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The Anatomy of Obedience

The Anatomy of Obedience

 As Paul closes his first letter to the Corinthians, we might have expected him to have taken a soft approach. After all, the letter is filled with correction. He had taken issue with their misuse of the assembly gatherings, their tolerance of immorality, their pursuit of one another through the courts, their doctrinal indifference towards the resurrection, and their faulty approach that had caused it all: their preference for worldly wisdom over God’s wisdom. But actually, he does quite the opposite. He calls for their obedience.

This is what we read in 1 Cor. 16:13-14;

“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity.”

Rather than wrap them up in cotton-wool, he gives them five short imperatives. You might translate them like this; “Watch; persevere; be courageous; strengthen; and love.”

There is something within humanity that doesn’t like to be given commands, and I don’t imagine first century Corinthians were any different, but Paul doesn’t concern himself with their sensitivities. He tells them how they should behave in the simplest form possible: a series of five short exhortations, four of which are one word in Greek.

But what interested me most, was that they each readily invoke in our minds a metaphor produced by a different part of the human anatomy. First, he encourages them to use their eyes, by saying, ‘watch’ or ‘be vigilant.’ They needed to watch for the coming of the Lord (ch. 15) but they also needed to watch the enemy around.

Next he encourages them to use their legs, at least metaphorically: ‘stand firm’ or ‘persist in the faith.’ Paul was aware that vigilance only is not enough, for watching what the enemy does is only ever reactive. Rather he suggests that they proactively stand firm in the truth of God.

Then he calls on them to use their mind, and think: ‘act like men’ he says, ‘be courageous.’ Really the idea is to be mature, and act according to who they are.

But he continues by calling on the will, or resolve: ‘Become strong’ or ‘strengthen.’ This command is unique in the five as it is the only one that is ‘passive,’ that is the subject of the command (the Corinthians) are not the ones who are performing its action, meaning that someone else is, which in the context can only be God. This is fitting for we cannot become strong in our own power.

Finally, he calls on them to control everything by their heart. ‘In everything you do, let love be the controlling feature’ (my translation). We talk sometimes about the possibility of being ’technically correct’ but missing love. I know what folk mean by this, but in reality, ‘technical correctness’ (in its real form, that is obedience to the word of God) is predicated on acting in love.

So remember these five metaphors that require obedience. Eyes (watch); legs (stand); mind (be courageous); will (become strong); and heart (love). 


Mervyn Hall and his wife are in fellowship in the assembly that meets in Hebron Gospel Hall in Bicester (UK) and is employed as a business consultant to the Healthcare industry.

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