Thursday, March 30, 2017


Act Like Men: Strong Advice for Tough Times 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Earlier this month I had the privilege of preaching at Brookneal Baptist Church for their "Men's Day" celebration. The notes below are from the sermon I preached that morning. If you'd like to hear an audio version, feel free to click here for the sermon:

Intro: When I realized that I’d be speaking at Brookneal Baptist on a special men’s day celebration, I decided to focus my thoughts on men in general to fit the theme. Of course, what I have to say today will be applicable to all Christians, so I expect the ladies to pay attention as well, okay? There is a severe lack in our society today of what may be called “mature” people—Just look at the news: Yet another politician behaving badly, Celebrities acting like children, Even the church is not immune to immaturity. There seems to be a real shortage of mature people.

Remember the “how to be a man speech” in he movie “Second Hand Lions”? Our passage today is Paul’s version of  the “how to be a man” or “how to be mature” speech. It is strong advice for tough times. Before we go any further, let me remind you that all of Paul’s statements here are commands, they are not options.

Corinth: Before we actually look at our verses for today, let me give you some insight into the church in Corinth. These people were a mess. They had divided on a variety of issues. They had split into factions determined by slogans and political posturing. They had forgotten what they were taught and become lazy in their spiritual growth/wisdom. They had ceased to serve one another and passed judgment on each other to the point of lawsuits. They had immoral activity in their church. They abused their spiritual liberty and hurt one another with it. They had no spiritual discipline and had become disorderly in their use of God’s gifts. They lost love for one another. They had forgotten the power of God’s love and Christ’s resurrection. They needed some mature people to lead them. They needed strong advice from Paul to face their tough situation.

Our passage comes at the end of a letter Paul wrote with the intention of addressing these problems in the Corinthian church. He responded to some of their questions as well as addressed the issues at the church. In chapter 13, Paul admonished them to learn to love while serving each other. In chapter 14, he encouraged them to use God’s gifts in an orderly and praiseworthy fashion. In chapter 15, he educates them on Jesus’ resurrection and its impact for believers. In chapter 16, Paul closes his letter with some practical advice. This church was in tough situation, and Paul gave them some strong advice.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14. We see in these verses five commands from Paul. In brief, Paul tells the Corinthians to 1) be alert, 2) stand firm, 3) be mature (act like men), 4) be strong, 5) do everything in love. The middle command here is where I want to start my sermon, so bear with me as I rearrange the narrative just a bit. I think that the advice to act like men is a reference to being mature, and I further think that the other commands are built around this one. So, Paul’s strong advice for tough times is centered on the idea of maturity.

1) Act like Men/Be Mature—The Greek term here means something like to behave like an adult as opposed to acting like a juvenile. In other words, Paul commands the church to exhibit positive masculine/mature properties. Be mature and be brave.

Three characteristics to note here: 
a. Spiritual maturity—1 John 2:12-14—John encourages his readers to progress on to a mature position, to leave behind childish things (1 Cor. 13:11-12)—cf. Ephesians 4:13. This maturity comes from the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 John 2:12-14—young men are strong in the Word of God)—this Word of God refers of course to both the written Word (the Bible) and the Incarnate Word (Jesus)—to be spiritually mature requires us to be adept in both (1 Cor. 14:20—the Corinthians need to grow up). What about us?  Where do we need to grow up?  Where do we need to stop acting juvenile?  What relationships and situations need maturity instead of juvenile selfishness?
b. Courage—“Give me 100 men who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I will shake the world: I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; and such alone will overthrow the kingdom of Satan and build up the Kingdom of God on earth.” John Wesley “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.”  John Wayne
c. Consistency—a constant process of growth that builds Christ-like characteristics in our lives.

The rest of this passage reveals for us what it means to “act like men” or to “be mature” according to Paul. To be mature requires us to be on the alert.

2) Be Alert/Be Watchful—a military term with a strategy in mind that means to be vigilant. It is the opposite of indifference or apathy. It is an active concern to be aware. What happens when those on guard duty fail their watch? The enemy sneaks in. Others may suffer loss. Someone may die. In the spiritual life of a Christian, watchfulness must be combined with prayer (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2).

What are the objects of our watching? Some examples include--The enemy (1 Peter 5:8); Temptation (Mark 14:38); False Teaching (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1); Opportunities to share God’s good news or to do God’s works (Titus 3:1; 2 Timothy 4:5); The return of Christ (Matthew 24:42-44). 

We need mature people to lead be alert leaders, to train others to be watchful. To act like men/to be mature means to watch out for each other. Watching out for each other requires a solid foundation in Christ. We must stand firm

3) Stand firm in the faith—Another “militant” term—Paul is calling on the Corinthians to make a stand, to be recognized, to hold their ground (cf. Ephesians 6:10-11). Read 1 Corinthians 15:58. There is a connection between being watchful and standing firm. An army on the watch is an army ready to stand. An army caught off guard is an army soon defeated.

How do we “stand firm”? Be a disciple/be a learner—spend time learning the great truths of God from the Bible—search the Scripture to find God’s plan. Know what you believe (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Know why you believe it and be ready to offer a reason (1 Peter 3:15). Once you know what and why, act on it—do the truth. Standing firm is like a tree planted with deep roots—it is solid because it has a strong foundation—our foundation is what God accomplished through Jesus and shown to us through the revelation of the truth of the Bible. Our faith (belief and action) should be an anchor for us (2 Timothy 2:15). To act like men/to be mature means to make a stand in what God has done.
Standing in God’s work requires and results in strength.

4) Be Strong—The Greek here refers to a strength in action rather than simply strength in possession. It isn’t how much you bench press, it is how you act when strength needed. The biggest muscles will freeze up if there is no strong character. 

Ephesians 6:10—”be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might”. Three kinds of strength here—empowerment (be endued with the Lord’s power), strength (a similar word as used in 1 Corinthians), and power (might or muscle). We must gain power from God, act on what he gives us, and use it to accomplish his purposes. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6—we pull down fortresses. What does this strength look like in action?  Philippians 2:3-4. God’s power properly applied usually acts on behalf of others. Which brings us to our final point—We have all these “militant” terms, then Paul calls us to love.

How do militant ideas fit with a concept of love? To act like men/to be mature we must be strong—but strength must be always be tempered with love.

5) Do all in love—What’s love got to do with it? Only everything. God at his most powerful is also God at his most vulnerable. Look at John 1:1-3, 14—God who created all things revealed his glory, grace, and truth by becoming one of us and revealing God among us (i.e., “Immanuel”). Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus was equal with God, but he didn’t take advantage. He emptied himself, and he became a servant. Incarnated as a human, he humbly obeyed even to the point of dying for our sins on a cross. How did Jesus love?  He gave himself so others could live. That’s the love Paul refers to here. To act like men/to be mature requires us to do all things in love.

The Corinthians certainly needed this kind of love (Paul even discussed it in chapter 13 of this book). Their divisions had caused factions and fighting. They had become rivals instead of brothers. They were engaging in lawsuits instead of love. They were acting like children. They were not watching out for each other. They were not standing firm in the truth Paul had taught them. They were giving in to weakness. Where do we need love?  Where do we need to show love? 

To act like men, we must learn to do all things in love.
That little three letter word “all” is difficult isn’t it?
“All” things—even my marriage?  My kids?  My job?  My business relationships?  Even with those who don’t “love” me? Even in situations where showing love could result in a loss for me?

What do you think?

Acting like men/being mature is not easy. No one said growing up would be simple. Paul’s advice here is strong, but the situation is a tough one and needs a strong solution.

What does love do? In our world today, love is not only an important element, it is THE MOST IMPORTANT element. Without love, watchfulness can deteriorate into a judgmental spirit. Without love, Paul’s commands could lead us to be militant but hardhearted. Love keeps our firmness from becoming hardness and our strength from becoming authoritarian domination. It keeps our maturity gentle and considerate. It keeps our right doctrine from becoming obstinate dogmatism and our right living from becoming smug self-righteousness. It makes us like Christ.

Love is not easy.  In fact, love cost Jesus his life.  We need to remember, however, that sometimes the toughest task produces the sweetest results.  Look at how God’s love redeemed you!

As Phillips Brooks said, “Never pray for an easier life—pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers—pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then doing your work will be no miracle—you will be the miracle!”

Conclusion—So what do we do?  How do we respond to this passage? Our circumstances are not so different from the church in Corinth. We live in a divided society, live in divided families, even attend divided churches. We have people around us acting like juveniles—blaming others for their problems or only looking out for themselves—we have a lack of “grown ups”—we need some mature men. We have problems creeping in, temptations attacking us, people falling, we need someone to be on the watch. Our society and our churches seem at times to be slipping into all kinds of problems or errors or sin. Nothing seems to be solid or firm. We need folks who are on a solid foundation. We need strength tempered by love. We need mature men and women who will watch out for the church and for others. Take a stand for God’s truth and be bold. Be strong in God’s power to accomplish God sized tasks. Love God and love others as Christ commanded.

Application—Our response to this passage is simple. We must act like men, we must be mature and brave. We must go to our homes, our churches, our neighborhoods, our jobs, and embody the principles Paul has described here. We must be willing to be a solid foundation, a trustworthy people, a group of men and women who love each other as Christ loves each of us. This will require us to be creative, to reach out to those others have deemed “unreachable” or “untouchable”. We will need to imitate the life of Jesus in our everyday lives. We must be humble servants looking to bless others with God’s grace. Will we risk it? If we don’t, who will? What will our families, our churches, and our world look like if we do? I’d like to see that!

So here is some strong advice for these tough times—Be the mature one, act like Christ—be watchful, be strong, stand firm, and do all things in love. 

Thanks for reading!

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