I, Paul, am begging you with the gentleness and the kindness of Christ. Some people say that I am easy on you when I am with you and strict when I am away. 2 They think that we live in a worldly way. I plan to be very strict against them when I come. I beg you that when I come I will not need to use that same strictness with you. 3 We do live in the world. But we do not fight in the same way that the world fights. 4 We fight with weapons that are different from those the world uses. Our weapons have power from God. These weapons can destroy the enemy’s strong places. We destroy men’s arguments. 5 And we destroy every proud thing that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ. 6 We are ready to punish anyone there who does not obey. But first we want you to obey fully. (2 Corinthians 10:1-6 ICB)
The New Testament is full of “one another” commands. As a community or family of believers we are to actively work for the good of one another.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV)
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:14-15 NIV)
The passages in Hebrews and Ephesians are just a couple of examples of commands to speak to one another for the purpose of encouraging spiritual growth. It appears that Paul has been accused of doing that, but with wrong motives and cowardly methods. He is accused of putting things in letters that he would never say in person.
If I had received a letter like the one that prompted Paul to write this one I would not have been able to respond as he does. I would have had to respond with an apology. More times than I can count I have thought that I would avoid conflict by putting in a letter what I could never find the courage to say face to face.
Letters are dangerous things. A man will often write with a bitterness and peremptoriness which he would never use to another person’s face. Exchange of letters can do a deal of harm which might well have been avoided by a face to face discussion. But Paul’s claim is that he would never write anything which he was not prepared to say. (William Barclay in The Letters to the Corinthians)
There are times when a letter is the best way to communicate. My experience is that this is rarely the case when there is a conflict to be resolved. The challenge for Paul was that he was far away and unable to respond to the ongoing sin in this congregation any other way.
And we destroy every proud thing that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)
Most of the time when someone quotes this verse it is as a personal discipline related to their thought life. I think this is a good thing, but it doesn’t fit the context. Paul is talking about a fight. He’s talking about having an argument with someone. I think his words will help us all to fight better. The primary enemy to a good fight is pride. A good fight springs from love and the desire for what is best for the other. A bad fight springs from pride and the desire for what I think is best for me.
The only way I know to enter into a good fight is to first submit my own thoughts to Jesus. If I test them against his example and instruction I have more confidence that it is love and not pride that is speaking. When there is a response, a thought to capture, I take that thought and submit it to Jesus. I’m testing to determine the source. If the source is love, then regardless of how much the words hurt me they are valuable and to be accepted with gratitude. If the source is pride, then I owe it to the person I’m fighting with to clearly and concisely respond that the words are not from Jesus and not for my good.
Paul uses strong language. Prideful, selfish, and worldly ideas are to be destroyed. They cannot be destroyed with more prideful, selfish, and worldly ideas. The things we’re comfortable with are manipulation and deception. Paul’s approach is to use truth spoken with gentleness and truth.
To my grandchildren:
When you fight, do your best to fight for the person fighting you. This is what Jesus did for you.