2 Cor. 10:4-5: Taking Every Thought Captive
We have been given divine power to destroy strongholds, arguments, and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). This means that we must learn to examine our own thoughts, assumptions, and intentions as faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ.
How Is This Possible?
“The inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Ps. 64:6). “Who can discern his errors? …” (Ps. 19:12). So how is this possible? This task is only possible by the power of God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps. 139:23-24). “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness… the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit…” (Rom. 8:26-27). “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The task of taking every thought captive is only possible by the power of the Spirit and wholly dependent on Scripture and prayer.
An Examined Life
“Every way of man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Prov. 21:2). People naturally do and think what seems right to them. This usually arises from a combination of habits, lessons, instincts, familial and cultural routines, beliefs, fears, and so on. You organize the laundry that way because your mother did it that way. You speak that way to your children because of the way your father spoke to you. You sing, read, hunt, pray, eat, and cook the way you do because of the way you were raised, the influence of close friends or role models. But that doesn’t make any of it necessarily correct or immune to improvement. While apart from the Word and the Spirit, self-examination is ultimately futile, every person is still responsible to examine themselves, and the Lord uses this: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts” (Prov. 20:27). And even though it’s a massive and sometimes scary task, it is still our duty: “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5). In order to know which “lofty opinion” must be destroyed and which thoughts must be taken captive to obey Christ, we must draw them out. Why do you love what you love? What do you think about the most? Why do you think that way?
The Chief End of Man
The Westminster Shorter Catechism famously begins: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That phrase “chief end” is referring to our most fundamental motive, intention, and purpose. To even ask the question this way is to assume that we have such a thing. The modern Disney catechism would say that our chief end is to “follow our heart.” The problem with this is that Jesus says our hearts are full of evil desires: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15:19). And elsewhere, Jesus teaches that these sins grow from the sinful seeds of anger, lust, and envy (Mt. 5:21ff). Even casual observation and experience teaches that our hearts get many things wrong. The Disney catechism fails by assuming natural goodness and wisdom, but it also fails by assuming infinite malleability. Follow your heart wherever it leads; be whatever you want to be. The significant assumption is that doing this will make you happy. In fact, notice that this is what the Westminster Catechism is also concerned with: joy. Knowing your “chief end” is ultimately all about understanding what will bring you the greatest happiness and joy. Going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, the fundamental divide between the Christian answer to this question and all other answers is whether our joy and happiness is something we were made for or whether it is something we must make for ourselves. This is why the creation/evolution discussion matters so much. On an evolutionary assumption, “nature” is blindly seeking meaning, purpose, joy. Even on “Theistic evolutionary” grounds, the concept of “design” recedes into the mysterious will of God, whereas creationism grounds that design in nature itself. In other words, the “chief end” of all things is directly related to what they were designed for. As Robert Heinlein said: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.
Freedom and Joy
Happiness is basically another way of describing freedom, and freedom is really just another way of describing what God designed us for. And the Westminster Catechism is merely summarizing Scripture: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him… Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:17, 23-24). Freedom is not doing whatever you want. Freedom/happiness is glorifying God in everything. So why do you do what you do? Why do you love what you love? Why do you think the way you think? There is no neutrality: you are either glorifying God or trying to teach a pig to sing.
Another temptation in this task is despair: self-examination can be a real jungle of ick. And this is why you must go to this task as faithful soldiers of Christ: armed with the truth, the Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit. The temptation is to face your thoughts and be taken captive by them. But this is to believe lies and not the truth (Jn. 8:31-32). The truth is that Christ died for every evil or foolish thing you’ve ever thought or believed (or done). You must not be taken captive. You must destroy the arguments and lofty opinions raised against God, and you must take every thought captive to obey Christ.
Lastly, Christian soldiers are happy warriors. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). When the kings and rulers of the earth take their stand against God and against His Christ, God laughs at them (Ps. 2:4). We must learn to do the same, starting with our own rebellious thoughts. Remember, we live for Christ because He has taken us captive with His love. His love controls us. We take every thought captive because we have been purchased by His blood.