Courage, Boys! Tie It All Together with Love.
"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love ." 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
We round out our series with Paul’s call to “do everything in love”. Readers of Paul will not be surprised. Paul regularly talks about love as if it is both the soil out of which the Christian life grows (2 Cor. 5:14-14) and the shape that it grows into (1 Tim. 1:5). As a matter of fact, one of the ways Paul speaks about Christian growth is to describe it as a process where a believer’s understanding and expression of love continually increases (see Phil. 1:9; 1 Thess. 3:12). In the end Paul wants love to weave its way through every aspect of a Christian’s life so that it shapes the expression of every virtue (see Col. 3:14).
There is no doubt Paul sees love as something right at the center of God’s work in a believer’s life. At the same time, it is hard to find a more misunderstood and abused concept. Confusion is the order of the day whether you look at the world or the church. I don’t dispute that many would agree that to love someone is to promote what is in their best interest and to discourage what would harm them. That’s good as far as it goes, but who determines what’s best? Just what am I supposed to love people toward or away from? Just how does a believer think and live if love is in the driver’s seat? Similarly, how do we distinguish love from hate? And, more particularly, what does this mean for us as men?
So what does Paul mean by “do everything in love”? Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. He is not a cliché master who just throws out nice-sounding, pious platitudes. To begin to get our bearings we need to go back and look at what Paul said in 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” This passage is key because it gives an account of what is in everyone’s “best” interest. It tells us what love attempts to commend and implies what it warns against. In addition it helps us see what a life like that would look like by giving us the ultimate example, Christ, along with a close replica in the person of Paul.
In short to love someone is to promote God’s saving purposes in their life, even if you have to take a hit to do it. For Paul this life is rooted in a transformation made possible by what God did in Christ’s death and resurrection. The transformation, this salvation, occurs when a person puts their trust in Christ and what he did on their behalf so that they are forgiven, adopted into God’s family and made a new creation in Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:1-7). Now they have become - and can increasingly be shaped into - a person who rightly sees and values God, someone who understands his love, goodness, power and worth and so desires to live to bring “glory to God”. In other words, they become someone who lives like Christ. Christ lived his life in full agreement with and in full submission to God’s saving work. He lived to promote in his life, death and resurrection God’s desires to rescue, reclaim, and restore his rebellious creatures (see Luke 19:10). And, as we well know, Christ lived to give glory to God even at a shocking, inestimable cost to himself (see Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).
So for us to love starts with us being transformed by trusting Christ so that we delight in who God is and what he has done in Christ. And, as an outworking of that delight, we yearn for others to know the delight we know in God through Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:11-21). We yearn for others to know the joy, freedom, belonging, purpose, security and satisfaction that God has created them for and now wants to redeem them to reclaim. We warn them about turning away from God or neglecting him. We become like Paul. We become someone who urges others to follow us as we follow Christ to the glory of God!
Now we turn to 1 Cor. 13 to fill out our understanding of what a God-centered love looks like. Since for Paul the embodiment of love is Christ, what we read in the famous love passage is not only a description of love but also a portrait of Jesus. Here is the key portion for our purposes:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
This passage tells us how love goes about promoting its goals. It doesn’t coerce or manipulate. It doesn’t take an “ends justify the means” path. It doesn’t take any delight in words, choices or habits that stand over against what is true. It isn’t naïve about the difficulties and so is in it for the long haul and expects adversity. It is not driven by a need for it to be recognized so that it is not irritable or resentful when it is not appreciated. Rather, it is “pumped” when someone follows the truth centered in Christ. It weeps when Christ is rejected or ignored and steadfastly points back to Christ. It patiently, steadily stays on its knees asking for wisdom and strength to love generously and tenaciously. It fights its desire for control or recognition and longs for Christ to be put at the center and for his goals to be realized.
In short, love not only moves toward Christ’s goals but it moves toward those goals as Christ. His passions and priorities shape everything you are and do if you are someone who does “everything in love”. God wants you and I to be men who yearn for what he yearns for us. Then we will be someone who yearns and acts to commend to others, by life and word, what God yearns for them. We will long for others to taste the goodness of Christ—to know his power, love, guidance, mercy, forgiveness, etc.
How do we get there? First we need practices in our lives that promote our delight in what God has done for us in Christ by his Spirit. We need a regular habit of reading about and meditating on it in his word. We need to talk to him about it in prayers and songs of praise and thanksgiving. We need to testify of it to each other and listen to each other’s testimonies to it. We need to gather with fellow delighters for encouragement and accountability.
So what will this mean? It would mean many things but here are a few. It means that we teach, live before, and discipline our kids as Christ would with a longing for them to go where God wants to take our kids. We invest our time and money in resources - books, conferences, relationship building events, mentoring relationships - that will help us take our families, marriages and friends where God wants to take them. We use the power of our applause and praise to encourage our wife, children, and friends toward where God wants to take them. We laugh and cry with the heart of God. We watch over our family on our knees; we pray for their salvation, for their growth in Christ, for their desire to follow him. We lead with a sensitivity to our place as a husband, dad, brother and their place as a wife, child, brother, etc. We go after the heart and commend a way of life by life and word even if they are not seeking to be led. We serve those in our spheres of influence even if that means we sacrifice what is best for us for their best. We live with integrity; we don’t slink around to do what we feel is right or pout and become passive aggressive when we are kept from doing what we think is right. We say what we mean and are willing to take the consequences of the disapproval or rejection of others. We don’t live with our finger in the wind but rather with our ears open to Christ as we prayerfully try to lead those in our sphere of influence toward Christ.
As we conclude our series it might be good to go back through our commands and weave love through them. To do everything in love means that we guard our souls against voices that encourage us to turn from Christ or diminish his influence over our hearts and minds. It is to hold steadfastly to the truth as given to us by Christ through his prophets and apostles in the Scriptures. It is to fight on for the cause of Christ against the “fears within and without” because of a deep reverence for God and a real trust in his power and goodness. In the end it is to become men who influence the people in our lives by life and word toward what God created them to be and wants to redeem them to become!
Men, let’s lean in on Christ and keep pressing together so that we might “act like men”!
Courage, Boys! Take Ground for the Kingdom!
"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love." (1Cor 16)
Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, describes courage as “knowing what not to fear”. Plato simply implies what we argued in our previous post, courage is inextricably tied to a person’s beliefs or commitments. Also, he makes it clear that courage is not complete fearlessness. An unqualified “no fear” is not the slogan of a courageous person. Yet Plato doesn’t get us very far. How do we figure out what we should fear or not fear? What situations call for courage to stand against or with someone or something? Here is where Scripture is needed.
Proverbs tells us that the “fear of God” is the starting point for a life well-lived (see Prov. 19:23). To find life we need a kind of reverence for God that makes God our unchallenged authority. We recognize his power and his goodness. We humble ourselves before him, “not my will but your will be done”. We quickly and repeatedly admit our dependence on his wisdom and power. We trust God to tell us what is real and good. And, finally, we willingly follow the path he lays out for us in Scripture and take his warnings seriously.
The Apostle Paul gives us a clear picture of the life of courage. His only fear was the fear of standing before God ashamed because his life or death had not given Christ his due. His only fear is that he might back down in the face of challenges to the importance and centrality of Christ for all of life. He just longed for “sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). Real strength, real courage is on display when we make much of Christ. We need strength and courage to follow his leading, to humbly accept his rebuke and return to him when we wander and fall, to resist the threats and siren calls of other masters, and to commend him to others by life and word.
In other words, men, real courage is on display when a man follows Christ unwaveringly in advancing his loving rule within and around him. He fights to hold on to and live out Christ’s call for him as a protector, provider and servant-leader. At the same time, he fights to take ground for Christ’s kingdom in the lives of those around him in ways that fit God’s expectations for him as father (Eph. 6:4), son (Eph. 6:1-3; 1 Tim 5:4-8), husband (Eph. 5:25-33), brother or friend (1 Tim. 5:1-2; Tit 2:6-8). It doesn’t matter to him that our culture is not looking for this kind of man. Christ is and that’s all that matters! A soldier lives to please his commander (2 Tim. 2:3-4).
Men, we need courage and strength to set the spiritual direction of our family. We look to Christ for them and with them in prayer. We help and encourage them to listen to his words in Scripture. Primarily, this means we do at least two things. First, we lead in helping our family members understand their identity in Christ. We help them see what Christ longs for them to be: his loved, rescued, gifted and called child who increasingly comes to know genuine life in relationship to him. Second, we lead in helping our family understand what a Christ-shaped family looks like. Christ’s passions and priorities drive and set the standard for our life together. Christ’s expectations for dads, moms and the kids are respected, honored, and embraced. Everyone takes their places as Christ ordains. We respect the authorities God places in our lives. Christ’s character shapes the way we treat one another.
We need courage and strength to talk to our kids about things that matter for them because they matter to Christ. We do not leave the hard conversations up to someone else. We are not the only voice they need to hear and we don’t have everything they need, but we are one of the voices they need to hear. Their relationship with Christ and his loving expectations for their relationships, their bodies, their possessions, their gifts/vocations, and so much more are our responsibility. No sluffing them off to the wife. No sluffing them off to the youth pastor. No laying low with quiet hopes that someone else will say what they need to hear. We reject excuses. We read or talk to someone to find out what we don’t know. We look for good models to follow. Then, we talk through it with our kids. Or, at least, set up encounters for them where they get what they need to hear—and then follow up on what they heard! We are active and intentional because we are responsible.
We need courage and strength to pursue a woman/wife in a manner consistent with the character and goals of Christ. We need courage to deny ourselves—our sexual drives, our vocational goals, our hobbies—if loving her to Christ as Christ demands it. We need courage and strength to honorably pursue her and then hang in there and stay at it in marriage in a culture that tells you “life is too short, get a divorce” or “if you need things from a woman, get one, but don’t give your heart to her” or “the ring doesn’t matter, just live together”. We need courage and strength to say I’m sorry when we blow it; to reject physical and emotional coercion when we’re frustrated; to love with hope when we’re disrespected; and to resist a hopeless (“women, you can never please them”), careless (“yea, yea, whatever”), angry (“women will take your money and rip your heart out”) or whimpering (“yes dear; whatever you say, dear”) passivity. We need strength and courage to protect, provide and point to Christ.
We need courage and strength to speak up at work or in our group of friends for Christ. We should know each other’s stories and how a relationship with Christ figures into it. Do my friends know Christ? Are they following Christ? Do they have practices in their life—Bible study, prayer, church, spiritual accountability and openness to another brother—that are important for their spiritual growth and protection? Are they serving and giving? Do their passions and conversations reflect Christ? We should be helping one another figure out how Christ would have us think about women, parenting, vocation, sports, hobbies and toys, politics, money, etc.
So much more we could say here, but this is already too much. As we close, let’s purpose together by God’s grace to fight to overcome the fears that stand in the way of following Christ. Let’s make Isaac Watts’ words our own (from his hymn, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross”):
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
Courage Boys, Part III: Hold on to What God Says about Men
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love (1Cor 16).
After advising the Corinthians to be “on guard”, Paul encourages them to persistently hold on to the truth—the things about God, themselves and the world that must be understood, trusted and lived. In fact, though second in order, this command is foundational for understanding and obeying each of the commands. An understanding and embrace of the truth is key to everything called for in this set of commands.
Speaking about courage, William Bennett, former Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, emphasizes this point: “The mere inclination to do the right thing is not in itself enough. We have to know what the right thing to do is.”
What truths must I, as a man, hold on to “as if my life depends on it”? In other words, what truths are absolutely necessary to understand, trust and live if I am to be the man God created--and is redeeming me--to become? Along with all the virtues that every Christian is to exhibit and pursue, I suggest that these truths include at least the following three areas.
First, from Genesis 2:15 we find that God made men to work/provide: “The Lord
God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” As men, we go to work to provide for ourselves, for our immediate family (if married), our extended families (1 Tim 5:8), and those in need (Eph 4:28). As we are able, we don’t expect someone or some institution to do what God has called us to do. This is what Paul means in 1 Thess 4:11 when he tells believers to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”. A “quiet life” is a life that makes no claims on other people’s money. I keep my hands out of other people’s pockets and shut up about how they must use it. Rather, this life takes responsibility for working to provide for itself (see also 2 Thess 3:6-15). In addition, we understand that “work” is good for us and a way for us to love our neighbors. There is something about how God has made us that doing something “useful” with our “own hands” protects and fosters human dignity (again, Eph 4:28). Work is not just something that keeps us busy or keeps the lights on and food on the table. Work is something that helps us experience what God created us to be. It lets us take what gifts and abilities God has given us and bring them to expression in the work of our hands for the blessing of our neighbor and for reflection of glory to God. In his book, Luther on Vocations, Gustaf Wingren gets at this point in his summary of Martin Luther’s view of vocation.
In his vocation man does works which effect the well-being of others; for so God has made all offices. Through this work in man's offices, God's creative work goes forward, and that creative work is love, a profusion of good gifts. With persons as his "hands" or "coworkers," God gives his gifts through the earthly vocations, toward man's life on earth (food through farmers, fishermen and hunters; external peace through princes, judges, and orderly powers; knowledge and education through teachers and parents, etc., etc.). Through the preacher's vocation, God gives the forgiveness of sins. Thus love comes from God, flowing down to human beings on earth through all vocations, through both spiritual and earthly governments.
Second, Scripture teaches that God made men to protect those who are vulnerable or less physically powerful-- spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
1 Timothy 3:2-5 is really little more than a description of a mature Christian man with a few pastor-specific add-ons. It describes a man transformed by God’s saving work so that his strength is not wasted or used to dominate and destroy. Rather it is directed toward furthering God’s saving purposes in those around him.
"Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?"
We see this again in 1 Pet 3. Peter instructs husbands to “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Men, God wants us to use our strength to promote the blessing and flourishing of those around us--men, women and children. We need to be men who can be trusted to protect children—by staying engaged in all ages and stages; by not avoiding discipline; by setting boundaries; by loving their mother; by encouraging and teaching. We need to be men who are woman-safe—by keeping our vows; by refusing to objectify (pornography); by refusing to manipulate, threaten, or coerce (by being passive aggressive, by whining, by physically threatening, etc.); by respecting and being honest with the women in our lives.
We need to be men who stand against those who prey on the vulnerable. We need to stand up, step in and speak out when danger is afoot—even if it is unpopular within our homes, or churches, or the public square.
Finally, God intended that men take responsibility to be servant-leaders—by life and word—to those in their families, churches, and neighborhoods. We are called to serve them by lovingly using our influence to encourage them to embrace what God yearns for them to be. We take the risks to make ourselves vulnerable for their sake—we reach out, we ask out, we look out, we step up.
As men we are called to give our attention to those in our sphere of influence. We need to figure out what they need from Christ and how we can best bring it to them. We also speak to sin in our relationships at home, work, and in society even as we model an alternative vision by life and word. We do not abrogate our role of being fixed points of compassion to confront, warn, and, in the case of our children, discipline. Yet, as we offer what Christ wants to give them by life and word and as we set loving boundaries, we realize that we can only truly take them where they want to go. We don’t coerce people spiritually or force Christ upon them. We model and commend Christ.
In short, men are to give their lives to promote God’s preferences, purposes and program in their sphere of influence. We need to become men who yearn for ourselves what God yearns for us to know and be. And in doing so, we become men who yearn to promote what God yearns for in the lives of others.
What truth do we need to reclaim?
 The Book of Virtues (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993): 442.
 (Evansville, IN: Ballast Press, 1994): 27-28.