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Spiritual Warfare

Thorn

If you’ve been around church for a while, you may have heard of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”. Today’s Bible reading includes Paul’s brief discussion of his thorn.

Paul never tells us specifically what his thorn was. Obviously, he was using the word as a metaphor of something else. Some have speculated it was poor eyesight. Some have speculated it was malaria. The truth is, we don’t know what it was. And if we knew, I’m sure someone would find a similar thorn, claim it was Paul’s and proceed to venerate “Paul’s thorn”.

What we do know about Paul’s thorn is that God gave it to him to keep him humble. (2 Corinthians 12:7) Further, Paul’s thorn was a “messenger of Satan”. Paul asked God to remove his thorn, but each time, God told him “no”. God wanted to use Paul’s thorn to show His strength, made perfect in Paul’s weakness.

There are a few things to notice from Paul’s discussion. God doesn’t always do what we ask Him to do, even apostles. God can use all things to work out for our good of becoming more like Jesus, even our weaknesses. God’s grace is sufficient.

Finally, Paul’s thorn was a “messenger of Satan”. The word translated “messenger” is also translated as “angel”. This means that Paul’s thorn was a Satanic angel. Paul — the Apostle, the “spiritual heavyweight” — was demonized. Am I trying to say that Paul was demon possessed? No, because that’s not the language the Bible uses. The Bible doesn’t differentiate between demon possession and demon oppression. The Bible just says “demonized”. And to be demonized is to have a demon.

Application

This may not fit well with what you’ve always heard in church. But that’s what Paul says. So what do you do when you come across something in the Bible that doesn’t fit your preconceived beliefs? It’s important that we stick with what God says in the Bible and adjust our beliefs accordingly.

If Paul could be demonized, then it’s possible for other Believers to be demonized. Even us. Even today. And if a Believer is demonized, he/she should do the same thing Paul did: Ask God to remove the demon and its influence. But if God says, “no”, then we should accept what He has given/allowed and live in closer dependence on the empowering Holy Spirit to live day-to-day until our final deliverance to the other side of eternity. God’s strength can be made perfect in our weaknesses, too.

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Stronghold, castle

If you’ve been around church very long and you’ve heard about “spiritual warfare”, you’ll find one of the key passages on the subject in today’s Bible reading.

Paul says, “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (CSB)

Oftentimes when we run into rough times in our walk with God, prayer is our last resort. Prayer should be our first resort! Why? Because prayer is a very powerful weapon in the battle for our hearts that’s fought mostly in our minds. Unfortunately, we often use prayer as a domestic intercom (“Butler, please adjust the thermostat.”) when prayer is actually a wartime walkie-talkie (“Commander, send reinforcements!”).

Prayer and the other spiritual weapons in our arsenal (Ephesians 6:10-20) are Weapons of Mass Destruction. When Paul says that our weapons are powerful for demolishing strongholds, he isn’t kidding! The word translated demolishing means absolute obliteration. Jesus uses the word to describe the coming destruction of the Temple in Luke 21:6 when “not one stone will be left on another that will not be thrown down.”

Our weapons tear down strongholds, defined as “1. a castle, stronghold, fortress, fastness. 2. anything on which one relies. 2A. of the arguments and reasonings by which a disputant endeavours to fortify his opinion and defend it against his opponent.”[1]

Our WMDs attack the false arguments and thoughts that exalt themselves against knowing God. And do you remember what eternal life is? It is knowing God. (John 17:3) Proper use of our spiritual arsenal can affect people’s eternal destinies!

We often think of “spiritual warfare” as fighting demonic forces. But did you notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about using our spiritual arsenal against demonic forces? Of course, I believe in the influence of demonic forces in the life of Believers. But perhaps instead of fighting demons, most of our spiritual warfare has more to do with reclaiming the “thought territory” that we previously surrendered to demonic forces.

Application

A good friend wisely said, “You will never win a spiritual battle with a fleshly weapon.” If that’s true, why do we tend to resort to using fleshly weapons? Because those are the ones we are most familiar with, despite the fact that our spiritual weapons are infinitely more powerful. But we need to grow accustomed to using our spiritual arsenal so we are able to deal most effectively with spiritual warfare.

Using our spiritual weapons to win a battle isn’t the end of their use. We also use our spiritual WMDs to take every thought captive that we would obey Jesus.

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.

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Paul brings out a very important and highly applicable point in today’s Bible reading. I’ve already pointed out that the Corinthian church had many problems, including pride and narcissism.

They thought it was all about them. This worldview is man-centered or anthropocentric. If their ideas were correct, then what could they think when they go through hard times? If the universe revolves around me, what am I supposed to think when things don’t go my way? If it’s all about me, then what am I to think when other people disappoint me? What am I to think when I don’t get what I want?

If everything revolves around me then if things don’t go well, I will be angry. All the time. I will blame other people. I will even blame God. I mean, after all, isn’t He there to serve me?

Life doesn’t make sense to pride-ridden narcissists thinking anthropocentrically. But God has a better way. If everything is understood Theocentrically (God-centered), then everything makes sense. Even the things that don’t seem to!

If… God is all good. If… God is all-loving. If… God is all knowing. If… God is all-powerful, then everything has a purpose. Nothing happens by chance. God will work out everything to make His Name great. For any other being in the universe, this would be the height of egotism. But if God were not supremely interested in Himself, He must be supremely interested in something else, making Himself worship something other than Himself, making Himself an idolater. Go back and re-read that again if you need to.

Why did God create the universe? For Him. Why did God create mankind? For Him. Why did God plan the atonement before He created the world, and therefore before our first parents sinned? It wasn’t for us! It was for Him. Why did Jesus die on a cross. For Him. Why? Because God relentlessly pursues His people through a covenant relationship. He did all of these things because we couldn’t. And because if we could, we wouldn’t. We are fallen creatures. We are broken creatures. We, in our natural state, are enemies of God. So God pursued. Not because He needed us. God had an eternity past to enjoy Himself by Himself and the other Persons of the Trinity.

Application

Why did I spend over 350 words talking about man-centered vs. God-centered. Because our worldview matters. A lot! Look at the end of 2 Corinthians 4.

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (CSB)

Paul reminds us that we should focus on what is not seen, not what is seen. As we focus on the unseen realm, all of life will begin to make sense. And the things that don’t make sense, make sense, if God is completely in control.

If this life is all there is,
then there is nothing better.
But Paul says that what we see
can’t hold a candle to the light of the
incomparable eternal weight of glory
(what we can’t see).

Mic Drop!

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I’ve said many times that when you see a word or idea repeated several times in a few Bible verses, it’s a pretty good sign that the word or idea are important. Well, in today’s Bible reading the word “comfort” appears nine times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. That’s nine times in five verses! It’s safe to say that the theme of the first paragraph is “comfort”

The word translated “comfort” is the word we get one of the titles of the Holy Spirit, The Comforter. When the Bible calls the Holy Spirit The Comforter, it isn’t referring to something you throw on your bed to curl up with when it’s cold in the house.

The verb form of the word means to be called to come alongside, to encourage. The noun form of the word means encouragement, comfort, consulation.

Application

Paul says that God intends to use those areas where we have experienced comfort and encouragement to comfort and encourage other people. In other words, the places where you have received the deepest wounds and experienced the deepest healing are the very places where God wants to use you to minister to other people who are going through what you went through. God wants to use our scars as tools for healing in the lives of other people. Those things the enemy used to beat you down can be used to beat him down in other people’s lives.

In what areas have you experienced your deepest emotional wounds? Your deepest spiritual wounds? Have you ever considered that God wants to use you to bring to others who have experienced a similar blow?

For example, if you experienced a miscarriage, God wants to use the comfort you received to pour comfort and encouragement into the lives of others who have lost children, perhaps through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, or abortion.

Perhaps you aren’t ready. Perhaps you don’t feel that you have the strength to bring comfort to someone else yet. Ask God to bring other people into your life who can encourage and comfort you so that your comfort can flow over into the lives of those around you.

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piggy bank

In today’s Bible reading, Paul makes the case for personal budgeting for missions. He tells the church at Corinth to set aside a little extra money every week so that when it comes time to take up a collection, everyone can participate in the blessing of supporting Paul’s mission work.

You may have heard (or personally experienced) the rationing that was done during World War II. People gave up certain things so that the war effort could be carried out. Ladies went without their nylons. Copper pennies were replaced by steel pennies (I actually have some 1978 steel pennies).

John Piper has made the case that Believers should live with a wartime mindset, similar to the mindset people had during the War. Why? Because spiritual war is more real than physical war. The cost of souls dying without Jesus is higher than the cost of soldiers going off to war.

Application

Do you have a wartime mindset when it comes to your finances? Pray about how God would want to use you to further His Kingdom with your finances. Paul didn’t tell the Corinthians how much to set aside, just that they should set aside something. You don’t have to give huge sums of money. But if you set aside a little money each week, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll have available when it comes time to give to the cause of missions locally, in your state, in the US, and around the world.

I remember piggy banks that looked like a bowl of rice that churches used to hand out for missions collection. What a great idea! It reminds you of the basic needs that people have to have in order to survive. And how much more important than food is eternal life?

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