Principles for Powerful Living (16:13–14)
Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (16:13–14)
The greater part of 1 Corinthians is in the form of rebuke and correction. The first fourteen chapters deal primarily with errant behavior, and chapter 15 deals with errant theology. Even chapter 13, the beautiful treatise on love, was given to correct the lovelessness that so characterized the Corinthian church. But the rebuke and correction were themselves given out of deep love. Paul was steeped in the love of God, and his rebuke, like the Lord’s own rebuke of His children, was always given in love. “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6).
In 1 Corinthians 16:13–14 Paul gives five final imperatives, five last commands, to the Corinthians. They are to be alert, firm, mature, strong, and loving. These commands are, in many ways, the positive side of what in earlier chapters the apostle had told the Corinthians not to be. Each command can serve as a point of departure for reviewing the epistle.
Paul’s first command to the Corinthians was be on the alert, which comes from one word, grēgoreō, which can mean “to watch,” “be awake,” “be vigilant,” and, figuratively, “be alive” (as in 1 Thess. 5:10, where “awake or asleep” refers to being alive or dead). The term is used some 22 times in the New Testament, often in reference to Christians’ being spiritually awake and alert, as opposed to being spiritually indifferent and listless.
The Corinthians seemed normally to be in a spiritual and moral stupor, and sometimes even were in a physical stupor—as when they became drunk at the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:21). They were not alert in any worthwhile way. They allowed their previous pagan ideas and habits to come back into their lives and destroy their faithfulness to the Lord and their fellowship with each other. They substituted human wisdom for God’s Word (1:18–2:16); they were factious (1:10–17; 3:9; etc.), immoral (5:1–13), litigious (6:1–8); they had confused and perverted ideas about marriage, divorce, and celibacy (7:1–40); they were self-indulgent (10:1–13) and indifferent to the welfare of others (10:23–33); they misunderstood and misused their spiritual gifts (12–14); and, above all, they were unloving, exemplifying all the things that love is not (13:1–6).
In the New Testament we are told of at least six important things we are to watch out for, to be on the alert for. First, we are to be on the alert against Satan. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet. 5:8–9). We should learn Satan’s strategies, which though subtle are basically identifiable in three areas: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16).
Second, we must be on the alert for temptation. “Keep watching and praying,” Jesus said, “that you may not come into temptation” (Mark 14:38). If we are not watching and seeking the Lord’s help in prayer, we often will not even notice temptation when it comes. When our spiritual eyes are shut or sleepy, we can fall more easily into sin.
Third, we must watch for apathy and indifference. The very nature of those sins makes them hard to notice. By definition, a person who is apathetic and indifferent is insensitive and therefore cannot be alert. The church at Sardis assumed that it had spiritual life because it had “a name that [it was] alive,” but it was so indifferent to the Lord’s will that it did not realize it was “dead.” “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die,” the Lord told them, “for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you” (Rev. 3:1–3).
Christians cannot disregard the Lord’s Word with impunity. To neglect Scripture is to disregard it and treat it as if it means nothing. Before long we cannot remember what we have received and heard, and the Lord’s way becomes more and more vague and indefinite. When His Word is indefinite to us we become indifferent to it, and we need to begin to “keep it, and repent.” If we do not, God will chasten us in love—at a time, and perhaps in a way, that we do not expect.
Fourth, Christians should be alert for false teachers, about whom the New Testament gives many warnings. “There will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1). Many people, even in the church, actually will invite false teachers into their midst. “They will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” because they become dissatisfied with “the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” We are therefore to “be sober in all things,” Paul warns, being on the alert for any teaching that does not square with Scripture (2 Tim. 4:3–5).
The first four alerts are negative, indicating things we are continually to watch for in order to avoid, because they will harm us. But the New Testament also gives us some positive things to watch for, some things that will strengthen and help us. As already mentioned above, Jesus tells us to watch and pray in order to escape temptation (Mark 14:38). Prayer strengthens us in God’s way just as it protects us against Satan’s way. Prayer is not simply a random ritual in which faithful Christians are to participate dutifully. It is the heartbeat of spiritual life. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance” (Eph. 6:18).
Christians should also be watching for the Lord’s return. The two great motives we have for living faithfully for Christ are remembering what He did for us on the cross and looking forward to His coming again. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42; cf. 25:13). “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” Peter says; therefore “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:10–12).
Another principle for powerful living is standing firm in the faith. As the great theologian Charles Hodge reminded us, we should not consider every point of doctrine an open question. The Corinthians, like many of the Ephesians, were being “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). They would not take a firm stand on many things. Little was certain and absolute; much was relative and tentative.
The faith of which Paul speaks here is not the faith of trusting but the faith of truth, the content of the gospel. It is “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), “the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand” (1 Cor. 15:1). It is the faith in which we are to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 6:12). Paul told the Philippians that he expected to hear that they were “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). Doctrine is in view here.
Satan cannot take saving faith away from us, but he can, and often does, obscure the content of our faith, the sound doctrines of God’s Word. If we do not hold fast to right interpretations of Scripture, we are certain to slip into wrong thinking, wrong belief, and wrong behavior. Many of the Corinthians apparently had come to look on the truth of God itself as foolishness, being corrupted by the influence of their unbelieving friends and neighbors (1 Cor. 1:18–21). Human philosophy and wisdom had all but obliterated their view of God’s Word. By trying to combine human wisdom and God’s wisdom they had undermined the uniqueness and the authority of God’s revealed truth. Paul warned them, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” (1 Cor. 3:18–19). Like many professed Christians today, they considered Scripture to be but a human commentary on views of God that existed at the time of writing. If God’s truth can be known at all, they believed, it is only through the filter of man’s knowledge and wisdom.
The Corinthians not only were not standing firm in their view of Scripture but also had slipped terribly in their view of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paganism had so strongly reentered their thinking that some of them, claiming to speak “by the Spirit of God,” were calling Jesus “accursed” (12:3). Because they had not stood firm in God’s Word, they were corrupted and perverted to the extent of attacking the gospel at its heart, by renouncing Christ and calling Him accursed. They were “denying the Master who bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1).
The apostle therefore commands that they muststand firm in the faith. They must, as he commanded the Thessalonians, “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught” (2 Thess. 2:15). If we are to be firm in the faith, we must be well taught in the Word, looking at everything and judging everything by God’s truth and standards. We should pray for ourselves and for the church today as Epaphras prayed for the Colossians, that we “may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12).
A third principle for powerful Christian living is being mature, which Paul expresses here as act like men. The basic idea is that of mature courage. The mature person has a sense of control, confidence, and courage that the immature or childish person does not have. Again we see that Paul’s command is for the Corinthians to be the opposite of what they normally were. They were characterized by anything but maturity.
Paul already had pleaded with them, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature” (14:20). The Corinthians needed to grow up. Even when he pastored among them the apostle was not able to talk to them “as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.” Since he had left Corinth they still had not matured. “Indeed, even now,” he continues, “you are not yet able” (1 Cor. 3:1–2). He has to threaten them with discipline, just as a parent must do with a stubborn child. “What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod …?” (4:21).
Maturity is one of the marks of love (1 Cor. 13:11), a virtue in which the Corinthians were especially deficient. Love strives for maturity in all good things—in doctrine, in spiritual insight, in emotional stability and control, in personal relationships, in moral purity, and in all the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Above all we should “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18), “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.… But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:13, 15).
How does a believer grow and mature? By longing “for the pure milk of the word, that by it [we] grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). The Bible provides spiritual and moral nourishment. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
Be strong is Paul’s fourth imperative for Christian living. As here, the Greek term (krataioō) is frequently used in the New Testament to denote inner, spiritual growth. The verb is in the passive voice, and literally means “be strengthened.” We cannot strengthen ourselves; that is the Lord’s work. Our part is to submit ourselves to Him in order that He can strengthen us. We can only “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10), and “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1).
Only a strong spirit can successfully battle and overcome the flesh. Again, that is where the Corinthians were weak. “For you are still fleshly,” Paul told them. “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3). Yet they had deceived themselves into thinking they were wise and strong. “If any man among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise” (3:18). The apostle says of them sarcastically, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong” (4:10). Because of their spiritual weakness they even despised and profaned the most sacred of things, including the Lord’s Supper—for which desecration many of them became “weak and sick, and a number sleep,” that is, had died (11:30).
The person who thinks he is strong in himself is in the greatest danger of falling (10:12). At one time in his ministry Paul faced that very danger. He had been “caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.… And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself!” The lesson the apostle learned directly from the Lord was, “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:4, 7, 9).
We can no more be spiritually strong than we can be physically strong without self-discipline. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:25). Spiritual strength comes from self-sacrifice, self-denial, and self-discipline.
We grow in strength as we use our strength. As we “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” we thereby become “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might” (Col. 1:10–11).
The supreme source of all spiritual strength, of course, is Christ Himself. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” Paul declared (Phil. 4:13). “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service” (1 Tim. 1:12). I can imagine that Paul often remembered Psalm 27:14—“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.”
As we wait for the Lord, yielding our spirits to His Spirit, we become “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16).
The fifth principle for powerful living is the most comprehensive, and without it the others could make us crusty, militant, and hard. So Paul says, Let all that you do be done in love. Love complements and balances everything else. It is the beautiful, softening principle. It keeps our firmness from becoming hardness and our strength from becoming domineering. It keeps our maturity gentle and considerate. It keeps our right doctrine from becoming obstinate dogmatism and our right living from becoming smug self-righteousness.
Love is what the Corinthians needed most, and is what believers of all ages have needed most. “Above all,” Peter says, “keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). Love, like spiritual strength, comes from the Lord. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). We are able to love one another “because He first loved us” (v. 19).
13–14 In these two verses, Paul writes five general moral exhortations to the Corinthians. It is probably best to see these as general encouragements rather than specific responses to the earlier content of this letter. The command to “be on your guard” (grēgoreō, GK 1213) is often used in the NT in an eschatological context (e.g., Mt 24:42–43; 25:13; 1 Th 5:6, 10; Rev 3:2–3). Believers should expect the return of the Lord at any time, and our behavior in the meantime should reflect the values of the Lord and should not be characterized by deeds of darkness (cf. Ro 13:11–14; 1 Th 5:1–11).
To “stand firm [stēkō, GK 5112] in the faith” is always appropriate for believers. There are many temptations out there that can cause us to depart from the faith. “The faith” here probably denotes both the body of Christian teachings (e.g., 15:3–5; cf. 2 Co 1:24; 2 Th 2:15) and our own personal relationship with the Lord (1 Co 2:5; 13:13 [see comments]; 15:14, 17).
The next two exhortations (“be men of courage” and “be strong”), while infrequent in the NT (the first verb occurs only here; the second verb occurs only four times), are frequently used in the OT to exhort God’s people to have courage in the face of danger, especially from one’s enemies (e.g., Jos 1:6–9; 2 Sa 10:12; Ps 31:24). In Greco-Roman society there were always people around who were ready to ridicule believers for their faith and even to persecute them (as Paul experienced [2 Co 11:23–29] and was soon to experience in Ephesus). Thus believers needed continual encouragement to stand firm.
Paul’s last exhortation here is to “do everything in love.” This message is essentially the same as the exhortation to exercise that first aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (1 Co 13; see esp. comments at 12:31b). This love involves both love for the Lord (16:22) and love for one another (16:24).
How to be spiritually fit (v. 13)
SPIRITUALLY WE NEED TO BE ON OUR TOES. We have an active enemy who is always on the prowl. Therefore, we must be on our guard and watchful so that we do not give him any opportunity of gaining an advantage over us.
THE VERB ‘BE STRONG’ (v. 13) means strong in the sense of holding fast to Christ and faith in him (2 Thes. 2:15; Heb. 4:14). We are to know what we believe, why we believe and, most of all, whom we have believed.
ALL THE BUFFETINGS OF SATAN must be met with faith and with the exercise of faith comes strength—strength in the Lord and in the power of his might (Eph. 6:10). Our strength is not something inherent in our human nature but something we derive from the Lord.
SPIRITUAL FITNESS requires watchfulness, firmness of faith, courage and the daily experience of the Lord Jesus’ strength and power in our lives.
16:13–14 / The Corinthians are admonished to “watch” (Gk. gregored; niv: be on guard). They are told “to stand courageously in the faith” (Gk. stēkete en tē pistei; niv: stand firm in the faith), the foundation of their existence; they are exhorted quite literally to “be manly” (Gk. andrizomai; niv: be men of courage)—an ancient euphemistic idiom for displaying courage; and they are urged to be strong (Gk. krataioomai), an admonition to firmness or steadfastness. Above all, they are to “do everything in love” (Gk. en agapē … ginomai; niv: do … in love)—the chief criterion for all Christian living (see ch. 13).
16:13. From a logical point of view, this verse stands without much connection to its context. Paul appeared about to close the section with some final exhortations. But he decided to say more in 16:14–18. Such non-sequiturs appear in Paul’s epistles from time to time (Rom. 16:1, 17).
As a proleptic ending to this section, 16:13 gave five central Christian exhortations. First, Paul told the Corinthians to be on … guard. In the New Testament, this terminology frequently describes the expectation of Christ’s return (Mark 13:35; 1 Thess. 5:6). Paul may have wanted the Corinthians to remain expectant of Christ’s second coming. Looking vigilantly for the return of Christ implies a readiness that includes a lifestyle of holiness and service to Christ. Those who disbelieve give up hope of the return of Christ, but those who believe keep their eyes fixed on his return and live with that end in mind. On the other hand, Luke quoted Paul as using this language to exhort the Ephesian elders to guard against false teachers (Acts 20:31), and Paul himself used it to encourage alertness in prayer (Col. 4:2).
Second, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to stand firm in the faith. Paul frequently used this terminology to indicate the constancy with which believers should hold their commitments in the face of adversity and strife (Phil. 1:27; 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:15). The early church faced many challenges that tested believers’ faithfulness to Christ. So Paul encouraged the Corinthians to persevere in their faith.
The third and fourth exhortations are closely related. Paul told the Corinthians to be men of courage and to be strong. These expressions derive from several Old Testament passages in which people were encouraged to be strong and courageous as they faced opposition (Josh. 1:6–7; 2 Sam. 10:12). God calls Christians to a way of life that incites opposition from the world. He calls his people to enter a spiritual war in which opponents seek believers’ destruction and fight against believers’ goals. In this hostile world, it is essential that followers of Christ be courageous and strong. Christians can do this in the face of strong opposition because their victory is sure in Christ, who has already overcome the world (John 16:33).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 471–476). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 411). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Prime, D. (2005). Opening up 1 Corinthians (pp. 146–147). Leominister: Day One Publications.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (p. 364). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, p. 286). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.