Marching Orders (Phil Johnson)

1 Corinthians 16:13   |   Sunday, July 28, 2013   |   Code: 2013-07-28-PJ

     The text I've chosen for this morning is 1 Corinthians 16:13, a short but powerful verse near the end of Paul's letter to that troubled church. This is a verse that outlines itself. Four simple imperatives: "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong." There you have my outline in the exact words of the verse itself. Four points, separated by commas.

     This is Paul's one-verse summary and conclusion to 1 Corinthians. Notice: we are just ten verses from the end of the epistle. In this chapter (1 Corinthians 16) Paul is tying up some loose ends and dealing with incidental issues as he prepares to sign off.

     Notice how the chapter starts. In verses 1-3, he gives them instructions for a special offering—financial aid for the saints suffering from famine and political oppression in Jerusalem. In verses 4-6, he outlines his travel plans and explains the means by which he intends to have their charitable gifts delivered to Jerusalem (vv. 4-6). He assures them (v. 7) of his desire to visit but says when he comes, he wants to spend extended time with them, not just pass through. And he says he can't do that quickly, because he needs to be in Ephesus until Pentecost (v. 8). Timothy, however, is coming to Corinth (v. 10), and Paul has encouraged Apollos to visit them as well. Apollos can't come right away, but (v. 12) "He will come when he has opportunity."

     In every way he could, Paul was reassuring them of his personal care for them. We know from chapter 4, verse 18, and from 2 Corinthians 1, that some person or persons in the Corinthian church were accusing Paul of insincerity and untrustworthiness because he had repeatedly been forced to delay his visits to Corinth. This long epistle was proof of his heartfelt concern and affection for them, and it's punctuated at the end by this chapter full of evidences showing how Paul was concerned for the care of their souls. If he couldn't come in person right away, he would send personal associates like Timothy and Apollos to them.

     Now for the moment, skip past verse 13 and look at the second half of this chapter. Paul has just a few more personal words of admonition, recognition, and greeting, which he gives in verses 15-20; then he takes the parchment from his amanuensis, signs his name, and writes the closing salutation by his own hand in verses 21-24. The epistle is now ready to be sealed and delivered.

     So our verse (verse 13) is the centerpiece of Paul's closing admonitions to a church in disarray. You're very familiar with the larger context. The epistle itself deals with a laundry-list of problems in that church: division; open, incestuous sin so brazen that even pagan gentiles were scandalized by it; disorder and gross misconduct—even drunkenness at the Lord's table. They were abusing the charismatic gifts and causing utter chaos in the worship service. They were filing lawsuits against one another in secular courts. This church had major problems of every imaginable kind.

     Paul has already given meticulous answers to all of those problems, plus answers to some other questions the Corinthians had sent him—questions about food offered to idols, questions about marriage and singleness, and questions about spiritual gifts.

     Now he sums up everything he has already told them in a single verse: "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong." Four imperatives, all with military overtones. These are Paul's marching orders for the Corinthians. He condenses the gist of his whole epistle into these four short commandments.

     Here is the briefest, simplest possible summary of what the Corinthians needed to do in order to address all the problems in their midst. If they would do these four things and do them faithfully, every problem that marred the testimony of that church could be solved. It's really an ingenious recapitulation of the various duties Paul had already outlined for them. He takes the whole gist of fifteen chapters of meticulous teaching and boils it down to four commands.

     Incidentally, the military tone of this verse is clearly deliberate. These are orders for an army going to combat. Paul was reminding them (and us) that the Christian's existence in this earthly realm is a battle, not a banquet. We are soldiers engaged in warfare, not merry-makers enjoying a party. Do we get that? because frankly, most contemporary evangelicals don't get it. The typical evangelical church seems to think Christ has called us to be clowns who entertain the world rather than soldiers whose duty is to wage war against false religion and spiritual lies. There are churches not far from here this morning where the pastors are doing exegesis of the latest movies or trying desperately to plug into whatever the latest cultural fad is. Look around and listen to what's happening in the evangelical movement today and you might get the impression that friendship with the world is the number one goal of the church. It's not. It is a grievous sin to be avoided. "Friendship with the world is enmity with God." The church is supposed to be an army waging war against worldly values.

     Christians in these postmodern times seem absolutely terrified by the militant language in Scripture, frightened about the prospect of contending earnestly for the faith. After all, you can't earnestly contend for the faith in rationalistic and postmodern universities and keep any kind of academic respectability. Christians today think they have a better idea: Why not have a polite dialogue with heretics and false teachers and see if we can find common ground so that we can affirm one another rather than being negative? That seems so much more "civilized" and "charitable" doesn't it? Why does the warfare metaphor have to be given so much emphasis?

     The answer, of course, is that Scripture itself gives prominence to this truth. We really are in a war. It's not a literal struggle against flesh and blood. It's actually something much greater, far more dangerous, and infinitely more serious than that, because what's at stake in this war is eternal. Ephesians 6:12: "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

     Souls are perishing in this conflict—passing into eternal judgment where there is no hope of redemption. It's a somber, profound reality. It is a truth that is not at all consistent with the amusement-park atmosphere so many 21st-century evangelical churches have tried to cultivate. It's not in any sense harmonious with the spirit of our age.

     But every faithful Christian must be a warrior. "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh" (2 Corinthians 10:4), but we fight with weapons that "have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ."

     In other words, it's an ideological battle. Our strategy is to dismantle the false belief systems that keep people in bondage. Our weapon is the truth. And the struggle is never-ending—or rather, our triumph won't be final until Christ Himself returns in glory. Meanwhile, we are engaged in a perpetual struggle against powerful enemies.

     The Christian life is a war zone. The true flock of God is under the constant threat of wolves, and we have to be vigilant and faithful and not pretend there's a legitimate way to de-militarize the conflict between truth and falsehood or make friends with the wolves.

     Now, look: We're not supposed to be pugnacious. We don't relish conflict for conflict's sake. In 2 Timothy 2:23-26, We're commanded to—

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.

24 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,

25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil,"

But let's also be aware also that not every point that comes under dispute is petty and trifling. Not every debate is a foolish, ignorant controversy. The same apostle who wrote what I just quoted also said (in Titus 1), "There are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers . . . whose mouths must be stopped." Being gentle and patient doesn't mean yielding ground to the purveyors of false doctrine. There are, even today, "many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers . . . whose mouths must be stopped"—and some of them are authors of bestselling books put out by supposedly evangelical publishers.

     But we live in a culture that has lowered the tolerance level for that kind of discourse to practically zero—in the name of a false and phony standard of charity and gentleness. In the past ten years alone, every fundamental doctrine I can think of has been placed on the table for debate within the evangelical movement. These are not mere trifles, and yet there is such a paranoia about being too militant (perhaps an excessive fear that we might fall into a fighting-fundamentalist spirit) that it shocks us nowadays when anyone does rise up in defense of some truth.

     One of the favorite slogans of our age is, "Let's just agree to disagree"—and then virtually every point of truth is blithely set aside as trivial and unnecessary. That mentality—a refusal to fight for the truth—has done horrific damage to our churches and to the evangelical movement.

     "Let's just agree to disagree."

     Well, no. How about we just argue until one of us actually refutes the other and we come to a common understanding of God's Word?

     I'm honestly not pleading for a constant spirit of contention. But the fact is that evangelicals currently have a lot of housecleaning that desperately needs to be done, and a lot of enemies that need to be chased from our camp. Truth has too been often set aside in the name of charity and unity.

     But throwing truth under the bus is not charitable and it doesn't promote unity. Witness the rapid dissolution of Emergent religion if you want proof of that. Authentic unity is when we agree and we all say the same thing—and that can't possibly happen if the people of God refuse to use the Sword of the Spirit to demolish the ideological strongholds of Satan.

     Now, this militant language is common with Paul, so it comes as no surprise here. In Chapter 9, he used soldiering as a metaphor for Christian ministry. In that same chapter, he also said, "I do not run aimlessly; I do not [fight] as one beating the air." In chapter 14 he said, "If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?" Ephesians 6, of course, is all about the Christian warfare. So is 2 Corinthians 10. And the militant theme permeates our verse. Paul himself was a determined warrior engaged in the most serious of all conflicts for the most important of all prizes. And that reality was never very far from his thoughts.

     These are the kinds of commands a typical centurion would give to the men in his charge on the precipice of a great battle: "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong." Let's look at those four imperatives one at a time, in order. First—


1. Be Watchful

     "Be on the alert"; Paul uses a Greek word, gregoreuo (gray-gor-YOO-oh) that speaks of staying awake, being attentive, standing guard. That word is used 22 times in the New Testament, often with regard to the coming of Christ. Jesus himself uses that word six times in Matthew alone—three times in Matthew 24 & 25, when he is explaining the end-time parables, and His point is an argument for careful vigilance in anticipation of His return: "Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming."

     Then he uses the same expression three times in      Matthew 26, in the garden, when he says to the disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me"—be on the alert; stay awake. There he is talking about practical and prayerful watchfulness—staying awake and being alert in the face of a danger they did not see coming—even though He warned them repeatedly about it.

     Jesus also uses the same word twice in His message to Sardis, the dead church, in Revelation 3:2-3 (a fitting message for the church today): "Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die." He uses the same word in the warning to Sardis in the very next verse, Revelation 3:3: "If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you."

     So this is a word with doctrinal, practical, and eschatalogical overtones, and Paul clearly has all those things in mind in his message to the Corinthians. Stay on guard. Enemies of the truth are already in your midst. You need to "strengthen what remains and is about to die." And the Lord is coming. (That's the exact meaning of Maranatha in verse 22.)

     The mass of modern and postmodern evangelicals simply ignore this command. I'm tempted to say they rebel against it. Many are simply too arrogant to think they need an admonition like this. They carelessly think they are skilled enough and knowledgeable enough to recognize any and every error at its very first appearance, so they have let down their guard.

     Mostly, though, evangelicals simply have no stomach for the duty—and they won't tolerate it if anyone else tries to interrupt the evangelical frat party with a shrill alarms—even if the frat house is engulfed in flames.

     We don't mind reading about Spurgeon's courage and foresight in the Down-Grade Controversy; we just don't want anyone today to exercise to that kind of discernment. In fact, listen to what Spurgeon said about that very same phenomenon in his era. He said:

It is very pretty, is it not, to read of Luther and his brave deeds? Of course, everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want any one else to do the same to-day. When you go to the [zoo] you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering loose about the street? You tell me that it would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.

     So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago; the past ages are a sort of bear-pit or iron cage for him; but such a man to-day is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if you can think of one. Yet imagine [if] in those ages past, Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and their compeers had said, "The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great row, and get ourselves into disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night-caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake up things will have grown better." Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on.

The need for vigilance today is greater, not less, than it has been in times past. Every biblical description of apostasy and spiritual danger fits our generation perfectly. First Timothy 3:1-5:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.

2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,

3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,

4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,

5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

When that is a precise description of the culture in which we live and minister, when before our very eyes we can see "evil people and impostors [going] from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived"—it is more important than ever to stay alert and on guard against false teaching and against personal temptations. And it's more important than ever to make ourselves ready for the return of the Savior.

     That's what Paul was telling the Corinthians: "Be watchful"—first of all over yourselves—your hearts, your passions, your words, and your whole way of life. Be watchful over one another, lest you fall into sin and temptation. Be on guard against Satan, "so that we would not be outwitted by [him]; for we are not ignorant of his designs." Likewise, be on guard against false teachers, who lie in wait to deceive and who have already begun to sow their deception in your midst. Be on guard against the world, with all its snares and seductions. Also, watch unto prayer, and prepare yourselves for the Lord's return.

     All of that is packed into this one-word admonition: "Watch."

     Incidentally, with regard to the eschatalogical significance of this command, he's not saying "make dispensational charts or obsess over trying to match today's news headlines with Bible prophecy"; he's saying (simply) live as if you believe the Lord could return at any moment. And that includes all these other aspects of prayerful and polemical vigilance. Both the Lord and the enemy are at hand. Stay on the alert.

     Then, second, Paul says:


2. Stand Firm in the Faith

     Now notice: that first command ("Be watchful") anticipates Paul's closing salutation in verse 22: "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. (The Lord is coming)." This second imperative is an echo of the closing verse of chapter 15—one of my favorite verses in the Bible (1 Corinthians 15:58): "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

     Let's face it: steadfast immovability is one of those virtues that has lost its luster in these postmodern times. "Epistemological humility" is the new supreme and cardinal virtue. In other words, we're supposed to refuse to be certain or dogmatic about anything. Epistemological nihilism is the new humility. Strong convictions—the very thing Paul calls for here—are out. If you don't undergo some kind of major paradigm shift in your theology and your worldview every few years or so, you are not only hopelessly behind the times, you will be judged incurably arrogant, too.

     That's why, according to any postmodern way of thinking, dogmatism is to be avoided at all costs, diversity is to be cultivated no matter what, and tolerance means never having to say any idea—no matter how far-fetched—is actually wrong.

     Listen: That's not "humility"; that's unbelief.

     It's not arrogant to have firm, immovable biblical convictions. In fact, it is our duty to be precise and thorough in our doctrine, and to come to strong, mature, biblically-informed convictions. Paul even named this as one of the necessary evidences of authentic faith: "If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard" (Colossians 1:23). We are not to be "children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). Stability is a good and precious virtue—a necessary virtue for church leaders especially. Peter, in 2 Peter 3:17, wrote, "Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability."

     Watch out for people who undergo regular, major, sweeping paradigm shifts in their thinking and have to overhaul their whole worldview every few years—avoid them. Double-minded men are unstable in all their ways.

     Yeah, but isn't it wrong to be obstinate and inflexible? Well, it certainly can be, but do you know what the Bible identifies as the very worst kind of stubbornness? It's the stubbornness of refusing to be steadfast in our commitment to the Word of God and our conviction that the Word of the Lord is true. Listen to this description in Psalm 78:8, of "a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast." Verse 37: "Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant." That's the very height of arrogance.

     "Stand firm." That's a command. "Stand firm in the faith." The faith—the definite article is significant. There is only one true faith, and if your faith in Scripture isn't strong enough to affirm even that fact without equivocation, you really need to ponder very carefully what Paul is saying here. Because in all likelihood, that question will be put to you by an unbeliever ("Is conscious faith in Jesus really the only way to heaven?"), and you need to be ready to give an answer. I'm amazed and appalled at the parade of evangelical celebrities who have flubbed that question on talk-shows and news broadcasts. When they finally get an opportunity to declare the truth on a nationwide platform, some of our best-known evangelical leaders have flubbed it.

     If you feel you need to undergo regular worldview-sized shifts in your thinking; if your ideas about Christian life and ministry change every time a new fad or bestselling book comes along; if you are by nature fascinated with new perspectives and radical doctrines—you need to get anchored. People who refuse to be steadfast about anything are detrimental to the health of the body. They invariably sow doubt and confusion.

     The man of God is supposed to be like a tree, planted by rivers of water—steadfast, immovable, growing in a steady, constant fashion rather than lurching wildly from one point of view to another all the time. Psalm 1 is where you find that imagery of a tree, and it's significant. Like trees, we cannot be full of life and energy unless we are also staunch and unwavering in our faith.

     Of course I'm not suggesting that it's always inappropriate to change your mind. Sometimes even on the big issues. You may have heard me making the case somewhere that if you're an Arminian, you ought to rethink your soteriology and adopt a more biblical view. I personally experienced precisely that kind of large-scale theological shift some 25 or 30 years ago, and a few years before that, while reading Warfield's Studies in Perfectionism and comparing it with Scripture, my whole understanding of sanctification got an overhaul.

     There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't become addicted to the idea of remodeling your doctrine just for the sake of having something new to play with. Bible doctrines are not Lego bricks—toys you can tear apart and put them in any shape you want. We're not supposed to be like the Athenian Philosophers in Acts 17:21, who "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." The goal of our study should not be the constant shifting of our beliefs—but Christlike steadfastness—solid, settled, mature convictions.

     And let me add this: if you do abandon Arminianism and become a Calvinist; if you leave one eschatalogical position and take up another one; if you undergo any major doctrinal shift, don't suddenly act like that one point of doctrine is more important than all others. Don't talk about any one doctrine constantly to the exclusion of everything else. And when you learn some truth that is new to you or come to an understanding of some difficult doctrine for the first time, spend some time settling into your new convictions before you pretend to have expertise you frankly haven't had time to develop.

     I think the tendency of young Calvinists to become cocky and obsessive about the fine points of predestination is one of the things that makes Calvinism most odious to non-Calvinists. Don't do that. It's not a sign of maturity, and you're not truly steadfast in the faith unless you are truly mature.

     That is what Paul is calling for here: maturity, groundedness, stability. That's the heart of legitimate Christian conviction.

     In fact, let's be clear about that. What Paul wants to see here is not the ability to argue with zeal and vigor in favor of a particular point of view. Immature college kids can do that better than anyone else. What Paul wants to see in the Corinthians is firm belief, settled assurance, confidence in the truth of God's Word, and an unwavering heart. In short, spiritual maturity. And that's not an easy thing to come by in a culture like Corinth, where the fads and fashions of this world seem to have more appeal than the eternal word of God.

     Listen to what Charles Hodge said about this command:

Do not consider every point of doctrine an open question. Matters of faith, doctrines for which you have a clear revelation of God, such for example as the doctrine of the resurrection, are to be considered settled, and, as among Christians, no longer matters of dispute. There are doctrines embraced in the creeds of all orthodox churches, so clearly taught in Scripture, that it is not only useless, but hurtful, to be always calling them into question.

     "Stand firm in the faith," Paul says, and if you are tempted to tone that down, apologize for it, or explain it away because it conflicts so dramatically with the spirit of this age, then you need to repent of that attitude and ask God to give you more conviction and more courage.

     That takes us to the third in this series of imperatives:


3. Act Like Men

     Literally, "Be men," or "be manly." The TNIV, notorious for trying to sidestep masculine pronouns and male-oriented words, simply says, "Be courageous." And that's one important aspect of what Paul is saying here. It's not the full gist, but it's a good head start.

     Paul uses the Greek verb andrizomai (an-DRID-zom-ahee) in the middle voice. It's another one-word imperative, though it's hard to make it one word in English. Literally, "play the man." Or in modern terminology, "man up."

     It's a word that speaks of masculinity as opposed to femininity. He's not saying be grownups rather than children; he's saying "act like men, not like girls." And frankly, Corinth was an effeminate culture, so that was a fitting charge to give to the church at Corinth. And let's be honest, it's also a fitting admonition for a large segment of evangelicals today.

     "Be courageous" is certainly an important aspect of what Paul means, but it's really bigger than that. He is commending all those characteristics that we think of as masculine rather than feminine—even though it's not politically correct these days to categorize character traits that way. Paul is sweeping up and including in that command attributes like courage, and strength, and boldness—stout-heartedness, heroism, daring, gallantry, machismo. There is, of course, a more pedestrian aspect to true machismo, and it's the idea of work. When God created Adam, He made him to work—to tend the garden—even before the Fall. That's something to remember in this age of leisure. We need to be redeeming the time. You can't exclude that from this command.

     But remember the context is militant. This is first of a call to arms and a summons to battle. "Fight like men; defend the faith in a manly way." That is surely the cardinal idea here.

     Now it's worth noting that this verse is written to the whole church—it's not addressed to men only—and much less does Paul single out only the elders and the church leaders. This apples to every Christian. There's a sense in which even the women in Corinth needed to cultivate the strength and fortitude of a warrior—like Deborah in the book of judges.

     But if this applies to everyone in the church, it is the particular duty of men to be spiritual leaders and to model the spirit of virile, vigorous, vigilant faith—steadfast and courageous. And I love it that Paul has no scruples about connecting those ideas with manliness. "Act like men!" Masculinity. That is certainly one of the missing qualities of churches today.

     You know, the old King James Version of this verse says, "Quit you like men" and I fear that sometime in the late 20th century or so a lot of evangelical readers mistook the message and thought it meant "Quit being men."

     Several books have been written analyzing the feminization of evangelical churches. I gave a lengthy message on this subject two years ago at a Grace Church Men's conference—that message is online if you want to download it. Some people got offended by what I had to say.

     But I think it's an incontrovertible fact that the typical evangelical church of this generation has become weak and womanly. Churchgoers demand that preachers be soft and dainty—especially when they are dealing with hard-edged truths. If you don't sufficiently tone down every severe text or hard-to-receive doctrine in the Bible, the tone police will write you up for an infraction before you can get from the pulpit to the front door. All the rough edges of every truth must be carefully sanded smooth and painted in pastel tones. We've traded up to cushy seats instead of hard-bench pews and we expect our preachers to fashion their message accordingly. None of this sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God stuff.

     Instead, today's evangelicals favor feminine themes: Let's talk about how we hurt; let's discuss our personal relationships; we need to meet people's felt needs; you need to feel what I feel before you can hit me with unvarnished truth. The church has begun to look weak, effeminate, frightened, sissified—like a society of dressmakers and interior decorators instead of soldiers.

     We're told relentlessly that we have to be always agreeable no matter what—seeker-sensitive, gender-neutral, and delicate in everything we say and do. Listen: the Christian life is not high tea with fancy biscuits. It's a battle, and we need to think and act accordingly.

     The feminization of the church has received a lot of attention in recent years, and more and more people are recognizing the problem. The church is not reaching and ministering to men—we're actually driving them away. But those who see the problem more often than not have really bad solutions. You know: have the men's Bible studies over beer, cigars, and poker games. Get your men watching cage-fighting and encourage them to develop a taste for blood sport. Or go out in the woods, put on war paint, and perfect the art of the primal scream. Salt your vocabulary with a sailor's favorite expletives. Or (my favorite) Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, where you dress up like a knight or a gladiator and assume that persona out in a vacant field somewhere with other people who are doing the same thing. Right. Dress up and pretend. As if that were the way to be masculine.

     None of those things even comes close to the essence of true, virile masculinity. In fact, those are all things little boys do.

     Paul has none of those things in mind when he tells the Corinthians to man up. He is telling them as simply and straightforwardly as possible to be bold, sober-minded, mature, and committed to their calling—like soldiers. Be valiant soldiers in the battle for truth. You don't have to take up smoking or swearing or get a tattoo on your arm to fulfill that command. Those are all external things. The kind of masculinity Paul is calling for here is all about character and conduct; it's not merely a costume you wear.

     In fact, notice the two imperatives on either side of this command to act like men. They explain the true gist of it: "Be steadfast." "Be strong." Those are character qualities. And sandwiched between them is this: "Act like men." The imperatives in that string of commands basically explain one another. Strength, steadfastness, courage, and even vigilance—these are all vital aspects of what Paul means when he says, "Act like men."

     There's one more imperative in this verse and I want to cover it quickly and then point you to verse 14. "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men," and now finally—


4. Be Strong

     It's not enough just to be bold; Christian soldiers need to be strong in order to withstand both opposition and persecution. If you are going to enter the battle in earnest, you will need to be able to endure antagonism, derision, controversy, contempt, and abuse of every kind. It will come from the intelligentsia and the dregs of society alike. Worldly governments, the common people, and the academic elite of this world will conspire together to oppose us, just as they opposed Christ himself.

     Jesus said it would be that way (John 15:18-20), "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you."

     First Timothy 3:12-13: "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."

     If you're faithful, you will be persecuted, and in this worldly realm, you can pretty much count on one thing: those who persecute you will go from bad to worse. Things are not getting better in the world. That's why we have to stay on guard.

     You need strength to stand in the battle. Paul is not talking about physical strength. Again, "the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh." This is still talking about character, and what it requires is strength of character. Integrity combined with unflagging persistence. You must have that in order to triumph in the battle Christ calls us to fight.

     Christ Himself supplies that strength through His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him faithfully. It's not some kind of strength that we can summon from within ourselves. In the words of Colossians 1:11, We are "strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy." Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me." Therefore "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might." That is a command; not an option. It is what God demands of all believers, and especially the shepherds of His flock.

     Now let me quickly in closing call your attention to verse 14, because this is the vital closing punctuation to everything we have been talking about: Verse 14: "Let all that you do be done in love." That's an echo and a summary of 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul gave them an extended discourse on the qualities of love.

     Now lots of people are tempted to read verse 14 as if it nullified everything we have just said about verse 13. It doesn't. Jesus fulfilled every quality outlined in verse 13 to the uttermost (and if you don't believe me, read John MacArthur's exposition of Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees in The Jesus You Can't Ignore.) Love doesn't nullify any of the commands of verse 13; but it does define what should be in our hearts—and what our motive should be—as we wage this relentless fight against the ideological strongholds of Satan.

     We need to remember that the whole point of tearing down those strongholds is the liberation of people who are held in bondage by them, and therefore everything we do—watching, standing firm, showing manly courage and determination, and drawing on the Lord's strength—all of it should be done in love. It is, after all, the love of Christ that sought us and called us and compelled us to enter the battle alongside Him in the first place. The love of Christ constrains us—to "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."