After writing that title, I feel the need to grunt or wrestle a bear or something. Yet I also have a confession about that title: I’m not really that much into ‘life verses’. If anyone ask me what my life verse is, I’m likely to tell them Judges 3:17 and get a good laugh after they look it up.
But… the other day I was rolling through the New Testament passage in the two year Bible reading plan I put together for my church, and I came across an old familiar set of verses (meaning: I had memorized them at one point, but haven’t thought about them in a while. Sad, I know)—1 Corinthians 16:13-14:
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
As I read those words, I thought: You know, as a guy, IF I were to have a life verse this would be a good life verse to have. Honestly, reading it again, I think it’s a good set of verses for any guy to call a life verse.
In the span of these two short sentences in the conclusion of his letter, Paul fired off five imperatives. The first be watchful or more literally keep awake is also used by Paul in his address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:31. There he warns the faithful elders to guard the church against the deceptive attacks of wolves who seek to destroy the flock. Jesus used it in Matthew 24:43, Luke 12:37, and Revelation 16:15 all in reference to being ready for his return. And in Mark 14:37 Jesus used it to criticize Peter who had fallen asleep while Jesus prayed intently about his crucifixion.
To be watchful, then is about keeping an eye out for danger, protecting those you’re charged to protect (pastors their churches, fathers their families), and living anticipating the reality of Jesus’ return.
Paul used the next verb quite a bit. He called his readers to stand firm in their freedom in Christ against legalism and licentiousness (Galatians 1); to work with other Christians for the spread of the gospel, standing firm in one spirit or in unity (Philippians 1:27); to stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:8), indicating a face-like-flint dedication to Jesus in all things; and to stand firm in the traditions he taught (2 Thessalonians 2:15), which is similar to in the faith. This is about dedication to the right things—to Jesus, the gospel, and the things the Bible commands us.
Act like men is alone here in its biblical usage. According to good ol’ BDAG,the word has been used in other Greek literature to tell a guy to be a man, but can also be used “of a woman who is girded and of manly appearance” (pg. 76). So you get the picture. The NLT translates this part of the verse as be courageous so it speaks more generally to both genders. That may be a valid application, but it seems that Paul intended his finger to point directly at the men in the church at Corinth while saying, “Man up.” (Actually, a number of guy-talk euphemisms ran through my mind that could describe Paul’s thought, but they might not all be appropriate for the blog here, so we’ll keep it at man up.)
Then, be strong. Two other uses of this word in the Bible speak to spiritual strength (Luke 1:80 where John the baptizer became strong in spirit; and Ephesians 3:16 where Paul prayed for the church that the Holy Spirit would strengthen their inner man). A third is a bit of a tossup. Like he did with John, Luke used it for Jesus but the context isn’t clear if he also meant strong in a spiritual sense or in a physical sense. I would say that without further description in his verse, but with his overarching spiritual focus, Paul had spiritual strength in mind.
These two together, act like a man or be courageous and be strong echo Joshua 1. Moses had just died; Joshua was the new leader. He was charged to lead the wilderness generation of Israel into the Promised Land where great and powerful people lived, yet God had promised victory. In Joshua 1:1-9, three times God told Joshua “be strong and courageous.” This charge carried with it the promise of God’s presence: “I will not leave you or forsake you” and “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Yet it also came with a command: “Be careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you” and “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.”
We won’t know for certain this side of eternity if Paul had Joshua in mind as he wrote his charge, but given Paul’s constant allusion to the Old Testament, I’d say it’s a very safe bet. In calling them to be strong and act like men, then, Paul was calling them to rest in God’s strength and promises and to obey his word.
Paul concluded his list with do everything in love. In case they wondered what he meant, they only needed to review a couple of pages before this command. Love is patient, kind, and rejoicing in the truth (and not in wrongdoings); bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things. Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, or insisting on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In other words, love is self-sacrificing for the good and benefit of others.
Sometimes as men when we’re trying to man up and be strong, our testosterone can get the best of us and we do something stupid and hurtful as opposed to loving. So Paul tempered that for us. Be strong, be manly, but be patient and kind and not a showoff. I would read all the testosterone booster reviews thoroughly before jumping on board, I wouldn’t want to ruin my relationships with some side effects.
In these two short verses we find a good look at authentic manhood. A (biblically) manly man longs for Jesus, watches for trouble, and protects those under his care; he is dedicated to his faith and knowing the gospel; he finds courage and strength in the presence and power of the Lord, and not his own power; and he is a man of love in everything he does.
So maybe we don’t all have to grunt, play football without pads (or at all), and wrestle grizzly bears; but us guys should keep these verses in mind (dare I say, even make them our life verse?) and truly be men of God.
 That’s the Bauer, Frederick, William, and Danker Greek/English Lexicon, if you’re wondering.