Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.
— 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
It’s easy to be a Christian in the company of other Christians. The challenge comes when we are with those who are either not Christian or not devout Christians. Vermont is not one of the most religious of states. Vermont Public Radio (VPR) recently asked, “What’s The State Of Religion In Vermont?” According to VPR, a Pew survey from 2014 found only 34 percent of adults in Vermont considered themselves “highly religious” — making Vermont one of the least religious states in the country. The same Pew study shows 41 percent of Vermonters “absolutely” believe in God. And an even higher proportion of people, 47 percent, said that at least once a week, they feel “a sense of spiritual peace and wellbeing.” There are plenty of churches (I live next to an Episcopal Church and across the street from a Methodist Church), but they were not often full on Sundays, even before the pandemic. People rarely speak about religion in Vermont, and it is not a subject that comes up in everyday conversations.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, the Apostle Paul tells us to “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” Such simple verses that pack a lot of meaning. Within these two verses, there are five distinct commands for us to follow: be on guard, stand firm, be courageous, be strong, and do everything in love. Many people who consider themselves Christian, especially evangelical Christians, have no problem with the first four commands. Many evangelical leaders are always on guard to tell others when they see something that they feel is a slight to their religion. They stand firm in their perverted views of Christianity, which reject those who are not exactly like them and follow their every word, which doesn’t often follow the Word of God, but what they want the Bible to say. They believe themselves to be courageous when they discriminate against others and attempt to force upon everyone around them their version of the Christian faith. They often strongly condemn those who disagree with them even in the slightest way and refuse to waiver in their beliefs. However, when it comes to doing everything in love, they ignore that commandment. Often their actions are the opposite of love. But let us look more closely at what Paul is really commanding us to do.
The command “be on your guard” is directed at our spiritual wellbeing. We should always be looking for how we can help others and show them love. We should also be alert to those who want to harm us or others with false beliefs and misplaced agendas. We should “stand firm in our faith” and show others the loving and accepting version of Christianity. As Christians, we are responsible for knowing the truth of God’s Word for ourselves, understanding what is in it, and not allow false teachers to lead us astray. We are also commanded to “be courageous.” When there are those out there using Christianity to exclude those with whom they disagree, we have to be brave enough to face the challenges that false Christians present. We can be ready with an answer and be willing to share our faith and belief that God is love. First John 4:16 tells us, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Evangelicals preach that society forces us to be politically correct and not to say anything that might offend someone else. However, those who do not hold their tongue to keep from harming others with their words are not acting in a Christian way. God called us to “be strong” and show His love to everyone whether we agree with them or not. We cannot be weak and pick and choose what parts of the Bible we want to follow and ignore the details we would like to forget so easily. We should be mindful that our words are always grounded in God’s love. If they are, we should be strong enough to speak these truths with confidence, knowing that God’s word never returns void. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” What we say has consequences, and we must be strong in spreading God’s love.
The four previous commands are forceful, but our Christian love for other people is the essential part of this equation. God is very explicit when he tells us to “Do everything in love.” Love is what binds us together, and our love for all humankind is what should motivate us. God does not ask us to be judgmental or to beat people over the head with a Bible. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Our kindness and love for humankind will go a lot farther than the browbeating we often get from anti-LGBTQ+ ministers who claim to speak for Christianity. God wants us to show acceptance and love. Together we can show the love of Christ to those who need Him the most. With our love, we can be the beacon of light that shines the way to Jesus.