“Protect yourself at all times!”
These verses give us 5 clear actions to take. There is no time stamp on them, no vagueness, no mincing words. Paul was a bold and clear communicator. His spoke and wrote from his conviction that God’s word is absolute truth. Anything less leads to confusion, vague meaning, and unclear marching orders. Here in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 we find these 5 clear marching orders Paul gave to the Corinthian church, and they still apply to us today. Today, I’d like us to look at the first key.
Be on Guard
This begs the question. Be on guard for what? Well, we have 3 key enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. In modern day vernacular you could translate them this way: the world culture and system in which we live, our inborn sin-nature that is still with us even after we are saved by faith in Christ, and Satan and his fallen angelic horde working in the unseen realm to come against God’s children.
At the beginning of a boxing match the referee always instructs the fighters with a key phrase, “Protect yourself at all times.” It seems self-explanatory, but we need to be reminded. We are in a fight. The Christian life is not a playground, it’s a battleground. In Ephesians 6 when Paul says we “wrestle” against spiritual powers of darkness, that word is key. We don’t fight evil from a distance, it’s close hand-to-hand combat. In America we are so used to comfort and ease, we often forget we are in a fight. The enemy has caused many to ignore the referee’s instructions to protect ourselves at all times.
Between The Ropes
So what does this look like in real life? What does this look like practically? When a boxer steps between the ropes and into the ring, they are in a distinctly different place than they were in just a few seconds before. When you and I accepted Christ as our Savior, we were saved from the penalty of our sins. It is a free gift offered to all that changes your life forever. We can’t earn it or work for it. But, what is often not explained is that we have also stepped between the ropes. We now have a fight in front of us.
We are forgiven but we still wrestle with temptation and sin. This battle didn’t exist before salvation because we just followed our sin nature. Now we have to contend. We have to fight—thankfully, not in our own strength but with he help of the Holy Spirit. Our sin-nature (also called the “old man” or the “flesh” in Scripture) remains until we die or are raptured. Until then we must “die daily” to our flesh. The more we feed it, the more it grows. The more we starve it and feed the spirit, the more we are able to stand firm against temptation, discouragement, and failure.
What does that look like for you? Ask the Lord right now. If you are a believer, you have a next step of deeper obedience and commitment to the Lord. What struggle comes to mind? What specific action can you take? How can you prayerfully—and specifically—turn that over to the Lord?
In my teenage years after becoming a Christian, I wrestled with sin. It was a process of shedding my old way of thinking and eliminating specific people, places, and things that caused me to stumble. Now that I’ve been walking with the Lord for a long time, I still wrestle with temptation but it looks different. The enemy is sneaky. I’m learning to “protect myself at all times.” We can do this by putting guard rails up—buffer zones between us and temptation.
If you are an alcoholic, you should probably stay away from bars and other alcoholics. If you struggle with gossip, you should probably distance yourself from gossipers. If you struggle with overeating, lust, or anger, you should put specific practical things in place to guard against those. Get some accountability. Ask for prayer. Live in community. If you are isolated, you are an easy target. My point is—do something specific. Praying it will go away is not enough.
Here’s a specific action I committed to recently. I don’t channel surf. So much content on TV exhibits all of the end-time characteristics described in 2 Timothy 3:1-4. What we allow ourselves to hear and see effects our spirit and our walk with the Lord. It’s too easy to lower our guard and compromise. I want as much distance between me and temptation as I can. Now more than ever we need to “protect ourselves at all times.” The world system is designed to trip us up. Satan is “the prince of the power of the air” and the “god (lowercase g) of this age.” He’s been actively producing the world system for thousands of years. He knows how to cause people to drift. I refuse. My integrity and the depth of my relationship with Christ are more important to me than anything. Everything in the Christian life flows from there.
If you are a believer, you have stepped between the ropes. You are in a battle. This is a battle we must intentionally fight, but you know what? It’s worth it! Revelation 12:11 tells us that we overcome our adversary (Satan, a very real being, not a force or principle) by the “blood of the Lamb” and by the “word of our testimony.” Jesus’s sacrificial death for us guarantees our salvation and victory, but we must work out that salvation by the “word of our testimony.”
In other words, this life is a struggle, but one we’ll be proud of when we stand before the Lord! It is a paradox. Christ wins out salvation, but we also work it out in real time. We shouldn’t go on auto-pilot and wait for death. How boring is that? How lame? Fight! Embrace the adventure and take part in your own battle! Contend. Fight with everything you have for the glory of God and live for that future day when you will stand in His holy presence. I can’t wait! But we must…and while we wait, we must continue to fight.
Don’t forget you are standing in the ring. Be on guard. You can win, but you have to keep your guard up.