Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV
Verses 13-14 are an apt summary of all that Paul has said in this somewhat lengthy letter. As he wraps up his discourse with the Corinthians, he gives them five significant charges. He tells them to be watchful or vigilant. They are living in difficult days and there is a constant threat of attack on the church, both from without and within. They need to keep their eyes open and their heads on a swivel, living with a wariness and an awareness that their faith will face an unceasing onslaught of spiritual warfare. The church itself will be in the cross hairs of the enemy, as he seeks to disrupt its unity and destroy its testimony.
Secondly, Paul reminds them to stand firm. Despite the pressure they may feel or the persecution they may face, they are to persevere, standing their ground and refusing to give up or give in to the enemy. I am reminded of the words of Moses, spoken to the people of Israel as they stood on the banks of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them. “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again. God will fight the battle for you” (Exodus 14:13-14 NLT). They could have run, but they would have been slaughtered. They could have attempted to fight, but they would have lost that battle. Or they could stand their ground and watch God work. And because that is what they decided to do, they were able to experienced an incredible miracle of God’s salvation.
And Paul is quite specific when he tells them to stand firm in the faith. He is referring to their faith in Christ and the salvation that His death has made possible. Jesus died so that we might have life, abundant life now and eternal life to come. Our faith is to be a future-focused faith, resting in the promises of God, many of which are as yet unfulfilled and unseen. The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). The Israelites had no idea what God was going to do to save them from the advancing armies of Egypt, but they had to place their faith in the promise of God – that He was going to take them to the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He as not going to let them down or allow their exodus to end on the shores of the Red Sea. Our faith must stand on the promises of God. The apostle Peter reminds that, “by God’s power [we] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5 ESV). God is not done yet. His salvation of His people (the church) is not yet complete. So we must stand firm, even in the face of difficulties and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Next, Paul encourages the Corinthians to act like men. It is a call to bravery in the midst of battle. He wants them to boldly stand their ground, because they have God on their side. The God of heavens armies is their commander in chief. They have a power at their disposal that is limitless and guarantees them victory each and every time. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about this very same power that should provide us with the impetus to act like men:
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT
Next, Paul tells them to be strong. This is a call for them to grow in their strength and stamina. They were not to remain as they were, immature and insufficiently equipped to face the challenges ahead. They were to grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God. They were to increase in their dependence upon God and their trust in His ability to provide and protect. It is when, by faith, we stand firm and watch God work, that we grow strong. It is our faith in God that gives us the strength to stand firm. Our bravery is based on His strength, not our own. It is as we trust Him, that our spiritual stamina and strength increases. We discover, as Paul did, that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV).
Finally, Paul adds an important but oftentimes missing element to his calls to action. He says, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14 ESV). Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to leave this one out? Paul spent an entire chapter of this letter unpacking the power of love in the life of the believer. Love is not an option, it is an indispensable, non-negotiable requirement for each and every one of us. We are to love as He has loved us. As Paul stated in chapter 13, even the gifts, if done without love, are useless and without value. Love is to be the motivating factor behind all that we do. Bravery without love is nothing more than false bravado. Alertness and watchfulness, done apart from love, will result in a self-centered, circle-the-wagons mentality that focuses on self, not others. Even faith-based perseverance and persistence, sans love, can leave us with a me-centered, pride-filled attitude of spiritual arrogance. Love has to be at the core of all that we do. Love for God. Love for Christ. Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even love for our enemies.