1 Corinthians Study: making much of Christ in a messy church

Do you struggle getting along with others in church? You are not alone.

Paul’s first letter to Corinth is about dealing with relational differences, setting disputes, reinforcing God’s view of marriage and divorce, the essentials of public worship, the importance of Jesus’ resurrection, money issues, and so much more.

Are you looking for something to study from the Bible? With your family? With your small group? Click below to download a family worship guide 1 Corinthians: making much of Christ in a messy church.Click Here to Download

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loving your brother while living in a messy world

mess worth making

You just don’t let anyone in your fridge. Why is that? It could be that there is a mess in there or something you wouldn’t want just anybody to see. That might embarrass some. Yet for those privileged few you give permission to find something to drink or eat from your fridge you have reached a certain level of comfort. Even though there might be a mess, you are comfortable showing your mess because you have nothing to hide.

I’ve been walking through 1 Corinthians, a letter written to a messy church (and what church isn’t?). Looking at the church in Corinth is like looking into a messy fridge. It’s a little embarrassing. We see all the faults and fears.  Yet it is somewhat comforting looking at Corinth because it’s somewhat normal church.

The question I’ve been asking while reading 1 Corinthians is: How can I make much of Christ in a messy church in a messy world? There is no mistake that Paul brings every question and every concern of the church back to Christ (so important!). For Christ is the solution and the center of the church, and if not, the center becomes the mess not the Messiah. Christ has come to be the Messiah of the mess we have made.

As I enter 1 Corinthians 8, the question becomes specific: How do I follow Christ (or exercise my rights and freedoms in Christ) while living in a messy world without bringing more messes into the church? To this the Bible gives a mosaic of wisdom that when pieced together helps me to see how I am to live in a messy world.

First, seek His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:31-33). Jesus wants me to think of God’s kingdom and righteousness as two lanes of a oneway street. To seek God’s kingdom is to honor His authority, not usurp it. To usurp God is to veer off the left shoulder of the road. To seek God’s righteousness is to honor His standards, not disobey them. To disobey God is to veer off the right shoulder of the road. Together seeking both God’s kingdom and righteousness help me to walk the road of freedom in Christ when everyone else around me is abusing that freedom.

Second, be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus says I live in this world by default. I cannot escape it. Therefore since the world is my temporary home, I must choose to live purely (salt) and shine brightly (light). In the process, by God’s grace, I display the gospel of Christ to a messy and darkened world.

Now it is possible to seek God’s kingdom, to seek His righteousness, and to be salt and light, but there is still a missing piece of the mosaic, which is thirdly, love God and your [brother] as yourself (Luke 10:27). This piece is seen in 1 Corinthians 8, which in reality, is that Great Commandment made practical. Loving your brother or considering others in your community of Christ, makes much of Christ. Our text today gives three truths towards loving your brother while living in a messy world.

1) Love your brother, love not what you know (vs.1-3).

Paul introduces the issue, “Now concerning food offered to idols” (v.1a) but before dealing with the question of food sacrificed to idols, He comments on related matters: 1) the danger of knowledge about such things and 2) the primacy of love over knowledge as the guiding principle for Christ-like behavior.

Knowledge is good, but dangerous. Paul begins by quoting certain Corinthians who thought they were ‘in-the-know’ who said, “all of us possess knowledge” (v.1b) The ‘knowledge’ quoted here is a specific kind of knowledge related to the idols who they knew were nothing compared to the One True God (see: v.4). Their knowledge was theologically spot on. Paul had no disagreement, but what he did disagree with their application of that knowledge to those not in-the-know. Paul saw their knowledge or know-it-all-ness as a danger sign.

It is said, “knowledge is power.” Have you ever known someone who was really knowledgeable, knew it and flaunted it? Have you ever possessed a little bit of knowledge and felt it’s dangerous affect? Sometimes the most dangerous Christians are those who gain a little bit of knowledge and wield it with reckless tactlessness like a kid with an broadsword who’s just watch Braveheart. The Corinthians knew a few things about Christian theology, but they became so full of pride and they lost sight of more important teachings, such as loving and edifying others.

Love over knowledge is our guiding principle. Paul warns those in-the-know that “knowledge puffs up” (inflates), “but love builds up” (deflates). Knowledge makes us feel important, but it is love that strengthens the church. There is absolutely no room for arrogance in the Christian community. Paul will not put up with it. Not because he is anti-knowledge, but because he is anti-knowledge that is anti-loving. For a swollen head does not equal a swollen heart.

Recently, I met a grand marabou at a friends house. Once that he found out I was a Christian he railroaded our conversation by waxing eloquent his view of Islam and the Quran. He might have some good things to say, but it had no effect on me. For anytime I tried to ask a question he refused to answer and anytime I tried to insert a comment he interrupted. After 30 minutes of talking and chanting he finally asked my opinion. I said, “You love hearing yourself talk more than you love me or your God.” I told him I’d like to talk more later, but that I’d come to be with my friend.

True knowledge humbles those in-the-know because they realize how little they know. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (v.2). Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

After seminary, I was a know-it-all. I graduated from Bible College with a small piece of paper and a big fat head. Then I began to pastor and went to seminary. It was then that realized I really didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. When I compared my faint and fragment knowledge with the infinite knowledge of God, there was a humbling that went on within me that was good. I never really know enough until I recognize that God alone knows it all.

This text hits me hard because I love what people think of me more than I’d like to think that I love them. That is so anti Christ and it’s an extremely dangerous attitude in the community of Christ. Maybe, you, like me, need to take a moment to reflect upon the infinite knowledge of God and the incomprehensible love of Christ.

Love is redeeming. Paul illustrates this by saying, “If anyone loves God, he is known by God” (v.3). The expression “known by God” appears elsewhere in Paul’s writings (cf. Galatians 4:9) as a description of redemption. Paul meant that, unlike the prideful people who center their religious lives around knowledge, those who focus on love demonstrate that they have been redeemed. Christian love is always constructive. It builds up. It encourages. It shows people a picture of Christ who Himself possessed all knowledge yet loved his brothers to the death. He knew-it-all, yet He was the most humble man. // Love your brother, love not what you know.

2) Unite around what you know about God (vs.4-6).

Since Paul has laid a foundation for love over knowledge, he now returns to the main topic of concern: “eating food offered to idols” (v.4). He affirms to theological truths those in-the-know knew, first, “an idol has no real existence” (cf. Isaiah 40, Psalm 115) and second  “that there is no God but one.” With these statements he resolves the issue that there was no problem with eating idol meat since it had been offered to something that did not really exist.

Now Paul is not minimizing idols, rather he is magnifying the God of Israel. The One True God compared to every other god is a non-comparison (vs.5-6a). Moreover, there is but “one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (v.6b). These verses take the form of an early catechism or hymn of praise to God the Father and God the Son that all Christians could unite around.

How should theology unite us rather than divide us? For example, as we see how the Father and Son relate to one another, we also see how we in the church must relate to one another. That’s practical and applicable theology! It will get even more so next.

3) Be willing to sacrifice your rights for your brother (vs.7-13)

Next, Paul shares a case study (vs.7-13). He introduces us to someone “not” in-the-know (revealing a wrong assessment of the church; v.1). Likely a young Christian recently saved out of a life connected to the pagan temple. To this new Christian, eating idol meat poses a serious concern, if not sin. For him, every shopping trip to the market, every town festival, every dinner party or BBQ with the locals presented a quandary. And one day, he sees a strong and respected Christian at a local restaurant likely affixed to a pagan temple and he has a bigger quandary, “If it’s okay for him to eat idol meat, then it must be okay for me to sin too.” He then syncretizes his new found faith in Christ with his former lifestyle in idolatry.

In case you did not know, there are varying opinions and consciences within the Body of Christ. That’s okay. The church will always be filled with new, old, mature, immature, strong or weak believers. Even though we have great freedom in the gospel and our freedom grows as our understanding grows, we must be willing to sacrifice freedoms for the sake of one another. It is no trivial thing, for when we cause other brothers to sin, we ultimately sin against Christ.

Remember when God asked Cain where his brother Abel was and he responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Essentially, that is the type of attitude Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Paul responds to the Cain’s who bring their offerings and worship to church, but do not love their fellow brothers rather they lead their brothers to destruction.

Notice the emphasis in this text isn’t on with the weaker brother who needs to know more about his unfound freedom. The emphasis is on the stronger brother who is thoughtless towards the weaker Christian (cf. Romans 14). By insisting their rights, even Christian rights, it is a sign that something else other than the One True God is being worshiped. The problem for the stronger brother is that his right to use freedom is more important than relinquishing it for his brother. He is not willing to sacrifice his rights for his brother. (How is this text applicable for us in Chad?)

Paul is willing to become a vegetarian to protect his brothers growth in Christ. He expresses in words how love trumps knowledge. Wouldn’t you be willing to give up going to dinner for your brother? Would you be willing to sacrifice your opinion of the style of worship service or social rights for your brother? Are you willing to follow the example of Christ who Himself gave up everything? Remember, it always comes back to making much of Christ.

Can you think of a church member or brother or sister in Christ you have a hard time loving? What about them is hard to love? How could you love them better? Would you take a moment to pray for them and a God-given love towards them?

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11)

Lord Jesus, we are delighted that you were so principled that you cared about the lost, the weak, and the worldly. We are so grateful for your tender mercy and unconditional love. Now, O Lord, give us the same love for others, that we may honor both you and them. In Jesus name, Amen.

making much of Christ in a messy church

messy church

What do all soap operas have in common? Soaps have a never aging cast. They are predictable, yet still leave their audience surprised. They are scandalous, yet acceptable to the masses. Soaps live up to the name “daytime drama” filling plots with family messes, immorality, and power trips. After a quick reading of 1 Corinthians, you’d think it was a script for an episode of “Days of Our Lives” or “Guiding Light”. Corinth is a church wracked by division, money problems, and immorality. Certain church members are visiting prostitutes while others are promoting celibacy. One leader is having an affair with his step-mom and rather than dealing with it the church accepts it. Corinth is a mess.

Does this church sound like any you know? If we were honest, the first century church of Corinth resembles the church of our century. That’s why Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is one of the most relevant books in the Bible for the current church (and church goer). It is for people struggling to live together inside the church and live for Christ outside the church. It’s a letter for Corinth and a letter for you.

History of Corinth: To understand Corinth, you need to understand its history. The city itself dates back to the Peloponnesian War (431 BC). It became a Greek city-state and the seat of the Achaean League under Alexander the Great. Later, Corinth was destroyed by the Romans (146 BC), but 100 years later it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar (44 BC). So in Paul’s day, Corinth was newly rebuilt and revitalized.

Life in Corinth: Corinth (pop. 700k) was a happening city. First, it was the hub of trade between Rome and Asia and probably the wealthiest city in Greece. Its three harbors and overland route through its isthmus nicknamed it “the bridge of the sea” and made it the shortcut and emporium of half the world. Second, Corinth was multicultural and multi-religious. Romans, Greeks and Jews mingled together. The city’s the most popular god was Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She supported the economy with a thousand “Corinthian girls” or temple prostitutes. Corinth was coined as the Vanity Fair of the Roman empire; alike to London, Paris, New York or Las Vegas today. The label “To act like a Corinthian” carries the same weight as “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

It is easy to see how the church and Christians at Corinth would be influenced by its community. Corinth was a messy town with a messy church. Yet what town or church isn’t messy? Corinth could be any town or any church. It could be your town and your church.

1) When moving to a place like Corinth, be driven by a love for Jesus and His church (1:1-9)

Paul grew to love the Corinthians with Christ-like affection, though he never had to deal with any church so inflated, so immoral, so indifferent to his sufferings, or so cheeky towards his teaching. To understand Paul’s unconditional love for the church you need to travel back in time a few years to the beginnings of his relationship with the city.

Origin of the Gospel in Corinth: Paul was driven to Corinth (50-51AD) after a difficult time in Thessalonica and Athens (Acts 17:1-34). He didn’t go alone, but was assisted by Priscilla and Aquila, his tent-making buddy. Soon after arrival Paul preached the gospel (Acts 18:1–18) and opposition grew fierce. Discouraged, Jesus spoke to Paul in a vision assuring him that He had ‘many people’ in the city (Acts 18:10). With this encouragement, Paul stayed for 18-months, ‘teaching them the word of God’ (Acts 18:11) and a new church was born.

Origin of the First Letter: A few years later (54-55 AD), while in Ephesus (vs.16:8-9; Acts 20:31) ‘Paul the Apostle’ (v.1) penned this letter the “church of God, which is at Corinth,” (v.2a) likely, many small groups meeting in homes. To Paul, a letter was better than a phone call, but not as good as a visit.

It is obvious, Paul’s love for Jesus and the church are intertwined and dripping over every word. Proof of his love is seen in the sizable greetings and thanks portion of his letter (vs.2b-9). What Paul also reveals is the theology behind his love for the church and how we should think about the church. First, it belongs to God (v.2a). Second, its members are sanctified in Christ and becoming holy (v.2b). Third, it is made up of all those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (v.2c). Fourth, God is faithful to it. These are universal truths about any church anywhere at anytime. What’s not to love about the church when you look at it through these eyes? What do you love about the church? How do you express thanks for it?

2) When ministering in a messy church, claim Jesus as the undisputed center (1:10-17)

Paul’s original mission to Corinth was successful. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, was baptized, with all his house. He started meeting in a room near the synagogue, which was made available by Titus Justus. It was there Paul preached for many months. What did he teach them? He taught them from the Law and the Prophets about Jesus. What do you think he had wished he had taught them? Probably nothing different, knowing Corinth. This is a great lesson for us to make Jesus the central topic of our discussions and teachings.

Overview of 1 CorinthiansWhat happens when Jesus in not made center? Corinth becomes the case and point. Here begins one of three different segments of the letter to the Corinthians: divisions (v.10). Who is it that reports division to Paul? (v.11) Chloe’s house. What’s the reason for division? (v.12) Certain leaders had “groupies”. Christian celebrity worship is not just a 21st Century thing. The first century church had groupies too. At Corinth(ian Idol), the “groupies” rallied around either Paul (the founder), Apollos (the pastor), Cephas (the rock, Peter), or Jesus (the One and Only). It’s uncertain how the cliques formed, yet the text gives clues that is concerns the one who baptized them (v.13) or tickled their intellect (v.17). And what about the “Christ” groupies? Likely they were pious groupies. In either case, when Jesus is not the undisputed center of your life, ministry or church you flirt with idolatry.

How can we minimize groupie-ness? Notice how Paul does it (vs.13-16). He simply, yet emphatically points to Jesus. The thing for which to watch for is the way in which Paul consistently relates every subject and problem in Corinth to the centrality of the Person and work of Jesus Christ (v.17). Paul’s cure for division in the church is unifying around the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s has a “we’re not alone, we’re in this together” view of the church. To him, if the church would just acknowledge its ultimate allegiance—Jesus—then the church would have a much better probability of getting along. Later, Paul uses a beautiful image to describe the church as “one body, many parts.” (12:20) and Jesus as the “Head of the Body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). Regardless of our differences, indifferences, and messes, the church is still Jesus’ beautiful Bride (Ephesians 5:23). It’s a beautiful mess because Jesus is its center.

3) When making much of Christ, be prepare for the world to think it is feeble and foolish (1:18-31)

If Jesus is your undisputed center, people will think you are foolish (vs.18-21). Paul echoes this by saying there are two types of people in this world: 1) people think the cross is the idea of fools or 2) people who think it’s the wisdom of God. There isn’t much room in between. The gospel message doesn’t rest well with the populace. It’s just not cool to be Christian. Never was and never will be. Remember, before Paul came to Corinth he reasoned with the intellectuals and philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens? They thought he was a fool—a babbler—and mocked him. Paul could wax profundity with the best of them, but on his way to Corinth, he determined to shelve all “human” wisdom and eloquence, instead he preached the gospel in its uttermost and humblest simplicity (v.23; cf. 1:17; 2:1–5).

How is preaching of the gospel opposite of what the Jews and Greeks desire, yet exactly what they need? Concerning God’s redemptive plan the Jews think the cross is feeble and the Greeks think the cross is foolish (vs.22-23). The wise and strong of this world reject the cross, but it is the only means by which God will accept them. The plan of the cross for your neighbor is feeble and foolish. However, for those called by God, the cross is the greatest display power and wisdom of God’s (v.24). We must acknowledge the divide, but continue to bridge it with the simple, powerful, and truthful message of the cross of Jesus Christ. As John Stott said, “The gospel of the cross will never be a popular message because it humbles the pride of our intellect and character. Yet Christ crucified is both God’s wisdom and ours. It therefore manifests His power too, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)”

How do we begin to compare the power and wisdom of God to man? There is no comparison. “The foolishness of God is still far wiser than man’s most wisest thought and the weakness of God is still far more powerful than man’s most strongest feat” (v.25, my paraphrase). Is God “foolish” or “weak”? No. So why does Paul use the words “foolish” and “weak” to compare God and man? He is showing how polar opposite the power and wisdom of God and man really are. Comparing God to man is like comparing the power of gravity with a refrigerator magnet.

I felt like a fool this week. While walking through my neighborhood I saw a group of guys I’ve visited before sitting outside their gate. They greeted me from a distance and welcomed me over to them. There was a new man in the mix, a well-dressed older man with a whitening beard. He immediately asked me if I was Muslim, which is a common question since I speak a little Arabic and sport a beard too. I said, “No, I go the way of Jesus the Messiah.” He quickly responded, “So do I. I go the way of all the prophets. Do you go the way of the prophet Mohammad?” I said, “No, only the way of Jesus.” He then opened the gauntlet, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe in three gods? Can God be a baby? Can God die?” I was being shredded, gut-checked, and mocked. I felt so unloved, yet so calm. My only response was, “Can God can do the miraculous? (i.e. Create something from nothing, cause the sun to stand still, part the Red Sea, raise the dead, heal the sick) Have you read Jesus’ words in the Injil?” My questions and invitation seemed to rest on deaf ears. I said my goodbyes and left feeling like a fool, moreover, I was filled with sorrow for their souls.

The Corinthians forgot something important, which we often forget too. They thought they were somebodies, but forgot they were nobodies. They were proud and thought they arrived. They forgot they were weak, lowly, and despised (vs.26-29). The words “low” or “despised” are often used of slaves. Interestingly it is estimated that 400,000 of the 700,000 residents of Corinth were slaves. Not everyone in Corinth was the “cream of the crop.” Do not forget who you were before Christ. How do the words “low” and despised” remind you of Jesus’ own entrance into this world? Jesus was born in a manger, He worked as a carpenter, He hung out with sinners, He did not claim to be the returned King yet, and He suffered a criminals death rejected and despised. Jesus was the humblest, strongest and wisest man to ever live.

I’ve got nothing. When I stand before God at the end of my life, my brawn and brains will not be enough, my dollars and donations won’t amount to much, my good works or merciful acts won’t stack up. To boast in my little stack of stuff is silly. Nothing I boast in tops out Jesus Christ. He gives me serious grounds for boasting (vs.30-31). When I boast in Jesus, I boast in something God the Father and God the Spirit also boast in too. I want to make much of Jesus Christ.

No matter where you are or live the church is messy (like a soap opera), however, Jesus is still the founder and sustainer of it. It is His, He bought it with His blood, and it’s His living organism in the world today bringing people to Himself. May you serve the church of Jesus joyfully, especially, as you go to hard to reach places with hard to reach people who think your message is foolish and feeble, or disciple messy believers. Like Paul, you are in good company. Make much of Christ.

a brief guide to biblical manhood

Happy Father’s Day! Today’s message is a manly message. It’s for fathers, future fathers, and for men of all ages. Women, don’t tune out or take this Sunday off, this message is for you too. It’s for women [daughters, wife’s, future wives, singles, etc.] who love to support the men in their life. God takes pleasure in talking to men in the Bible. First He created Adam to be the leader and lover of his wife. When Eve took the temptation, God came to Adam. Later God established patriarchs to lead their homes, teach their children, and be responsible for peoples and nations. Also God’s Spirit spoke through inspired men who penned our Scripture. It is not that God has a low view of women or is sexist-ogre as some would like to believe. He desires men to be godly-leaders.

Two years ago my gramps passed away from cancer. Before he passed he said to me, “Justin, I am looking forward to being with my Savior!” then gave me two imperatives, “Take care of your beautiful wife. Keep following your God.” Those are two things I will never forget. Last words are important. Today we will look as some last word in the first letter to the church at Corinth.

Let’s do a short Corinthians Quiz: First, who wrote 1 Corinthians? Paul wrote with his own hand [16:21]. Second, what do you know about the church at Corinth? Most would say it was divided, had disunities, and was quite dysfunctional. All true. What church isn’t? Third, why did Paul write this church? Paul, like a father bending his boy over his knee sought to correct the congregation. The first 14 chapters of Paul’s letter to Corinth were a rebuke towards errant behaviors—even beloved chapter 13 was a rebuke towards lovelessness—and chapter 15 was a rebuke towards errant theology. Paul [a man] rebukes out of deep love for this church; just like Jesus’ [the God-Man] love for His church [cf. Hebrews 12:6].

Paul ends his letter with a list of five short, succinct, to-the-point imperatives. They are not simple suggestions; rather it’s as if he’s saying, “Do this, enough said!” Each imperative is a review of Paul’s entire letter to the Corinthians. As a pastor, like Paul, I will prod the men of our church to own these five imperatives of biblical manhood. My outline should be easy for the men in our audience, since each point is plagiarized from the two verses we will pick apart today, [start: 16:10] “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” [1 Corinthians 16:13-14]

If you haven’t noticed Paul likes to talk in military terms. It helps his men-hearers understand. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 is a charge to the troops! Like 1 Kings 1:2-3, “Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God.” [cf. Joshua 1:6-7] Women, I know us pastors give a lot of male illustrations from sports, hunting, or warfare. It’s because we are men. We do not intend to leave out the ladies, but we have a hard time relating to tea parties, dolling-up, or other things ladies like. It’s good to embrace and encourage the ruggedness of your men and their love for guns or getting dirty [that’s the reason why my wife loves my big beard!]. Okay, here are five imperatives you are best to encourage in your men…

1. “Be on the alert.”

Like a commander calling to his men he says, “Attention! Stay alert. Eyes open. Watch out. Keep awake.” You get the picture of a castle tower guard scanning the scene for enemies anticipating an ambush or attack. The Corinthian’s needed an awakening. They were Christians in a moral and spiritual stupor. They had fallen asleep on duty. They substituted God’s Word with their wisdom [1:18-2:16], they were divisive [1:10-17; 3:9], they were immoral [5:1-13], they confused and perverted marriage, divorce, and singleness [7], they were self-serving [10], they misused their spiritual gifts [12-14], and they were unloving [13]. They were not alert at all. Instead they were off duty and were teaming up with the enemy.

I am a man who loves sports. On Tuesday’s some of the men of our church play slow pitch softball. It’s a fun sport. This week I played centerfield. Usually it’s a position with a lot of running, however that night nothing was even hit near my domain. I said to some of the guys, “It sure is a lazy day in the outfield.” Sure enough with a 7-run lead I let my guard down and became the lazy outfielder smelling the clovers and swatting mosquitoes. When the final inning came around it was our game to lose. Would you know it, the other team started cranking balls my way. It wasn’t pretty, but we did pull away with a W!

The phrase “be alert” or “be watchful” appears 22 times in the NT. Jesus uses the phrase when to remind His followers to be on alert for His Second Coming, since He could come back any moment.[1] However, there are four more ways the phrase is used in the NT. What are we to watch out for?

First, be alert against Satan. “Be sober-minded, be on the alert, your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith.” [1 Peter 5:8-9] Satan is not all knowing, like God, he only knows your weakness by watching you. Like a sneaky lion he waits to pounce on an unsuspecting foe. His plan is to exploit and devour you, period [cf. 1 John 2:16]. See his fiery arrows coming before they see you!

Second, be alert against temptation. Jesus said, “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation.” [Mark 14:38]  Have you noticed the temptations ramp up when you are tired, exhausted, or coming off a rough week? When our spiritual eyes are sleepy or shut, it is easy to fall into temptation. You know where you are most vulnerable. It could be your pride, your purity, or your priorities. When you are tired it is easy to put down the guard, when you are traveling it is easy to justify giving in since you are outside your realm of accountability, and when you are under trial the pull is to find an easy way out.

I have 5 moral fences I put up to guard my heart: 1) never drive alone with another woman other than my wife, 2) never counsel a women alone or in a closed office, 3) when I travel I try to bring my wife or a friend with me, 4) I speak openly, often and affectionately of my wife, and 5) when with other women I seek to compliment their character not their appearance. I also seek to keep evenings open for my family and take my wife out for a date once a month. When single I committed not to be alone with a woman unless someone knew. What kind of moral fences have you built to protect your heart from falling into sin?

Third, be alert against apathy. To be apathetic means you chose to ignore what once fired you up. Jesus says to the church at Sardis, “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die…therefore, what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” [Revelation 3:2-3] An attitude of repentance and brokenness is the antidote for apathy.

Fourth, be alert against false teachers. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” [2 Timothy 4:3-5; cf. 2 Peter 2:1]

Men, be alert. Be aware of the condition of your heart, your life, your family, and your church. Everyday you are being hunted by your adversary and your temptations are nagging for absolute attention and affection. Men, be alert.

2. “Stand firm in the faith.”

When I hear this phrase I think of the movie, Braveheart or The Patriot. Men are holding the frontline and their leader yells out, “Hold! Don’t waver! Never retreat!” To be firm means you stand with confidence, heads up, fists ready, and body anticipating the blows. Paul is calling men to plant their feet firm in the faith.

Be firm in your spiritual and moral convictions. Be firm in what is true and theological [cf. 15:1 “Now I would remind you, brother, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand”].[2] No one can take your saving faith away from you, but they can trounce on the contents of your faith [1:18-21; 3:18-19; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:15]. You can be influenced to believe that human wisdom and reasoning are more reasonable than the Word of God. Christians today are too easily swayed by the opinions of others rather than standing firm in their faith. Too many men wilt under pressure.

Before you got married you might had the conviction, “I’m going to be sexually pure, I’m going to wait until the day I get married, I will to treat my woman with dignity and respect, and I’m going keep my hands to myself. I will stand firm.” Then the world says, “Come on? Why wait? It’s okay trying things out to see if you compatible.” Foolish! Relationships are not like going to the used car lot. Honor Christ, get married, love that woman with your whole life and be faithful to her, serve her, and be like Jesus to her. People will make fun of you for that because faithfulness is not popular. What if I am not marriage yet? Finish your degree, pursue your career, pay your bills and taxes, love the Word of God, and be committed to His church. If you meet a nice gal who loves Jesus, go after her. Some of you guys are like, “I don’t know if she knows I exist or will like a guy like me.” There is only one way to find out!? Make the first move.

Many Christians have a hard time standing firm because they are weak in the Word, they are not secure in their understanding of the Word, and they ignore what training or studying they have done. God wrote a book, read it. Use the Word of God as your grid for truth and understanding. If you know the Bible, and you know what is true, and you know what is good, and you know what is right, and you know what the Father in Heaven expects of his sons, “stand firm in the faith.”

3. “Act like men.”

This is the phrase that smacks men right in the keester. It’s a bar mitzvah, coming-of-age statement. It’s like saying, “Grow up. Be mature. Take responsibility. Don’t be like a kid or coward. Stop the silliness.” Paul is not saying “Man up!” like our culture would say [Insert grunt noises here]. Nor is he saying, “You da’ man!” He is saying, “If you’re a Christian man, then act like it!”

Paul says, “When I was a child, I thought like a child, I act like a child, I spoke like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” [cf. 14:20; 3:1-2] Maybe today is it good day for you to go from childhood to adulthood. How does a man grow strong spiritual bones and muscles? He daily eating God’s Word, chews it, digesting it, and exercises it [1 Peter 2:2-3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17]. How do you exercise the Word? Live it! Speaks it! Own it!

Men we are called to act like men. Sure you might be a boy at heart, but sooner or later you got to grow up and be a man. I know some men who are 40-50-60 years old—even in the faith—who still act like spiritually immature boys. We need older men, like Paul, who will have the boyhood to manhood talk with younger men [likewise older women with younger women]. Paul encouraged Titus to cultivate this in his church, “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness…urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” [Titus 2:2-8]

I remember being asked to lunch by an older man who was very godly. I was in my early 20’s. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Justin, you have incredible potential for God. Yet you act like young man. You waste a lot of time playing games, chasing girls, and joking around. It is time you grow up and begin acting like a man. The time is now to follow Christ.” I never forgot that conversation. He still pours wisdom into my life. Like Paul training young Timothy we need men training men.

Fathers and future fathers, get your children ready to engage the forces of evil, temptations, and sinful struggles of adulthood before they thrown out to learn on their own without any theological framework to guide their practice. Give your children opportunities to fail under your roof so that they are ready to fight for truth under their own roof. Teach your boys about sexual temptations at a young age, and encourage your girls to be modest for the right motivations. Talk about what God is doing in your life. That’s what it means to “raise up your children in discipline and instruction of the LORD.” [cf. Ephesians 6:1-4]. Life is like the Roman Coliseum and it chews up Christians for breakfast. Men, act like men. Women, empower your men to be men.

4. “Be strong.”

We live in a culture that denigrates men and weakens masculinity. Watch a prime-time sitcom. The average sitcom husband is an idiot. He messes everything up. He’s the butt of every joke. He’s the big, fat, lazy idiot that everybody laughs at. You watch the average kid’s cartoon. The cartoon kid is a genius, his crazy-little-monkey-alien-friend can reason and teach the kid, but his dad is pictured as an incompetent imbecile. Our society sees men as everything but strong.

The verb strong (Grk. krataioo) means to “be strengthened.” Strength is not inherent to humans. The point is: strength only comes from God, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” [Isaiah 40:28-31]. When I read that my response is, “I need God because He is my strength.”[3]

From a young age men want to be strong. That’s why boys love superheroes, stuntmen, and sports stars. However, the strongest guys are often pictured as bullies, thugs, and jerks. And to that we say, “I don’t want to be strong. Those guys are mean.” Truth is we need men to be stronger than those dudes. Somebody’s got to stand up to them. You’ve got to be strong enough when you see a guy—even in this church—if he’s not being nice to his wife or his kids; he’s not working hard; he’s not being honorable; you need to have courage, you need to have strength, you need to have boldness. You need to be able to put your finger in that guy’s chest and say, “Listen. You’re a Christian. You go to Battle Ground Bible Church. You’re a man. You don’t treat your wife like that. You don’t treat your kids like that. You don’t work your job like that. That’s not how we do things. That’s not how God’s men are.”

At our church we believe that God made male and female, very good, equal in the image of God, distinct in roles, for the glory of God. We believe that both men and women are to be respected, and instructed, and exhorted toward holiness. I know some men did not grow up knowing Jesus. Some of you did not have a dad. Some have a dad that was not a godly or good man or a man you wouldn’t want to be like. In 1 Corinthians 11:7, Paul says something very important. He says men are the glory of what? God. Men are image and glory of God. Let’s lift up our men. Empower our men with God’s strength [i.e. Stephanas, 16:12-18]. God encourages godly leadership.

5. “Let all you do be done in love.”

You can do all the above without love [watch, firm, act, strong], but without love it is meaningless [cf. 16:22-24; love chapter 13; 1:9-10]. The absence of love would mean that these are just duties without delight. Love is not just the attitude of a follower of Christ it is the atmosphere of a followers life. The most attractive and effective element of your manliness is your love.

Men are to be gentlemen, not angry men; not violent men; not rude men; not crusty men; but bold men; courageous men; loving men like Jesus. Jesus—the conquering King—had a humble, gentle, loving strength that wove through the fabric of everything He did and said [John 13:34-35; Ephesians 5:1].

My daughter is only 7-months old. I love that little girl. But I tell you what, parenting is so sanctifying. I cannot imagine what it will be like 13 or 16 years from now!? Pray for me, all right. Children teach parents a lot about God. I remember holding my newborn girl who was crying unstoppably in the middle of the night. As frustrated as I was it reminded me of how utterly dependent she is on us, and how utterly dependent I am on God. Today my love for her and her mama is soaring.

In conclusion, in this brief guide to biblical manhood, I have a few applications for everyone to take home. First, to fathers when you struggle to live these five imperatives, look to Jesus because each are seen in His life and ministry, even on the cross. Second, to single men, God’s strategy is for men is to act rather than react. Plan now to put into practice these imperative before you have a woman or kiddos. This is part of biblical leadership. Third, to women married or single, encourage and empower your men to adhere to these imperatives. Pray for them, respect them; treat them as the glory of God. Fourth, to our church, what our church is looking for is a few good men who will walk with Christ, stand with Christ, and lead like Christ!

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” [1 Corinthians 16:13-14]

Father God, we thank you for being our Father. Lord Jesus, we thank you for being our Savior. Holy Spirit, we thank you for indwelling us, instructing us, convicting us, leading us, guiding us, empowering us and transforming us. I thank you for inspiring Paul’s last words about loving like Jesus. I pray that you would convict men to follow Jesus and lead others toward Him. I pray that our men would be like Jesus committing to His church, reading the Bible about Jesus, confessing sins to Jesus, imitating Jesus, worshiping Jesus until one day, we get to see you Lord Jesus!


[1] Cf. Matthew 24:42ff; 25:13; Mark 13:34ff; 2 Peter 3:10-12

[2] Cf. Jude 3; 1 Timothy 6:12; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 4:12

[3] cf. 2:3-5; 3:6-7, 18; 4:10; 10:12; 2 Corinthians 12:4, 7, 9; Ephesians 3:16; 6:10; Philippians 4:13; 1 Timothy 1:12; Psalm 27:14