To answer the question what does it mean to take every thought captive? we need to consider more than the five little words tucked toward the end of a passage on spiritual warfare.
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Taking every thought captive: Context
The apostle Paul wrote these words in a letter to the church in Corinth, a city known for immorality, open prostitution, an emphasis on physical beauty over spiritual integrity, and rampant worship of idols.
They had a voracious appetite for knowledge but were not as careful about truth. To take every thought captive wasn’t even a concept for them…yet.
The life of disciples of Christ must be based on truth and focused on our Lord, Paul insisted. Anything in opposition to the cause of Christ must be brought to submission under His control, thoughts included.
Let’s take one section of this passage at a time and dig in a little. It may take a few hundred words to get there, but should make how to take every thought captive much clearer.
Part One: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.”
Paul begins with “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” Paul admits he’s as human as the next person.
He lives in the world but he doesn’t live as the world. His priorities, disciplines, attitudes, and actions are drastically different from that of the world.
Part Two: What does it mean to take every thought captive? Warfare
“…we do not wage war as the world does.” 2 Corinthians 103b
Paul framed his defense in battle terms.
His reference to war is not a reference to war between Greeks and Romans or between Christians and Jews. Instead, the war to which Paul refers is between spiritual forces of good and evil.
Consider his words in a letter to the church at Ephesus:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Galatians 6:10-12
Paul knew satanic forces exist to actively oppose Jesus and all His followers. Their tactics are subtle, pervasive, and designed to draw the believer’s focus away from Jesus and onto anything other than Him.
He described the “fruit of the flesh” (results of evil forces in your life) as “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” Galatians 5:19-21
Paul made no distinction between envy, drunkenness, or sexual immorality.
Every “fleshly” action, no matter how large or small we consider it, is inspired by satanic forces with one objective—to worship our own desires rather than His. It’s sin and all sin is big to Jesus.
Part Three: Weapons in the war to take every thought captive
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10:4
Are you wondering what warfare and weapons have to do with how to take every thought captive?
The answer may surprise you.
First, though, let’s look at what Paul means by weapons.
In Galatians 6, he gives a detailed description of the full armor of God. Armor, however, is not an offensive weapon, but a defensive tool against the onslaught of an enemy.
The only weapons he describes are “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:17b) and “pray at all times in the Spirit…” (Galatians 6:18)
Pause to ponder this paradox for a moment. Satanic rulers, authorities, powers, and forces come against us with all the evil one can devise.
We stand against them in armor composed of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation. We fight armed with the Word of God and prayer. Does it sound as if we’re outnumbered and ill-prepared? We’re anything but.
Why doesn’t God give us more weapons?
The Word of God and directions from the Most High God are all we need. He is enough and His weapons are sufficient to destroy strongholds or fortresses of the enemy.
In this verse, the “strongholds” to which Paul refers are anything on which we rely other than Christ alone.
Part Four: Targets in the battle to take every thought captive
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
The objective of this spiritual battle is not merely to defeat the powers of Satan but to break the power of anything other than Jesus on which we rely.
Paul goes on to describe a few more targets in the battle. In addition to strongholds, we demolish arguments (reasoned arguments against the truth of Jesus) and pretensions (barriers that separate us from our faith in Jesus).
We demolish the things that separate us from our Lord when we know the Word of God, understand its implication for our lives, and rely on it as if our life depends upon it—because it does.
We “use” this weapon of Scripture when we quote and claim the Scriptures, put them into practice, and allow their work in our hearts.
How to take every thought captive
When we take our thoughts captive, we bring every thought, especially those with an evil purpose against Christ, under control and into absolute submission and obedience to the Lord Jesus alone.
For example, if our friend has a nicer outfit than ours or an expensive beauty treatment, we might be tempted to envy. Since envy is not from God, we choose not to embrace it. Instead, we combat those thoughts by reminding ourselves of Scripture truth.
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30
Most of us would prefer a peaceful heart over rotted bones.
The reminder of truth leads us to reject envy, take the thought captive, replace it with a godly thought, and bring envy under the control of and submission to Jesus.
We might also remind ourselves of the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31. Instead of envy, we rejoice with the blessing our friend enjoys—just as we want them to do for us.
We can do more than capture and release evil thoughts. We can also take godly thoughts captive and hold them in our hearts. A good example is the “new” commandment Jesus gave His disciples.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34
If we take this “thought” captive, we meditate on it, repeat it throughout the day, remind ourselves of it when we have unloving thoughts. We bring it under control in such a way that its power is accessible whenever needed.
Can we take godly thoughts captive?
Don’t miss the most important element in taking a thought captive. We not only remove the evil thought, but also replace it with a godly one, preferably Scripture.
When we memorize a verse, meditate on it, and repeat it when applicable, we begin to take that thought (or verse) captive. This is what the psalmist meant when he wrote:
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11
We “capture” (or hide) God’s word in our hearts so we can access it when we need it.
Five ways to help take every thought captive:
- Write verses on pocket-sized cards and keep them with you for reference when needed. (Topical Scripture memory programs are available, easy to use, and come complete with Scripture cards and a how-to plan if you’d prefer.)
- Use sticky notes to post verses or encouraging truth in places you’re likely to see them such as on your bathroom mirror, in your car, in your kitchen.
- Choose one verse to combat your temptations. Memorize it and repeat it whenever you feel tempted.
- Evaluate your music, books, movies, and television choices. Do they offer thoughts that bring you closer to Jesus or further away from Him. If they don’t draw you to Jesus, it’s time to make a better choice.
- Write Scripture. This discipline can help plant truth in your heart. A pretty journal and fun pens aren’t necessary but may add to the enjoyment.
Sample prayer for taking every thought captive:
My head and heart are filled with negative thoughts.
I confess them to you and ask your forgiveness for embracing them, even for a moment, and ask you to help me take these negative thoughts captive and replace them with your truth.
Help me to remember the Scripture I know and cling to you alone. Help me surround myself with the armor of God, truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation, and to use Scripture like a sword to cut away the lies of the evil one and remove any strongholds, ungodly arguments, or pretensions in my life.
Help me stay connected and close to you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Leanna is a prolific writer and passionate intercessor. She has taught and led in the area of prayer and in-depth Bible studies for more than two decades. She has served Global Outreach International as the Director of Intercessory Prayer and Outreach since 2016.
Her ministry priorities include:
SHARING the gospel primarily with high-risk teens
SERVING through providing personal hygiene supplies and water to the homeless community and a feeding program for food-insecure students
EQUIPPING believers to go deeper in the disciple life through retreats, Bible studies, and one-on-one disciplining
SUPPORTING missionaries through prayer and encouragement and connecting senior adults in long-term care facilities with missionaries in the field as prayer partners.