Let’s look again at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 to get a clear idea of what a stronghold is. I have created for you an Amplified version on the basis of my own translation of this verse for you and the Greek words behind the text, combining it with the words used in the other translations I gave you in last week’s Nugget. So this is the result:
We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the [ochuroma] strongholds of human reasoning (imaginations, thoughts, patterns of human thinking) and to destroy false [logismos] (arguments, logic, reasoning, set of values). We destroy every [hupsōma] (proud obstacle, high and lofty thought, arrogance, opinion, pretense) that is raised up against the knowledge of God and taking every [noēma] (thought, idea, notion, concept, reasoning, pretention, pretense, supposition, lie) captive in order to obey the Messiah / Christ. (2 Cor 10:4,5) [IVV] – Ian Vail’s Version
I trust what I have done for you in the translation above makes it clear what is going on. Paul has used a number of Greek words to spell out to us where our thinking comes from. I have coloured the Greek words behind the text blue and then listed for the variations to describe what the meaning behind the text.
[ochuroma] - imaginations, thoughts, patterns of human thinking
[logismos] - arguments, logic, reasoning, set of values
[hupsōma] - proud obstacle, high and lofty thought, arrogance, opinion
[noēma] - idea, notion, concept, reasoning, pretention, pretence, supposition
Strongholds come from our thoughts. They develop from our patterns of thinking, our imaginations and really anything that has entered our minds and been pondered and thought about. Such things can come from arguments, logic, human reasonings and human cultural values. They can also come from high and lofty, pretentious thoughts that are purely human opinion stemming from human arrogance as contrasted to godly thought. In short strongholds can start from any way in which thoughts pass through our minds – ideas, concepts notions but can also be pretense, lies and basically untruth. Yet we believe them with a passion or a zeal which persuades us what we are thinking is true.
Allow me to explain a little more. We gain our value systems and our thinking from what we hear and see and take on board from others. In the early years our parents and teachers. But we also assimilate into our thinking input from the thoughts, opinions, value systems of other people. Our value systems and thoughts are honed by what we pick up from others; what is right, what is wrong, what is purely human choice. The others are those in our society or culture who think the same. Our culture constitutes the practices of life which those around us agree are right and appropriate to think believe or practice. Yet every culture has a set of values which they believe to be true and other values which are wrong. Cultural practices are purely the standards of behavior or practice which those around us hold to be true or false from which they determine a set of guiding principles.
Notice what Paul has written in 2 Corinthians 10:4 and 5 separates human thought processes from the knowledge of God. Paul makes clear to us that human reasoning can be set against the knowledge of God. There is human truth expressed and practiced in a family by individuals. Then there is human truth embodied by those within a cultural grouping. Not all thoughts and practices within a particular culture are all true. Above all human cultures there is God’s Truth. All cultures have some elements of God’s Truth but not all aspects of any particular culture contain all of God’s Truth. Humans can embrace God’s Truth or raise up systems of thought opposed to God’s Truth. I have spelled human truth with a small t and God’s Truth with a capital T deliberately.
Allow me to give you two examples which illustrate this idea.
The Bible tells us that God created the world and all that is by speaking it into being. There is a system of thought which has been raised up in opposition to God’s Truth. It’s called the theory evolution. I am not going to debate this theory in this Nugget. Suffice to say it is full of holes and full of claims which are untrue. What I will say is that Evolution became a stronghold for me. A system of thought which locked me into a particular way of thinking which I believed or was taught to be true.
The second stronghold arises in Western thought and learning which tells us that what is true and valid to believe is that which can be empirically observed and tested scientifically. That which can be validated in the laboratory or tested in a test tube is true. Other truths which people from non-western cultures believe but which can’t be tested empirically belong to the realm of myth, fable or religion. I was taught that the ethereal world was not valid or true. If it can’t be tested and measured and quantified then it is not true. Let me spell it out again from the perspective of God’s Truth. God’s Word (the Bible) tells us that we battle not against flesh and blood but against the spirit world.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
God’s Word tells there are phenomena that we can’t observe empirically. The story of Gehazi in the Bible is a good example which most westerners would claim is nonsense. If you can’t see it, test it, touch it, measure it or quantify it then it doesn‘t exist:-
So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city. When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.
“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!”
Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. (2 Kings 6:14-17)
Tania and I have lived in various cross-cultural situations. I have seen things which lay outside of my observable, quantifiable reality. It will share Ian stories about such things in up-coming Nuggets relating to Overcoming Strongholds. But as you can conclude from what I have written above, strongholds can develop from the things which others tell us are true and we accept as being true. Or from the things which others tell us are true but we observe evidence to the contrary.
Probably one of the first strongholds to take hold of me in a significant way was atheism. For me it happened when I was nine years old by my father and then was strengthened by the stronghold of thought that is Evolution. Growing up I was the son of an alcoholic father. It was common for me as a boy to help my mother pick up my father covered in blood and bring him into the house from where he had fallen on the concrete floor of the garage. Then for my mother and me to be subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse about anything and everything. I observed many inconsistencies in what my father said and what my father did. I just observed and put it all together. I knew not to say what I thought as a young boy. After years of abuse I remember one Saturday night as a nine-year-old. I stood behind my bedroom door with my baseball bat in my hand vowing in my nine-year-old heart that I was going to whack my father over the head as he abused my mother in the lounge. I was going to put an end to this horror for me and my mother. I could hear my drunken father getting up and coming out of the lounge. But he turned the other way and didn’t come past my bedroom door. I lost my resolve and dropped my bat and stood there trembling with emotion behind the door. The next morning I took my rugby ball outside to the front of the property to kick and catch as a sign for my friends to come and play. But my father burst out of the front door and yelled at me to get back inside. That I was not to go outside in the front of the house on the Lord’s Day. It was not that my father was in anyway religious. He had never set foot in a church before. In my nine-year-old head I said to myself there is no God. I didn't know to call myself an atheist at that stage. But growing up I embraced what teachers and lecturers told me about evolutionary and consequently had a foundation for my growing stronghold of thought.
I didn't know enough when I was nine to reason it out that my father’s input to me related to anything biblical was seriously flawed. My father’s comments on church or the Lord’s Day should have been classified as nonsense. He was certainly no authority on Christianity. He would verbally abuse my mother if she wanted to go to church. So why would I accept his comments on the Lord’s Day and let them shape my thinking? Simply because years of verbal abuse colour our perspective. In fact the strongholds of thought which develop from being abused (either verbally or physically) are those which we hold on to the strongest. They are exceptionally hard to let go. They often work contrary to the any Truth behind the stronghold. Truth and falsity are hard to separate when it comes to strongholds.
Allow me to give you one further example from my own family. My mother was a good living woman and had many life values that in fact were very biblical. My father eventually became a Christian and dramatically changed following my acceptance of God’s Truth. One day while talking to mother about her need for Christ to save her, I told her she too had sinned and needed God’s forgiveness. Her reaction was dramatic. In her mind she was not at all like my father – oh that was for sure. But to tell her she too was included in the biblical statement “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) meant she couldn’t hear any more. Her stronghold of thought prevented her from hearing the truth. She said to me “Ian Warren Vail, are you telling me I am a sinner just like your father.” Oh dear how do you answer a question like that? Whenever I was in serious trouble my mother used my full name. I knew to tread carefully on that one. I had encountered one of my mother’s strongholds and knew it. It took months of unpacking that thought process before she too could accept the truth of God’s Truth about her.
The influence of my father’s bad example made me predisposed to taking on board the lie of evolutionary thought later in life. The Evolutionary stronghold underpinned my reaction to my father’s pronouncements on Christianity. I wanted nothing to do with Christianity because of the way in which my father would use it when it was convenient to him. If I had been thinking clearly I could have relegated anything he said about Christianity or religion to the field of nonsense. But strongholds don't allow you to think clearly. They cause you to react irrationally.
Strongholds can develop far easier and less dramatically than the way this one of mine did. We will investigate the simple ways strongholds develop in next week’s Nugget with some more stories from my own life.
In the meantime I would encourage you to reflect on possible strongholds in your life. We all have them. Ask God to show you the thought processes that have become strongholds for you.
What lies or untruths have you taken on board and allowed to shape you?