In verse 13, Paul gives a series of statements meant to encourage the Christians at Corinth. There are five statements there. First, he tells them to be on guard. Second, he encourages them to stand firm in the faith. Third, he exhorts them to be men of courage. The fourth statement is simply, “be strong”; and finally, he tells them to do everything in love. That is a good challenge for any group of Christians at any time because it speaks of our work in Christianity as warfare, and reminds us that there are enemies. Paul speaks of the enemies that he was facing earlier in this chapter, his enemies at Ephesus, in the context of the Christian’s need to stand firm against them in the power of Christ.
So, in the first statement Paul cautions them to be on guard. That makes us think of 1 Peter 5:8 where Peter talks about Satan. He says virtually the same thing: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” It would be bad enough if we just had enemies in the world. However, they are not the most dangerous. Oh, it is a hard thing to have human enemies. But Peter says our real adversary is the devil. He is set against anything of God. And, therefore, he does whatever he can to oppose the Gospel. Peter says–and Paul is saying the same thing here–the wise Christian, the one who is living as God wants him to, will be on his guard against such things. That means that we must be on guard against temptation. We must be on guard against factionalism. We must be on guard against error and everything else that creeps into a Christian life or into a church and hurts it.
Paul says secondly that we are to stand firm. That is similar to what he wrote about in Ephesians. In both letters he wrote about the same kind of warfare that involves the devil, and the principalities and powers that oppose us on every hand. In Ephesians, chapter 6, Paul wrote about the Christian’s armor. I do not know whether, as he wrote that, he specifically had in mind the difference between offensive and defensive warfare. Offensive warfare is where you go forward and take new ground; defensive warfare is where you stand ground, that land which you have already taken. I suppose it would be true to say that any land that is taken in Christianity is taken by Jesus Christ because he is the great warrior. Our responsibility, therefore, is to possess that land which he has already taken and to stand firm on it. It may be that that is what he has in mind here. At any rate his emphasis is upon standing firm in the faith, not being shaken from that position to which we have already been bought by Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, he says, “Be men of courage,” and fourthly, “Be strong.” It is easy to lose courage or be weak because we look out and see the enemies that are arrayed against us. We say, “We cannot stand against that. We are poor, weak, insignificant, and small in numbers.” What we need to have is our eyes opened like the servant of Elisha to see the hills filled round about with the chariots of fire and the angels of the Lord. That is our armament. That is the host of the Lord. That is the strength in which we stand.
Finally, he talks about love. Some years ago while in India, E. Stanley Jones conducted an interview with Mahatma Gandhi. Jones asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, what would the Christians have to do to win India for Jesus Christ?” Gandhi said, “Well, first of all, the Christians have to live like Jesus Christ. Second,” he said, “you mustn’t compromise your faith. Third,” he said, “Learn everything you can about the non-Christian religions.” And then he said, “Fourth–this is the most important thing of all–everything you do must be characterized by love.”
I think that is what Paul is saying here. We are engaged in a battle and that battle requires strength of character. God is looking for soldiers who are able to stand. But that warfare is not the kind of warfare in which the world engages. This is not the kind of warfare that is carried forward by arrogance or by hatred of the enemy. This is the kind of warfare that is won by love because love is of the character of God. God is love. Therefore, where love is seen in the hearts of God’s people, God is at work. People see God and are drawn to him, particularly as that love is manifest in Jesus Christ.