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. 2 Corinthians 10.3-4.
What is a stronghold? The Greek word ochuroma means a fortress or a castle — a strongly fortified defensive structure in which the opposition has ensconced itself and from which it can attack anyone who tries to displace it. The devil has strongholds everywhere and is ceaselessly endeavouring to establish more. He has strongholds in the world, in the church, and in the minds and hearts of men and women and children … even (especially?) in the hearts and minds of many who love the Lord Jesus and belong to him. I believe these latter strongholds are the ones the devil defends most tenaciously because, from within them, he can do the greatest damage to the kingdom of God and most effectively impede its growth.
How can I detect the presence of a stronghold in my own life? The signs are clear — habits that I cannot be rid of, addictions that I cannot break, besetting sins that cause me to fall, over and over again. These point to areas in my heart and mind and will where Jesus is not yet Lord … where the enemy has staked out territory as his own and built a seemingly impregnable wall around it. And the first stage in the demolition of such strongholds is, I believe, to recognise them for what they are; for if I can see them but persist in calling them something else — personality weaknesses, psychological flaws, hang-ups from my childhood, foibles, quirks, eccentricities — I can be pretty sure that they will be there for a long time to come. They will never come tumbling down and my walk with God will continue to be impaired, my ministry will continue to be undermined, and my testimony will continue to be flawed. The worst thing I can do with a stronghold is to pretend it isn’t there, or to ignore it, or to try and convince myself that it is unimportant and that God doesn’t really mind about it.
But what if I do recognise strongholds for what they are and acknowledge that God wants rid of them? Well, the next stage is to recognise that I can never demolish them with weapons “of the world”. That is an unfortunate translation — though many versions beside the NIV follow it. For the Greek word sarkikos does not mean “of the world” but “of the flesh”, and it is the exact opposite of “of the Spirit”. So when Paul says what he says in this morning’s reading he is reminding me that I will never bring down a stronghold by the application of a technique, or by will power, or by any means that are not Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered.
So what are these weapons of the Spirit that will succeed where I alone am bound to fail? I believe that Paul has described them for me in Ephesians 6. He speaks there the defensive armour that I must put on if I am to stand against the attacks of the enemy, but he ends by describing two weapons of offense — which must surely mean weapons that can bring down strongholds. They are the well-known and often referred to “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” and “prayer in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6.17-18). However, I am not convinced that these are quite the weapons that we often think they are, and that is something that I’ll be looking at tomorrow …