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TEXT: I Corinthians 16:13-14
SUBJECT: Marching Orders
My father hated the movies. He had no moral objection to them, and if you'd have asked him if he disliked them for aesthetic reasons, he'd have had no idea what you meant. He hated the movies because he spent his last year in the Navy doing nothing but watching them. Growing up, I went to the movies fairly often, but only a few times with my dad. The only movies I remember us seeing together were The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Planet of the Apes, and Patton.
Dad thought The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was too long and that The Planet of the Apes was stupid. But Patton he liked very much, and not only because it was well made, but because he agreed with Patton's philosophy of war which is summed up in the stirring words (which I have sanitized for the pulpit)--
No son of a gun ever won a war by dying for his country!
You win a war by making the other son of a gun die for his country!
In other words, if you're going to fight a war, fight to win it! Politics may be the art of compromise, but war is the art of victory!
This was General Patton's philosophy of war., and not only his. The Apostle Paul thought the same way. In other places, he tells us we are in a spiritual war, and the war is a matter of eternal life-and-death. If we're too lazy or cowardly or uncommitted to fight it with all we've got, we're not going to win it. The world, the flesh, and the devil mean business. We will not defeat them unless we do too.
I Corinthians 16:13-14 is about war, not the kind of war General Patton fought, the wars we read about in our newspapers, wars fought with guns and bombs and jets and drones; we're in a spiritual war. However you define the word, 'spiritual', please don't think of it as somehow less real and less dangerous than the war in Afghanistan. In fact, it is more real and far more dangerous than any war fought with carnal weapons. When people say things like, 'the war on poverty', they're using the word figuratively. When I say, 'spiritual war', I'm using it literally. Whether he wants to be or not, every Christian and church is at war, and we be until Jesus comes again. Then--and only then--the Church Militant becomes the Church Triumphant.
War is what's behind our verses; the verses themselves tell us how to fight it. They're Marching Orders. Paul is passing them along to us, but they're not his orders. He's getting them from the King.
Paul wants us to fight our enemies with all we've got, but, to do that, we've got to who our enemies are. Well, I've already said that, haven't I? The world, the flesh, and the devil. These malign powers are always against us, but they don't always take the same form.
In Jerusalem at the time, the great enemy of the Church was Judaism. The Jews persecuted the church, but mostly what they did was try to lure Christians back into the fold. You can read of their efforts in the Book of Hebrews, and how tempting it must have been to give up Christ for the accoutrements of Temple, Law, Tradition, Race, History, Patriotism and so on.
A few years later, the Church's enemy was the Roman Empire, commanding the People of God to say what they couldn't say, 'Caesar is Lord' and throwing them to the lions when they didn't.
These shadows are moving toward Corinth at this time, but they're not quite there. What was pulling them away from Christ was Pagan culture. In some times and places, Paganism is narrow-minded and brutal. Think of Nebuchadnezzar commanding everyone in the capital to bow to his gold image on the pain of death. The Soviet Union was this way for 70 years.
But the Paganism in Corinth was altogether different. It was tolerant and open-minded, celebrating diversity and pitying the fools who could only see things one way, like the Jews who believed in One God, and the Christians who topped them by believing there was only one way to the One God.
If Nebuchadnezzar's Paganism was a battering ram, the Corinthian's kind was termites. Slower and quieter, and less scary, but no less destructive.
If you read the whole of I Corinthians, you'll see what this Paganism was doing to the church. It was fostering loose morals, the love of money, easy divorce, partisanship, the abuse of liberty, easy religion, and synthetic doctrine.
These were the enemies attacking the church in Corinth then. And the church in Fremont now. Sexual lust is not just dirty, it's dangerous; the love of money is not just wrong, it's ruinous; compromising doctrine is not just weak, its heresy!
These are the things we're always tempted to do. Because everyone else is doing them, because not doing them makes you look weird, and because many of the people who are preaching against them are mean, judgmental, legalistic, self-righteous, and probably doing them in secret!
How do we resist the forces of evil inside us and around us? Paul leaves no doubt.
In the first place, he says, watch. This means, 'be alert' or 'stay awake'. This was what officers ordered their men to do on sentry duty. Watches were typically four hours long, and, some of them were the hours you'd rather be asleep. But if a soldier was caught sleeping on duty, he could be executed, and justly so, because everyone's safety depended on him staying awake, even if he had to watch between midnight and four o'clock in the morning!
What are we watching for? Temptation. Most temptations start off small and relatively harmless. When not resisted, they don't stay that way. Where does murder start? Jesus says it starts with anger. Where does adultery begin? Our Lord says it begins with lustful thoughts.
Anyone who has ever struggled with drinking, drugs, or pornography, or even to control his eating (as I have) knows there are things that trigger binges. Anxiety, quarrelling, idleness, feeling sorry for yourself, maybe one bite of food after dinner. Relatively small things in themselves, but small like sparks that start forest fires!
If overspending is your temptation, you need to watch against it. And you need to be serious about it. Are you tempted to buy too many books? Block Amazon.com! Are you tempted to buy clothes you don't need and can't afford? Throw away the catalogues that come in the mail! Are you lusting for a new car though there's nothing wrong with the one you've got? You need to take the back roads around Auto Mall Parkway!
Watching against temptation does not mean 'Thinking about temptation'--that itself it tempting. It means getting away from it as soon as you can (if you can) or (if you can't get away from it), resisting the first impulses of lust or anger or covetousness or gluttony or whatever your temptation is.
If I had to fight an anaconda, I'd rather do it while he's still in the egg! If we're going to win the battle for our souls, we've got to 'wake up' and 'look alive'. Watch. That's our first order.
STAND FAST IN THE FAITH
In the second place, we're to stand fast in the faith. The word, 'faith' can be used subjectively or objectively. Subjectively, it means 'believing', and this is how many people take the verse, 'Keep believing firmly'.
This is certainly good advice, but I take it the other way. Objectively, the faith, means 'what we believe'. This is what I think Paul is getting at here. We will never see through the devil's cunning or be able to resist the powers of the world unless we are meditating on the distinct doctrines of the Gospel.
If a Christian man knows adultery is wrong, why does he commit it? It's because adultery meets some need of his. He needs to be a man and this proves he is one! He needs love and that's what his mistress gives him. He wants to feel alive, and she makes him feel this way.
Are his needs real? Yes they are, but they're needs gone wrong., needs perverted to a selfish and destructive end. If the man meditated on the Gospel, he would see it has done for him what no mistress can. Does he want love? The Gospel says, God loves him enough to send His Son to the cross for his salvation! Does he want to feel alive? The Gospel makes him alive in Christ and promises Eternal Life! Does he want to be a man? In union with Christ, he's a real man, a man in the Image of Christ.
The Law doesn't work; it makes us feel guilty about giving into our temptations, but it does not give us the power to resist them. The Gospel does. Because it meets our every need and, more importantly, because it brings us into the Presence of God, with whom, the Psalm says is--
The fullness of joy,
and pleasures forever
People think doctrine doesn't matter much, or if it does, it only matters to pastors or scholars or young men who can't meet girls! Nothing could be less true! Growth in grace depends on knowing and living by the truth. That's not all it depends on, but it depends on it. Jesus says so--
Sanctify them by your truth,
your word is truth.
BE BRAVE, BE STRONG
The third and fourth are, I think two ways of saying the same thing--
Be brave. Be strong.
Here I love the KJV that says--
Acquit yourselves like men!
This is a battle cry from way back in the Bible. Do you remember where? It was the Battle of Aphek, told in I Samuel 4.
For some time, the Philistines and the Israelites had been tangling and the Philistines were getting the better of God's People. Till one day someone had the bright idea of bringing the Ark of the Covenant onto the battle field. Eli's sons carried it from Shiloh to Aphek, and when the Hebrews saw it, they shouted so loudly the earth shook. When the Philistines heard the shout, the trembled in fear, for they thought God lived in the Ark, and if He had beaten the Egyptian, He'd have no problem with the Philistines. You'd think they would turn tail and run, and they would have--I think--if an officer hadn't called them out on their cowardice--
Be strong and acquit yourselves like men, you Philistines!
Stirred by his words, they Philistines played the man that day, defeated the armies of Israel, killed Eli's sons, and took the Ark of the Covenant. Philisitia's greatest victory was--humanly speaking--men acting like men!
What does it mean to 'play the man'? For one thing, it means to respect the enemy. If you read the history of the Civil War, you'll see one of the Confederacy's biggest blunders was underestimating the North.
The Rebels did not believe the Yankees would really fight. The South's early victories confirmed their conceit, but when Grant took command, they faced a man with no quit in him.
Let me break the bad news to you. The temptations you face today will likely be with you until you die. God is able to deliver you completely from a temptation if He wants to. But He rarely wants to. You've go to respect your temptation and fight it every day. Even when you're tired or sick or worried or mistreated.
Lust or envy or laziness or gluttony or the love of money or resentment or some other bad thing is going to push you every day of your life. Being strong and brave means 'pushing back'.
If you're young, you may think you can do it. If you're older, you know you can't. You've tried before; you've resolved to do it, promised to do it, sworn to God you'd do it, but then you didn't do it. Spiritual courage and strength are not the fruit of willpower.
They're the fruit of the Gospel, of what Christ did for you when He bore your sins in His Body on the tree, and what He's doing for you now in the Holy Spirit, His agent on earth.
When it comes to resisting temptation and not allowing the world to mold our character, Paul has been very detailed in his instructions. If he left it there, you might think that 'taking care of yourself' is the most important thing you can do. V.14 dispels that thought--
Let all things be done in love.
The love he refers to here is 'brotherly love', and this requires us to get out of ourselves, to think of others, and to put their needs above our own wishes. Until we think of others, we'll have no change in ourselves.
Suppose a Christian man is hooked on pornography. He feels dirty, ashamed of himself, and he's scared to death that he'll be found out. He pours all his energy into getting free of it, but the more he says to himself, 'I won't look, I won't look, I won't look', the more he looks. Thinking about the sin pulls him back into it.
What he needs to do is get out of himself, and the only way he can do that is by serving others for Christ's sake. Which is another way of saying, 'doing all things in love'.
CLOSE AND APPEAL
I hate preachers who need a hundred words to say what should be said in five. Sometimes, I'm this kind of preacher, but Paul isn't! In two short verses, he gives our marching orders. There's more to know and more to do, but we've got to start somewhere, and I can think of no place better to start than here. Let us, therefore, renounce our own abilities, and with humble dependence on the grace of God--
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong, and let all that we do be done in love.
This is the Word of the Lord. Amen.
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