If we want to be wise people we’d do well to put in practice St Paul’s final advice to the charismatic church of Corinth. As he ends his first letter, his short and memorable summary-message is this:
‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love’ (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
Here we’re given five things wise disciples should do. Five things which speak into twenty first century discipleship as much as they did back in the first century.
1. Be on your guard.
This is not a time for complacency. Rather we’re called to be alert. Awake. Ready. To guard our hearts against comparison and criticism. To guard our minds against bravado and bitterness. To guard our wills against idleness and impatience. And to guard our souls against pessimism and purposelessness.
That’s why disciples should pray daily.
2. Stand firm in the faith
Whilst we’re to build bridges, show kindness, and work together with those with differing beliefs to us, followers of Jesus are not called to compromise their faith. Rather we’re to stand firm on the truth of God’s written word, revealed in Scripture, which guides our thinking, our ethics and our lifestyles.
That’s why disciples should read the Bible every day.
3. Be courageous
We live in a culture of scarcity, where we’re constantly told we don’t have enough or aren’t good enough. In such a culture we need brave disciples who are secure in their identity in Christ and consequently give themselves in courageous service to others. Nelson Mandela was right when he said ‘that courage (is) not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it… The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’
That’s why disciples take courage by fixing their eyes on the most courageous person who ever lived – Jesus Christ.
4. Be strong
Physical strength comes by developing muscle. That takes time. Once the muscle is developed it needs constant use and training to keep it strong. It’s the same with our faith. It needs regular strengthening. In Ephesians 3:16 we’re told that we’re strengthened through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, and in 5:18 that we should continually ‘be filled with the Spirit.’ Without the Spirit we are weak.
That’s why disciples need to be regularly filled with the Holy Spirit.
5. Do everything in love
It’s possible to be on guard, to stand firm, to be courageous and be strong, but forget that everything should be done in love. Checking that our motives are always loving ensures that all our work and prayers are kind, caring and compassionate. Being part of an accountable community is the best way to make sure we do this.
That’s why disciples need to be part of church.
All this is about doing basic discipleship wisely and well. It’s about not overcomplicating things, but rather staying simple. Staying faithful. If disciples did just these five things not only would we be more focussed but we’d have greater impact. After all, that’s why we’re here. To be people of transformation.