Sometimes the Bible shocks me with its bluntness, and then I remember how hard-headed I am and wonder that Scripture is polite at all. Because it’s usually directness that gets through to me.
Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.
Short, choppy statements are how God, through the pen of Paul, chooses to end His first epistle to the Church at Corinth. If you read 1 Corinthians, I’m not sure if there’s a more direct and to-the-point Book out there, especially not in dealing with the things that were going on in the Church.
As I was reading over these verses this morning, they just got me thinking about what exactly God was trying to communicate to these people. I’m sure they were good people, but they had really gotten off on a bad road, and they were dragging others down with them. I got to thinking that these verses represent a process, a method of thinking and response.
Be on guard. If you’re going to make it as a Christ-follower in our culture, you can’t shut your brain off. Our culture is full of messages that sound like good ideas but are contrary to what Scripture says. And if you’re not paying attention, you’ll sign your name to the wrong contract. Granted, that decision won’t remove you from God’s house, but it could make life very difficult. So we have to keep our eyes open. And when you start watching and listening and really paying attention, you’ll see the errors. You’ll see the parts of our culture that run against the grain of what God says is best. And when you encounter the chance to make a choice, you proceed to the next step.
Stand firm. Our culture rewards mediocrity and compromise. Backing down when it comes to faith-based beliefs is considered politically correct. But if something is right, it’s right. And if you are on guard when it comes to living in the world, you’re going to encounter a lot of resistance because this world isn’t our home. Life here isn’t supposed to be easy for us. And the world hated Jesus, who came before we did, so why should they treat us any differently? And that’s why you need the next step.
Be courageous. Pay attention to what’s happening so you know when you need to stand up for what you believe and when that time comes, even though you’re scared, do it anyway. I’m a people pleaser, so this one is difficult for me. I don’t want people to dislike me. I want everyone to think well of me. But every Christ follower is rapidly approaching a time when we will need to stand up and be counted, and I’m of the opinion that it takes more courage to keep standing than it does to stand up in the first place. And that’s why you need the next step.
Be strong (or, according to the Amplified Version, “Be men.”) In the Message, it paraphrases this as “be resolute.” Basically, as I read it, it means to be unyielding. Don’t waver. Don’t be wishy-washy. Once you make up your mind to follow Christ, do it. Don’t falter. Don’t hesitate. Don’t second guess. If you know it’s in the Bible and you know it’s what God has called you to do, do it. Man up. Or Woman up, as my Pastor says. This quality isn’t exclusive to one gender or another; it’s a choice. True strength isn’t thought of well in our world because true strength is humility, kindness and morality. True strength is treated as weakness in our world, but that’s because the world mixes everything up. And we need to remember that. People who don’t follow Christ have been brought up in a culture that defies God’s existence, and that is absolutely their prerogative. It’s not our job to be their Holy Spirit. That’s between them and God, but if we take the world’s version of strength and attack them with Scripture, that’s not a good representation of who God is. God never forces Himself on anyone; so why are we forcing Him on people who’ve already chosen not to follow? Instead of berating, instead of protesting, instead of ranting and raving about the injustices of our world, proceed to the next step.
Do everything with love. Want to make a difference to people? Love them. Be thoughtful. Be considerate. Be genuine. Be interested in their lives. If you’ve tried to introduce them to Christ and they’re not interested, fine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t show them who Christ is in every conversation you have. Live your life in a way that demonstrates who God is, and if they want to know, they’ll ask.
This is how God through Paul chose to end the first letter to the Church of Corinth, that was so screwed up they didn’t know which end was up. And something sank in, because the second letter to them shows how much they changed.
The Church in America is a lot like the Church of Corinth. We’re letting things in our doors that have no business playing a role in the leadership of the Church. Selfishness. Pride. Gluttony. And we need to start paying attention and addressing these issues, or it won’t be long and we’ll be in the same boat as the Church of Corinth (if we aren’t there already).
[Note: I’m talking about the state of the Church in general and not my church. My church is pretty awesome, and I’m SO thankful!]
But if we’re going to make a difference, we can’t chill on the sidelines. We can’t agree with everyone, and we can’t make everyone happy. So pay attention. Don’t waver. And choose to act even when you’re scared. Man up.