Isaiah 1:1-31; 2 Corinthians 10:1-12; Psalms 52:8-9; Proverbs 15:12-14
OT: ““What are all your sacrifices to me?” asks the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires this from you — this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing useless offerings. Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons and Sabbaths, and the calling of solemn assemblies — I cannot stand iniquity with a festival. I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. “Come, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:11-20 CSB)
Long before Isaiah lived, King Solomon wrote, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 14:12).” Then, later, he wrote, “All a person’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs motives (Proverbs:16:2).” During Isaiah’s time, the southern nation of Judah had forsaken the ways of God and were pursuing their own ways, yet they were still practicing their religious rituals. Somehow, in their minds, they justified their rebellious hearts through their faithfulness to religious ritual. As long as they continued bringing sacrifices to the temple, the could continue living their lives the way they wanted.
God describes Himself, time after time through the scriptures as longsuffering and slow to anger, but even in His longsuffering, God had had enough of Judah’s empty, meaningless, hypocritical worship. Through Isaiah, God sent a very clear message to the people of Judah: God wasn’t going to put up with their feigned worship any longer. He would no longer accept their offerings… He would no longer listen to their prayers… He was done. For Him to hear their prayers and accept their sacrifices again, they would have to repent from following their ways and return to obeying the word, will and ways of the Lord God.
It can be easy for us to look back through history and point the finger of judgement at the people of Judah, but the Bible states that the stories recorded in scripture were examples to us, ultimately written for our admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11). Do we, in our day, attend worship services and entertain our senses through emotional and compelling worship events, yet go our own way and seek our own desires once the service or event is over? Do we merely hop from event to event trying to justify our “spirituality” and “intimacy” with Jesus, all the while refusing to obey the commandments of the Lord? Jesus told His disciples that those who truly love Him will obey His commandments. If we participate in passionate worship services but do not obey His commands, then our “worshipping” is just as empty and revolting to God as the meaningless sacrifices that were offered by the people of Judah in Isaiah’s day. The Lord’s word to us would be to cleanse our hearts, repent from our ways, and submit fully to the word, will and ways of God. Then our worship would once again become a sweet smelling incense to God’s nostrils and our prayers would once again be pleasing and acceptable to the Lord’s ears.
NT: “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)
Even though the Corinthian Church had reaffirmed their loyalty and acceptance of Paul, there were still people in the Corinthian church that were critical of Paul and were rebelling against his leadership. They basically said that Paul was all talk and no action… that he wrote big, but was actually puny in person. In response, Paul explained that though he may be small and meek in appearance, he was full of boldness and power. He also explained that though he was a flesh and blood person, his war was not against flesh and blood, therefore he did not engage in physical warfare. His warfare was against spiritual strongholds, arguments and pride. In order to engage those enemies effectively, he didn’t need to be intimidating in stature, for he was empowered with powerful and effective spiritual weapons from God.
The Greek word translated here as strongholds can mean the fortified reasonings and opinions that people rely on. The word for arguments means conclusions, judgements and decisions that have been made. Those proud things that Paul mentioned have to do with anything that has been given preeminence and priority over, or have been lifted up against the word, will and ways of God. Basically, our warfare is against the things that seem right to man but are contrary to God. Our warfare is against the opinions of society that run contrary to the word of God. Our warfare is against the relativism that seeks to lift itself up against the absolute truth of God. Our warfare is against the ideas of universalism that claim to be better than the redemptive plan of God that is declared through the gospel of Christ.
How do we battle those spiritual enemies that set up thought strongholds within people’s minds and our minds? We pull them down by the power of the Holy Spirit within us, and we submit them to the authority of the scriptures. We don’t mold our interpretation of scripture to align with our opinions – we submit our thoughts, opinions, conclusions, judgements and decision-making processes to the absolute truth of scripture. Ultimately, we ask the question, Are we obeying the word, will and ways of the Lord or are we living according to our own ways?
Prayer: Lord, You created me in Your own image and by doing that, You gave me free will and the ability to reason. I have the capacity to do things my own way apart from You – but true fulfillment, satisfaction, blessing and life is found when I willingly submit my ways to Your ways and follow your word, will and ways. Help me, by Your Spirit, to pull down anything in my life that seeks to have preeminence over You and submit those thoughts and ideas to You before allowing them to become a stronghold in my mind. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.