How shall the purpose of Christian preaching be understood? Some may contend that the purpose of preaching is simply to encourage hearers toward some course of action. Others might argue that the goal of preaching is to evoke possibilities for listeners’ lives. How do you understand the purpose of preaching?
Near the beginning of the tenth chapter of Second Corinthians, the apostle Paul makes some provocative remarks concerning the purpose of his preaching. Paul employs a variety of military terms and images as he outlines the nature and effect of his gospel proclamation:
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Cor 10:4-5 ESV)
Weapons, warfare, power, destruction, strongholds, captivity: Each of these words is borrowed from the world of military conflict. Paul understood the preaching of the gospel as warfare, and the careful reader will notice the close connection he makes between ‘destroying strongholds’ and ‘destroying arguments and opinions that are raised against the knowledge of God.’ Spirit enabled gospel proclamation is destructive. It destroys what Dennis Johnson has described as “cleverly defended, deep-seated error that arrogantly opposes God’s truth in Christ.” [Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2007), 90].
Paul might have toned down his language. He might have chosen instead to say, “We question arguments and every lofty opinion,” or even, “We repudiate arguments and every lofty opinion.” But Paul’s language is a great deal stronger: “We destroy.” Arrogant human defenses against the gospel need to be destroyed and laid waste, according to Paul; the people holding them are too important not to have them destroyed. And after all, how can a person be taken captive to obey the true King unless you first destroy the stronghold that has served as his or her protection?
To preach the gospel is to besiege. To preach the gospel is to wield divine weaponry against Genesis 3 defenses. Are you a preacher of the Word? Pray for a successful campaign this Sunday; pray down the armor of God and go forth in the power of the Spirit. Heed the advice of Charles Wesley, written in his hymn, Soldiers of Christ, Arise:
Brandish in faith till then [i.e. until the Marriage Supper of the Lamb]
The Spirit’s two-edged sword,
Hew all the snares of fiends and men
In pieces with the Word;
’Tis written; This applied
Baffles their strength and art;
Spirit and soul with this divide,
And joints and marrow part.
Grace and Peace,