Hope for the Church (5)
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. 1 Corinthians 16.13
Indications of weakness
The Corinthians, alas, were not strong in the Lord. They were strong in self-interest, partisan spirit, and keeping up with the pagans in Corinth, but they were not strong in the Lord. This was evident to the Apostle Paul in a number of ways.
They allowed scandalous sinners to continue in their midst and applauded themselves for their tolerance. They formed theological cliques and vied for supremacy with one another. They looked down on poor brethren, embarrassing and humiliating them at the Lord’s feast. The Corinthians were thin skinned, preferring vindication in secular courts to peaceful agreement between brethren. They made a mockery of worship and the Supper by making these a focal point for vaunting themselves. And they neglected to develop their spiritual gifts – except to the extent that they could flaunt them for personal gain.
People who are strong in the Lord don’t act this way, so Paul added this next exhortation in his charge to the Corinthians as a frame of reference for the whole. Only when believers are strong in the Lord and in His mighty power can they fulfill any of what the Scriptures and the apostles require.
If the Corinthian churches were going to hold together, they would have to be strong in the Lord and in the power of Hismight, not theirs.
Strong in His power
This is what Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (6.10). We can’t live the Christian life on our own strength. The law of sin is just too strong. The alluring breezes of our unbelieving age are hard to recognize, much less to resist, and we end up being strong in the spirit of the age but not the Spirit of Christ. If we try to be Christians without drawing on the power of God, we’ll end up making a mess of things. We’ll turn the faith of our suffering Savior into a personal comfort zone, compromise the grandeur of the Church and the majesty of worship, and make of our ministries a junk food feed-trough for sluggish believers, rather than an armory for the army of the Lord.
Being strong in the Lord begins with being inthe Lord in the first place. Paul wasn’t persuaded that all the Corinthians were true believers (2 Cor. 13.5). Of course, they claimed to be, and they must have believed that their participation in church was enough to demonstrate their faith. But Paul was not convinced. He called them to take up the meat of the Word and leave the milk aside. He insisted that they deny their fleshly aspirations and indulgences and pursue holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7.1).
The fact that he exhorted them so indicates that this wasn’t happening. They were weak, like babes, compromised with the world and their own convenience, and missing the point entirely of the strength of the Lord.
Being strong in the Lord begins with seeking the Lord in prayer and in His Word. His Word is living and powerful, and His Spirit alone can give us more of eternal life (Heb. 4.12; Jn. 6.63). Only through effectual and earnest prayer can we tap the power of God for holy living (Jms. 5.16). If we have no time for spiritual disciplines – daily and increasingly – we will never find the strength that the Lord is able to bestow upon us.
Being strong in the Lord results from being humble before Him, bowed in prayer, receptive to His Word, and sensitive to the leading of His Spirit. From that position of growing strong in Him we may go forth to live in His mighty power. Shepherds must lead their flocks into the lush meadows and beside the still waters of the Lord’s presence, and they must keep a close watch on those flocks and their souls to make sure they are keeping rooted and grounded in the Lord.
The power of His might
The power of God’s Spirit is at work within all who truly know the Lord, doing incredible things to make us willing and able to do the will of the Lord (Phil. 2.12, 13; Eph. 3.20). The mighty power of the Lord works through the Spirit to bring us to more faithful obedience to God’s Law (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Rom. 3.31), greater fruitfulness (Gal. 5.22, 23), more effective use of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12.7-11), and a more consistent witness for the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1.8).
The Spirit works through the gifts of church members to build the Body of Christ in unity and maturity unto the Lord (Eph. 4.11-16; 1 Cor. 12.7-11).
The power of God’s might enabled those first believers to turn their world upside-down for Jesus Christ (Acts 17.1-9).
These are the attributes at work in believers and churches which are strong in the Lord and the power of His might.
And these are sorely lacking in many churches today.
Churches need to be equipped with the full armor of God if they’re going to be strong in Him. We must work harder at growing in our salvation, living by faith, walking in the truth, wielding the Sword of the Spirit, increasing in righteousness, and growing in prayer. Merely coming to church and participating in programs is no proof, either of being saved or of the Lord’s strength at work within us. The strength of the Lord fills us as we are rooted and grounded in Him and cultivated by His indwelling Spirit for fruit, service, witness, and worship.
When our churches are populated by people like this, then the strength of God’s Word and Spirit will flow within them for revival and renewal, and through them for awakening in the world.
Leading churches into the strength of the Lord is the work of shepherds who, following the example of the Lord and the apostles, work diligently to present every member of their congregation, and the church as a whole, complete in Christ – watching, standing fast, and growing in the strength of the Lord.
Twelve Questions that Could Change Your Church
“To be ‘strong in the Lord’ is to be strengthened in word and wisdom and the contemplation of truth. All these qualities are encompassed in the titles applying to Christ. The greatest of these is the strength of his might, which is stronger than all human virtues combined.”
- Origen of Alexandria, Epistle to the Ephesians
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).