Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Four Distinctives of Militant Christianity

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Teaching t05419

Introduction

In the midst of many specific instructions in his closing, Paul suddenly gives an exhortation which is universally applicable to Christians. It contains five brief imperatives—four of which are closely related. Taken together, these (four) imperatives remind us of a crucial insight into the nature and purpose of the church.

Today, most Christians prefer to think of the church as a FAMILY (emphasizing personal relationships) or as a TEMPLE (emphasizing God's presence). These metaphors are biblical and important. But here is another metaphor which is equally important (read vs 13).

All four of these imperatives "have a military background and are like a commander's orders to his soldiers." [1] This is one of over twenty passages in the New Testament which picture the church as an ARMY AT WAR. There is an unmistakably militant dimension to the Christian life. 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 soldiers and be armed for battle (1 Thess. 5:8; 2 Cor. 6:7). He also calls on us present ourselves for active duty (Rom. 6:13), and to seek out and destroy enemy installations (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

Of course, this war is not physical, and it is not against people—it is a spiritual battle to liberate people from spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12; Col. 1:13). But it is a real war nonetheless—a war with real objectives, real wounds and casualties, real victories and defeats.

Most of us don't come into the Christian life with this perspective; we come to get relief from our personal problems. That's OK, but we must cultivate this perspective—we must expect the Christian life to be a battle, and we must learn how to fight effectively—or we will not mature and the war effort will be hindered. In these two verses, Paul helps us to understand how to play our roles effectively by describing 4 distinctives of militant Christianity . . . 

Spiritual Alertness

"Be on the alert" was a term commonly used to describe a sentry at his post. It means to be wakeful and watchful because there are enemies in the area. The sentry's role is crucially important. If he falls asleep or allows himself to be distracted, the enemy may infiltrate or achieve surprise in his attack—and lives may be lost.

We are likewise to be spiritually alert. We live in a spiritually hostile environment, and so we must learn to live with our "guard up." Many Christians live as though this were not the case. They live as though we were at peace and slumber spiritually. How can we cultivate this?

Be aware of the enemy's covert tactics. Spiritual warfare is usually subtle rather than obvious. Contrary to what Hollywood says, most of Satan's tactics are covert rather than overt (8 IN THE New Testament LETTERS). If you don't know what these tactics are, and if you don't cultivate a watchful attitude in these areas, you will be easily defeated. EXAMPLES: tolerating unrighteous anger (Eph. 4:26,27) and refusing to forgive (2 Cor. 2:10,11); becoming consumed and distracted by the affairs of everyday life (2 Tim. 2:4 >> GOSPEL HERE).

We should not be ignorant of these covert tactics (2 Cor. 2:11). We need to vigilant in areas like these, forsaking foolish self-confidence and asking God to help us see and overcome these attacks . . . 

We need to go beyond merely looking out for our own selves in this area and also be involved with other Christians in helping each other to stay alert. 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 MANDIBLE). Are you involved with other Christians enough that they can help you in this way, and so that you can do the same thing for them? This is an essential part of effectiveness in spiritual battle!!

Uncompromising About the Truth

"Stand firm" was a term commonly used to describe the proper response when under actual attack. It means to "dig in" and stubbornly refuse to give ground. Notice that the specific area in which we are to stand firm is "the faith." This refers to the content of our faith—the truths of scripture, the message of the gospel. Christian militancy involves being uncompromising about the truth.

Resist cultural and religious pressure to conform ideologically. The Corinthians had been falling prey in this area. They wanted to be accepted by their culture as wise, even though it was permeated by a Greek philosophy which was in many areas antithetical to the biblical message. They didn't want to be viewed as fools for believing in bodily resurrection for example, so many of them began to view this area as dispensable. Because of this, Paul had to get after them and point out that they were selling out by doing this (1 Cor. 15).

Paul stood firm against the Judaizers' pressure to tone down grace, and called on the Galatians to do the same (Gal. 5:1). Luther did the same thing at the time of the Reformation. The early church stood firm against Rome's insistence that they also worship Caesar. Many Christians in China have refused to compromise their faith in spite of tremendous pressure.

But sadly, it is even more common pattern for the church down through history compromise the truth. Instead of exposing the emptiness of worldly philosophy and religion with the biblical world-view, it usually begins to assimilate the world's thinking in order to be accepted (EXAMPLES: SELL-OUT UNDER CONSTANTINE; 19TH CENTURY NATURALISM; CHURCH SELLING OUT TO THE STATE IN FASCIST & MARXIST STATES).

Today, in our own culture, there is strong pressure to compromise the biblical message in a fundamental way. It is increasingly unpopular to believe that there is even such a thing as absolute truth. The position that Jesus is the only way to God, and that there is such a thing as absolute morality (ABORTION; SEXUAL ETHICS) is dismissed as close-minded, bigoted, and ignorant. We should also remember that while we may be co-belligerents with other religious groups on ethical issues, we are not allies (CATHOLIC-EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE). These are crucial areas, and we need to be willing to take a stand on them—even if it means that we pay a price . . . 

Ready To Suffer

"Act like men; be strong." These two go together. The contrast is not between men and women, but between acting like grown-ups and acting like children. Children are often very cocky until they meet formidable enemy—but then they panic and run away. To "act like men" and "be strong" means to ready to be suffer. This is a crucial feature of Christian militancy.

In time of war, soldiers must be ready to suffer hardship (2 Tim. 2:3). Those who run away in the heat of the battle to save their own skins are deserters. In the last resort, we overcome the devil by "not loving our lives even to death" (Rev. 12:11). Peter challenges us to arm ourselves by being prepared to suffer death if need be (1 Pet. 4:1).

Paul isn't advocating some form of spiritual machismo. We are to be strong "in the Lord and in the strength of his might" (Eph. 6:10; see also Ps. 27:14). Because Christ will ultimately prevail, we can take courage because we are on the winning side ("I read the ending and we win!"). Because he has promised to be with us until then and supply us with all we need to play our roles, we can draw strength from him to persevere even in the midst of great fear and personal weakness (2 Cor. 12:10). It is not a sin to be afraid, or to be acutely aware of your weaknesses and inadequacies—as long as you don't allow them to dictate your decisions.

This is a distinctive of Christian militancy which is desperately needed today. We live in a culture that is historically unparalleled in its narcissistic aversion to suffering. Most people in our culture believe it is their inherent right to be happy at all times, that suffering is an outrageous indignity, and that virtually nothing is worthy of pain and sacrifice—let alone worth dying for. How do you think most people in our culture would respond to this statement by Winston Churchill:

"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering. You ask what is our policy; I will say: `It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.'"

I hear cynical cracks rather than a rousing cheer! The result of this kind of narcissism is a spoiled softness, and a cringing fear of suffering which makes us weak. This is the sign of a deteriorating culture.

Most western Christians have been affected by this softness. One evidence of this is the rarity with which American Christians (including Xenos today) view themselves as soldiers in an army, and how quickly we suspect fanaticism when this image is used. Another is the rarity with which you hear Christians exhort one another like Paul does here. In fact, many Christians think this kind of exhortation is unloving! Another is the fact that we have virtually no category for the idea that it is heroic and a privilege to suffer for a worthy cause—yet that's what Paul says in Phil. 1:29 . . . 

Others have done this—even paying with their lives—and we are the beneficiaries. Out of loyalty to Christ and for the sake of others, let us ask God to cultivate this virtue in our lives, and let us not complain when he works through suffering to answer our prayers.

Love As Our Controlling Ethic

This is a key difference between biblical militancy and worldly militancy. Worldly militancy says winning is the only thing that matters—the end justifies the means. It therefore thrives on hate and frequently fosters cruelty. But biblical militancy operates by the controlling ethic of love. What does this look like?

We may have to fight for the truth—but we shouldn't relish a fight. Rather, we should strive "if possible, as far as it depends upon us, to be at peace with all people" (Rom. 12:18).

We must be willing to not yield an inch over truth issues out of loyalty to Christ—but we should be equally willing to sacrifice our own desires and "rights" to help other people come to know Christ and grow in him (Phil. 2:1-4).

We must have the toughness not to wilt under hate and unfair attacks—but we must not get down in the mud with them by returning evil for evil (Rom. 12:14, 17a, 19-21).

We must be able to be tough in our own suffering—but we should also be able to be tender with others in their suffering (Col. 3:12-14).

We must be willing and able to admonish one another when needed—but we must also have patience with one another (1 Thess. 5:14).

Footnote

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