Be strong & let all that you do be done in love
Welcome to part 7 of this blog series that we’re calling The Future of Christian Leadership. This whole series is based on a short message I gave at the Acts29 National Conference in October. I am expanding those same ideas in this blog space because I only had 18 minutes at the conference and I have all the time in the world here.
The basis of the message was 1 Corinthians 16:13–14 which says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” My argument in that message and in this blog space is that these two verses do a great job of outlining the task of Christian leadership in the coming years of increased secularization and social upheaval. There are five verbs in these two verses and they are paired together in a way that creates helpful tension between their ideas. And the two pairs orbit around a central idea that animates it all.
The first pair was the call to “be watchful” and “stand firm in the faith”. The first verb calls us to keep our eyes on the culture so that we know the nature of the battles we are fighting and can respond appropriately. The second verb cautions us to never leave the faith while we venture out into culture. The gospel acts as an anchor or a pivot foot in basketball that can never move, even as we move our other foot to get a better view of passing lanes or cultural shifts.
This next section compares two ideas that also live in some tension with one another - or at least they seem to these days. Paul challenges the Corinthians to “be strong” and to be sure that they “let all that (they) do be done in love.” These two ideas should not be in tension with one another, there is no intrinsic reason why they would be. But, in our day, it seems as if those who want to be strong have forgotten the call to love, and those who deeply want to love the world around them, forget that they will have to be strong if they intend to hold firm to the gospel.
We’re going to spend a couple of weeks on this idea so for today I just want to introduce the tension. I think no one would argue that Jesus was strong. He was bold with his speech and courageous in action. He stood up to political and spiritual authority and spoke the truth, even when it had dire consequences for him. Lots of guys like to point out that he made a whip, cleared the temple, and was known to call people sluts like vipers and whitewashed tombs. This is all true and relevant.
Similarly, I don’t think any of us would balk at the idea that everything Jesus did was motivated by love. He didn’t call names out of spite or clear temples out of revenge. Above all, he cared about God’s glory, God’s people, and his mission to save the world. His every word and action was purely motivated by love for God and people, without exception.
So these two ideas should not be in tension. Strength and love should work in perfect concert, but in real life, they rarely do. My hope in the coming weeks is not to chart some third way between strength and love that takes the best of both and leaves the worst behind. My hope is that I will be able to show that these two traits were made for each other. That strength without love is always just lust for power or revenge. And that love without strength is cowardice.
In fact, strength is about action, it is about the way we lead and the path we choose to walk. Love can be about action, but not the way Paul is using it here. Love here is about motivation. Paul is calling us all to act with strength and be motivated to do it by love. Love should drive us to act in strength. We should flex in order to protect, in order to win people to the love and grace of Christ. I’d go one step further and argue that love that doesn’t result in a show of strength is no love at all, but just a desire to be accepted.
That’s a lot, and we’ll get into it more in the coming weeks. I think this subject is a really important one, especially for our online dialogue and the way we lead the people in our churches that think and act on the far left and far right.