Vol. VIII — No. 39 October 1, 1967


Bringing Into Captivity Every Thought to the Obedience of Christ

2 Corinthians 10:1-6

Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you: But I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For 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 to the pulling down of strongholds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.

In Christ Jesus, who would have us always submit our minds to His mind as revealed in His Word, Fellow Redeemed:

There is one clause in this rather unfamiliar passage that shall be the object of our study this morning. It is, perhaps, familiar to some of you: “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

But before we examine the content of these words, let us understand the connection in which Paul wrote them. Chapter ten begins the third and final section of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. This section of the letter is Paul’s personal defense against accusations that were being hurled at him by the Judaizers, the law or work-righteous false teachers that were disturbing the Corinthian congregation. They were unable to refute the power of Paul’s Gospel message, so they attacked his person and tried to discredit him. Paul was forced to defend himself for the truth’s sake.

Paul wrote, “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” Meekness is an inner attitude of the heart which makes its presence known in gentleness when dealing with others. When our Lord entered Jerusalem as King, He came in all meekness which moved Him to humble Himself unto death, even the death of the cross. Each step of the way His inner meekness revealed itself in His gentleness toward Malchus whose ear was cut off, towards Judas, Peter, the women who wept over Him, the malefactor on the cross. In defending himself Paul appealed to the same meekness and gentleness of Christ—which had brought salvation unto the Corinthians. Then Paul appears to quote a remark of those who were slandering him in Corinth. They spoke of him as one who “in presence am base or humble among you, but being absent am bold toward you.” Paul’s enemies had pictured him as a cowardly dog who barks loudly when at a safe distance but is afraid to come close to where the action is. Paul pleads with the Corinthians not to misconstrue his meekness as weakness and so force him to come with boldness against them. He wants them to disassociate themselves from the false prophets who were disturbing them.

Paul continues by describing his method of waging war for the Lord: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.” Paul freely admits that in his work he is bound by all the weaknesses that characterize mortal man, but yet he did not carry on any campaign of the Lord according to the flesh, that is, with human, earthly methods and means. Paul was constantly battling unbelief and false teachers of all kinds. He knew that he could not convince such people by fleshly means such as oratorical eloquence or force of argument or keenness of wit. No, God alone could replace unbelief with faith, holding to error with embracing the truth. Paul continues by speaking of the spiritual weapons in his arsenal: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.” For what purpose: “to the pulling down of strong holds—or the razing of fortresses.” One such fortress is human pride which seeks and longs for the credit and glory of saving itself. This natural born idea of work righteousness was fortified religiously by a misunderstanding of God’s Law. Paul had once been a victim of this fortress. He had been freed by the power of God and now was striving to use spiritual weapons to free others and keep them free.

He continues: “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” Satan seeks to develop within man the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as a defense against the knowledge of God, which is the knowledge of grace and pardon and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. These mental and spiritual fortifications against the Gospel have to be broken down. Next comes the clause that concerns us most today: “and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” The human mind, blinded by sin and prejudiced against the truth, constantly seeks to think up arguments that will justify disobedience. Paul says that all these devices of the mind must be made prisoners of war for the obedience of Christ. The goal of the entire campaign is “to revenge—to right— all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.”

St. Paul loved to use figures of speech taken from warfare to picture the Christian as a soldier of Christ, armed spiritually to do battle against all disobedience in the interest of achieving obedience unto Christ. In this section he uses these pictures to defend himself and the Corinthians from attacks by the false teachers who were molesting them. How let us take a closer look at the best known clause in the entire section:


Let us realize that—

I. When the intellectual powers of man run free, they insist on becoming the master of the Word of God and so lead men to disobedience.

How was Satan able to deceive Eve who had been created holy? His ultimate weapon was an appeal to her pride. There was and there always will be a chasm between God and man, for God is the Creator and man the creature. Satan suggested a way of bridging this gap and so putting man, the creature, on the same level with God. God had said, “don’t eat of the fruit of the tree or you will die.” Satan, appealing to the pride of Eve, said: “Eat; you won’t die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” That bribe did it—the promise to be like God.

This same pride that caused the fall remains a characteristic of man. Man’s pride compels him to reject the grace of God in Christ. Man wants to do it himself, to work out his own salvation. He wants to be his own savior. Then man summons his intellectual powers to fortify and justify his pride. The false teachers that kept on dogging the footsteps of Paul argued that God had given the Law of Moses and so God had instituted circumcision, the Sabbath, and the festivals of the Jews. Since these were works instituted and commanded by God, they must be necessary for salvation. And in the doing of them man was satisfying his natural pride, for he was contributing to his own salvation. Paul had to oppose this rationalization of human pride. He had to proclaim that the Law of Hoses was temporary, that it made demands which no Jew ever did or could fulfill, that the fulfillment of all its demands was achieved in Christ, that He put an end to the demands of the Law with His righteousness, and so men are saved by the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Christ rather than through their own feeble efforts at achieving righteousness through the works of the Law.

This was the battle in Paul’s day. It remains in our modern day, for the mind of man never ceases to try to support the pride of man by arguing that man must and can work out his own salvation or assist in working it out, or supplement what Christ has done. This one example reveals the natural tendency of man’s intellectual powers to oppose and try to master the Lord of God and so lead men to disobedience.

Let us realize that only—

II. When the intellectual powers of man have been taken captive by the Spirit of God, are they put into the service of obedience to the Word of God.

We should realize that much of revealed truth is contrary to human reason and all intellectual powers of man. Think but of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Scripture tells us clearly and plainly that God is one. This truth is hammered home in opposition to the many gods of the heathen nations. One, not many, is God. And yet Holy Scriptures teach with equal clarity and force that there are three divine Persons in the Godhead. The Father is spoken of as a Person and as God. The Son is a Person who is also God. The Holy Spirit is not a thing or the power of God, but He is also a Person who is God. So Scripture teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. Yet there are not three gods, but One God. How can this be? Rationalists, such as modern day Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, mock and ridicule the trinitarian concept of God as unreasonable. Certainly it is contrary to human reason! No child of God denies that. We know that symbols as the triangle and interlocking circles are pitifully inadequate means of trying to picture to the limited mind of man a truth that the mind of man simply cannot grasp. Are we to reject the Holy Trinity because we cannot comprehend it with our little minds? That would be saying that the mind of God cannot be superior to our minds, that we are equal to God when it comes to rational powers. That is precisely the assumption of the rationalists. The child of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit takes his mind and intellectual powers captive into the obedience of Christ, saying, “Lord, I believe, even though I cannot understand.”

We should realize that there are within Christendom those who accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but yet tend to operate in their theology with a rational principle. It is characteristic of Reformed theology to judge and adjust their theology according to philosophic principles formed by the mind of man. This weakness of Reformed theology comes out especially in the rejection of the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament. The words of Christ are plain and simple enough. When He had blessed the bread and wine, He distributed them, saying: “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink ye all, of it; this is my blood.” The words tell us clear and plainly enough that when our Lord gave the bread to be eaten, He also gave His body. When He gave the wine to be drunk, He also gave His blood to His disciples. But the Reformed theologians, since the days of the Reformation, have always rejected the words of our Lord as they read. On what basis? On the basis of a philosophic principle which is usually stated in Latin: “Finitum non est capax infiniti.” That means that the finite cannot comprehend or encase or enclose the infinite. when applied to the person of Christ, it is a denial of the personal union of the divine and human natures in Christ, a denial that our Lord Jesus was both true God and true man in one Person. It is argued that a human body can possess no other presence than a local and visible presence. No one denies that this is true of you and me and all human beings. Those of you that are here this morning are visible. Your bodies can’t be invisibly present here. (That is only done on some television shows.) Furthermore your body occupies a certain definite space on the pew. No one else can occupy that same space, for it’s a matter of human observation and experience that no two physical bodies can occupy the same space at the same time. Now the Reformed theologians take these truths about human bodies, which no child of God denies, and apply them to Christ’s body. They say that Christ’s body, as a true human body, has the same qualities and limitations as any other human body. Since our Lord ascended to heaven, He is in His human body limited to a certain, definite, prescribed area in heaven and cannot be present bodily on earth in the sacrament. Therefore, when our Lord said, “This is my body…This is my blood,” He must have meant this symbolizes my body and blood or this is a symbol of my absent body and blood, which are in heaven sitting there at the right hand of God.

This appears to be so reasonable—which it is—but it violates the Word of God. Jesus was and is both God and man in one person. By reason of the personal union of the divine and human natures which communicate their properties one to the other, our Lord’s body has ways of being present that our bodies do not have because we are only human. Christ’s body passed through the walls of the tomb and through the locked doors on Easter evening. Our bodies can’t do that. Christ said, “Lo, I am with you even to the end of the world,” and “where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them.” We can’t be in more than one place at the same time because we are only human, but our Lord is God and man. When He tells us, “This is my body…This is my blood,” we are to take our thoughts captive and believe His word, even though we cannot understand how He can be present at once in many places. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached - September 17, 1967
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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