By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare an not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience Is fulfilled (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
We Are At War
When one becomes a Christian, he declares war on the forces of Satan. He wants to be able to say, “I have fought a good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7). He struggles with his own fleshly weaknesses to keep doing what he believes to be right. He has fights against systems of thought that make one feel justified in doing wrong. He must expose these systems for his own benefit and for the benefit of those whom he is trying to teach. I like to be positive in my teaching and preaching (oral and written), but I can’t always be. There are thoughts that must be “cast down” and “pulled down” before we can “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
There is no place in the Lord’s army for cowards; the “cowardly” will be in hell (Rev. 21:8). But, carnal minds have warped views of things. Carnal-mindedness, characteristic of spiritual immaturity, had been a long standing problem at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 3:3). They had a carnal view of strength and weakness — courage and cowardice. Paul deals with this in our text. His opponents measured strength by outward or fleshly appearance (v. 7) and so influenced the Corinthians. In effect, they accused him of being a weakly coward — one who talked big away from them, but would fold up with timidity when face to face (v. 10). He ironically identifies himself to them as the one “who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.” If that had really been so, then he would have fought after the flesh, making bold statements against sin from a distance, but melting when having to face them close up. It is easier to be bold from safety of distance or even from behind a curtain of anonymity than to look the accused in the eye. Such is beneath the dignity of those who war after the Spirit and characteristic of those who war after the flesh.
As the immature carnal minds often do, they also mistook longsuffering for weakness. They said, in effect, “If Paul is strong and we are wrong, why does he not do something about it?” Paul was “ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” (The only punishment that I know that Paul had a right to give would be that of “deliver(ing) one unto Satan”– cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 2.6; 1 Tim. 1:20.) Those who “war according to the flesh” are quick to issue an ultimatum to the opposition, demand immediate compliance, or face immediate consequences. They see any other course as being weak-either unable or unwilling to take action. Delay did not mean weakness. Paul could and would act in due time, but he had good reason for delay-to give those who could be salvaged opportunity to “fulfill their obedience” (v. 6). He had the authority. But, it was “for building you up, and not for casting you down” (v.8, ASV). He would use his authority to punish (or discipline) the disobedient (as had already been done in the case of the immoral man — 1 Cor. 5) when he came (v. 11), after he had salvaged those that could be persuaded to obey.
“Carnal” weapons are used by those who “war according to the flesh.” In context, “carnal” likely refers to tactics used, rather than having reference to swords and the like. It is from sarkikos. “from sarx, flesh, signifies (a) having the nature of the flesh, i.e., sensual, controlled by animal appetites, governed by human nature, instead of by the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 3:3; having its seat in the animal nature, or excited by it. I Pet. 2:11, ‘fleshly;’ or as the equivalent of ‘human,’ with the added idea of weakness, figuratively of the weapons of spiritual warfare, ‘of the flesh’ (A.V. ‘carnal’), 2 Cor. 10:4; or with the idea of unspirituality, of human wisdom, ‘fleshly,’ 2 Cor. 1:12” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E. Vine).
Those who “war after the flesh” use various fleshly devices to win a commitment to their side. Misrepresentation, gossip, slander, cheap verbal shots, intimidation, innuendo, flattery, sophistry, overstatement, officious meddling, prejudicial statements, base appeals to the fleshly side (fear, passion and pride), careful concealment of real cost of commitment, may be powerful weapons-but they better serve the purposes of those who war after the flesh than the Lord’s church.
In earthly conflicts, men may say, “My country, right or wrong, still my country”-so, the country’s position must be defendedright or wrong. Such a partisan spirit can be found in the church. Brethren can be more interested in preserving “our position,” maintaining a “united front” and forcing folks to get in step with that, rather than searching for, defending and propagating truth and bringing people intofthe with Christ. This, too, is warring after the fiesh. Yet, one has to watch that he does not let fleshly pride of independence,the desire to show that “he is his own man,” to govern his spiritual warfare. He may abandon good scriptural reasoning that has proven to be sound over the years because he does not want to appear to parrot “the party line” or “church of Christ position.” He wants all, especially the brotherhood, to know that he is not one of those weaklings who cannot think for himself. He wars after the flesh just as much as the man who blindly follows a “brotherhood tradition.”
We should not use carnal tactics because: (1) they are not right, (2) they do not work, (3) they are counter-productive to our goal, and (4) we have a more powerful and effective weapon — in the persuasive power of truth openly and simply presented.
The Strongest Weapons Of All
Paul said the “weapons of our warfare” are “mighty in God.” He did not need fleshly tactics to gain advantage over opposition; he had the advantage in the persuasive power of the gospel with its ability to “pull down strongholds, cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” There is no stronger way of stopping the mouths of those who “teach things that they ought not” than “by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9-11). This is hard for the immature, carnal mind in the church to understand.
The mature Christian chooses weapons carefully. He understands “he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). He knows that he must “walk in the flesh,” while resisting the ever-present temptation to “war after the flesh.” This is not easy, because fleshly means often seem more direct and faster in getting at sin. If the opposition uses such means against us, why should we not be allowed to use the same weapons in a good cause? So, sincere and zealous, but immature brethren often find what appears to be the quickest and most direct attack on the problem of internal sin and error very attractive — without stopping to consider whether or not the “weapon” is the kind a Christian ought to use. The fact that one’s objective is righteous does not justify trying to achieve it by unrighteous means.
I would like to wipe out abortion. I believe the Scriptures condemn it. But, bombing abortion clinics and/or harassing their patrons are not “weapons” that 1, as a Christian, have at my disposal.
I would like to see every mechanical instrument of music removed from the buildings of those professing Christianity. But, I cannot recommend the methods of a good sister in Kentucky that I read about. In the 1800s when one was brought into the building where she attended, she slipped in after dark and took a chopping axe to the thing!
I would like to see all religious error and sinful conduct removed from the church. I believe I must keep fighting to that end (cf. Jude 3; Heb. 12:3,4). But, I must be careful that I do not allow my hatred for sin — and I must abhor sin — to provoke me into methods that more befit Satan’s army than the Lord’s.
What Are We Trying To Do?
The best way in the world to wipe out sin and error is to make faithful Christians of those who are caught up in it. That is the first objective of the faithful spiritual warrior.
The objective of our warfare is “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” It is changing the thinking of people by “casting down arguments” of error with good scriptural answers. Carnal tactics may change outward behavior, but they will not bring one’s thinking into harmony with the will of Christ. If we cannot persuade those who may be wrong that they are not obeying Christ and that what we present is the will of Christ that they must obey, we need not try other tactics. Even if we succeed in changing behavior, we will not really have changed any convictions. One would not be acting for sound reasons.
Carnal tactics work against us in that they are repulsive to many fair-minded people of this world. They see the “carnal weapons” used in the name of Christ for what they are and become prejudiced against genuine Christianity. In their minds such tactics are a part of our religion. If they are going to reject the gospel, let us do all we can to see that they are rejecting it for what it really is-rather than what we may have misrepresented it to be. Further, it may pressure one into acting in harmony with truth without really being convicted of the truth-thus producing, at best, a half-baked Christian; at worst, a hypocrite. Also, reaction to carnal means (especially those designed to intimidate) often harden the very ones we are trying to change. If people are going to be hardened (and some will be) we want it to be a reaction to the truth handled aright and not some carnal tactic we may have used in the name of Christ.
Carnal weapons often get more immediate and visible results with less effort. It may take longer to change a person’s attitude and thinking about spiritual matters by rooting out his errors and replacing them with truth through the teaching and learning process. Then there is the time and effort to learn what the Scriptures teach well enough to “reason with (those in error) from the Scriptures” (cf. Acts 17:2). Because of this we are tempted to go the shortest route to get action-carnal means of persuasion (cf. 1 Cor. 2:4). It takes less effort to go directly to man’s fleshly side-to try to entice, excite, shame, or scare him into line by carnal means than it does to persuade him by taking Bible in hand and reasoning him into obedience to Christ. One of the dangers of impatience is that of trying to force the desired results by undesirable means. It matters not whether it is carnal means of enticement, excitement, or coercion. It is still a carnal weapon that should be abandoned by the Christian in favor of the most powerful weapon of all — the truth of the gospel boldly or confidently presented (v. 2; Eph. 6:19,20).
Lest someone think that we are saying that fear, shame, and/or other emotions have no part in the Christian’s arsenal; maybe we need to say more.
The gospel produces its own enticement, fear, shame, and excitement. We do not have to help it out with those we can create or borrow from men-be they theologians, philosophers, orators, or salesmen. When one has been reasoned with from the Scriptures and convinced by the evidence of the nature of Christ, the extent of His love, what He expects us to do and the blessings of obedience that will entice and excite him to conform. When one is convinced of the truth about the wrath of God and the reality of hell, that will produce fear. When one is convinced of sin, its nature and consequences, that will produce shame.
Yes, there are right ways to produce fear and shame in our fight against sin. “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest may fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). “And if anyone does not obey our word by this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thess. 3:14). But, these (rebuke and discipline) must be used in the framework of adequate scriptural teaching, reasoning, and persuasion or they will become nothing more than carnal weapons to bully brethren into line. We may by carnal means excite, entice, scare and/or shame one to get into step with us but we can never get him in step with Christ without “pulling down arguments” and teaching him so that his “every thought is brought into captivity to Christ.”
When we come to the end of our journey here, let it be said that we fought a good fight against sin rather than taking a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak (against) no evil stance that we observe in all too many in the church today. But, let us be able to say that we have “fought a good fight” — not just merely fought.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 13, pp. 392-393, 409
July 4, 1985