Be vigilant, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strengthened. Do everything in love.1 Corinthians 16:13-14
As Paul is concluding his epistle to the Corinthian believers, after having attempted to correct their disfunction and internal strife over the fifteen previous chapters, he abruptly includes these five exhortations to summarize his earnest intent for that congregation: be vigilant, stand firm, be courageous, be strengthened, and do everything in love.
We can gain inspiration from these five qualities; however, we can also gain insight by looking at their opposites. By doing so, we can gain a better understanding of what the true state of the Corinthian congregation was.
Instead of vigilance, they evidenced drowsiness and carelessness. Instead of standing firm in the faith they had an unsure footing and understanding of basic doctrine. Instead of being courageous (literally “manly”) cowardice was evident among them. Instead of strength they demonstrated weakness over the smallest matters. And most importantly, instead of exhibiting love with one another they were factious and divisive.
However, at the head of the list, and the quality upon which the others depend, is vigilance. The Greek word in the text conveys being wakeful or perpetually watchful. This implies remaining alert, not allowing distractions, maintaining careful attention at all times.
Alexander MacLaren in his commentary provides the following insights in regard to this term:
‘Watch ye.’ That means one of two things certainly, probably both-Keep awake, and keep your eyes open … there is the military idea underlying it. What will become of an army if the sentries go to sleep? And what chance will a Christian man have of doing his [duty] against his enemy, unless he keeps himself awake, and keeps himself alert? Watchfulness, in the sense of always having eyes open for the possible rush down upon us of temptation and evil, is no small part of the discipline and the duty of the Christian life. One part of that watchfulness consists in exercising a very rigid and a very constant and comprehensive scrutiny of our motives. For there is no way by which evil creeps upon us so unobserved, as when it slips in at the back door of a specious motive. Many a man contents himself with the avoidance of actual evil actions, and lets any kind of motives come in and out of his mind unexamined. It is all right to look after our doings, but ‘as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’ The good or the evil of anything that I do is determined wholly by the motive with which I do it. And we are a great deal too apt to palm off deceptions on ourselves to make sure that our motives are right, unless we give them a very careful and minute scrutiny. One side of this watchfulness, then, is a habitual inspection of our motives and reasons for action. ‘What am I doing this for?’ is a question that would stop dead an enormous proportion of our activity, as if you had turned the steam off from an engine. If you will use a very fine sieve through which to strain your motives, you will go a long way to keeping your actions right. We should establish a rigid examination for applicants for entrance, and make quite sure that each that presents itself is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Make them all bring out their passports. Let every vessel that comes into your harbour remain isolated from all communication with the shore, until the health officer has been on board and given a clean bill. ‘Watch ye,’ for yonder, away in the dark, in the shadow of the trees, the black masses of the enemy are gathered, and a midnight attack is but too likely to bring a bloody awakening to a camp full of sleepers.”
Maintaining a watchful eye over our motives at every turn will provide us the footing to remain steadfast in the faith and flesh out our doctrinal understanding. It will overcome our tendency toward cowardice and provide us courage in the face of opposition. It can help us understand our weaknesses and learn where we need to be strengthened. And with vigilance, we can and must destroy all factiousness and divisiveness so that every action and motive is conducted from love.
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