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Act Like a Man, Be Strong.

Discussion in 'Discipleship: Following Jesus' started by aiki, Jun 23, 2021.

  1. aiki

    aiki Regular Member

    1 Corinthians 16:13
    13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

    I attend a German Baptist church (not German myself, though) and there is among the congregants - especially the older ones - an attitude that resonates strongly with what Paul the apostle wrote in the quotation above. Many of the older congregants immigrated from Germany during, or just after, the second World War. They and their parents had very much the thinking of pioneers, forging a new life in a foreign country. Self-reliance, as you'd expect, was a vital part of their basic set of life principles. This attitude remains, along with practicality and prudence in all things, creating a very tough-minded, "I will do it!" view of living. There is much to be admired in this pioneer spirit and thinking but I have noticed that it tends to blind those who've settled into this general approach to life to important spiritual truth. The above quotation is a case in point.

    On its face, what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:13 seems to be very much in the vein of "God helps those who help themselves." Paul's short, rapid-fire injunctions sound just like the sort of thing you'd hear from an army sergeant barking at new recruits: "Pay attention! Stand up straight! Be a man! Toughen up!" A closer look at what Paul wrote reveals a different reading of Paul's words, however.

    "Be alert"

    "For what?" seems to be a reasonable question. It finds an answer, not in the immediate context of the verse, but in what the apostle Peter wrote:

    1 Peter 5:8
    8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

    Do lions typically prey upon the strong and dangerous animals? No, their habit is to locate the vulnerable animal - alone, young, old, weak, sick - and attack it. This is the devil's strategy, too. He assaults the vulnerable person, the person isolated from the love and support of fellow believers, the person weakened by disease and pain, the person thoroughly caught in sin, the person dabbling foolishly in the occult, the person ignorant of the spiritual battle in which they stand every day (Ephesians 6:12), and goes for their jugular.

    The devil sees us far more clearly than we often see ourselves, attacking us in the very areas of our lives where we feel the least vulnerable and so do not guard as carefully as we should. In light of this, Paul issues a general command to be alert, not just to the weak and vulnerable, but to the strong, as well.

    God does not allow the devil to attack us just as he likes. Satan had to ask God for permission to test Job and to "sift Peter like wheat." We can trust that when such permission is given and the devil takes a run at us, God has a good purpose in it. Often, He's just showing us, in the tempest of the devil's aggression, where we're really at spiritually. In the pressure cooker of spiritual battle, we see our weaknesses most clearly, turning to God in fuller dependence, as a result. And there's nothing like a few "bite marks" from the "devouring lion" to wake us up and motivate us to remain alert.

    The opposite of being alert is being distracted, tuned-out, or asleep. In commanding us to be alert, Paul is necessarily commanding us not to be these things. One can't be alert and distracted or asleep at the same time, right? Lions will draw the attention of a protective mother elephant away from its newborn baby, distracting the mother elephant, while another group of lions sneaks in to kill the baby. In our modern world, this tactic of distraction is working massively well for the devil. Believers are distracted by a myriad of things: t.v., movies, online gaming, sports, hobbies, music, food, sex, luxury, travel and so on. In every direction a person turns today, something is clamoring for their attention. And as we allow ourselves to be distracted and neglect to keep watch, a variety of things creep into our lives, eroding our walk with God, weakening our spiritual health, and making us "easy meat" for the devil.

    What's distracting you as a disciple of Christ? What turns your eyes away from him, dulling your awareness of the approach of the evil one? Are you walking confident and careless, certain you are impervious to moral compromise or demonic attack? "Be alert!"

    More on 1 Corinthians 16:13 to follow.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2021
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  2. aiki

    aiki Regular Member

    "Stand firm in the faith"

    This command from the apostle Paul implies that a believer will encounter pressures upon their faith such that they could be moved from it. Certainly, this was the case for the Christian to whom Paul first wrote these words. Persecution of Christians was, at times, fierce and terrible within the Roman Empire in which Christianity began; to be a Christian in the Empire within the first three centuries or so following Christ's resurrection and ascension was often to risk death. Against such severe pressure, "standing firm" was a serious and crucial thing.

    Upon what is the believer to stand, though? What is supposed to be the ground upon which the believer stands firm? Sheer will-power? Personal grit? Steely determination? Did Paul think the believers to whom he wrote should "stand firm in the faith" upon the ground of their own human capacities to remain resolute in their faith? Is Paul's injunction above a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" sort of thing?

    Christian faith rests upon facts and experience, not mere force of will.

    Hebrews 11:6
    6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

    Here are at least two facts upon which a Christian's faith ought to rest:

    - God exists.
    - God rewards those who seek Him.

    Is the person coming to God supposed to believe these things blindly? No. Both natural theology (Romans 1:19-20) and the special revelation of God in Christ and Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17) give the Christian cause to believe what the writer of Hebrews wrote are facts necessary to Christian faith.

    2 Timothy 1:12
    12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

    In this verse, Paul lays out the process of faith: knowledge (of the facts), belief, firm conviction leading to corresponding action. Paul did not believe in a blind way, forcing himself to trust in God, in Christ, in a vacuum of good reason to do so. It was knowledge that led him to believe, leading in turn to behaviour that manifested his belief.

    Romans 10:17
    17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

    Here, Paul explained that faith is the result of "hearing." Hearing what? The truth propositions of the Gospel (Romans 10:9-14) preached by faithful disseminators of the Good News of salvation. Knowledge of the facts of the faith, of the Gospel in particular, were essential to Christian faith.

    Experience, too, has an important role to play in a Christian "standing firm in the faith." At the heart of the Christian faith is not only spiritual knowledge, spiritual facts, but a Person who can be known through direct, personal experience: God. Christian believers are invited into fellowship - intimate communion - with God, not into a blind, make-yourself-believe, exercise of faith.

    1 Corinthians 1:9
    9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

    2 Corinthians 13:14
    14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

    1 John 1:3
    3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

    Implicit in the idea of fellowship is personal interaction. One cannot fellowship with an encyclopedia, or with a tree, or a wrench. Personal interaction means to experience directly another person. God intends we should know Him directly, in intimate communion, not just know facts about Him. As the Christian has actual fellowship with God, their direct experience of Him deeply roots their faith, securing their fidelity to the Author and Finisher of their faith and making it possible for the believer to "stand firm."

    Paul's exhortation to "stand firm in the faith" is not, then, an appeal to the believer's strength of will, for the believer to grit their teeth in the winds of trial and persecution and refuse to be moved from their religious beliefs. No, Paul is actually enjoining the believer to know well the contents of their faith and to walk with God in daily, intimate communion with Him - the two things that are fundamental and vital to the establishment and perseverance of the Christian's faith.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2021
  3. aiki

    aiki Regular Member

    "Act like men, be strong."

    Surely, Paul here is appealing directly to the personal strength, the resolve, of Christian men; he's calling them to dig deep and find within themselves the power to be men of strength. Strength and manliness appear to be tightly related in Paul's mind here, as they are in the minds of many men. For such men, Paul's exhortation to "act like a man, be strong," is an obvious call to exertion of physical power and internal fortitude. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such exertions, if they replace the power of God at work in the Christian man (or woman), or are the first resort of the Christian person instead of God's infinite resources, they fail to "be strong" in the way Paul is urging them to be.

    So much of what Paul commands of believers is predicated upon certain fundamental spiritual principles and truths that, in many instances, are not explicitly stated by Paul but assumed by him to be understood by his audience. One of these often unstated truths pertinent to 1 Corinthians 16:13 is Paul's teaching of the profound weakness of Man. But before Paul's teaching on this matter of human impotency, there were Christ's words:

    John 15:4-5
    4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
    5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

    It is hard, especially for many self-reliant believers with A-type personalities, to humble themselves under the truth of their utter impotency to produce the life of Christ by their own efforts. But this impotency is a crucial feature of the Gospel and remains the basis from which the Christian person walks with God, looking constantly to Him as Life itself, humbly dependent at all times upon Him for the wherewithal to be pleasing to Him.

    Paul's words must necessarily be understood in the light of Christ's unequivocal assertion that without him we can do nothing. We cannot "act like men, be strong" in a way that honors God, that deepens our knowledge of, and communion with, Him by refusing to accept our profound human weakness. Paul agrees with Christ, of course, pointing often, in his various letters to the Early Church, to God as the Power Source, the very Life of the Christian believer:

    Philippians 1:6
    6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

    Philippians 2:13
    13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

    Philippians 3:3
    3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,

    Philippians 4:13
    13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

    Colossians 1:29
    29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

    Colossians 3:3-4
    3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
    4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

    Romans 8:13
    13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    And so on. It is in the light of these statements by Paul that his injunction to "act like men, be strong" is properly understood. He is not, in 1 Corinthians 16:13, urging Christians to resort to their own reserves of power in response to his command, but to remember their weakness and "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." (Ephesians 6:10)

    The means whereby the believer accesses the power of God, however, is submission, conscious and constant. It is no good pleading with God for His enabling power from a life that is not consciously yielded to Him as a "living sacrifice." (Romans 12:1) God does not fill up the believer with Himself who has regions of their life walled off from His control. And until the believer is filled with God, with the transforming and enabling power of His Spirit, they can only limp along, perennially stumbling and weak spiritually, caught in a never-ending, tight cycle of sin>confession>sin>confession. There is no being strong in the Lord without first acknowledging one's total weakness; there is no going high with God until one has first gone low before Him; there is no victory without surrender.

    All calls to righteous action in the NT are not calls for the Christian to dredge up from within themselves the wherewithal to obey, but to "look unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2), in submission to him, receiving, remaining in, and reflecting His work in us.

    1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
    23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2021 at 8:16 PM

    SANTOSO Well-Known Member

    This is what we have heard how our Lord Jesus Christ shepherds us :

    And He (Christ) shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. -Micah 5:4

    Let us stand in one Spirit of God, be like minded in Christ, and strive together for the faith of the gospel.

    God bless you.