…Quit you like men, be strong.
An exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
So, the cover photo is maybe a bit misleading. The text I’m wanting to write about here has noting to do with physical strength. It seems from 1 Corinthians 15 and 16 that the people of the church in Corinth were experiencing fears. This was, of course, not the only issue Paul addresses, but it’s a major one here.
Primarily, it seems they were hearing from false teachers that there was no resurrection from the dead. Paul addresses this with great thoroughness in chapter 15. He seems to use the truths about the resurrection to quell apparent fears about death (1 Corinthians 15:32 and 55-58)
Paul did acknowledge that “jeopardy every hour”(15:30) was a real thing, at least on his end, and likely on theirs too. Part of the problem was that when one chooses to believe that this life is all there is, it tends to breed cowardice, and for Christians of their day, there was no room for cowardice. The firm belief in the Biblical teaching of a future resurrection has given courage to our brethren of old who faced a martyrs death for the true Christian faith.
Compounding the Corinthian problem was also the fact that at least for the time being the Corinthians were on their own, or at least without spiritual “giants” in their midsts like Paul or Timothy. There were some more mature Christians in their midst, namely the family of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 16:15-18). They were the first converts in the region and thus a little more mature than the others. Stephanas himself doesn’t appear to be present with them at the moment because it appears he had gone to Paul with Fortunatus and Achaius to bring Paul some supplies and encourage him.
In chapter 16, Paul is clear that he was tied up for the time being. He couldn’t get there. Timothy might go, but there was no certainty he would. Apollos apparently had no time to go there because it wasn’t convenient for him at the moment. I’ll withhold criticism of Apollos on that one for now in the absence of more knowledge about his circumstances.
Paul attempts to give the Corinthians courage in 15:32 “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.” Paul had “many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9) in Ephesus for sure. He also quotes here from Isaiah 22:13 to illustrate the hopelessness and nihilism inherent in the absence of an active and applied confidence in life after this one. Paul suggests that there is no point in taking risks for the Gospel’s sake if there is no resurrection of the dead, and since there is a resurrection, they shouldn’t fear.
Basically, he says, “I’m not afraid to wage a spiritual fight with my opponents in Ephesus because this life is not all there is”. I tend to think “beasts” here refers to his would-be attackers in Ephesus led by Demetrius the silversmith. They raised “no small stir” (Acts 19:23-34). This may be a similar way of speaking as in Philippians 3:2 in which it appears Paul refers to spiritual adversaries as “dogs”. The context in 1 Corinthians 15:32 does seem to lend itself to seeing the “beasts” as his spiritual opponents in Ephesus rather than literal beasts. Just look at the next three verses specifically, but the entire chapter generally.
This, of course, is not meant to say that Paul never encountered actual beasts in his “perils in the wilderness” (2 Corinthians 11:25-26). He may have. I just don’t know of any records of such with the exception of the viper on Mileta that bit Paul on the hand, but if I’m not mistaken that hadn’t happened yet as of the writing of Paul’s first epistle to Corinth.
All that being said, we get the picture of the spiritually young Corinthians as momentarily vulnerable to theological attacks and probably even physical ones. They are momentarily alone - no Paul, no Timothy, no Apollos. Paul’s first strengthening point was to get them to resolve themselves regarding what they believe about the resurrection. And then, Paul gives them one very short, very important statement intended to give them courage. We find it in 1 Corinthians 16:13:
“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”
His tips on how to be strong while vulnerable were directed to the Corinthians themselves. They were not passive recipients of this strength he speaks of. Instead, they were the actors. They were to do these things themselves.
“Watch” (γρηγορέω grēgoreúō) simply means to arouse from sleep and remain awake. We might simply say “be aware”. This is usually one of the first steps, if not the first, to improving any situation. We first have to be aware of it.
The phrase “stand fast” (στήκω stḗkō) is one word simply implying to endure or persevere. “In the faith” refers to the entirety of the Christian doctrine they knew. “Quit you like men” (ἀνδρίζω andrízō) simply means to behave yourself like a male person. This differs from the word ἄνθρωπος ánthrōpos which is used to contrast fallen, spiritual human-kind from beasts and also from God as a distinct thing. Our word for men here, ἀνδρίζω andrízō, comes from the word ἀνήρ anḗr which just means a grown male person as opposed to a child. This will be important in a moment.
“Be strong” (κραταιόω krataióō) means simply “to make strong”.
What I find interesting about all of this is two things:
1). Paul is telling them to do this, to make this happen, to produce this. This comes across as a matter of their will. Paul, of course, never negates the importance of reliance upon the Lord (Philippians 4:6-7; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10), and neither should we.
However, Paul under Divine inspiration, at this very moment, for this specific hour, offers this specific advice- behave yourselves like men!
You are not your mind, but instead, you must make your mind subject. Your mind is wanting to capitulate to false teaching and cower in fear. Tell it to stop. Pay attention to your surroundings, persevere, muster your courage, and just get stronger.
This verse may be the first ever appearance of what some today call the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, Repeat). However, it’s used here in the context of spiritual warfare and potential persecutions.
Again, this does not contradict passages like 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 in which Paul says while dealing with his thorn in the flesh, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” This is a complementary truth.
The life surrendered to the sovereign care of Jesus Christ is what makes someone strong. In the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, he was “plumb out” of self-reliance and in that case could do none other than receiving God’s grace to endure it. But unless Paul is dealing with a different kind of strength in 1 Corinthians 16:13, it appears our will to “be strong in the Lord” must work in concert with the received “power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).
We learn from this that the advice to sometimes give the weak and struggling Christian is “just trust the Lord to make you strong.” At other times, they are already doing so and the advice we must give is “Be like a man, and get stronger”. These are both good counsels, but the need of the hour and the present character of the counseled often determines which is needed.
2). The second thing I notice is that Paul says “Quit you like men”. Surely, ladies have the ability to be watchful, to stand fast, and to even be strong in things. However, Paul specifically likens the ability to will these things for one's self to the nature of grown, male persons.
This speaks to manly qualities like being a self-starter, owning leadership, and taking personal responsibility. Matters of the will. Paul presents these qualities as things inherent to grown manhood.
They’re not spiritual qualities but natural ones. They are qualities inherent in manliness (saved or unsaved) that can benefit you in the Christian life when facing adversity. Paul wanted them to take the qualities inherent to natural manliness and apply them now to Christian living in order to subsist in a strenuous thing.
A man without the will to be watchful, steadfast, responsible, and strong is simply not acting like a man. In the absence of a Paul, Timothy, or Apollos to hold their hand through things, they needed to do these things themselves. The ability to take in “coaching” for a strenuous thing, apply it, and then go do it without being coached is at its heart a very masculine thing. Self-motivation is the essence of what Paul is getting at here. It was time for them to develop the will to stand on their own two feet. A destroyed or discouraged will accomplishes little or even nothing.
There is a careful balance here as is often the case. A Christian who endures adversity in the Christian life by will power alone will get quickly exhausted. Inversely, a Christian who sets out to do challenging things by only “relying on the Lord” may have his priorities straight, but he may not ever get out of his armchair.
Yet, after all these things, Paul says in verse 14 “Let all your things be done with charity.” The word charity here is ἀγάπη agápē or willful, God-like love that is self-sacrificial in nature.
Paul seems to know that the inherent, natural qualities of manliness that can be put to use in the Christian life, also have the ability to make a man selfish. The qualities Paul tells them to muster in verse 13 have to do with survival and self-preservation. But those same qualities left unguarded can turn a man into a self-centered, self-absorbed, tough-love-only, bull-headed, macho man. Hence, verse 14.
I think it’s definitely on purpose that we see these verses side-by-side. The inherent manly quality of a strong will can be useful in the right way, but it must be tempered with Godly charity. The balance of these virtues seems to be the only way to get Biblical manliness right.