Using 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ ~ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Countless books addressed to women use it.  Likewise, I have heard one speaker after another refer to these verses when discussing all variety of thoughts.  Rarely do I hear it in its context.  Here’s the passage:

10:1 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.

When one reads the passage, it becomes clear that Paul is talking about preaching the gospel.  There are spiritual forces at work that cannot be fought with physical weapons.  Spiritual forces must be fought with spiritual weapons.

While some preachers and teachers try to persuade by force, that is not Paul’s way.  Rather he persuades men with words and truth, tearing down strongholds, like worldly philosophies and ideas that are higher than God’s truth in the minds of his hearers.  Paul preaches against those thoughts that oppose Christ, leads those thoughts captive, and then teaches them to obey Christ.

I’ve been trying to think through this and its implications for a few days now.  I’m hoping one of my readers can help me out.

What I’m wondering is this: Is it correct to take these verses and use them therapeutically?  To use them in a way that only serves the self?

For instance, in the book I reviewed yesterday, the author uses these verses as a sort of mandate that we ought not tell ourselves things that make us feel bad about ourselves.  Or put another way, if God wouldn’t say that about us, then they are not true thoughts and must be taken captive.

Considering the context, is it right and good to use these verses when referring to one’s thoughts about the self?  Seems to me that that only exalts the self (rather than Jesus) even more in our minds.

Or is it only right to use them when referring to a person’s thoughts about Jesus and the gospel?

Or can it be both?

Grab a good commentary (I’ve exhausted the few resources I have here at home) and share what you learn in the comments.

10 Comments on “Using 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

  1. Leslie,
    When I am teaching Sunday School, I use Matthew Henry’s commentary a lot of the time. This is from his commentary on that Corinthians passage:
    II. He asserts the power of his preaching and his power to punish offenders.

    1. The power of his preaching, v. 3, 5. Here observe, (1.) The work of the ministry is a warfare, not after the flesh indeed, for it is a spiritual warfare, with spiritual enemies and for spiritual purposes. And though ministers walk in the flesh, or live in the body, and in the common affairs of life act as other men, yet in their work and warfare they must not go by the maxims of the flesh, nor should they design to please the flesh: this must be crucified with its affections and lusts; it must be mortified and kept under. (2.) The doctrines of the gospel and discipline of the church are the weapons of this warfare; and these are not carnal: outward force, therefore, is not the method of the gospel, but strong persuasions, by the power of truth and the meekness of wisdom. A good argument this is against persecution for conscience’ sake: conscience is accountable to God only; and people must be persuaded to God and their duty, not driven by force of arms. And so the weapons of our warfare are mighty, or very powerful; the evidence of truth is convincing and cogent. This indeed is through God, or owing to him, because they are his institutions, and accompanied with his blessing, which makes all opposition to fall before his victorious gospel. We may here observe, [1.] What opposition is made against the gospel by the powers of sin and Satan in the hearts of men. Ignorance, prejudices, beloved lusts, are Satan’s strong-holds in the souls of some; vain imaginations, carnal reasonings, and high thoughts, or proud conceits, in others, exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, that is, by these ways the devil endeavours to keep men from faith and obedience to the gospel, and secures his possession of the hearts of men, as his own house or property. But then observe, [2.] The conquest which the word of God gains. These strong-holds are pulled down by the gospel as the means, through the grace and power of God accompanying it as the principal efficient cause. Note, The conversion of the soul is the conquest of Satan in that soul.

    It’s funny that you call this particular passage to light, because I am going through Beth Moore’s “Breaking Free” with a group of ladies right now and just last night, she had us in this exact passage in the context of living free in Christ.

    I know this is getting long, but here are some things she is saying:
    Concerning the phrase “we demolish arguments and every pretension” (vs. 5): In the Classical Greek writers, (logimos) was used of the consideration and reflection preceding and determining conduct. These arguments are our rationalizations for the strongholds we continue to possess in our lives. And in relation to the word “pretension”: The Greek word “hupsoma” means something made high, elevated, a high place…figuratively of a proud adversary, a lofty tower or fortress built up proudly by the enemy. Pride.

    In reference to the phrase “we take captive every thought”: She points out the verb tense in this phrase implies a repeated and continuous action. We’re all looking for a quick fix, but God is after lasting change – lifestyle Christianity. To possess a steadfast mind is to practice a steadfast mind.

    She says things like, “Taking thoughts captive to Christ doesn’t mean we never have the thought again. It means we learn to “think the thought” as it relates to Christ and who we are in Him.”

    I’ve struggled with this passage as well. I’m glad you brought this up. I’d be interested in exploring and studying it with you. Many of the things Beth is saying are right, but then some of it sounds like “self-talk”. Does that make sense? I mean she makes a strong point by saying that the key is confession of sin and surrender to Christ.

    What do you think?


    • That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Jen. Thanks for bringing the MH Commentary. I understand how Beth and other teachers come to this point. But is it the right way to handle this passage? Is what she’s teaching you to do with this passage in Breaking Free a proper application? I guess there’s no harm in it. But when Moore (it’s not just her, she’s just the example right now) uses this scripture in relation to sin is that right? Wouldn’t the most appropriate remedy be the gospel itself and scriptures calling for repentance, faith in Christ, walking in obedience? Where Paul is using the gospel to tear down the lofty arguments that oppose God, Beth is saying to use Paul’s *method* (go after the wrong thought with the truth) to change the way you think about yourself.


  2. Quoting John MacArthur’s article,

    “More than any other institution on earth, the church is where the truth of God is upheld. The church is called to lift up the truth and hold it high. Employing the truth as a weapon, we are to smash the ideological fortresses of Satan’s lies (2 Cor. 10:3-5). And it is in the pursuit of that goal that the church will ultimately realize her greatest triumph.”

    I don’t know if this answers your question, but I thought it was interesting…and goes along with the latter portion of the MH Commentary.

    I’m not saying I’m right here…but I’ve always thought that this passage spoke to the need for Christians to take captive every thought we have that is contrary to Christ. Not so much the thoughts about ourselves…but ANY thought that is opposed to God. I think MacArthur bears that out. How can we uphold truth if we don’t truly believe or practice it? Not that God’s truth requires us to hold it up for it to be true…but we certainly can’t bear witness to His truth without believing it ourselves (thus, taking our thoughts captive).

    I may be totally off, but there’s my two cents. As Lisa said, you sure know how to ask a question!


    • Thanks for adding the GTY link, Melissa. Paul does say “every thought.” But I think I agree with you in that he limits it to thoughts (not just our own thoughts, but the thoughts of others) that are raised in opposition to Christ. I don’t think this verse is about making thoughts about our selves submit to what the Bible says about us. Besides, many of the verses I could site to build my self-esteem are really about the Church, not necessarily applied to the individual.


  3. Okay, true confessions: I haven’t done the research I’d wanted to do. I did look up MacArthurs’ commentary and essentially he makes the same point you do: Paul is speaking of the gospel. When we proclaim the gospel we engage in a battle for the minds of people who are captive to lies that are exalted and oppose the Word of God. We see this in our culture of philosophy, therapy, psychology, and so on. The only thing that can expose the lies and false beliefs is the truth, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Like you said, this is the clear context of the passage. I do think Melissa makes a good point in that a indirect application of the passage could certainly be made to my own thoughts in which I rehearse the good news of the gospel to myself. Merely thinking positive thoughts about myself leads to another form of captivity. Being set free from any false thinking–insecurity, fear of man, self pity, whatever–will only come from realizing my sin and depravity and turning to Christ in repentance and faith. I am not to think warm and fuzzy thoughts about myself; I am not to think of myself at all. Christ alone! He must increase; I must decrease!

    So, what do you think?


  4. Excellent comments! Thank you so much. I use these two scripture passages as a Christian counselor, referring to the entire chapter in context. Changing is hard work, it does not happen over night and it takes the cooperation of the person along with the Holy Spirit. In order for us to break the habit of putting other things above Christ we must learn to recognize what they are and teach ourselves through scripture to take hold of these thoughts and throw them out, not allowing the enemy to pollute out minds with anything that puts itself above Christ and becomes an idol. It is so important to remember the entire context of the scripture and that we are taking hold of these negative thoughts so that we can put Christ back on His rightful throne.


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