Job 18:5-19:29; 1 Corinthians 16:10-24; Psalms 40:11-13; Proverbs 13:12-14
NT: “Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 CSB)
As Paul closed out his letter of correction and encouragement to the Corinthian church, he gave them this final exhortation. The same words that Paul gave the 1st century Corinthian church should also resonate in and exhort all of us who are a part of the 21st century church.
Firstly, Paul charged the church to “Be alert.” The word for “be alert” in the Greek means to give strict attention to, to be actively cautious, to stay awake and vigilantly watchful. The kingdom of God has three main enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. Those three enemies are always working from within and without to make inroads into the church to distract, discourage, bring disunity, disqualify and ultimately destroy the people of God. We cannot afford to grow passive and tolerant of behaviors and attitudes that are ultimately out to destroy our witness and effectiveness. We need to be vigilant as we keep watch over our individual lives, our families and our church communities.
Next, Paul exhorted the church to “stand firm in the faith.” Stand firm means to persevere, persist and remain standing in the faith that we have in Christ – faith in who Christ is, faith in what Christ accomplished for us, and faith in who Christ has made us to be in Him. How do we become steadfast instead of unstable? By honoring, studying, pursuing, applying and obeying the word, will and ways of the Lord.
Then Paul challenged the church to be courageous and strong. The Greek word for courageous actually means to act like a man. In our culture, that phrase probably brings up a lot of negative feelings in many. What Paul meant by using that word is to not childishly run away from frightening and challenging circumstances, but to maturely face frightening and challenging things and do what needs to be done – even if it means sacrificing your comfort, your preferences, or even your life. The Greek word for “be strong” means to increase in strength. We need to endeavor to always be growing in strength… always exercising our faith – that when the time comes, we will be able do what is right and needed as we face challenging things in faith – not giving in, giving up, or running away.
Finally, Paul conditioned everything by saying that we are to do everything in love – agape. Agape is an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest good of another person, no matter what the other person does. It is a self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return. Agape is the love that God shows us and calls us to show to others. And because it is the love of God, the only way that we can walk in that love is to be graced with that love. In our alertness and vigilance, in our steadfast faith, in our courage and strength – we must wrap all of that in the self-less, others-seeking sacrificial love of God, otherwise we risk becoming insensitive dogmatists that drive people away from God instead of welcoming people into a life with God.
Prayer: Lord, I know that in this world, there is no neutral ground. The world, the flesh and the devil do not take a respite from their attempts to disqualify and neutralize me. Because of that, I must always be vigilant… always be seeking to build up my faith, that in all things I will be able to stand and do what is needed. Yet, I must also do everything in self-giving, others-focused, unconditional love. I know that I cannot do any or all of that on my own. The only way to do all of that is to remain submitted to you and filled with the Holy Spirit. So – fill me afresh and lead me in You ways. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.