The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (16:13-24)
We have one king and master, that is the Lord Jesus Christ. At the beginning of today’s Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians we hear these words, “Brethren, be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, and be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” These four instructions are given as direct orders from the general, the apostle Paul, who answered directly to the king. Jesus Christ is our King and we are each His servants. Yet we are more than mere servants, we are soldiers for Jesus Christ.
Does this mean that we should take up arms or fight with others, not at all! We are soldiers who are meant to do battle and to struggle and fight in the way that Our Lord Jesus Christ struggled and fought. Of this struggle the Apostle Paul writes “For we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12). Our struggle is like the struggle of Christ, not against flesh and blood, not against other men and women. Not even against governments and empires and ungodly corporations. Our struggle is against evil and evil is both the absence of God, as well as the presence of the devil and his demons. This spiritual struggle is the whole reason why God became man and dwelt among us and gave up His life for us. We could not stand up courageously and contend against evil. Only Christ succeeded where all others failed.
The general is giving each of us instructions on how to live lives that would please our king and master. One thing that is true of all Kings and all of their generals, They are not pleased when the soldiers are timid or cowardly.
St. Paul tells us to be watchful. What does that mean? It means that we do not approach life like zombies or those who are half asleep. In the Roman empire, the idea of a soldier falling asleep at his post was considered a grave offense. It was often corrected by lighting the sleeping soldier on fire. We must be awake and have our eyes open to reality because we’ve been illumined and awakened by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That means that we need to have the ability to see what is happening in the world around us, or even under our very noses, and assess these things critically in the light of the gospel of Christ. If our eyes haven’t been opened to reality by the gospel, it is time to sit down and be introduced to the Son of God and His teaching and worldview.
We are also watchful when we take care that we don’t neglect our own spiritual lives and lose our focus. The Lord Jesus says that if we are not ready for His coming, it will be “like a thief in the night.” We can meet our king at any moment. The apostle asks us to be watchful so that the moment does not catch us off guard.
Next, the apostle Paul tells us to “Stand firm in your faith.” Today this is very difficult for us as Christians. Everywhere we turn we find new obstacles to being a Christian. Obstacles that we’ve allowed into our homes, like the rubbish that we view on Netflix and Hbo and the internet. As well as the obstacles that are external. We find many false teachers and false doctrines. One of the doctrines of our world is the idea that there is no right or wrong, that the only thing that matters is the way that someone feels. Another idea is that there is no real truth, you are allowed to have your truth and I have mine and there is no way that we can make a distinction between them and say that one truth is better than another.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is our only truth. The Lord says “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” We are asked to stand firm in our faith in the Son of God and that is not merely a proclamation with the lips but with the groaning of our hearts and the movement of our bodies. Standing firm in the faith means to never ever deny Christ or stand by quietly while others deny Christ. The apostle tells us to “be courageous and be strong.” St. Paul tells his people this, in an atmosphere that was much less friendly to Christians than our own. Being courageous and strong meant possibly sacrificing your life for your faith in Jesus Christ. So we need to have a similar spirit of bravery. Don’t be timid in the face of others, be bold and yet humble.
Finally, St. Paul says “Let all that you do be done in love.” Watchfulness without love is a form of blindness. Firmness without love is legalism similar to that of the pharisees and the Lord reminds us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the pharisees, we will by no means be saved. Courage without love is foolishness. And strength without love is the ultimate weakness. What really separates the people of God from the rest of the world, what allows us to stand out and to shine is our love. Love of God, and love of neighbor, and first and foremost this applies to our neighbors here in the Church. The Lord Jesus says “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our love is not simply a sign that we follow Christ, it is the very sign of Christ’s dwelling within us! Glory be to God forever AMEN.