Thursday, February 24, 2011

boot camp thinking

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Paul leaves the Corinthians in his first letter to them with a string of terse, very practical commands. He usually has more to say at the end of an epistle, but I think the nature of this book made a change in his normal style. He had spent so much time dealing with big specific issues with the Corinthians that these short remarks are meant to help them not lose focus on the specific things they needed to deal with and resolve. Nonetheless, these short commands are packed with meaning. They are like the orders barked out by a drill instructor. We ought to follow them instinctively, because lives depend on them.

There are five firm commands here. The first is to "be watchful". This is a commitment to guard hearts. It means to be careful to not let any attitude or action creep into life that is not in keeping with Christ. Vigilance in doctrine and in holiness is a virtue and practice of the highest order.

The second command is related to the first one: "stand firm in the faith". This is the doctrinal lifestyle that every believer lives. You have to know what you believe, commit in that truth, and stand strong in it. These are not days for a wishy-washy kind of mediocre faith. These are the days to stand firm. The world around will constantly test us, and we must stay committed to the truth.

The third command is a call to Christian manliness: "act like men". I have to think it is directed to the men in the church. We know enough about Paul to know that he worked with both men and women in ministry. And he was happy to do so. I won't take the time here to elaborate, but women such as Priscilla, Phoebe, and Lydia, played key roles of service, support, and training in his ministry. So this is not a "sexist" statement when he tells the Corinthians to "man up". He knows he needs the men of that church to utilize their talents and roles for the glory of God. Spiritual leadership by males is crucial for the gospel impact of the church to be what it must be. There is no other way around it. This is God's design in home, family, and the church.

The fourth command is related to all three preceding it. It is the command to "be strong". I think the last three commands help define what that means. Strong churches have great male leaders who will be watchful and committed to the doctrines and practices of authentic Christianity. And this will lead to the whole body (men, women, and children) being strong and fit spiritually.

The final command brings perspective: "Let all you do be done in love". This saves us from a testosterone soaked boxing match in the other commands! We watch, we stand firm, we act like men, we are strong... all in the love of Christ, which compels us to care deeply about each other and about all people everywhere for whom Jesus gave His life. Love is the distinct calling card of Christianity. And it motivates us even in issues where firmness, resolve, and strong action accompany love's work.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

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