Be Strong and Have Love at the Same Time? [1 Corinthians 16]
13Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14Let all that you do be done in love. 15Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), 16that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. 17I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. 18For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. 19The churches of Asia greet you Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 20All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
In this closing chapter, Paul mentions people by name and gives his last minute instructions. Tucked in there are two statements: "Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." As I think about those things, being on the alert, standing firm, acting like men, being strong, I see them almost opposed to doing everything in love. I get this sense of making myself strong and fortified so that I won't be wishy-washy in dealing with people. It is almost like I have to set aside love to be strong, to stand my ground.
While dealing with a tenant who didn't pay the rent and the process of getting her out of the house, I constantly felt the tension between these two ideas. She kept asking for more time, with no intentions of paying what she owed. When I would think and pray about loving her in the midst of the process, I would think that I needed to show mercy. Thankfully, God's definition of love kept coming back to mind. Love is kind. Kind is doing what is useful, profitable for that person. I sensed God calling me to be strong, alert, standing firm because it was time to not let her take advantage of others. But I needed to have love in the process.
I am learning a lot about what I think about love in this process. When I start relying on myself to complete the great command of loving others as myself, I think I have to give them what they want. When I think I need to be strong and stick to my guns, I find myself empowered to do that by thinking unloving thoughts, "I can't believe she thinks she can get away with this. What a jerk." How many times have I told the story of her offenses? Even complete strangers hear my litany of woes. In the midst of telling the story I sense something is not right. This is not having God's love. This is me justifying myself because I have forgotten God's love, that bears (covers) all things and does not keep account of wrong. I have forgotten that God rejoices in the truth. The truth is that Christ paid this debt. His love covers her multitude of sins. The truth is that He is protecting and loving me during the process. No one else has to decide who was right and who was wrong. God is the righteous judge.
I cannot be strong and do everything in love. I can't even glimpse what it would look like. This can only be done in the power of the Spirit, as I recognize that I can't do it and ask God to do it in me. He is strong and He is love.
I praise You God that You are the righteous judge. You know when to give mercy and when to require justice. Thank You that You are not asking me to figure it out. Cause me cease trying and to run to You and let You do that work in me.