The Next Word After the Final Word

by Jeff Christian

It rained again yesterday. The occasional thunderclap was a little too loud for those of us still soggy from the days of flooding and the weeks of aftermath. We are not at our best.

On Sunday¬†we read the end of First Corinthians, a word meant to orient us and reorient us at the same time. These words help us know who we are, how to walk with Jesus. “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong, and let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

But these are more than words of orientation. For those of us who suffer, these words reorient us. In times of disorientation, they do more than remind. They re-situate us in the promises of God. The words echo “when we are weak, then we are strong.” Be strong? We meet that command of Scripture with the old prayer, “God, give me strength.”

And God is faithful.

But we are not at our best. Some of our Bering family lost so much in the flood. Some of our Bering family are dealing with physical pain, health issues, hope of recovery, and even some personal, family pain. During these reminders of our own vulnerability when the limits of our humanity stare us down unrelentingly, these are the times when we may not be able on our own to stand firm. We may not feel like being courageous today. And as far as actually being strong goes, that may be one of those times when God is just asking too much.

But God keeps speaking to us, reorienting us with the final word of 1 Corinthians 16, not as a list of individual encouragements to individuals, but a group of encouragements to a group of Christians. In this case, that’s us.

Keep alert. We keep watch together.

Stand firm in your faith. “Your” is tied to the previous word to keep alert. So, y’all together, all y’all together, stand together.

Be courageous. Pardon the language from ancient times, but literally, “Act like a man until you actually become a man.” This is not about pretending to be tough. Being “courageous” was foremost about an attitude of willingness to become a man of character, integrity, and service. A big focus of old Greek education was the shaping of the man, which eventually, even in early Christian times, was rightly expanded to include women and children so that everyone is reminded together that we are becoming something we cannot be without the teaching and formation of God working in us.

Be strong. Likewise, even when we are weak, God gives us strength. Even at times like these when we know we are not at our best, we are still being renewed day by day.

Therefore, let all that we do be done in love. That is a good final word. Amen.