Be strong & let all that you do be done in love
What is strength for? We’ve been talking about the relationship between strength and love for the last couple of weeks and I want to wrap it up with one final thought.
To briefly recap where we’ve been, this series has been based on 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 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 section we are looking at this week (and for the last couple of weeks) compares two ideas that 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. 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.
I have five kids, three girls, and two boys. As anyone with both boys and girls would know, they are different and I refuse to believe those differences are purely a social construct. From their earliest days, boys and girls interact with their world in fundamentally different ways. The boys are rougher, more physical, and more interested in the things around them. The girls are more social, gentle, and far more attuned to people than the boys are. My favorite illustration of this is when my daughter took my son’s toy trucks, made a family out of them, and tucked them into bed.
I learned quickly that if I wanted my kids to survive each other, I needed to teach my sons about their strengths. Left to their own devices, my boys used their strength to dominate, prove themselves and get their own way. I told them that God gave them their strength in order to love, care for and protect the people around them. This, I told them, was the purpose of their strength and the end to which it is designed. I think this is an important point and a relevant one to our task here.
When we think about the motivation of our strength being love, we shouldn’t envision some kind of squishy, lovey motivation as a kind of governor on the use of our strength. Instead, we should think of love as the means by which our strength can accomplish its purpose. God has given leaders strength so that they can love, care for and protect God’s people and represent Him well to the watching world.
This is why this seeming paradox shouldn’t be a paradox at all. This idea is most fully embodied in God Himself, and most fully demonstrated in Christ. The idea that love should be the motivation of rightly ordered strength is simply a description of the cross. There is no greater illustration of strength nor love than the moment Christ endured unimaginable pain in order to accomplish the salvation of his people.
Love is not a governor of strength, it is the only right application of it. So as we engage online or with actual people in real life, don’t hesitate to use your strength because you haven’t checked in with your heart yet. Think of the outcome of your use of strength and ask yourself, am I using my strength to love, care for or protect the people around me? That question should never cause you to weaken your actions, but to properly apply your strength. That’s why God made you strong, go be strong.