Summary: Paul’s final appeal from 1 Corinthians provides a fitting conclusion to the entire letter and this preacher’s final message at the end of a several year ministry.
Life in the Spirit: How to Do Church From Now to Eternity
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
(This was also a concluding sermon of a several year ministry.)
Final words should be important words. I recognize that. I think Paul recognized that as well. I believe he chose carefully the way he would close 1 Corinthians. So I want to follow his pattern and leave with you the final words of this important letter.
For several weeks we have been examining this letter. Let me remind you of the context. First Corinthians was written by the missionary church-planter Paul of Tarsus about thirty years after the resurrection of Jesus. It was addressed to a group of new Christians in the Greek city of Corinth about three or four years after the planting of the church. All of the believers were new to Christ.
Most importantly, they lived in one of the most thoroughly pagan cities of the ancient world. As with any believer who tries to take seriously the call of Christ in a non-Christian world, they struggled. They had questions. They were sometimes confused. They frequently made mistakes. Sometimes big ones.
This letter covers two main subjects. First, Paul speaks to two problems he had been told about by the couriers of the letter—church fights (1-3) and tolerance of immorality in the fellowship (5-6). The rest of the book addresses a series of questions that the Corinthians had asked Paul about. Behind the questions was a common piece of confusion or distortion. Some in Corinth apparently had developed an idea that true spirituality was a matter of special visions or spiritual insights that placed the recipients above the normal concerns of life. Some Corinthians seemed to claim that their spiritual gifts of speaking in languages/tongues excused them from listening and learning God’s truth or behaving according to normal standards of Christian conduct.
Almost all of 1 Corinthians can be understood best against the background of this confusion. Paul attempts to ground their faith not in ecstatic experiences but in the truth of the gospel and the call to holy living and servanthood.
So how will Paul conclude this? What are his final words? Tucked away in the middle of the final chapter are two verses that I want to examine with you. These verses provide what I will call guidelines for “how to do church from now on.” They are simple and clear. In five simple imperatives Paul lays out principles that these believers needed to hear, to heed, and to remember if they wanted their future faith and church-life to be what both they and God wanted them to be. These are the words I want to leave with you.
13Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. 14Do everything in love. (1 Cor. 16:13 through 1 Cor. 16:14 (NIV))
The five commands or imperatives divide into two concepts. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the break down. The first four commands go together and the last one stands alone. Together they describe what might be called the two sides of Christian fellowship or church life. Both are important. They are very similar to what Gary Smalley and John Trent call the Two Sides of Love in their work on marriage and family. On one hand is the tough side; on the other the tender side.
A healthy, happy church life requires that we be both tough minded—that we think clearly and believe soundly and tender hearted—that we extend compassion and forgiveness in a self-denying, Jesus-style love. Imagine the horrible state of affairs when we reverse it and at church become weak minded and tough hearted—when we are weak on convictions and hard on one another. Let’s consider this important balance that is needed to do church from now on. This balance was needed at Corinth and I suspect needed here.
I. We Must Be Tough Minded in Our Faith.
The first four imperatives of our text are all military terms. First century readers would have recognized them as such. They are also present imperatives in the grammar. This means they are commands that are intended to be continuing habit patterns, not just something that is done once and then forgotten. Notice the four tough-minded commands.
First, be on guard. Watch out. Picture a military sentry posted at the outskirts of the camp. You remember the old western movies. After the good guys make camp for the night, the first thing they do is decide who is going to stand guard. They take turns watching so the others can sleep in safety.
This term is used nearly two dozen times in the New Testament often in reference to anticipating Christ’s return and the judgment to come. Listen to Jesus: 42“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. “ Matt. 24:42 through Matt. 24:44 (NIV)