1 Corinthians 16:13-14. Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity.
OF all the apostolic Churches, not any one seems to have been so corrupt as that at Corinth: at least, St. Paul reproves more evils there than in any other. In this epistle to that Church he addresses himself to the consideration of several abuses which had crept in among them: and now, in the close of it, he gives them, in few words, his pastoral advice; but evidently, I think, with a special view to all his preceding remarks. They were in the midst of manifold temptations; and therefore he bids them “watch.” They had amongst them false teachers, who, under a specious garb of sanctity and superior illumination, sought to turn them from the truth; and therefore he tells them to “stand fast in the faith.” They had trials of various kinds to encounter; and therefore he says to them, “Quit you like men, be strong.” At the same time, there were great contentions among them; and therefore he adds, “Let all your things be done with charity.” Now, as these subjects are worthy of universal concern, we will adopt the same line of instruction as was pursued by him; and, just changing the words, in order to convey more clearly what I conceive to be the meaning of them, I will say,
I. Guard against temptations of every kind—
[Of course, every Christian must watch against all the more open assaults of his three great enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil: and I must therefore, in the first place put you on your guard against them — — — But, as the caution was given to persons who might he considered as on the whole pious, it may be proper rather to advert to such temptations as are peculiar to Christians, whether in their collective capacity as a Church, or in their personal experience as saints.
Now Christians, as collected into a society, have many things in their temper and deportment against which it becomes them to guard with all vigilance. Pride, envy, prejudice, uncharitableness, are very apt to disturb the harmony of those who ought to be united in the bonds of brotherly love: and they should be checked, by all, in their very first risings in the soul: and not only in ourselves should we watch against them, but in others also, so as to arrest their progress before they have had an opportunity of spreading to any great extent their malignant influence; ever bearing in mind, that “a little leaven, if suffered to spread, will soon leaven the whole lump.”
Against secret evils, too, must every one be on his guard; yea, and against the means and occasions of evil. There are many things that, when kept under proper restrictions, are innocent; which yet, through unwatchfulness or excess, are productive of great evil. The exercises of Christian affection may degenerate into feelings of a very unhallowed character; and lawful indulgences may gain an undue ascendant over the mind. It is not easy to draw the precise line between good and evil, especially when the quality of an action depends on its accidental circumstances: we should therefore scrupulously, and as before God, examine our whole deportment, and try it with severity by the test of his holy law. And against every deviation from right, and every declension from what is good, we should guard with the utmost vigilance; well knowing, that Satan will take advantage of our unwatchfulness, to ensnare and defile our souls.]
As materially assistant to you in the discharge of that first duty, I would say,
II. Hold fast your principles—
[It is by the adoption of Christian principles that any one is brought to the performance of Christian duties: and any dereliction of the one will infallibly introduce a relaxation of the other. God himself asks, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God [Note: 1 John 5:5.]?” The high standard of Christian morals and of Christian piety is observed by no other person under heaven. Nothing but love to the Saviour ever did, or ever can, lead to an entire surrender of the soul to God. But let a person be drawn aside by vain philosophy or Jewish superstition, and he will soon lose the ardour of his soul in divine exercises, and the delight attendant on close intercourse with God; and a correspondent change in the whole tone and temper of his mind will soon follow. In proportion as the eyes are turned from the Lord Jesus Christ to any matters of doubtful disputation, will a stop be put to a progressive transformation of the soul into his blessed image [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.]. To every one, therefore, I would say, “Hold fast the Head,” the Lord Jesus Christ, and “live entirely by faith on him;” “receiving continually, out of his fulness,” additional supplies of grace. And this is the very advice which St. Peter, by his own bitter experience, learned to give to the Christian Church, as the only effectual means of overcoming their great adversary: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith [Note: 1 Peter 5:8-9.].”]
In this course, however, you will meet with opposition; against which you must,
III. Act with courage—
[“All who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” You may “watch” as much as you please, and yet suffer no persecution, provided you will relax, as it respects your giving honour to Christ: or you may exalt Christ as much as you please, provided you will relax in your watchfulness against the evils of an ensnaring world: but if you will “live godly in Christ Jesus,” giving all the glory to him, whilst you are serving him with fidelity to the utmost of your power, you will be sure to offend the lovers of the world, and the haters of Christ: and you may assuredly expect to feel, in a greater or less degree, the effects of their enmity. But whether assaulted by ridicule or menace, you must be alike prepared to act a manly part, withstanding every effort that men or devils can make against you. You are not, as children, to be either allured or awed to a deviation from any thing which your better judgment directs. As “men,” you should examine well whatever is proposed to you, and compare it with the word of God: and, as “men,” you should determine for yourselves, and resolutely adopt the line of conduct which the word of God prescribes. If “men” in the service of an earthly monarch meet with opposition, they consider it as an occasion for summoning and putting forth all their energies with augmented zeal: and this is the way in which you are to “play the man [Note: ἀνδρίζεσθε.],” and to approve yourselves to Him, under whose banners you are called to fight.]
And, in this resolute conduct, you must,
IV. Persevere with constancy—
[This I conceive to be the precise distinction which the Apostle intends between those nearly parallel expressions, “Quit yourselves like men; be strong [Note: κραταιοῦσθε.].” We are not to suppose that the opposition made to us will be of short continuance. We shall experience it more or less to the very end of life; and we must be prepared to meet it in its most terrific forms. Never are we to give way to fear or discouragement: never are we to “be weary or faint in our minds.” No past trials, no impending calamities, should dishearten us. We should be prepared to say, as well in the prospect of future evils as in the remembrance of past, “None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but finish my course with joy.” When we read the long catalogue of sufferings which the Apostle underwent, we are amazed at his fortitude and perseverance [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.]. But the same firmness is required of us: for “if any man turn back, my soul,” says God, “shall have no pleasure in him.” It is “he only who endures unto the end, that shall be eventually and eternally saved.” “Be strong,” therefore; and especially “be strong, not in yourselves, but in the Lord, and in the power of his might:” and you need not fear but that “his grace shall be sufficient for you,” and “your strength be augmented according to your day” of trial.]
V. Let all be done under the influence of love—
[Christians are very prone to err in relation to this matter: they are ready to think, that zeal and courage constitute the whole of their duty; and, in consequence of this mistake, they too frequently overlook the frame of their own minds, and indulge, without being aware of it, a spirit most offensive to God. Acrimony in opponents often begets a similar disposition in those who are opposed: and it may be hard to say, who are most in error, the bitter persecutors, or the indignant sufferers. Beloved brethren, I wish you to be particularly on your guard in relation to this matter. You are to “be gentle to all men; and, in meekness, to instruct them that oppose themselves [Note: 2 Timothy 2:24-25.];” “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but, contrariwise, blessing.” Our blessed Lord, and the first martyr, St. Stephen, prayed for their murderers, at the very moment that they were suffering all imaginable cruelties at their hands: and this is what you are to do; as our Lord has said; “Love your enemies: bless them that curse you; and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” To young persons, in particular, I would give this caution. You will probably find your greatest enemies amongst those of your own household: and as you must, of necessity, “obey God rather than man,” you will be called to shew your fidelity to God in tins respect: but do not, under the idea of quitting yourselves “like men,” indulge a petulant and unbecoming spirit: (persons, so acting, “know not what spirit they are of.”) Nor are you to indulge a querulous spirit behind the backs of your enemies; but to take up your cross meekly, and to bear it patiently, and to bless God that you are counted worthy to bear it for Jesus’ sake. Remember, that “love is the very bond of perfectness;” and that “without it, though you give your body to be burned, you are no better than sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.”]
THE GUILT AND DANGER OF NOT LOVING CHRIST
1 Corinthians 16:22. If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha.
EVERY religion has some characteristic mark whereby it may be distinguished from all others. The leading feature of Christianity is, that it requires a resolute adherence, and an inviolable attachment to Jesus Christ. Though it includes both morality and a regard to God, it does not stop there; but leads us to Jesus Christ as the only mediator through whom divine blessings can flow down to us, or our services go up with acceptance before God. Whatever difference may exist between Christians with respect to other points, all are agreed in love to Christ. St. Paul did not hesitate to denounce the severest curse against all who should be wanting in this most essential point. He had finished this epistle by the hand of an amanuensis, and was going, as his manner was in every epistle, to write his benediction with his own hand; but deeply solicitous for the welfare of the Church, as well as for the glory of his Divine Master, he inserted between his salutation and his benediction these ever memorable words;—“If any man,” &c. These are in the form of a judicial sentence, which we shall,
The solemnity with which this sentence is delivered surely bespeaks our most candid attention: but how shall we, in drawing the line between nominal and real Christians, speak with such precision, as neither to discourage the weak, nor to confirm hypocrites or formalists in their delusions? Let us explain,
1. What it is to love the Lord Jesus Christ—
[Love, whatever be its object, implies such an esteem of that object, such a desire after it, and such a delight in it, as the object itself deserves. What would be an idolatrous fondness when placed on one object, would fall very far short of the affection that might be justly claimed by another. Now Christ being incomparably more worthy of our love than any created being, our love to him ought to be unrivalled and supreme. To compliment him with honourable titles, while we feel no real regard for him in our souls, is no better than an impious mockery. We must entertain high and exalted thoughts of him as the Saviour of the world; and have learned with Paul to “count all things but dross and dung in comparison of him” — — — We must also feel such need of him in his mediatorial office and character, as to say with David, “My soul longeth for thee even as the hart panteth for the water-brooks;” “Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee” — — — Our fellowship with him, moreover, must be sweet: nor must we find less pleasure in doing his will than in enjoying his presence — — — This is the criterion whereby he himself has taught us to judge of our love to him [Note: John 14:21; John 15:14.].]
2. What is the judgment denounced against those who are destitute of this love?—
[“Anathema” is a term often used to signify only an ecclesiastical censure, or an excommunication from the Church; but the addition of the word “Maran-atha” necessitates us to understand it in reference to the judgment at the last day. Under the Jewish law there were many crimes that were to be punished with death; and, when a person was convicted of one of these, he was executed according to the divine command: but when the Jews were brought into subjection to the Romans, they lost the power of life and death [Note: John 18:31.]: when therefore a person committed any crime, that would have been punished with death by the Jewish law, the Jews excommunicated the offender, and expected that God would visit him in some signal manner; or at least inflict an adequate punishment upon him at the last day. In reference to this, it should seem the Apostle used the word “Maran-atha,” which in the Syriac language means, “The Lord cometh.” The import therefore of the denunciation in the text is, That, as they, who did not love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, deserved to be blotted out of the list of true Christians, and to be punished with everlasting destruction, so there was no doubt but that, although man could not take cognizance of that offence, God would; and execute signal vengeance on all those who should live and die under the guilt of it.]
Severe as this sentence is, it is such as we may undertake to,
It may not be improper first to vindicate the Apostle himself—
[To consign to everlasting destruction those who are free from any gross sin, and who perhaps abound in “the form of religion, while they are only destitute of its power,” may seem harsh; but we shall in vain attempt to put any milder interpretation on the words of the text. Shall we then censure the Apostle as uncharitable and severe? If we do, we must involve all the other inspired writers and Christ himself in the same censure. Moses, by God’s command, denounced similar vengeance on persons of various descriptions, and required the people to confirm his word by an express declaration of their own consent and approbation [Note: Deuteronomy 27:15-26, twelve times.]. Jeremiah and Malachi repeatedly spake to the same effect [Note: Jeremiah 11:3; Jeremiah 17:5; Jeremiah 48:10. Malachi 1:14.]. Nor was this peculiar to those who lived under the legal dispensation: St. Paul repeatedly denounced a curse even against any angel from heaven that should presume to publish any other Gospel than that which he had preached [Note: Galatians 1:8-9.]. Yea, the meek and compassionate Jesus declared, that God would be a father to none who did not love him [Note: John 8:42.]; and that he himself would in the last day summon before him all that had refused his yoke, and order them to be slain without mercy [Note: Luke 19:27.]. Such examples as these may well screen the Apostle from any imputation of needless severity.]
Next we will vindicate the sentence he denounced—
Awful as it is, it will appear both just and reasonable, if we only consider the exceeding sinfulness of not loving the Lord Jesus. This sin implies,
1. Rebellion against the highest authority—
[God has by an audible voice from heaven commanded us to “hear” his Son, that is, to regard him with attention, love, and obedience. He has enjoined all the great and noble of the earth to “kiss the Son” in token of their affection and homage [Note: Psalms 2:12.]. He has required all men to honour the Son even as they honour the Father [Note: John 5:23.]. And are we at liberty to set at naught this authority? Do we feel indignant, if our child or our servant refuse obedience to our just commands, and shall not the Most High God express his indignation against us for resisting and despising the most reasonable command that could possibly be given us? If man forbear to notice this iniquity, shall God also? shall he give us reason for that atheistical reflection, “Thou God wilt not regard it?”]
2. A contempt of the highest excellency—
[In the Lord Jesus Christ is every possible excellency combined. Whether we view him in his divine, his human, or his mediatorial character, he is “altogether lovely.” There is nothing wanting in him which can in any way conduce to the glory of God or the good of men. What shall we say then of those who love not such a glorious Being? Surely they pour contempt upon him. This is the construction which God himself puts upon their conduct; “Him that honoureth me, I will honour; but he that despiseth me, shall be lightly esteemed [Note: 1 Samuel 2:30.].” And is not this a sin of the deepest die? to despise him who is the fountain of all excellency! to despise him whom all the angels adore! What must not such iniquity as this deserve? Surely to be despised and abhorred of him is the least that such offenders can expect.]
3. Ingratitude towards the greatest Benefactor—
[Can we reflect a moment on what Christ has done and suffered for us, and not stand amazed that there should be a creature upon earth that does not love him? Can we contemplate his mysterious incarnation, his laborious life, his painful death, his continual intercession, and all the other wonders of his love, and feel no emotions of gratitude towards him? Or shall ingratitude to earthly benefactors be deemed the greatest possible aggravation of a fault, and shall such horrid ingratitude of ours be thought light and venial? No; it stamps an inexpressible baseness on our character; nor can any punishment short of that denounced in the text, be adequate to such impiety.]
[Let us seriously examine into the evidences of our love to Christ; that if he should ask us, as he did Peter, “Lovest thou me?” we may be able to reply with him, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” Let us tremble at the thought of subjecting ourselves to the judgments here denounced, and instead of presuming to speak against them as too severe, let us make it our constant endeavour to escape them. So shall death and judgment be divested of all their terrors; and Christ, whom we love, be the eternal portion of our souls.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 16". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany