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.

Demonstrating vigilance in redeeming the time

The high calling of God in Yeshua requires vigilant behavior to demonstrate the validity of God’s message of the kingdom to the world.

Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16

Paul is writing to the believers at Ephesus, cautioning them to be wary of all aspects of their lives “because the days are evil.” The corruption, idolatry and lawlessness of the day was infiltrating their ranks and causing some to fall away, or worse, to become deceivers among the brethren.

His antidote for this influx was to “redeem the time.” The word means literally to “rescue from loss.” We might say today that we need to make the best use of our time before it slips away. Once a day is gone, it has been “lost” and cannot be retrieved.

This is good advice for us today, as well. This is an act of vigilance, of remaining watchful of how we “walk”: the habitual things we say and do, the manners and customs of our lives. Others are watching and seeing if we are living consistently with what we say we believe.

In this passage in Ephesians 5, Paul provides direction in redeeming the time in several key areas of our conduct that we would also be wise to heed.

  1. 8-10 Walk as children of light, for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, proving what is well pleasing to the Lord.
    1. When we walk according to the ways of Yahweh, we are “proving” to others what God approves of. We are living out his Word in practical ways that demonstrate the validity of God’s wisdom even among this generation.
  2. 11-12 Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them. For the things which are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of.
    1. Sanctification, that is, a setting apart, is the method of demonstrating that we cannot condone the unfruitful works of the flesh. While we cannot leave the world and society altogether, we do not have to participate in their lawless ways.
  3. 17 don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
    1. We can understand God’s will only be being regularly exposed to his Word. When we learn his heart for his own people and how he has participated in the history of his people over time, we begin to understand better how to apply those principles in real time, here and now.
  4. 18-19 be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing, and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
    1. If we are speaking and singing these things, this means our hearts are filled with the message of the Kingdom of God, because as Yeshua taught, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” or in this case, sings.
  5. 20 giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father;
    1. Gratitude is the surest way of remaining focused on the will of God. When we become ungrateful is when we take our eyes off of his kingdom and focus instead on ours to the exclusion of all else.
  6. 21 subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.
    1. Respecting the authority of Messiah is another way to say “fear of Christ.” If we are truly allowing him to be Lord of our lives, then our practices should follow his teaching, which is to love one another. To truly love someone is consider them as someone we subject ourselves to, putting their needs above our own. This is how we subject ourselves to one another.

By being vigilant with Paul’s admonitions, and by remaining faithful to the teachings of Yeshua, we can understand and demonstrate God’s will to our own generation.

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.