doesn't want to heal them (1Peter 2:24). When people believe a lie about God or themselves, an evil stronghold is built in their mind that satan uses to control their lives and give them thoughts that steal God's blessings.
Having pulled down the stronghold, the next stage is: 'bringing into captivity every thought ('noema') to the obedience of Christ' (v5).
This is the mopping-up operation. 'Noema' are thoughts that proceed from our basic convictions (strongholds). They correspond to the pirates. PIRATES are the thoughts that flow in and out of the 'strongholds'.
Once the stronghold is dealt with they are easily captured and bow the knee to Christ.
All 120 strongholds were destroyed and 10,000 Pirates were taken captive to the obedience of Rome.
Thoughts (pirates) have their basis in belief structures (strongholds).
God is sending ships of blessings but Pirates proceed out of the strongholds to steal them.
Rather than fight the pirates individually, pull down the strongholds and then it's easy to capture the Pirates. We must focus on attacking the stronghold rather than chasing individual thoughts.
First go to pull down the strongholds (the central important beliefs rather than side issues), then take the pirates into captivity - this is GOD'S STRATEGY! Once their base is destroyed pirates are vulnerable, have no strength and are easily captured (individual thoughts are easily dealt with the stronghold down). You can defeat many Pirates but if you leave their stronghold untouched you have not dealt with the root cause. They still have a base of operation, support and protection and the problem will continue and grow. The strategy of the flesh is impulsive, attacking the pirates (apparent cause) but not getting to the root cause so the problem returns. Pompey's strategy must be ours. The Words of God, like Pompey's weapons, are specifically designed to pull down the strongholds satan has set up.
Thus if I believe God does not care for me, I will have a stronghold in my mind ('God does not love me') from which pirates of worry will flow to steal from me God's blessings (thoughts that spoil my joy and peace). The key to defeat worry is to destroy the stronghold first (with a revelation of God's loving care) - then you can easily deal with the pirates (worries): 'Casting all your care upon Him for He cares for you'(I Peter 4:7).
If the stronghold is left intact the pirates will come back. First the strongholds were dealt with and then the pirates. Likewise Paul first deals with basic wrong beliefs, then it's easy to sort out any wrong thoughts.
Ironically most teachings from these verses just tell people to keep taking their thoughts captive resulting in an endless warfare against the pirates, completely missing the strategy Paul is proposing. If you identify 'thoughts' (noema) with 'imaginations' (logismous) you will conclude Paul is repeating himself and you miss the two-stage strategy. Many think this is just about taking thoughts captive but that misses the point about the strategy of pulling the strongholds down first using GOD'S WORD not will-power.
When we preach Christ, the Word pulls down the strongholds of satan in their minds so that they can believe in Christ (their thoughts then come into obedience of Christ). The Gospel pulls down the basic beliefs opposing Christ from which their wrong thoughts proceed preventing them from receiving the blessing of salvation. The Word also erects strongholds of truth, in fact building up is the major part (v8), but Paul here is defending the negative side of his ministry. Part of preaching is pulling down those beliefs that continue to steal. Having stormed the stronghold, we lead every thought captive to the OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST (the new stronghold into which the captives are led). All thoughts come into surrender to Christ's truth.
The third stage is in v6: 'If the hearers are fully obedient every last rebellious thought will be destroyed just as all the Pirates who did not surrender were punished (destroyed)'
The Pirates who did not surrender were put to death.
The final stage was the Triumph: 'Thanks be to God, Who always causes us to triumph in Christ, and makes manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place' (2Cor2:14). After the victory the General had a triumphant procession through Rome. He rode in his chariot with all the captives in chains behind. As we witness, God's Word gives us victory and He leads us in a constant triumph. We are in the chariot in Christ triumphing over our enemies. As we continue to use the Word, we continue to triumph.
God in His grace is always sending ships of blessings on the rivers of His Spirit. But often before we can enjoy them pirate-thoughts come rushing out of our wrong beliefs and steal them.
Sinners blinded cannot receive salvation. God is sending salvation to them but the strongholds in their minds prevent them from seeing and believing (2Cor 4:4).
Christians blinded cannot receive healing, forgiveness or God's love. These strongholds built in ignorance and opposition to God's Word cannot be destroyed by natural weapons. All your brains, charm, skill and reasons can't do it. But God's Word is mighty and able to do it.
The strongholds you face may seem permanent, there for many years but God has given you weapons so powerful you can destroy them completely in a short time like Pompey (the Pirates had been a recurring problem for 100 years). As you speak the Word the strongholds will fall, and blessings flow.
God wants people blessed but they are defeated by their own thoughts. By preaching the Word you pull down the doubt and raise up strongholds of truth so God's blessings will flow into their lives. Believe this happens as you preach. Just as Pompey using his weapons won a decisive and final victory, so you, trusting in the power of the Word and the anointing of the Spirit will release overwhelming power resulting in the total destruction of the castles of doubt and unbelief.
No longer paralysed by pirates, they will find it easy to step by faith into the Provision of God! However great the unbelief, God's powerful weapons can destroy all strongholds and pirates decisively in a short time. What had seemed to be formidable fortresses were soon crushed. Once the strongholds go, the pirates (thoughts) are quickly captured and now salvation and the blessings (provisions) can freely flow into their lives (as the food could sail to Rome). Paul is teaching the Power of the Word to totally destroy every false stronghold permanently just as the Romans overwhelmed the pirates. Lean on the Word as you preach, trust it to do its work, don't depend on yourself. Just as the pirate army had no answer so satan has no answer for your mighty weapons.
THE first IRAQ WAR followed the same pattern. Kuwait was captured threatening the flow of oil (blessing). We did not initially engage in a land war (fighting soldiers individually) but used mighty weapons (advanced planes, bombs, cruise missiles) that overwhelmed the enemy. They had no defence. These weapons went past the front-lines and homed-in on the key enemy strongholds (bases, communication and supply centres, weapon storage areas, factories). Systematically (in 3 months) all the strongholds were destroyed so that the troops had no support in battle. They were exposed, confused and were easily captured (just like the pirates). Likewise, the Word goes forth with power (like a cruise missile) and penetrates accurately to the mind and heart where it destroys the key strategic strongholds of false belief.
Only the Word has the power and penetration to pull down the key strongholds and break satan's power over the mind. Satan has been building up these strongholds in minds over a life-time but such is the power of the Word that they can come crashing down in one day when you speak the anointed Word.
Our Weapon has the power to do the job. However, we must war, we must cast down imaginations (v3,5). It is only as we speak the Word that it goes to work. Identify the stronghold, then find the appropriate scripture to launch against it. As you speak it, God will target the Word like a guided-missile, accurately into their heart and mind to destroy the required stronghold with an explosion of light!
Jeremiah 1:12: 'I will hasten (watch over) my Word to perform it.'
The Word of God is powerful.
Great power is entrusted to you.
God has given you weapons. God has given you His Words.
They are mighty in His sight Trust in them - use them.