Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Distinctives of Militant Christianity

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Teaching t22458


One of the key themes of 1 Corinthians is the nature and purpose of the church. Paul has used several metaphors to illustrate this: a family (4:13-17; emphasizing personal relationships) and a temple (3:9-17; emphasizing God’s presence to and through Christians) and a body (12:12-31; emphasizing functional interdependence).

At the end of the letter, Paul gives four exhortations that imply another metaphor for the church (read 16:13). All four of these imperatives “have a military background and are like a commander’s orders to his soldiers.” This is one of over twenty passages in the New Testament which picture the church as an ARMY AT WAR.

EXAMPLES: Jesus’ first statement about the church viewed it as a great army that would attack and overcome Satan’s fortress (Matt.16:18). Paul tells us we should view ourselves as fellow-soldiers (Phil.2:25) and be armed for battle (2Cor.6:7). He calls on us to present ourselves for active duty (Rom.6:13), and to seek out and destroy enemy installations (2Cor.10:3-5).

So there is an unmistakably militant dimension to New Testament Christianity. Of course, we are not to wage war against people. Rather, our battle is against demonic forces (Eph.6:13ff.), to liberate people from spiritual darkness and bondage (Matt.12:29). But it is a real war nonetheless, with real objectives (the Great Commission), real battles, real casualties, real defeats and victories.

Very few people in our culture come to Christ with this perspective. Most of us (including myself) came to Christ to meet personal or relational needs, or to deal with guilt feelings, or even to answer philosophical questions. Jesus will meet you there (GOSPEL), but He will not leave you there. He will call you to become a soldier—to learn to fight (and possibly die) in this war. This is why Timothy Warner says: “May the Church of Christ recognize the reality of the war in which we are engaged, the incomparable power which is available to us through the Cross, and the unavoidable responsibility to appropriate this power to carry out the commission of our Lord until His return signals the end of the war.”

What does a militant Christian life look like? It is primarily a mind-set. The four imperatives of 16:13 describe three aspects of this mindset, and 16:14 adds another one. Let’s take a look at each of them...

Spiritual alertness

“Be on the alert” was a command commonly given to sentries. It means to be wakeful and watchful, presuming that there are enemies in the area. If the sentry falls asleep or allows himself to be distracted, the enemy may infiltrate or achieve surprise in his attack—and lives may be lost.

So it is with the Christian life—we are to maintain spiritual alertness. We are not paranoid, because the Lord Jesus is with us, and He is wiser and more powerful than Satan (1Jn.4:4). But we are to presume his attacking activity (not “if,” but “how?), and to be ready to resist him.

Many American Christians, sad to say, lack this mind-set. Many are so spiritually sleepy that they rarely or never ask this question. Worse yet, some even justify it spiritually, saying that because Jesus has won the decisive battle over Satan on the cross, we needn’t worry about his attacks (REPLY TO ‘SATAN HAS BEEN DE-FANGED’: “I sure have been gummed pretty badly!”).

How can we develop spiritual alertness?

First, we must learn Satan’s typical covert tactics. God has exposed them in His Word, so are not be ignorant of his schemes (2Cor.2:12). His four major tactics are temptation, accusation, seduction, and division. You can learn about these by reading Dennis McCallum’s book, Satan and His Kingdom, or (better yet) by taking Christian Ministry 1.

Second, we must identify how he typically attacks us in these areas, so we can set a special guard here (EXAMPLE: DIVISION via comparison/competition with peers). Oswald Sanders says: “How many days are there... when we do not give our supreme enemy even so much as a thought? Could you conceive of such a situation in earthly warfare? Let us retake this lost ground. Let us review the past to discover the successful methods of attack he has adopted in our own experience, and set a watch at that point.”

Third, we must watch each other’s backs. As in human warfare, individual soldiers are easy prey. But when we are organized as a unit, we present a much more formidable defense (ROMAN MANIPLE). Are you deeply and regularly enough involved with other Christian friends that you help one another in this way (CCF’S IN HOME GROUP)? This is an essential part of effectiveness in spiritual battle!!

Uncompromising on essential biblical teaching

“Stand firm” was a command commonly given when soldiers were under actual attack. It means to “dig in,” to stubbornly refuse to give ground that is strategically essential (e.g., BASTOGNE IN THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE).

In spiritual warfare, this “ground” is “the faith”—the content of our faith, the core doctrinal and ethical teaching of the Bible. Satan holds people in bondage through ideological deception. He knows that God destroys his kingdom and liberates his captives when the Church is faithful in proclaiming and practicing His Word. So he works relentlessly and insidiously—usually through cultural pressure—to lure the church into compromising biblical truth. So we are to be uncompromising on essential biblical teaching.

This is what was happening to the Corinthian Christians. They lived in a culture enamored with humanistic Greek philosophy. This cultural consensus normalized sexual immorality and mocked the idea of bodily resurrection. The Corinthians were gradually capitulating to this pressure without even realizing it. That’s why Paul wrote this letter—to call them to stand firm in the essential truths of Christ’s bodily resurrection and the Christian ethic of sex within heterosexual marriage.

So we have to stand firm on whatever part of the essential biblical teaching is in danger of being compromised (LUTHER QUOTE). This was a key part of almost every one of Paul’s letters, and of almost every other New Testament letter. This has always been a key part of the ministry of the great leaders of the church throughout history (EXAMPLES: LUTHER; etc.). This has always been critical to what it means to be “the light of the world.”

Where do we need to stand firm today? Consider these areas:

That we are to proclaim Jesus as the unique Savior and Messiah of all humanity—not one of many ways to God.

That we are to affirm the Bible as the unique and inerrant Word of God—not just one of many valid scriptures and/or a mixture of human opinion and divine revelation.

That we are to uphold God’s design for human sexuality—between one man and one woman within the permanent commitment of marriage and family.

That we are to be generous with their money and possessions—not as consumers driven by material avarice. (IS THIS A BLIND SPOT LIKE SLAVERY IN 18TH & 19TH CENTURIES?)

That we are to live in genuine loving community with one another—not as autonomous individuals or isolated families.

Do you believe that these things are true? Do you live this out, even when it is costly to you? Do you teach your children these things? Do you challenge one another to this, and correct one another when you deviate from this path? Do you support one another in this? This is crucial to biblical militancy!

Faithful despite suffering

“Act like men; be strong.” These two go together. The contrast is not between men and women, but between acting like experienced versus inexperienced soldiers. Inexperienced soldiers are unprepared for sustained adversity and hardship, so they often panic and run away—and even desert. But veteran soldiers expect these things and persevere through them to fulfill their responsibilities. To “act like men” and “be strong” therefore means to faithful despite suffering.

Christians are in a war. Therefore, as one author puts it, we are to consecrate ourselves to a war-time rather than a peace-time mentality. The New Testament applies this in two main ways:

Read 2Tim.2:3,4. We do not live as “reservists,” on leave most of the time to do what we want and enjoy, having only monthly weekend duties and responding only in emergencies. We are on active duty, focused on fulfilling our Commanding Officer’s objectives (helping people come to Christ and helping Christians grow in Christ), subordinating all other interests to the specific roles the Commanding Officer has given us. We trust that He knows our weakness, and we thankfully enjoy the “leaves” He gives us—but we don’t demand them on our schedule.

Read Eph.6:10,13. When we experience intense personal attack, we do not lose our heads and desert our posts/run away from the ministry responsibilities God has given us. We may tremble—but we keep our heads by remembering God’s promises, by claiming in prayer the help He has promised, by asking our Christian friends for prayer and encouragement—and then we choose to trust Him by being faithful to our responsibilities (EXAMPLES: ME WITH TEACHING THIS MEETING; YOU WITH DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS).

Does this sound strange to you? Do you react inwardly (maybe outwardly) with: “I wouldn’t want to become a fanatic?” Is that really your temptation? Or is your greater temptation to be so soft that you don’t even seek God for your post, let alone stay at it when under attack? Why do we use the danger we’re not tempted by as an excuse to avoid the danger we are tempted by?

You may also be thinking: “What a grim and joyless life you’re describing!” Nothing could be further from the truth. To choose this way of life is to experience God’s empowering and encouragement and the joy that comes with it—not the least of which is the sweet camaraderie with other soldiers. To choose a way of life that avoids suffering and pursues comfort is what results in an empty and joyless and lonely life!

Controlled by love

Read 16:14. Is Paul contradicting himself? Our culture dichotomizes militancy and love, but the Bible holds them together. Jesus is a great Warrior and a great Lover. Christians are to be followers of Jesus – soldiers controlled by love.

What does this look like? Here are some biblical applications:

We are willing to be unpopular for the truth, but we do not relish fighting and will not get down in the mud with opponents of the truth (Rom.12:14,17-21; contra NASTY FUNDAMENTALISTS).

We will seek to persuade people of the truth, but we will not mock or ridicule those with whom we deeply disagree (2Cor.5:11).

We will not compromise essential truths, but we will yield our personal rights to help people come to Christ and grow in Him (1Cor.8,9; “I DON’T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS!”).

We will be tough on ourselves when we need to suffer, but we will stay tender toward others in their sufferings, and stay open-hearted when they disappoint or hurt us (Col.3:12-14; PAUL WITH CORINTHIANS).

We will exhort and admonish one another to follow the truth, but we will also be patient with one another and not shoot our wounded (1Thess.5:14).


SUMMARIZE: How does description of militant Christianity this strike you?

William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), p.106)