Christianity in America has become very self-centered. It seems that Christians are far more interested in what the church can do for them than in how they can serve the Lord through the church. Though this may sound like a new phenomena, the church of Corinth struggled with the same issue. The Apostle Paul wrote an entire letter to the church in Corinth trying to correct these issues. Consider his words from 1 Corinthians 16:13-16:
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.
Verse 13 - Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
• As the Apostle Paul often did in his letters, he summed up the main point of the entire epistle into one verse near the end of the letter, and this is that summary verse. In 1 Corinthians, Paul dealt with various abuses of Christian liberty the Corinthians had taken. Some examples include: sexual immorality, taking communion improperly, using spiritual gifts in incorrect ways, and doing good deeds without love. In each of the issues that Paul deals with throughout Corinthians, his emphasis is on living in such a way that our Christian conduct builds up the local church instead of ourselves. This was foreign to the self-centered way that Corinthians lived. To be a Corinthian was to be a self-centered wild party animal. To be honest, it is fairly foreign to the way most American Christians live as well.
• Paul reminds the Corinthians to always be on their guard against taking God’s grace for granted. This is good advice for us too. Though there are many things that we COULD do as believers, that does not mean we SHOULD do them. We must always guard our hearts from being self-centered and egotistical in our faith. Despite all our fancy talk about loving the Lord, most of our efforts in our personal lives, and in our churches, revolve around meeting our own needs, not building up others or glorifying the Lord. Just look at the list of programs most churches offer, most of them are to benefit the members, not to serve the community. American Christians do not love the idea of sacrifice, or doing without, so that others can have what they need to live. Living in such a way requires a stronger, firmer faith, than most of us have.
• This is why Paul challenges us to stand firm in our faith. If our faith is not strong, it is impossible for us to live the Christian life God wants us to live. This is a common theme found throughout the scripture. If we do not stand firm in our faith, we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9). We cannot have an on again off again faith that wavers back and forth with every change of situation. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). If we try to base our faith only on good works, we never really feel like we have pleased the Lord. We must base our faith on Christ alone for both eternal salvation and daily living. With people, such faith is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). God will help us do this, but we must learn to trust Him.
• Learning to trust God completely takes great courage, especially for independent minded Americans who do not like to rely on others for help. The phrase “be couragous” is the Greek word andrizomai (ἀνδρίζεσθαι), which literaly means “to bear oneself manfully, or to be manly in bearing and action.” That is why in other versions of the Bible, the phrase “be courageous” is written as “act like men,” or “be manly,” which is actually closer to the original language. We need manly courage to live for Christ.
• Because most of us prefer to trust what we can see, it takes a lot of courage to trust God, who He is unseen by our human eyes. It takes a lot of courage to serve in the church because there is always someone who will complain about how we did things. It takes a lot of courage to speak about our faith outside of church, especially in a culture that is increasingly anti-Christian. But if we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who had the courage to go to the cross, He will give us the strength to be courageous both in and out of church.
• For those of us who doubt if we are up to the task, notice the last phrase, “be strong.” Paul uses a very uncommon Greek word here, it literally means, be strengthened, which implies that the source of strength was not in ourselves but in something outside of us. The source of our strength is the Holy Spirit. Will we allow Him to work in our lives?
• Ultimately, our manhood, our courage, though weak in the human sense, once empowered by divine strength, will brace us for all we are called to do for the Lord. This is also a common theme in scripture. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:38). Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). The great challenge is to make sure that as the Lord empowers us to do great things for Him, we must not start thinking more highly of ourselves than we should. /Our entire life must be encapsulated by the love of Christ.
Verse 14 - Do everything in love.
• The idea of loving others was so important that Paul devoted a whole chapter in this letter to the concept of love (chapter 13). Far too often Christians say, do, or believe the right things, but fail to do them in love, or for the right reasons, and therefore miss the point of what God was trying to have us do. When we do the right things for the wrong reasons, or without love, we miss the blessing that God wants us to have in our service to Him. Perhaps this is why we no longer enjoy serving in church. If our service to God no longer feels like a blessing, it might be time to do a heart check to make sure we are serving in love. When we do the right things for the wrong reasons, or without love, our actions lose much of their effectiveness because the power of the Holy Spirit is no longer in our actions. Wow, just dwell on that idea for a moment. Note that being strong and manly is not the opposite of being loving. They should work in partnership with each other, not in opposition to each other.
Verses 15-16 - You know that the household of Stephanas . . . devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters to submit to such people ...
• This verse introduces us to Stephanas, whom some scholars suggest was the Philippian jailer who came to faith in Christ in Acts 16. Others suggest that he was a wealthy business man from Athens whom Paul had led to faith while there and who later moved to Corinth. We may never know exactly who Stephanas was, but we do know that he was devoted to serving others. Paul commends him for this. This fits the theme of the letter because the Corinthians were having trouble serving others. Paul tells them to submit to people like Stephanas, who liked to serve.
• Submit means to line up in order of authority. Though all are equal in the church before God, God has chosen to put some people in authority so that the church can function well. God chooses leaders who like to serve others, which is not always what the church chooses. If we desire to be leaders in the church, whether we ever hold an office or not, we must be known for serving others and for our willingness to submit to those who serve others. How can we be known for that?
• Verse 16 tells us to join in with others who labor for the Lord. Though the modern generation is not much on joining groups, there is something powerful about joining up. If we are not members of a church, we should do whatever we have to to join a church.
• Verses 1-2 of this chapter remind us of the importance of giving to the church financially.
• Though none of us like it when churches talk about money, how do we expect the church to do what it does if no one gives? If everyone gave what they should, we would not have to continually take up special collections. So if we do not like special offerings, let’s give what we should to the main offering and there will be enough to meet all the needs.
• Verses 10-11 remind us to support the pastor and the missionaries in their efforts to share the Gospel with others. Sometimes a door for ministry opens and we should do whatever we can to help those who feel called to go through it.
• Finally, verses 19-20 remind us to cooperate with other churches. This is why every church should be part of a group of churches instead of being a lone ranger church. We can do far more together than we can on our own.
In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul tells us to:
1. Be on our guard against self-centered Christianity.
2. Be firm in our faith.
3. Be men and women of courage.
4. Trust the Holy Spirit to give us strength.
5. Focus on serving others by joining a church, supporting the church financially, supporting the pastor and missionaries in their ministries and by cooperating with other churches.
Terry Dorsett has been a church planter and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. Find all of his books at: