Final Instructions (Part I)
In the sixteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, there are seven verses that are under the header of “Final Instructions.” Five of those seven verses deal with specifics about Apollos, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus coming to visit the people of Corinth and how Paul is encouraged by this news. But the other two verses are verses of direct instruction.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV)
Two simple verses, a lifetime of instruction. In this series, we will examine the instructions Paul gives in these two verses. The first is to be watchful.
This advice from Paul is extremely intentional for the people within the church of Corinth because they had been turning a blind eye to sins that were going on within the church. In chapter 5, Paul calls out a member of the church who had been living in sexual sin with his stepmother.
“I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
No one was being watchful. At best, they were turning a blind eye to it; at worst, they were proud of themselves about it. One of the roles that God has assigned to men is to be watchmen on the wall, and Paul says we should be watching for sinful behavior among our fellow believers.
“It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.” (1 Corinthians 5:12)
We discussed this responsibility to accountability here. The imagery of being a watchman that Paul used comes from Ezekiel when God appointed the prophet Ezekiel to be a watchman for Israel.
“‘Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately.’” (Ezekiel 3:17)
So not only do we need to be watchful for sinful behavior among believers, we also need to be obedient in delivering God’s messages. Jesus gives His followers a message to deliver to all people before ascending into Heaven.
“‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Therefore, as Christ followers, we have a message from the Lord that we are to tell people. We are watchmen. But what if we don’t accept this role or take it very seriously? What if we don’t deliver the message? What if we get too worried about offending someone or coming off as arrogant or holier-than-thou? What if we let fear stop us from speaking up?
“‘If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.’” (Ezekiel 3:18)
God says that if we don’t warn the wicked and give them His message, He will hold us responsible for their deaths. That’s heavy. It’s one of those verses you might want to explain away: That message was for Ezekiel, not for all of us, or God’s only talking about pastors or teachers or missionaries, He’s not talking about me.
These are just excuses. Jesus has given a message to all believers to give to all people. If we do not spread this message when we encounter someone who needs to hear it, if we do not speak up when we are given the opportunity, then we are responsible. Now, I do not think it means that when you are at the store and you have a 60-second conversation with the cashier, and you didn’t witness to that cashier, then you are on the hook for that person’s life. No. But if you have an opportunity to share the Gospel, an opportunity to speak up and speak Truth to someone, and you actively choose not to take it, then you are not fulfilling your job as a watchman, and you may very well be on the hook for that person. So speak up when the opportunities present themselves.
“‘If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.’” (Ezekiel 3:19)
All we need to do is obey by speaking up when we are given the chance. This is our responsibility as Christ followers: to be watchful for sinful behavior among fellow believers and to speak up about God’s message to us. If we don’t speak up, who will? We are the watchmen.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.