"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong." - New International Version
I Corinthians 16:13
Four Imperatives for Us, Today
The apostle Paul
is giving us a command here, an imperative, but it actually goes further. In I Corinthians 16:13, there are four imperatives in this one verse, which is, itself, just six words in the original
Greek: 1) watch, 2) stand fast in the faith, 3) be men (courageous), and 4) be strong.
The word watch means "to keep awake, to be vigilant, to be
watchful." For us, that means keeping an eye on the world around us, and, more importantly, paying attention to our spiritual condition. To stand fast in the faith means "to
be stationary (anchored), to persevere, to be convicted of our beliefs." As we read, to be men is "to be
courageous," not so much in a physical sense as in the convictions of our spiritual life. Finally, to be strong
implies "to increase in vigor, to be strengthened, to increase in faith."
These four imperatives can be
viewed in military terms, and Paul uses such terms quite often in his epistles. Living in the days of Roman rule, he commonly
saw Roman legions in his travels. His audience, also living within the Empire, was quite familiar with soldiers and their
duties. We can imagine a sentry on guard duty, at attention, peering into the night, listening intently for any unusual noise.
He has to fight off sleep lest the enemy sneak up on him and kill him, opening the camp to attack. We can realize how this
applies to Christian life.
The other imperatives-standing fast in the faith, being strong, and living like men-are
better understood as military imagery. Many are familiar with the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, when Sparta's
King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, along with 700 Thespians, 400 Thebans, and a few hundred others, fought to the death against
the million-man army of Persian Emperor Xerxes. King Leonidas and his men knew that they would die; they knew the odds were
overwhelmingly against them. But they felt compelled to try to stop the enemy and save their country.
as that example is, we should bring it down to a more personal level -- to an army of one. Outnumbered as they were, the Spartans
and their allies still had other warriors fighting with them,, at least until the very end. The question for our consideration
is will we fight to the end, if we are the only one left?