War of the Worlds
War of the Worlds
2 Corinthians 10:1 - 6
Out of an illustrious career, one of the things for which Orson Wells will probably be best remembered is the night he created a war.
It was Halloween night 1938, and many families were gathered around the radio for the “Mercury Theatre” drama. Those who turned on their radios after the program was already underway missed the introduction, explaining that what they would be hearing was a radio drama. All they heard was an amazingly realistic news report that announced aliens from another planet had landed in New Jersey.
To the surprise of Orson Welles and his cast, the next day’s newspaper’s were filled with reports of near hysteria that broke out in town after town. People thought their planet was under attack; they were convinced the “War of the Worlds” was really underway.
Thankfully, no such war took place. Calm was restored, the radio drama ended, and millions of people breathed a collective sigh of relief. There was no war after all.
In chapter 10 of Second Corinthians, Paul is sounding a very different alarm. He wanted the Christian believers in Corinth to understand that they were, in fact, already involved in a “war of the worlds.” Though they hadn’t yet perceived the danger, the invasion had already begun, and Paul was calling them to prepare for battle. Corinth was to be a battlefield in this cosmic war of the worlds.
Paul often described the Christian life in terms of warfare. In 1 Timothy 1:18, he provides instruction so that his young brother in the faith can “fight the good fight.” In 2 Timothy 2:3, he encourages Timothy, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” In Ephesians 6:1 and following, Paul talks about putting on “the full armor of God.”
Why the military terminology? Paul indicates that we are caught up in a cosmic struggle between good and evil, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. Each one of us is faced with a decision: Which side of the struggle will we support? Where we will stand in this war of the worlds?
In these verses, Paul suggests a strategy that we must adopt if we are to be true to Christ.
We Trust in God’s Power, Not the World’s
Every year on May Day, the Soviet Union held a massive parade in the streets of Moscow as a celebration of the nation’s military might. Great missiles, powerful tanks, hundreds of well-armed soldiers - all were paraded through the city as a demonstration of Soviet military muscle.
After all, that’s the way the world understands power - by showing our muscle, in politics, in warfare, in economics, we learn that you succeed by being stronger and tougher and meaner than the other guy. Nowhere was that more true than the Roman Empire of Paul’s day, where the far-flung empire was held together by raw power.
So Paul’s manner among the Corinthians had left him vulnerable to attack. The false teachers who had come to Corinth and sought to influence the believers were harshly critical of Paul. “Sure he writes tough letters,” they said, “but when he ‘s away when you get near him!” There was nothing subtle about their accusations: they were charging Paul with cowardice.
How do you react when someone accuses you of being a coward? Lots of little boys - and sometimes big boys - get into fights they’d rather not be in, all to prove their “manhood” - to prove they are not cowards.
Paul, on the other hand, had no need to prove his manhood, for he knew that the power on which he depended was not his own. Christ’s power and presence were his defense. So Paul begins his statement by reminding the believers of the “meekness and gentleness of Christ.” Would they accuse Christ of cowardice because he was gentle and merciful to them? How absurd, then, to question Paul because he had come to them in humility rather than arrogance!
Perhaps Paul was thinking of the words he wrote to the Corinthian church in his first letter to them:
I Corinthians 2:1 - 5
As Christians our victory is not dependent on our own might or skills, but on the power of God. We can be confident servants and witnesses of the Lord Jesus, because we rest on his power.
For many years it was said that a British citizen could travel anywhere in the world in safety, because the power of the British Empire stood behind him. How much more true that is of the child of God!
Like Paul, we can go into a world in need as humble, loving servants. It does not matter what the world around us says or does, for we go forth in the power of the One who holds all of creation in his hands. We emphasize God’s power, not our own.
We Walk by God’s Standards, Not the World’s
In verse 2, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that he is capable of the boldness they think he lacks - but they won’t like it when they see it in person. He takes no delight in being severe, but he will be so with those who think he lives according to the world’s standards.
I like the way Phillips translates verse 2: “For I am afraid otherwise that I shall have to do some plain speaking to those of you who will persist in reckoning that our activities are on the purely human level.”
While he lived in the world, with all the difficulties and conflicts that involves. Paul wanted them to see that as Christians we must not live according to the world. Christ has called us out from the world’s standards and values, to live at a higher level.
That is one of the great challenges we have as Christians: to live in the world without being of the world. Jesus described it as being salt, giving seasoning to the world; being light, illuminating the darkness of the world; being leaven, making an impact on the world.
Those who make the greatest impact for Christ in our world do not hide themselves away in monasteries or primate chambers; they serve Christ in the world without becoming like the world. Paul lived his faith in the markets and prisons of his world; William Wilberforce carried his faith into Parliament and helped bring an end to slavery in Britain; Mother Teresa lives her faith daily among the poorest of God’s creatures.
All around us, men and women who have given their lives to Christ as Lord are serving him faithfully day by day. They are salt and light and leaven in their offices and shops and schools and homes. In the world but not living according to the world.
Paul says that if we are to be victorious in the war of the world, we will trust in God’s power, not the world’s; we will walk according to God’s standards, not the world’s.
We Use God’s Weapons, Not the World’s
When Joseph Stalin was urged to consider the power of the papacy, he asked mockingly, “How many divisions does the pope have?”
That’s the way the world looks at power. Mankind has gone from wooden clubs to bows and arrows to neutron bombs, and the search continues for bigger and more powerful weapons that can force others to do our bidding.
God doesn’t work that way, Paul says. He points out in verse 4, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. . . .”
What kind of weapons does the world use? The world uses force, manipulation, propaganda, political pressure, legislation, military power.
What kind of weapons does God provide? Perhaps the best summary is the one Paul provides in chapter 6 of Ephesians, where he outlines the “full armor of God.” There we see the kinds of weapons God’s people have been given: truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer.
What a tragedy that all too often the church feels the necessity of abandoning the weapons God has given us in order to adopt the world’s agenda. Too many churches have bowed down at the altar of organization, celebrity worship, and the like. Like Esau, we dare to sell our birthright for a moment of exhilaration.
Our generation has seen the churches - on both ends of the political and theological spectrum - move into the political sphere in a dramatic way. First came the civil rights and peace movements on one side, followed by the anti-abortion and school prayer forces on the other. Pity the poor politician who tries to determine what is the real “Christian” position on issues!
The danger, as William Willimon has pointed out, is that “in the church’s attempt, right or left, to involve the church in politics to form a better society, we have forgotten the church’s more profound political task, which is to be a better society. I’m not bothered that Christians are in politics. My problem is that Christians are not in politics on our own terms, from the peculiar standpoint of people who are trying to follow Jesus Christ.”
If the church doesn’t provide a distinctive model for our society of what it is to live as children of God, all the political activity in the world will be worthless. The church must be a “light to the nations,” not simply another political interest group.
What happens when we use the spiritual weapons God has given us?
We demolish the world’s strongholds. Anyone familiar with military tactics in Paul’s day understood the practice of building strongholds or fortresses. Many Roman philosophers of that day, including Seneca, used the military stronghold as a picture of the mental fortress that could be built in the human mind to protect it from bad fortune.
Paul picks up that same picture and asserts that since these fortresses are in the realm of the will or intellect, only spiritual weapons will be effective in overcoming them. We will never convert someone with a bullet or a ballot - only the Spirit of God can change a heart.
In our day it doesn’t take long to see the strongholds that possess men and women and keep them from God. There are intellectual objections - based on some point of philosophy or literary criticism - that people allow to keep them from God. The modern commitment to relativism is a stronghold for many who believe that any religious faith, held sincerely, is perfectly adequate - that there is no “true” or “false” when it comes to matters of the spirit.
The modern spirit of cynicism is a stronghold that leads many to mock the “religious fanatics” or joke about “televangelist scandals” - thus keeping themselves secure from seriously examining the claims of Christ. One of the greatest strongholds of all is the epidemic of non-commitment: people who feel nothing is worth truly giving themselves to, so they wander from cause to cause, from group to group - examining, then moving on without making a commitment.
How can we ever overcome such strongholds? Only through the spiritual weaponry God provides, for it is only as we demonstrate the abundant life in Christ that the world will be drawn to it. Sinful man doesn’t seek God, for he wants desperately to be his own god. Nothing will break through to him except the Spirit of God working through you and me, demonstrating Christ’s love and grace.
When we use God’s weapons, we demolish strongholds. More than that:
We take men and women captive for Christ. Literally Paul says we capture the minds of men and women, that they might become obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In every armed conflict, prisoners of war are taken and held. In this spiritual conflict, however, it is the very capture of our minds that actually liberate us. It is only in surrender of my life to Christ that I truly become free.
William Barclay describes an incident that took place among the natives of New Guinea. A certain tribe had a tradition of singing and dancing to “murder songs”; as they reached the climax of the music, they would shout to God the names of the people they wished to kill.
After the members of the tribe were led to Christ, the custom changed. Instead of shouting the names of people they wished to kill, they started shouting to God the names of sins they hated and wanted God to destroy. Literally, a pagan tradition was captured for Christ.
All around us are strongholds to be conquered; all around us are lives that can be captured for Christ. All that remains is our willingness to let God place in our hands his spiritual weapons.
Unlike any other war in history, the outcome of this “war of the worlds” has already been determined. Christ is already victorious. Let’s move out as a triumphant army, boldly proclaiming that Good News!