The Lord once said that “...the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
Why Be Violent
When we think about the ways in which the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, it’s easy to think outwardly - we immediately think of persecuted countries, for example. But my experience is that the kingdom of heaven is under constant attack — and thus suffers violence — inwardly as well. God has purchased this body for Himself and His rule alone (1 Corinthians 6:13, 19-20), and yet this portion of His kingdom is under constant attack from one of the most wicked enemies on earth: my flesh, which is hostile towards God (Romans 8:7).
Jesus said that, in light of the violence His purchased kingdom suffers, “violent men take it (or protect it, or preserve it for His rule alone) by force.” So we see that we have to be violent against the flesh’s inward attacks on the Kingdom of God! One of the areas that I have discovered that I have to be particularly violent in my Christian life is in my thought life, and especially towards the natural tendency to slip into a bad mood. Truly, there is a battle for my mind and my moods!
I believe that God’s will is for Christians to be free from bad moods 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (Philippians 4:4, Psalms 16:11), and yet I discovered that in my own life, the natural tendency to slip into a bad mood dies hard! It is absolutely true that, “the mind set on the flesh is death” (Romans 8:6). I take that to mean that “the Christian who listens to and gives in to his flesh’s suggestions of how to feel or what to think is totally defeated.”
How to Be Violent
I can see why the Holy Spirit used such strong words to describe this battle:
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,”
2 Corinthians 10:5 NASB
There’s that word again — “take” — violent men take the kingdom by force..., we take every thought captive... It has struck me that if I’m not violently taking my thoughts captive, then I’m the one who will be “taken” by my flesh. I’m either taking, or I’m being taken.
Paul said that he used divinely powerful weapons to destroy the thoughts raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4), and the Holy Spirit teaches clearly that our weapon is the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12). If we want to want to take the kingdom by force, we must be violent with the Sword of the Spirit, destroying every tendency to drift into a bad mood by wielding the truth of God’s Word over and against our flesh.
Here are a few examples of verses* I have often used to fight the attacks of my flesh in this arena:
He is good!
(Psalms 34:8, 86:5)
He has great plans!
He will forgive me!
(Isaiah 55:7, 1 John 1:9)
He will finish what He started!
He is able to make me stand with joy!
He loves me as much as He loves Jesus!
There’s a purpose in this trial!
(1 Peter 1:7)
I have plenty to be thankful for!
(2 Peter 1:3)
He will fill me with His Spirit afresh!
*One critical note: none of these verses can be applied in a blind, “copy/paste-like” manner. Jesus gave us the perfect example of how to “live by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4): by listening to His Father so that He would know, of all the words He might choose, which one is the one that is presently proceeding from the mouth of God (John 12:49). This and this alone — the living word which proceeds from God’s mouth, and not some dead formula I’m applying — is the Sword that will find success in the moment of violence.
Is There Blood On Your Sword?
This question came to my heart as a great challenge. “Have you been violent in taking every thought captive and punishing all disobedience in your own heart, wherever it is found?”
Jesus had such a passion for the purity of the temple that it says “Zeal for God’s house consumed Him” (John 2:15-17); my body is now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) — do I have the same passion for purity in my temple, in this part of the Kingdom of His Reign, that Jesus demonstrated in His life? I want to! I want to use the Sword of the Spirit every bit as zealously as Jesus used His scourge in the temple.
“Cursed be the one who does the LORD’S work negligently, And cursed be the one who restrains his sword from blood.”
Jeremiah 48:10 NASB
Christians in the new covenant can take the spirit of this verse as encouragement: “do not restrain the sword!” Take the kingdom by force! We have an precious opportunity in our thought lives because they’re hidden from everyone else. This is a special arena that the Lord has appointed to show us whether we fear Him, to see whether we are growing in likeness to Christ inwardly. If we wield the Sword of the Spirit, and refuse to restrain it from violence towards our flesh, we are one with God in His passion against the sinful desires which assault us. In the Old Testament, He expressed His passion like this (below), which gave me a wonderful picture of the zeal I ought to have to fight the enemy waging war against God inside this very body of mine:
“If I sharpen My flashing sword, And My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, And I will repay those who hate Me. I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword will devour flesh...’”
Deuteronomy 32:41-42 NASB
I praise God that He has given us this special, secret area of our lives where no one can see. I want to be like the Lord in His passion to devour His enemies, like Jesus Christ in His passion for the purity of the temple. Praise God that He has given us such a precious weapon as His Word, which is “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:4).