Summary: Such is the gospel. By turning to Christ in faith, we take the first baby step towards knowing this grace.
1 Corinthians 16:13-24 Final Words
11/28/04 D. Marion Clark
We made it! We have reached the end of 1 Corinthians. We’ve waded through church disunity, disrespect for authority, sexual immorality, divorce, lawsuits, spiritual arrogance, unruly worship, leading fellow believers to sin against their consciences, idolatry, shaming fellow believers at the Lord’s Supper, and heretical notions about the resurrection. A TV producer could produce a hit series entitled “Corinth Church.” There would be plenty of material for scandalous drama.
But what we also ventured through were teachings about the gospel and the cross, teamwork ministry, using freedom to serve and to love; indeed, we read the noblest expression of love, the fullest treatment of church unity, and the grandest exposition of the resurrection of the body. We learned how important the church is to our Lord; we received the one clear instruction about the Lord’s Supper outside of Christ’s teachings. And now we come to Paul’s final words to his spiritual children.
He begins with five commands: Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love. Let’s consider them in light of what we know about the Corinthians.
Be watchful: For what? For false teaching and resulting improper behavior creeping into the church. No church could have had more solid teaching when it was founded. Paul was their teacher. No stronger foundation could have been laid than the doctrine he gave them. What went wrong? Paul eventually left, and, evidently, the church leaders did not keep close guard over encroaching error. Why did error slip in? Why were they not alert? The sin of spiritual pride covered their eyes. Proud of their spiritual gifts, which included receiving revelation, they believed they had grown more spiritual and wiser than Paul. As the proverb says, “Pride goeth before the fall” (Proverbs16:18).
Stand firm in the faith. Stand firm in the gospel, the content of faith. The Corinthians were beginning to waver. They had grown impatient with preaching that kept harping back to the cross. They began to discount the resurrection of the body, not seeing its connection with Christ’s resurrection. How long would it be before faith in Christ’s resurrection was given up as essential? More and more their emphasis was shifting from the work of Christ to the presence of the Holy Spirit. The role of the Holy Spirit certainly is critical for our faith, but when severed from the central place and work of Christ, it leads to heresy and, in their case, to immoral, unloving behavior.
Act like men. (No wisecracks, ladies!) That is an expression for “act with courage.” Such an exhortation may sound out of place to the Corinthians. In their minds, they are being courageous. Here they are “pushing the envelope” as their live out their status of “spiritual creatures” and of being “free in Christ.” They are not hung up, like their Galatian counterparts who are mired in legalism. Indeed, they have the courage to stand up to Paul!
Yes, well, while he is away. Even so, Paul’s point is that they are to be courageous against the world for the sake of Christ. Despite their claims of being super spiritual, the reality is that they could not be more worldly. And to get to the bottom for why, it is that they want to be like the world. They want to be thought wise; they want to be admired for their marvelous spiritual gifts; they like being able to indulge in the same sensual behavior of the world, while retaining their special status.
That is not courage; that’s caving in. Their behavior, matched with their claims of superiority, is ludicrous to Paul. He possesses to a greater degree any of their gifts, but instead of indulging in sensual immoral pleasure and winning acclaim for himself, he is daily taking hits from both the world and even from the church. Courage is denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus. The Corinthians are exalting themselves, taking up privileges, and following the world.
Be strong. Instead of going from weakness to strength, they have weakened; they have become as children, or rather, childish. Where are the leaders who should have kept back the false teachings? Where are the men and women who should have stood against the tide of immoral behavior? The Corinthians are giving up the “good fight.” The strong man, Satan, is binding them, the irony being that they think of themselves as breaking loose of their bondages. They need to be strong in faith, in courage, in will.
Let all that you do be done in love. The first four exhortations focused on their attitude towards the gospel; this one focuses on their attitude towards one another. For all the reasons they might give for their behavior, the truth is that they were not loving one another. If they had loved, the so-called stronger Christians would not have flaunted their “freedom” before weaker brothers, leading them to act against their conscience. If they had loved, they would not have been selfish at the Lord’s Supper, eating up all the food. If they had loved, they would not have formed their little political parties to vie against one another. If they had loved, they would have thought how to show love in all that they did. Thus, when they debated their theological issues and their activities, they foremost would have thought how to show honor to one another even while they disagreed. They would have thought how to criticize in such a way that they actually encouraged, instead of discouraged each other. They would have given more attention to coming to a meeting of the minds, instead of winning their debates. They certainly would have been more considerate towards their spiritual father and willing to listen to him.