1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NRSV
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
In the middle of the conclusion of Paul’s letter, in between the “Timothy and Apollos may come to visit” and “Everyone here sends their love,” Paul writes these short two sentences. Perhaps they should have been written at the beginning as the title for this letter (if letters had titles). Certainly, they are important not only because they summarize what Paul has been saying, but because they summarize the Christian life.
Here, Paul tells the church in Corinth to do four things:
- Keep alert
- Stand firm in your faith
- Be courageous
- Be strong
He wouldn’t say any of this if (1) it wasn’t important as a Christian to do these things, and (2) if they weren’t necessary. In other words, the tendency is to do the opposite; the way of life is to do the opposite. As Christians, we need to be deliberate in choosing, not the easy or natural way, but the way of the Spirit.
The Greek actually means “to watch” or “wake.” Vine’s notes this:
“It is not used in the metaphorical sense of ‘to be alive’; here it is set in contrast with ‘katheudo,’ ‘to sleep,’ which is never used by the apostle with the meaning ‘to be dead’ (it has this meaning only in the case of Jairus’ daughter). Accordingly the meaning here is that of vigilance and expectancy as contrasted with laxity and indifference.”
It’s almost the sense of forgetting one’s a Christian during the normal course of the day.
Our son was stationed in Iraq for 15 months. Part of his duties was to, with his team members, patrol parts of Baghdad. They weren’t looking for anything in particular, but they needed to be on constant vigilance for possible dangers and attacks. If they forgot, for even a moment, why they were there or what they were supposed to look for (IED’s, snipers, etc.), they risked the possibility of being injured or even killed.
I think this is the same kind of thing Paul is saying. As Christians, we need to be constantly aware that we are Christians and that there are certain behaviors expected of us in order to protect us from sin and the destruction of the enemy. We need to be in prayer. We need to be concerned about our obedience to God’s Word.
We need to keep alert.
If Paul says that we are to stand firm, then there also exists the possibility that we can fail. Matthew Henry says this:
“He advises them to stand fast in the faith, to keep their ground, adhere to the revelation of God, and not give it up for the wisdom of the world, nor suffer it to be corrupted by it—stand for the faith of the gospel, and maintain it even to death; and stand in it, so as to abide in the profession of it, and feel and yield to its influence. Note, A Christian should be fixed in the faith of the gospel, and never desert nor renounce it. It is by this faith alone that he will be able to keep his ground in an hour of temptation; it is by faith that we stand (2 Co. 1:24); it is by this that we must overcome the world (1 Jn. 5:4), both when it fawns and when it frowns, when it tempts and when it terrifies. We must stand therefore in the faith of the gospel, if we would maintain our integrity.”
The “wisdom of the world” is very enticing. Unfortunately, it is well mixed into the teachings of the Church these days. The only way that we can tell the difference is to study and pray and trust the Holy Spirit to lead us rightly.
It is so easy to sin, so easy to give into temptation. Our natural inclination is toward sin, not toward the Lord. And we need to be on constant vigilance on how we react to things. If we find that we are getting angry or wanting to somehow reward or console ourselves, we need to realize that we are walking sin’s edge (if not falling right into sin). We need to stand in our faith by fixing our eyes upon the Author and Finisher of our faith:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Paul wouldn’t tell us to be courageous, to be brave, if there weren’t many opportunities to be afraid. The fact is that Satan uses our circumstances to make us afraid of the future, afraid of others, even afraid of God. We don’t want to suffer, to be persecuted, to have to stand through trials. But the fact is, we will have to do those things. And standing faithful in them requires courage.
What is courage? Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, a WWI fighter ace and Medal of Honor winner, said this: “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” I agree with him. We are only brave when there is reason to be so. Courage is going ahead and facing whatever it is we are afraid of. And I’m not talking here just about facing things like a fear of heights or spiders or something. I talking about trusting someone who doesn’t deserve our trust, loving someone who doesn’t deserve to be loved, walking ahead in the darkness when all we see in front of us is suffering. The Lord Jesus was courageous when He prayed, “Not My will but Thine be done,” in the Garden.
Paul told us to be courageous because there are many things in life that will make us scared. The difference is that we are willing to face them because we trust Father God to work them for our good (whether immediately or eventually).
Lastly, Paul tells us to be strong. This is more than simply “being” strong. It is choosing to be strong. It is standing when it would be easier to fall, persevering when it would be easier to give up, trusting when it would be easier to doubt. It is a choice, not a natural attribute. Paul doesn’t tell us to be strong if we can. He says simply “be strong.”
The Greek has these connotations: be strengthened, be empowered. This isn’t a strength that comes from pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. This is a strength that comes from choosing to trust the Lord and resting in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a strength that comes from choosing to believe that God’s Word is true and knowing that we have the victory through the Lord Jesus. We are empowered as Christians and we can face whatever it is that looms in front of us. We only need to trust the Lord.
Lastly, Paul reminds us that what we do here on earth is always to be done out of love for those around us. God is already taking care of us. It is our responsibility to live out our choices, our behavior, with the attributes of love.