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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

Staying True to Your Beliefs: Navigating Church Societal Pressures

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

The Background:

It is always difficult to do a deep dive on such a shorter piece of Scripture and do it justice. Therefore, what is happening before this is crucial in placing it in context? The background is the apostle Paul is collecting an offering for the Christians in Jerusalem because many were living in extreme poverty. He wanted to provide them with relief from that suffering. It is possible that Paul saw the collection as an opportunity to deal with the tensions between the Jewish and Gentile Christians thus creating a greater unity between the two diverse communities of believers. Remember the Jews and Gentiles were worlds apart. Their division went back hundreds of years. Acting from a heart of generosity, which flows from a heart overflowing with gratitude for the salvation won through Christ's death and resurrection. Paul hoped Gentile Christians being moved to compassion and concern would give to the Jews who were suffering and that act of mercy would demonstrate the power of God’s love..

Right at the end of the chapter, there is a personal note from Paul pointing out that he was writing the final greeting in his hand. Out of the Blue, right in the middle of these last addresses, Paul inserts a short but profound statement of advice to his readers:

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

Boy are these words timely, relevant, and compelling for us Christians today. As we seek to walk as children of the Light the statement is stunning in its simplicity and profound in its depth.

Many people see the church in grave peril from a variety of dangers: secularism, politics, heresies, or plain old sin. And this can cause us to pull back and hunker down and wait for the storm winds to pass over. Paul in these few verses reminds us that we must never to forget that the church is built upon the Rock, Jesus Christ (Mt. 16:16), over which the gates of hell itself shall not prevail.

“Be on guard,"

The literal translation is “to watch, or be, or even pay close attention.” It is a call for us to be spiritually on guard. Remember that the church in Corinth struggled with a myriad of problems in the area of spiritual immaturity. In other places in Paul's letter, he dealt with these issues specifically—Here is a list of some of the problems the church was struggling to address.

• The arrogance of those who were in leadership positions (Paul labeled the leaders spiritually immature),

• There were factions, or cliques, within the church (which caused arguments and strife and not only weakened the church but threatened to destroy it),

• There was chaos in worship services.

• Christians are suing other Christians in civil court.

• Leadership was tolerant of members who were living openly in sexual sin.

• The Church is dealing with gluttony and drunkenness at communion meals.

• And you have pride in spiritual gifts and misuse of spiritual gifts, etc.

How would you like to be pastoring this congregation? To be honest, this list sounds an awful lot like the issues the church is facing in the 21st century. Notice though that Paul's call was not to be tolerant, retreat, become meek, or throw up our hands and say, “Oh, well I guess that is the way things are today.” Instead, Paul implores the church was "stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong" and this is my favorite part, "act like men." No offense to the women reading this. It was a call to stand on the power and truth of God's Word. That is what "act like men" is referring to. The world when it is confused and led astray does not need a meek church. It doesn’t need a church with squishy theology. The world doesn’t need a hip or flashy church. The answer to the push to conform by the post-Christian society is not a call to become a compromising church. What the world needs is a strong confessional Church founded on the truth of God's Word. A church ready to stand on the strength of the Rock, Jesus Christ, and point people to the only source of light in a dark world. Point people to Jesus. How does the church do it in a manner that does not come off as intolerant, rigid, and condemning? The key is the last part of the section, where Paul says, "and do everything in love."

Do everything in love

Paul in this short commendation brings the Corinthian Christians full circle, back to the basis or foundation for how Christians should live and act. “Do everything in love.” Another way to explain it we should be like Christ. We should reflect His love for us in the way interact with each other.

Paul’s encouragement to the Church is to remind us of love’s priority. Love is to characterize all that we do. We are not only to do things with love but in love: it is to be the atmosphere that we breathe and the context in which we work. As we deal with each other and an unbelieving world we are firm yet loving. It is the balance that we parents live in daily. We know that if we are too heavy-handed we could lose heart and respect of our children. On the other end of the spectrum if we are to lack in our admonition of our children we could lose their souls.

Paul ends his letter with the words, ‘My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen’ (v. 24). Many of the Corinthians had shown themselves to be critical of Paul, and much was unattractive about their behavior, as this first letter shows, but Paul loved them and told them so!

Our love too must be for all God’s people, no matter how awkward or disappointing they may sometimes be. Love is always ‘the most excellent way.'

Pastors we are to love God’s people because they are His people. That is not always easy, just so you know flock, you are difficult to like at times. While our churches are full of beautiful people, like all people, they will be difficult to love at times. And church your Shepherd will be difficult to enjoy at times as well. You may not always agree with the music he picks or the way he leads. Your pastor may propose changes that will upset you, and you may find it hard to love him at times. Remember Paul’s words, "and do everything in love." It is not about us; it is about Jesus and his work of salvation. It is about us sharing that hope of salvation with a lost and dying community. May your churches be a beacon of hope for your community. May the lost and erring come here and hear the life-saving message of the Gospel preached in truth and purity. Love the community with your walls and beyond as Christ loves them.

My prayer for the Christ at large is that the Holy Spirit will keep us spiritually aware, standing firm in our faith, grounded on the strength of our confessions, yet wrapping our interactions with God and each other in the Christ-like love of our Savior.

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