Sound Christian faith and practice are never far from the Apostle Paul’s mind, even when he is dealing with such “mundane” concerns as his travel plans. That much is clear from today’s passage. Having just outlined his intent to pass through Macedonia, his sending of Timothy, and his urging of Apollos to journey to Corinth, Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:13–14 gives some practical exhortation to the church in Corinth. As always, these exhortations flow from essential truths about God and His gospel.
First, the Apostle calls believers to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith” (v. 13). The use of the definite article “the” is important here, for Paul is not calling for people to maintain the firmness of the subjective trust that they place in the Lord. Surely, firmness in subjective trust is necessary, but the Apostle has in mind something more objective here. We are to stand in “the faith”—that is, the concrete revelation of God that has been given by the prophets and Apostles and that comes to us today in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. In other words, we are to stand on the doctrine given in Scripture without wavering, to contend, as Jude 3 puts it, “for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The great nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge makes application by noting that this entails holding fast to the doctrines confessed by all orthodox—right-believing—churches. This would include such things as the deity and true humanity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, justification by faith alone, and other truths summarized in the great Protestant creeds and confessions.
Paul also tells us to “act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). In the first century, the phrase “act like men” meant “be courageous,” so Paul is calling all believers, men and women alike, to show courage in the truth. He is calling us not to allow cultural pressure to make us change or abandon biblical truth but to bravely stand in the power of the Holy Spirit, who alone can sustain us till the end (1:8).
Unsurprisingly, given all that Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul adds that we must do everything in love (v. 14). This is an important principle to remember as we stand firm in the faith. Harshness is not the same as firmness, but we can easily confuse the two. Standing for the faith means standing with humility, recognizing that we know Jesus only by grace and ever extending the news that reconciliation with God is for anyone who will trust in Christ.