Tearing Down Spiritual Strongholds II: Recognizing Demonstrations of Fear
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Scripture 2 Corinthians 10:3-6
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
If you were with us last Sunday morning, you will remember that we looked at Joshua and the battle for Jericho, and we found that, not only was this a powerful demonstration of God in history in fulfilling his promises, we also discovered that the battle for Jericho was a battle against a spiritual stronghold. Jericho, the city, was a physical demonstration of the power of an evil spiritual force represented by an idol. We found in an introductory way, that we to, like Israel will battle spiritual strongholds if we want to enter into the promised blessings of Abraham, if we want our lives, our neighbours, our city and our culture to experience the blessings of God.
Our objective this morning is to take a closer look at what a spiritual stronghold is, by means of looking at the words that Paul uses and by means of illustration.
Paul tells us that our weapons (we touched on what those weapons are: the victory of Christ, the weapon of prayer, the weapon of proclamation, and the weapon of acting in an opposite spirit), have divine power to demolish strongholds. What exactly are strongholds?
Literally, the word means fortress, a place with strong defenses that provides security, supplies and command for military operations in a certain area.
Jericho was just such a city. It was the home base for those who lived in the area. It gave security from which they could overtake the countryside. It gave command for operations. The minute Joshua entered the promised land, he choose to take Jericho because it was a stronghold. Without taking Jericho, the enemy would always have a position of strength from which to attack them. Israel would not be able to have any safety in the promised land.
Paul tells us that we to will run into strongholds, but he is not referring to cities with walls, as you probably noticed, he talks about arguments, pretensions that are set up against the knowledge of God.
What arguments or pretentious or proud thoughts is he talking about?
Arguments are very basically tools of thought designed to strengthen and hold a position. Arguments do not have to be rational or logical. They can be volatile, even violent. When a teenager, I had a friend named John who was a master at irrational argumentation. On our walks home from school, he would start an argument, and he would always win, and not because he was right, rather when he argued, he didn't use reason, he used unreasonable argument. And we, being rational young people would argue till we gave up in frustration - he just refused to get our point. To him, you see, the point was not who was right, the point was winning the argument, no matter how the argument was won. One of the first lessons I learned in those arguments is simply this - if you sense someone has the object to win rather than to learn the truth, it is better to just shut up. They cannot win unless you allow the debate to continue. That was one of my first lessons in waging war not as the world does.
Paul also uses what the NIV here describes as pretensions, more literally, they are proud or high obstacles, that keep people from receiving the truth of scriptures, that keeps people blind to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. You see, it is behind the defenses of these arguments, these pretensions that people hide. Behind these walls, people, cities, even entire cultures, feel they do not have to take the claims of God seriously, they do not need to acknowledge God, they do not need to obey his law or accept his truth and they do not need to deal with issues in their own hearts. These arguments, these pretensions are walls of defense against the truth of God, in truth, they are but demonstrations of fear of the truth of God, of his power and Lordship in their lives. This morning, let me give you three examples, one from our culture, one from the church and one from the life of an individual...
My first illustration this morning is one that we are all familiar with, the on going issue of Abortion in our culture. How is it in our culture that we feel it is a women's right to kill her unborn unwanted child? Well, you have heard the arguments. Legally, an unborn child is not a person. How being pushed through a birth canal takes tissue and turns it into a person defies reason. Exactly when does a baby become that person? To abort a baby is to kill unwanted tissue. And so its chopped up and sucked through the birth canal without mercy, without compassion, without conscience. To us who understand that even in our mother's womb, God was knitting us together as person with his wonderful creative power and love, we simply cannot understand the logic of defining an unborn child as a non-person. But what we are facing is not a logical argument, it is a pretension, a spiritual stronghold that has been built up so that people do not have to take serious the knowledge of God that says - "You shall not murder." The knowledge of God that says that God knew us before we were born, choose us from before the creation of the world.
Let me demonstrate how these arguments are actually a demonstration of fear, just as the walls of Jericho were demonstrations of the fear that the people of Jericho had for the God of Israel and his people.
Where there is no fear, defenses are not required. Come a person who is not afraid of you, their arms are relaxed and at their side, they listen to what you have to say, they accept your reasonable statements. However if you come to a person who is afraid of you, or what you stand for, their arms are crossed, their defenses are up, their fight flight adrenaline is pumping, their arguments are prepared. They have a defensive posture. In the same way, pro-choice arguments are a defensive posture. If there was no fear, no questioning what the real act of abortion is, if the law of God was not written on our hearts, then to kill a child would be a perfectly acceptable thing to do. And they would listen to our opinion without having to come up with arguments to justify their actions. But as it is they do, and the reason they do is because if those pretensious walls come tumbling down - what will happen? Our culture will see our own murderous even genocidal hearts, our own self centered and disobedient lifestyles, we will see that God's just judgements toward us are perfectly justified. We will recognize that there is a final authority to which we will be held accountable, and to fall into the hands of an angry God - that is a terrible thing.
Paul says: On the contrary, our weapons have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God
Abortion is a fairly obvious illustration in our culture, and for us, I hope all of us, it is a safe illustration because we tend to be planted firmly on the pro-life side of this issue.
But we too are influenced by spiritual strongholds, by though patterns and arguments and pretensions in our minds that keep us from experiencing the blessings that God has promised to those who by faith are joined to Jesus. And a lot of these ways of thinking are unexamined assumptions, in philosophy, they are called apriori judgements, they shape our world view, and because they shape our world view, they blind us to the work of God even today. And so let me bring you an illustration that might hit a little closer to home.
This past Classis was an exciting one - exciting because our speaker was an excellent speaker. Exciting because as a Classis, we had a time of worship that was filled with the presence and glory of God. Exciting because of the generousity of our Classis toward mission causes. During Classis, I had a very interesting conversation with one of my fellow pastors. He was having considerable difficulty. As I listened, I could see the spiritual stronghold he was up against. Let me tell you what happened.
In the spring of this year, some young people in his congregation came to him and asked if they could use the church facility on Saturday nights for a time of singing songs and worship together. Now any pastor who hears that young people want to sing - well he gets excited and says "Go for it." With proper permission, this small group of young people, at the beginning of the summer started their Saturday evening time of worship. What happened was astounding. Over the period of 10 weeks, what started out as a small group of young people turned into 400 young people, some of them driving over a hundred miles, to come and worship on Saturday night. Lives were changing. Young people are becoming very excited about knowing Jesus. Some very powerful spiritual dynamics were happening as young people prayed for each other, they were set free, some experienced gifts of the holy spirit and demonstrations of power they had never anticipated. My fellow pastor had not anticipated this at all. But then he ran into a spiritual stronghold in parents, church members and even fellow pastors.
Parents, hearing what was going on, started refusing their children permission to go. Complaints from parents got to elders which got to pastors which were soon suggesting to my fellow pastor that he had left the Reformed faith. The pressure was on to shut the whole thing down. Jesus said, you will know the tree by its fruit and very clearly, the fruit of this tree is wonderful - young people coming to a whole hearted commitment to Christ! Yet there is pressure to shut it down. Why?
The answer has to do with a spiritual stronghold. So often among faithful bible believing Christians, there are systems of thought that have the net effect of protecting us, defending us from experiencing the blessings and power of God.
In the case of what is happening in the states, systems of theological thought are the walls of defense against the power of God. Systems of theology that place God in a box and tell us with amazingly weak scriptural justification, that God no longer works with signs and wonders, because the work of the apostles is finished. These young people whose lives are being changed are demonstrating that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and all they are doing is worshiping.
Another wall is the obvious fear of the power of God. So many Christians have grown up in the Christian faith, learning to trust in God for forgiveness of sins, seeing the realities of the character and love of God in their parents, they embrace this relationship with God. No demonstrations of power involved. This is the faith they experienced. This is the way they expect God to work in their children. But God in his faithfulness and in his great love for his covenant children will do whatever is necessary to bring a new generation to faith.
There are also those who have gone through the motions - learned their theology, but never truly dealt with the issues of their own heart, never truly said to Christ - you are my Lord of everything that I do. When they get confronted by the power of God, the defensive walls come up to protect them from dealing seriously with God. There is no doubt God is at work, and by his grace, he is tearing down strongholds.
In the future, we will look at more illustrations - as we begin next time we look at this theme, focusing on the divine power for tearing them down.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.