“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity.” I Corinthians 16:13, 14
Noticeably the words of this text, especially in its first part, have a military flavor.
They are addressed to the church which is militant in the world.
Those of our readers who have been trained particularly in the doctrine respecting the church of Christ will recall how that they were taught that the church may be variously distinguished. We speak of the church as institute and organism, as church visible and invisible, as church militant, triumphant, and glorified. With a view particularly to this last distinction, we understand that the church of Christ when she has finally been delivered from the present evil world shall enter into glory being triumphant over all her enemies. This cannot mean that in principle she is not already triumphant, for the Word of God declares elsewhere very plainly that she is more than conqueror through Him that loved her. And that signifies especially two things: that in the midst of the battle we really suffer no losses, but all things turn out to our advantage, our triumph; and that we have such a victory that even our enemies become our servants. Nevertheless, the final triumph is not attained until we have arrived in eternal glory. But as long as the church is in the present evil world, she is designated a militant, a fighting church. She assumes the garb of Christian warriors. And she is constantly beset by powerful enemies who seek always to destroy her, over against whom she is required constantly to do battle.
It is in respect to that militant church that the apostle in the text assumes the position of a general, barking out his final orders. The apostle is about to bring his rather lengthy epistle to its close. But before it is brought to its conclusion, with staccato brevity he issues the sharp commands of the text. Indeed, what we have here is the final orders to a militant church.
Regarding these final orders it is important to see not only the significance of each command, but also how they are all related to faith, the faith once delivered to the saints; and how the first four orders are all summed up in the fifth, namely, Let all your things be done in charity (love).
O, how often the Word of God exhorts the believing church to be watchful! Here are just a few examples: “Watch, therefore, for ye know not in what day your Lord cometh.” “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” “Let us watch and be sober.” “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Watchfulness implies, negatively, that we do not become sleepy, careless, indolent, lethargic, indifferent with respect to our spiritual calling. Positively, it implies that all our senses are alert—not only that the eye sees, and the ear hears, but all our senses are sharp and at attention. One who is watching is prepared, not only to detect the enemies that surround him and are seeking to attack, but also the enemy that lurks within his own flesh. One who is watching is not caught off guard, but he is ready to meet the enemy both with proper defensive weapons and also with the offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of truth.
Stand fast in the faith!
The faith here refers undoubtedly to the objective truth of the Word of God. Briefly this is summarized in the Apostle’s Creed. More elaborately this is set forth in the Three Forms of Unity: the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordrecht.
In the sphere of this objective truth we are to take our stand. Of course, if we are to stand fast, we must have a place to stand. If we are to stand firmly over against the enemies of the truth, our ground must be solely the Word of God, the doctrines of our Christian faith. All other ground is sinking sand. On the foundation of the apostles and prophets of which Christ is the chief cornerstone can we have ground to stand fast.
And to stand fast implies that you stand immovably. It implies that while you stand you are pounded by the waves of false doctrines and the lie which seek to move you from your place, like the waves of the ocean that splash over the rocks extending into the sea. And like the solid rocks you remain fixed, firmly planted in the ground of the truth.
Quit you like men!
The original text uses but one word here which means: to come to manhood, to show oneself in every respect a man. In the church militant there is no room for the effeminate, or the sissy. And that applies to women and children, as well as the male sex. All must be manly, brave, able to stand in the ranks and to bear the brunt of battle.
Perhaps this is the strangest of all commands. For how can you say to anyone, be strong? Evidently here the apostle means to say: grow in strength, increase in strength. Not, you understand, in physical strength and stature. The apostle is not interested in having us attend a health spa where we can exercise our muscles, as for example in weight-lifting. But he refers to the increase in spiritual strength, which can be obtained only in the health spa of the Word of God, under a proper and nourishing diet of the study of the Word, and the faithful exercise in that Word. One who persistently neglects the Word of God must turn out to be a spiritual runt and weakling. On the other hand, he who is consistent in handling the Word of God will not be afraid to meet all the giants the Philistines have to challenge. He will not only have the courage to confront the enemy, but he will possess the strength to triumph over them.
What we must see at this point is the fact that all of these orders have spiritual reference, and are all connected to the faith. Not only do we stand fast in the faith once delivered to the saints; but also, we watch with respect to the faith, we are men with respect to the faith, and we are strong with respect to the faith. Such is undoubtedly the relation in which we must observe the first four orders.
Then, notice the last order: Let all your things be done in love!
Observe that in respect to the first four orders the apostle says: YE. The address is in the second person plural. But now he says: Let all your things be done in love, using the third person singular. He means to say: all of these things (watch, stand fast, be manly, be strong) which all of you are to do—let each one do in love, that is, in the sphere of love. This is, of course, the love of God. It is that love which has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit of Christ. It is the love which responds to God’s love, and to all that He has revealed to us in the faith, which produces love.
Observe, too, that all of the first four orders are summed up in the fifth. All the first four, though they refer to spiritual activities, carry, as we said, a military flavor. This is because our warfare is of a spiritual nature. Our warfare, as the apostle says in another place, is not carnal, it is not against flesh and blood that we fight, nor is our weaponry of earthly material. Though it is true that our opponents may appear in the flesh, and a man’s foes may be those of his own household, we do not grapple with flesh and blood, but the battle is spiritual. In that battle we watch, we stand fast, are manly, are strong, just as really as if we were in physical combat.
And now that fifth order tones them down as it were. We are to watch in love. We are to stand fast in love. We are to be manly in love. And we are to be strong in love. Such is the relation of the orders as the apostle lays them down for the militant church.
And notice, too, that all these orders are durative and refer to continuous action. To retire in any would be dangerous and even disastrous. As long as the church is in the world these orders must be carried out. God has faithfully kept with us His covenant, and most profoundly revealed to us His truth, the mystery of our salvation in Christ. He now expects us to respond faithfully to keep our part of that covenant, that is, to love Him with our whole being, to keep His truth faithfully unto the end.
That such orders were necessary for the church at Corinth we can readily understand.
By the grace of God this church had received much. Of that grace the apostle wrote in detail already in the first chapter of this epistle. They were called to be saints. They had been enriched in all utterance and in all knowledge. They had come behind in no gift. God had shown to them His faithfulness when He called them into the fellowship of His Son. They had heard through the foolishness of preaching the true wisdom of God as revealed in the Word of the cross.
But it was evident that there was also much that was wanting in this particular church. They were not well-grounded in doctrine, particularly the doctrine concerning the resurrection. Witness the lengthy chapter fifteen which the apostle writes to this church on this subject. They had not always been watching when they laid themselves wide open for severe criticism relative to Christian discipline. Witness chapter five of this epistle. They were not adept in settling their differences on the basis of the Word of God, and they did not always live according to the Word of God in single and married life. Witness chapters six and seven. Their love did not always respond as it should have. There were schisms and party strifes evident in this church. Witness the fact that the apostle had to remonstrate, and devote a whole chapter (13) to the subject of love.
So it can be understood how the apostle found it necessary to give orders. The militant church must be alerted to her calling. She must be spiritually watchful. She must be told to stand fast in the faith. She must be exhorted to be manly and to grow in strength. And all these things she must do in love—thus making it become evident that they are standing in the love of God. And in that sphere they are doing their thing, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, fighting the good fight of faith.
But why is it necessary for us today to have these orders—for us upon whom the end of the ages is come? For us who have been so signally graced with the truth in its purist form? For us who have been enriched in the knowledge of the truth from earliest childhood, who have heard sound preaching all our lives, who have been permitted to see the revelation of God as the God of our salvation in Christ as none others? For us who have been called to be saints in a world that is steeped in sin and fast developing in sin to its destruction? For us who are living in a church-world that is fast apostatizing, being carried away with every wind of doctrine? For us who have also been called to be a militant church, not only to unfurl our banner signifying our allegiance to the truth, but armed with the most sophisticated spiritual weaponry the church has ever known? Why should we be under these militant orders?
The necessity of such orders for us should not be difficult at all for us to understand. We need only to be reminded how easily we may seek retirement after so many years of battle. Battle fatigue is perhaps the most telling letdown in the experience of the Christian warrior. When we become weary our guard is down, and we begin to neglect the doctrines of faith, we fail to sharpen our spiritual wits with consistent Bible study. And when this occurs we cease to be manly and strong.
Nor should it be difficult to understand how that in this age of spiritual lukewarmness and indifference our flesh urges us to compromise and to go along easily with the spirit of our times. And when this condition obtains, we become spiritually dull and have no desire to do battle.
And need we be reminded how that God’s prophetic Word warns us repeatedly how as time rushes to its end that the battle will become increasingly hot? Knowing this, how can we assume the lackadaisical attitude which rests on the laurels of battles past? How dare we believe that because we have overcome the enemies of “common grace” and “conditionalism,” and have not succumbed to the pestering foes of “Pentecostalism,” “Premillenialism,” and “Liberalism,” that we need not prepare for other inroaders that will seek to move us from our place? Is it not possible that having successfully battled with all these evil forces, and perhaps boasting a little that we are still Reformed, that we will not succumb to the foes of “Antinomism” and “worldlimindedness”?
Whatever the nature of the opposition will be, or with what power the enemy shall assail, it is incumbent upon us that we heed the orders the apostle clearly sounds to us.
And be sure that there is a blessed positive fruit in heeding them. O, indeed, there will be fruit also in disobedience. That there will be disobedience we must also expect. For when the Scriptures repeatedly predict a great falling away, who are we to assume such apostasy will not affect us? But remember there is also a positive fruit of obedience. He who heeds the orders faithfully will be alert, standing in the faith, manly, and strong unto the end.
Let us be faithful, that no one take our crown!