Watchful perseverance in love

How to stand firm in the face of opposition.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 – Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love.

A few of the final parting exhortations of Paul to the congregation at Corinth reveal some of the deepest foundations for believers in Messiah.

To be alert is vigilance, watchfulness; the idea of keeping awake when everyone else is sleeping. What is he encouraging them to be on the lookout for? If we review some other uses of this term in other letters of Paul, some of these ideas are found:

Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 – So then, let us not sleep, like the rest, but let us stay awake and be self-controlled.

This idea of wakefulness as Paul uses it involves thankful prayer and being self-controlled. When we relax our guard from prayer, thanksgiving, and self-control, we can be led astray. Paul reveals this to be the case by adding to this exhortation of vigilance by saying, “Stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.”

Standing firm in the faith implies persevering. One needs exhortation to persevere only when they are encountering opposition. This is a necessary element of the faith because believers, by default, can appear antagonistic to the world around them due to their opposing world views.

Psalm 37:12 – The wicked person schemes against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.
Proverbs 29:27 – An unjust person is detestable to the righteous, and one whose way is upright is detestable to the wicked.

Paul knows from personal experience this is the case, and encourages the believers to literally “act like men.” This bravery, strength, and perseverance in the face of opposition is a necessity among believers, or the implanted word will not bear fruit. This can bring about the situation disclosed by Yeshua in his parable of the sower:

Matthew 13:20-21 – And the one sown on rocky ground ​– ​this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root and is short-lived. When distress or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.

Notice, Yeshua says “when distress or persecution comes because of the word,” not if it comes about. This is the lot of those who choose to seek out and follow the Way of God in this life, and Paul is simply ensuring those believers in Corinth are prepared.

Paul then finishes his thought on vigilance, perseverance, and courage by summing up the ultimate command for all believers: “Do everything in love.” It literally reads, “All things of you, in love, let be done.” This is the difference between the believer and the non-believer when confronting these differing world views. According to Psalm 37, the wicked person “schemes against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.” Yet, even though to the believer the way of the unrighteous is detestable, they are still commanded to do everything in love.

True vigilance protects oneself through thankful prayer and self-control, all the while extending love to those who disagree with them. This was the path Paul encouraged those believers to navigate in their context of real danger persecution. How much more should we exhibit these characteristics in our comparatively mild day and age?


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Overcoming spiritual instability through vigilance

How do we measure up to Paul’s assessment of the Corinthian believers?

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.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.