1 Corinthians 16:13-14
May 26, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 19:50 in the audio file.
Or, Not One Thumb’s-Twitch without Love
There are five commands in these two verses. The first four imperatives are similar: short, direct, and demanding. The final imperative takes a different form, though it still isn’t complex, and in ways it is even more demanding.
But what are these exhortations doing here? The letter seemed to be winding down (though we could also say that the letter is “winding up” and somehow mean the same thing). Paul gave instructions about a collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem (verses 1-4), he told the Corinthians about his intention to visit them soon, that Timothy would be there before him, and that Apollos wouldn’t (verses 5-12). He gives greetings from some of the brothers who were with him in Ephesus and then says his personal good-bye (verses 15-24).
The exhortations in verses 13 and 14 rev up the intensity again, like hitting the gas pedal after pulling into your driveway, or like throwing a dry branch onto hot coals, or like three shots of espresso as a night cap before bed.
If we tried to decide on the one obvious reason why Paul raises the flag again before taking it down, we probably can’t do it. But certainly these exhortations relate to things he’s said already in the letter, especially the command to love. Something caused Paul to think that these staccato shots were necessary, similar to verse 58 in chapter 15.
Before we look at each command, remember that they belong with the letter that began with the word of the cross as the power of God to salvation (1:18). Even when we stand firm, we do so boasting in the Lord and His strength, not in our own (1:31). Obedience to these imperatives is not optional, but that obedience is driven by faith, it does not replace faith or even complete what Christ did on the cross. Because Christ was crucified and raised, because we believe in Him and will be raised with Him, this is how to act.
The four commands in verse 13 are very similar. Only one of the four commands has any qualifiers, and all of them are direct: you do it. Together they at least have in common the idea of maturity, and perhaps more the idea of military action; imagine these exhortations as a rally cry before entering the fray of the battle. These are fighting words, even if the preparation is a readiness to defend.
Be watchful is first, or “be on the alert” (NAS) or “be on your guard” (NIV). Stay awake and be ready. So, be watchful for what? Paul doesn’t name any enemies, but usually this exhortation is necessary when there is a threat. The last thing Paul mentioned before giving this command is Apollos, in particular that Apollos was not coming to Corinth anytime soon. Watch out for disappointment, and more than that, watch out for further division. There are a lot of threats to the health of a church body, and this letter has already dealt with a bunch of them (alienating one another according to a favorite preacher, not dealing with obvious immorality, theological pride over those weaker in conscience, selfishness at the Lord’s Supper, elevation of some spiritual gifts over others, denial of bodily resurrection). Don’t be anxious, but also don’t let your guard down.
Then stand firm in the faith. To stand firm or just “stand” is to be committed, to be unmoved, to hold the position. This is the only exhortation in verse 13 with more detail: stand in the faith. Don’t give ground when it comes to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Even when the Jews demand a sign and then cry “offense!” at the crucifixion, remember that the word of the cross is God’s wisdom. When the Gentiles demand wisdom and then cry “foolish!” at the scandal of God put to death by men, keep believing that the gospel is God’s power.
The exhortation is not exactly to stand in your faith but to stand in the faith. Yet the distinction can be overplayed. The reason to maintain the faith is not just because it’s true, but because it’s true and you know it to be. Do not be hopeless, faithless.
Third, act like men, or per the KJV, “quit you like men.” Some gender-sensitive translations make it, “be courageous” (e.g., NIV) and okay. But the Greek word (the imperative form of ἀνδρίζομαι) itself has “manly” (ἀνδρός) in it. Be brave, like a man.
Of course not all men are brave, hence the exhortation. Some women are brave, and some men act like women who aren’t brave. But from the beginning God made men to be normally bigger, stronger, and tougher. God made men to fight and women to not to, not even with each other.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13, though, Paul isn’t calling for men to be manly in a boxing ring or in a combat zone. He’s not calling for manliness in the Corinthian militia. He’s calling for bravery in obedience and perseverance in the faith. The church isn’t to be a hideout for the effeminate, and again this measures more than how much wood we can chop, but how many excuses we make for not using our spiritual gifts. Acting like a man is about strength, as the next command makes explicit, but it’s strength spent for and sacrificed for others.
Sidenote: “quit you like men” (KJV) does not mean quit being a man. It means “behave in a specified way,” behave like a man. If we were using quit the way we usually do, we’d say: quit being kid-ish.
The last exhortation in verse 13 is, be strong. Don’t be weak. Don’t be a puddle. Be like a tree with deep roots and a thick trunk. Be like a stone wall with solid corners. Don’t be fickle or fair-weather. Interestingly, this imperative is in the passive voice, meaning that we must be being strengthened, through God and His Spirit (see Ephesians 3:16). “Wake up, and strengthen what remains” (Revelation 3:2).
In Numbers 32 Moses talked to the people of Gad and the people of Reuben who requested to stay outside the Promised Land on the south side of the Jordan River due to good land for grazing. Moses took this as a sign that they didn’t want to fight, and told them that it would “discourage the heart of the people” (verse 7) from obeying, that it was similar to their fathers who “discouraged the heart of the people” (verse 9) by fearing the inhabitants of Canaan.
And the LORD’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.’ (Numbers 32:10–12)
Their lack of being strong led to a forty-year wandering in the wilderness. They feared, their hearts melted. They should have been strong.
All four of these exhortations in 1 Corinthians 16:13 are more defensive than offensive, as if we are under attack. I don’t think Paul would mind if we borrowed his words to the Ephesians to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” These are resolute exhortations, firm commands calling for us to be determined and committed. These are very similar to Paul’s command at the end of chapter 15 to “be steadfast, immovable.” It is interesting that Paul puts such similar exhortations so close to each other.
We are to be fighters.
We are to be fighters, we are also to be lovers.
Let all that you do be done in love. Or, “all (things) of yours in love let be done.”
All you do, whatever you do, each of your doings, must be done in the sphere of love. This would be a fine word to spouses, but that is not the context. Neither is the exhortation to parents, or children, though, sure, parents should discipline in love and kids should obey in love. The context is about loving others in the church even when threats abound.
It’s one of those funny-not funny things. It’s funny that we need such frequent and obvious reminders, it’s not funny that we don’t pay attention to the reminders. The Great Commandment is to love God. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor, which is the fulfillment of the whole law (Romans 13:8, 10; James 2:8). The first aspect in the fruit of the Spirit is love. God Himself is love, loving in eternity between the three Persons of God. We are made for love, made by love, made to love.
We are bought by Christ’s love and brought into the body of Christ by His love, united to one another as one body, and we still do not love. There is posturing and posing and competing and criticizing and devouring.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:14–15)
Like the Corinthians, some Christians would rather eat meat than love (chapter 8). We’d rather eat first than love (chapter 11). We’d rather prophecy, or be elevated by our giftedness, than love (chapter 14). We’d rather sacrifice our bodies to be burned than love (chapter 13). We’d rather give up than love (also chapter 13).
Remember: impatience, envy, anger, resentment, irritability, are not love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
We’d also rather fight than love. Of course verse 13 just told us to fight. Verse 14 tells us to love. Are we to be lovers or fighters? We are to be both. And we can’t fight in a way that keeps us from loving, and we ought not love in a way that keeps us from fighting.
There are two common failures. The first failure is failing to properly identity the threat. We know that we’re supposed to fight, but our relational circle (or our mental neighborhood) is so small that the only people we really come into contact with are the people close to us, so we start looking for things to fight with them about. We easily forget how much we have in common with our believing brothers, and start fighting over the 5% we don’t share in common. For people failing like this, there often is a low level feeling of guilt for lack of love, but its justified in the name of fighting for the “truth.”
The second failure is properly identifying who is whom, who the threat is, but doing what is easier. This is where we totally know that the unbelievers are hostile, but we don’t fight them, because we don’t want to get hurt. Plus we don’t have to live with them. We also know that the believers are the family, but if we love them, they’re going to keep expecting it. We live with them, or we’re around them more often, and that is going to require a lot of love in the long run. It’s easier to fight with them, because then we can keep some distance, and we can keep their expectations low.
Beloved, let us love one another. And let us love our enemies, though in a way that honors our love to the body of Christ and to Christ Himself. Let us love in strength, not in laughing at their dirty jokes to save face. Let us love while being alert, not ignorant of the fact that they are taking advantage of us but using that to our advantage for the gospel. Let us love with courage, fighting without compromise for truth, whether that is in the dignity of human life because of God, the other things, or the exclusivity of salvation in the gospel of Jesus.
If there is not one thumb’s width in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ does not cry, “Mine!” then let there be not one thumb’s-twitch in the whole domain of our behavior which is not triggered by love.
Definitely don’t fight to defend your lack of love. And don’t love not to fight. Don’t forsake the fight, don’t even flinch. The last thing he tells them in verse 24 is that he loves them, and we’ll consider the end to the letter next Lord’s Day, the Lord willing.
I tell you in the name of the Lord that He commands you to be steadfast. He requires you to fight in faith, to fight in love, to fight to love. Is your faith little? Lord, help their unbelief. Is your love tank low? Lord, stir the waters of their affections into tidal waves of love. Christians, you represent Christ, and He exhorts you to be act like loving men.
[M]ay the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13, ESV)