Tim Challies

Every now and again I like to write about one of the Bible’s tricky texts—those passages in the Bible that Christians tend to misunderstand and misuse. 1 Corinthians 7:10-12 is just that kind of text. In these verses Paul makes two statements about divorce. Before one he says, “not I, but the Lord” and before the other, “I, not the Lord.” Here is the text:

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.

When I come across this text in books or blogs, I often find authors suggesting that in the first statement Paul is drawing upon a statement that is binding on all Christians while in the second he is either expressing humility or a kind of personal opinion. In either case, they highlight the full authority of the first statement and then diminish the authority of the second statement, saying something like, “Paul was humble enough to say that this was simply his understanding of the situation” or “In the second statement Paul was expressing his personal opinion.”

However, the contrast here is not between divine revelation and personal opinion. Rather, the contrast is between two different kinds of authority, each of which is from God and each of which is fully authoritative and fully binding.

In the New Testament we find the new Christians drawing upon three different sources of authority: The Old Testament scriptures; the teachings of Jesus; and new revelation given to the Apostles. Each of these was considered authoritative revelation from God. So sometimes we see New Testament Christians drawing from the Old Testament, sometimes from words Jesus spoke while he was on earth, and sometimes from new teachings given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Never do we find these sources of authority ranked or contrasted as if one is more important or authoritative than the others.

As we come to 1 Corinthians 7:10 we find Paul speaking about divorce and drawing directly from the words of Jesus. Jesus had said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). These words had been spoken, remembered, recorded, and made an integral part of the Christian teaching on marriage and divorce. On this basis Paul could says, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.“ He makes it clearly that he is reiterating what Jesus said.

But as Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he wishes to address an area that Jesus did not speak to specifically. While Jesus taught extensively, he did not teach exhaustively. One area he did not speak to is the case of a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. So as Paul addresses it, he does so by prefacing his words with “I, not the Lord.” In his commentary on 1 Corinthians Anthony Thistleton suggests it may be better to understand Paul as saying, “a saying of the Lord” and “not a saying of the Lord.” “To the rest I say (not a saying of the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.” He does not mean to say that his words carry less authority or that they are less binding on the Christian; rather, he is making it clear to them that this is a new teaching given by God through one of his Apostles. This makes it a teaching that carries every bit as much of the authority as Jesus’ words. Why? Because it is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Though it did not come from the mouth of Jesus, it is still the word of God and binding on the Christian.

How should we use this text? We should use it to teach what God wants us to know about divorce and remarriage and what God wants us to know about Christians married to unbelievers. We need to highlight that both parts are fully authoritative because both parts are fully inspired by God.

 

Tim Challies

It was pretty ornery preaching,” Huckleberry Finn mused when he found himself in church one particular Sunday morning, “and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works and free grace of preforeordestination, and I don’t know what all, that it did seem to me to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet.” “But,” according to Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones in their book PROOF, “free grace and preforeordestination” were never meant to produce rough Sundays or “ornery preaching.” Here’s what the doctrine of predestination provides for the people of God, according to the Scriptures:

  1. Comfort in trials, because — if God is capable of choosing zombie rebels and turning them into beloved children — there is no hardship in all creation that he won’t be able to work together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28-30).
  2. Motivation for praise, because praise was part of God’s purpose in predestining particular people for salvation (Ephesians 1:5-6).
  3. Encouragement for evangelism, because sharing the gospel with unbelievers is a necessary means that God uses to bring his predestined people to faith and repentance. Paul persisted in evangelism and church planting even during times of persecution precisely because he knew that God had already chosen particular people to salvation: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10).

(Taken from PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace by Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones)

 

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Frank back in June 2010. Frank reminded us of some unpleasant truths regarding how we view others versus how we view ourselves.

As usual, the comments are closed.

We want our heroes to be just like us, and our perceived enemies to be completely unlike us, with nothing in common as if we are not all of Adam’s race, and as if the sin which cannot be forgiven is only possible in someone else’s bailiwick.

That’s the elephant in the room, btw: the way we toss people out of our circle of church with complete regard for their faults and no regard for their merit in Christ.

Let’s face it: we say we believe this —

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. [Rom 5]

I mean: that’s straight up-the-middle Book of Romans. It’s the Reformed Home Court. This is the promise those who have faith and have repented, and if you’re really ready to go for the gusto, those who have been baptized for the sake of faith and repentance, ought to all share.

Paul says in this we ought to rejoice — so all the smart remarks about the Apostle John and John the Baptist being a real gas at parties and whatnot ought to take its snark to Paul and see what he has to say about that.

See: for all the assurance we can derive from Rom 5, and all the exhortations of Paul to be unified under Christ and to let Christ be the basis for unity and fellowship, we also have James telling us this explicitly:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. [James 5]

One simple sentence, but I think we lose the force of it often. Here’s what I think we should read when we see this:

Some people – like you — will from time to time wander away into sin.

Wandering people who have turned away from the truth can be turned back.

When these people turn back, they turn from death to life.

Other people are the instruments of turning the wanderers back to Christ.

James has the audacity to call both the wanderers and those who turn them back “My brothers”.

Isn’t that crazy? Doesn’t that point us exactly to the same place Paul points us to – which is a refuge in Christ when we are confronting people who we believe are turned away from Christ and toward sin? James says that our approach to them, and our reproaches to them, ought to be as brothers and not as toward lawless men or people who are not in our own family.


by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2011)

Logos' Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series continues to grow. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson first, then the commentary on James by Will Varner, then the commentary on the Song of Songs by A. Boyd Luter. Refer to the first (Derickson) review to understand the well-designed aim and focus of this series, which Logos provides me for possible reviews such as this.

Though Logos is selling Colossians (by H. Wayne House) and Philemon (by Ehorn) together, only Philemon is currently available. A longtime lover (and teacher, and preacher) of Colossians, I'll likely review that volume for you when it is released. The author of this commentary is Seth Ehorn, who is in the doctoral
program for New Testament language, literature, and theology at the University of Edinburgh, New College. Before this, Ehorn distinguished himself in his Master's studies at Wheaton College Graduate School, and has been creating entries for journals and upcoming publications.

As to this commentary, the thoroughness and currency of documentation once again immediately makes an impression. Six of the three hundred and sixty-eight footnotes speckle the first paragraph alone, referring to lit from the 1920s to the 2000s.

Approaching Philemon, Ehorn notes the letter's the lack of explicit development of usual Pauline themes (resurrection, etc), and the fact that theologies seldom refer extensively to Philemon. Yet,

[d]espite these apparent lacunae, Philemon is not just a fine literary and rhetorical achievement. Nor is it just an interesting cultural artifact. …Presumably, Paul himself imagined that this letter would instigate great change in his hearers and especially in the life of a slave named Onesimus. Further, the multiple addressees in the letter seem to invite a wider readership, perhaps not only for the accountability of Paul’s request in the letter, but also for the edification of all who were addressed. It is in this latter sense that Philemon is to be understood as Christian Scripture.

In keeping with the brevity of the epistle, I'll keep my review briefer than some previous. I appreciated Ehorn's detailed and up-to-date attention to every aspect of the Greek text from every angle. I also appreciated the breadth and thoroughness of his documentation, which itself opens the doors to a lot of great material.

However what often stood out to me was Ehorn's reluctance to commit himself. Now, obviously one would not want a scholar to pretend certainty unwarranted by the evidence. Yet one has to admit that one wondered why Ehorn was chosen to write this particular commentary, given that he did not appear to have many singular insights to bring to light or trumpet.

For instance, we read, the epistle might have been written from Rome. Or maybe it was Ephesus. The evidence is inconclusive — though Ehorn makes an extended case for an (undocumented!) Ephesian imprisonment. Ehorn then argued against too tightly joining Colossians and Philemon, as is commonly done; he thinks Philemon precedes Colossians. By how long? Unknown. Or maybe it should really be connected with Philippians, instead of Colossians? Don't know. Finally, he concludes, “In the light of Paul’s request for lodging, it is easier to think that Paul wrote to Philemon from Ephesus than from Rome, thus probably between A.D. 52 and 55.” Oh, so Ephesus it is…maybe.

So, what is the letter about? Exactly who was Philemon? What was Onesimus’ relationship with him? Why was Onesimus absent from him? How did Onesimus come to encounter Paul? In response, Ehorn quotes C. S. Lewis: “Almost anything can be read into any book if you are determined enough,” adding:

These words—penned by C. S. Lewis—are acutely true of the letter to Philemon. All these questions are left unanswered by the letter that is both short in length and short on details. Of course, such information would have been unnecessary to include in the letter seeing as the recipients would have had intimate knowledge of such issues already. Thus, as modern interpreters we are operating at a deficit. We are reading only half of the conversation. Nevertheless, such historical distance (not to mention social, political, etc.) should not drive readers to despair. Rather, it should warrant caution against over interpretation and humility regarding conclusions.

I'll attest that Ehorn certainly heeds his own advice. For instance, what is the narrative frame to the epistle, the background? The traditional (fugitivus) hypothesis sees Onesimus as a runaway slave, converted by Paul's ministry, returned by Paul. But, Ehorn counters, this would be a legal offense, and no remorse is expressed by or for Onesimus. Ehorn floats other possibilities, then concludes that it is impossible to be sure. For his part, he is “tentatively inclined to follow the recent trend of interpreters who read the letter to Philemon as concerning a slave who intentionally sought Paul for intercession with his master.” But who knows?

Ehorn then says that the subject of slavery, peripheral to the book itself, has come to overshadow the actual content of the book. So no great help on that issue, here.

Ehorn makes good theological observations. For instance, though  Philemon doesn't stress usual Pauline themes, Ehorn notes that God and Christ (not the Spirit) are mentioned numerous times directly, and 2 passages feature the “divine passive” in two passages:

In two instances Paul employed the divine passive to indicate God as agent (vv 15, 22).61 Taken thusly, Paul not only hinted at the providential outworking of God in the details of Onesimus’ separation and return (v 15), but indicated that it was God who could grant him freedom from his imprisoned status (v 22). If God’s hand were involved in the separation of Onesimus from Philemon, then Philemon’s response to his slave would have to be tempered by his own view of the reality of God’s presence and providence in his life. Much like the circumstances of Joseph with his conniving brothers (cf. Gen 45:5, 8; 50:20; cf. also Esth 4:14), Philemon was summoned to look upon his circumstances and see them as the outworking of God. Perhaps with the clarity of hindsight, Philemon saw that the return of a slave who was now “useful” (v 11) and “a beloved brother” (v 16) was an act of God, who works “all things for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28).

This is a good example of Ehorn's theological sensitivity, and the useful material he produces.

Back to the issue of slavery. Ehorn hasn't much to contribute on the issue:

The relationship of Paul to slavery will be discussed only briefly in this section because of the publication of a recent monograph surveying studies on Paul and slavery and another recent collection of specific studies on Philemon. There is hardly necessity for an in-depth rehearsal of the trends of research on Philemon in view of these works. Suffice it to say, the general impact of the letter vis-à-vis slavery is presently in flux.

So Ehorn footnotes two academic works which are not in general circulation to explain why he won't have much to offer on the subject. I rather think it is a major issue in how we approach this book. Will it really do to say “I won't write very much about this (—in a commentary on the letter to slave-owner Philemon!) because some books few people own have”?

This is not to say that Ehorn has nothing to say on the issue. He notes J. M. G. Barclay's verdict that Paul's silence is “disturbing,” adding this:

One cannot help but agree with Barclay’s empathetic statement that, “one can only weep on behalf of those millions of slaves whose lives might have been immeasurably better had Paul been just a little less ‘poetic’ ” (125). This, however, is not so much a problem with Paul per se, as it is with the history of interpretation.

Then, without comment, Ehorn notes that Moo “concluded that Paul did not realize the full implications of the theology he explicated.” What? That sounds disturbingly like Paul K. Jewett's (and others') view on the issue of Paul and women pastors — that Paul just hadn't worked out his own theology yet, so the apostle (!) wrote in error in some passages. Does Moo think that? Does Ehorn agree with Moo?

While Ehorn writes and documents further, he does not really come to a conclusion, other than the conclusion that we do not know enough to come to a conclusion.

In fact later, commenting on vv. 15-16, Ehorn says Paul's “request was opaque.”

This [opaqueness] is demonstrated by the variegated readings of v 16 among commentators. For example, one commentator boldly opined that “Paul is telling Philemon that he surely must manumit Onesimus now that he and Onesimus are brothers in Christ” (Witherington, 80; cf. Bruce, 217; Wolter, 270–72; Fitzmyer, 114–15). Conversely, other scholars find no legal implications regarding the issue of slavery (Lohse, 206; O’Brien, 305–06). Still others find the statement ambiguous, permitting either reading (Stuhlmacher, 43–45; Dunn, 335–36). Or, perhaps as Barclay argues, Paul may have been purposefully ambiguous because he did not know specifically what to recommend.

Ehorn's conclusion? None, apart from affirming that slave and master are now brothers — which is important, to be sure. But is it really all that is warranted?

This is all introductory. Ehorn's commentary, proper, is very detailed, sensitive to nuances of word-choice and case. For instance, on Paul not using “apostle” in the opening words, Ehorn makes a valuable observation:

It is of no small significance that the title ἀπόστολος is not found in letter opening, nor in the document at all, for its absence was likely part of the rhetorical strategy of the letter. That is, Paul had no intention of appealing to his authority as an apostle (cf. vv 8–9). The use of the self-appellation δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ [“prisoner of Christ Jesus”] sets the tone for the letter.

Ehorn's thoroughness is on display in his handling of verse 6 (ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν εἰς Χριστόν), which he notes contains “the most exegetical difficulties of the letter.” Ehorn contributes more than 2000 words (not including footnotes) of exegesis. First, he opens with an array of divergent translations, noting that even the NIV84 and current NIV differ. Here is his own translation: “that the fellowship produced by your faithfulness might become effective in the knowledge of every good thing that is yours for the sake of Messiah.”

Later, Ehorn makes the valuable “applicational and devotional implication” that Onesimus' return teaches that

Onesimus too was to act in a selfless manner when he returned to his master as a “new man” (cf. Eph 4:24). By this it may be seen that conversion was not an escape from the responsibilities of his past. What was wrong still needed to be set right (cf. vv 18–19). Nevertheless, Onesimus’ new status in Christ would shake the foundations of his former relationship with Philemon, perhaps allowing for the forging of a new one as “a beloved brother” (v 16). By his example, Paul demonstrated that one effective way to guide fellow Christians is by gentle shepherding rather than coercive commanding (Calvin, 396).

Again, on the meaning of v. 21, Ehorn says maybe Paul wanted Philemon to release Onesimus to do gospel ministry with Paul. Or maybe Paul wanted Philemon to manumit him. Ehorn explains the former option, is a bit dismissive of the perspicuity of the latter, and (non-)concludes, “Either way, Paul left the options open, expecting Philemon to discern the right decision for himself…”

Ehorn's own translation is sometimes unusual. For instance, in verse 23, we read “my fellow-prisoner in reference to Messiah Jesus.” This seems an odd rendering of ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. How “in reference to”? What does that even mean? Isn't “in Christ” a major Pauline theme? Ehorn doesn't really explain the phrase, except insofar as he debates whether the term “fellow-prisoner” is literal or metaphorical (—  here he is again noncommittal).

I did very much appreciate Ehorn's comment on the names in vv. 23-24:

“Epaphras, who is my fellow-prisoner in reference to Messiah Jesus, greets you. Likewise, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke my fellow-workers greet you.” Just as Paul opened the letter by including not only Philemon (v 1), but also Apphia, Archippus, and a church that met in Philemon’s house (v 2), so also Paul concluded the letter by including an epistolary entourage of no less than five people (vv 23–24). This confirms that the issue between Philemon and Onesimus is not just a private affair. Not only does the matter appear in a broader sphere of discourse, but the pressure is on, seeing as Paul had effectively “carbon copied” several others into the conversation.

So it's like using the “CC” function in an email, both spreading the mail, and alerting the primary addressee that others are reading it. Excellent observation. When I teach this, I'm sure I'll use that.

The book ends with a single excursus: “Christ, The Messiah In Theology And Translation.” You know how many times you and I have pointed out that “Christ” isn't Jesus' last name? It's a title? Not so fast, says Ehorn in effect; sometimes it does function as a name in the NT, and not a title.

As to OT use, Ehorn notes that

With the exception of Dan 9:25–26, the use of “Messiah” always referred to a present person, not a future one. Thus, the OT itself does not provide the impetus for expectation of an eschatological figure who would be designated “the Messiah.”

This argument is almost too precise to be helpful, overlooking the body of material pointing to an eschatological priest, king, prophet — all of which share the term “anointed.”

Ehorn concludes:

Although the consensus of scholarly opinion is that Χριστός had lost its titular significance within Paul’s letters, we have seen strong textual and historical reasons to see Paul’s use of Χριστός as not less than, but certainly more than titular.

In other words, Ehorn wants to translate it (sometimes!) as a proper name, not as a title. So he adds,

While translating the word Χριστός differently in context may present something of a problem to English sensibilities, particularly those who are used to hearing the word “Christ” in certain constructions, this is part and parcel of the task of understanding what ancient texts mean.

Accordingly, Ehorn works at coming up with a rationale for sometimes translating Χριστός as “Christ,” and sometimes translating it as “Messiah,” as the HCSB maddeningly does. So δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ in vv. 1 and 9 is “prisoner of Messiah Jesus,” but ἀπὸ … κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ in v. 3 is “from…the Lord Jesus Christ.” Also: εἰς Χριστόν  in v. 6 is “for the sake of Messiah,” and vv, 8 and 20 ἐν Χριστῷ are “in Messiah.”

As with all the EEC volumes, Ehorn concludes by providing a list of foreign and technical words (such as anaphoric, conative, dittography, enclitic, hendiadys, inclusio, etc.), and extended bibliographies.

In sum: Ehorn has provided a good survey of the issues in the text, with commentary on those issues worth considering. He offers a number of helpful observations on the text, and is sensitive to its theology. The book is a good education on the current state of Philemon studies. That Ehorn views so much of the evidence as inconclusive earns my respect for Ehorn's humility and candor as a scholar, but prevents me from seeing the commentary as significantly ground-breaking in its own right.

Dan Phillips's signature


by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Phil back in February 2012. Phil showed the sharp contrast between Paul's charge to Timothy and Titus, and current notions of “being missional.”

As usual, the comments are closed.

In all of Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus, there is not an ounce of encouragement for the person who thinks innovation is the key to an effective ministry philosophy.

Much less is there any room for the pulpiteers of today who like to exegete the latest movies, or preach on moral lessons drawn from television sitcoms, or build their sermons on themes borrowed from popular culture. You know what I mean: the kind of preachers who insist they are being “missional” when they are merely being worldly.

Still less is there any warrant for the celebrity rock-star pastor who continually makes himself the focus of his preaching. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Paul's focus is extremely narrow—stiflingly narrow for the typical young-and-restless church planter for whom “style” is everything; and whose style (let's be honest) is conspicuously dictated by secular fashion rather than by the worldview Paul was exhorting Timothy to embrace.

Preach the word.” That's the centerpiece and the key to everything Paul tells Timothy about how to shepherd God's flock. That command is followed immediately by a second imperative that simply makes the first one more emphatic: “Be ready in season and out of season.” The Greek verb means “stand by,” and it does have the sense of readiness. (In fact, in radio, that is exactly what the expression “stand by” means: “Be ready.” But the word Paul uses is richer and stronger than that.) It also carries the connotation of expressions like: “take a stand,” “stand upon it,” “stick to it,” “stand up to it,” or simply “carry on.”

Paul is urging Timothy to be absolutely, unswervingly devoted to the truth of the Word and to the task of proclaiming it. “Stand firm, and stand ready. Keep at the task, no matter what.” That's the idea. And the proof is in the rest of the phrase: “Be ready in season and out of season”—literally, “when it's timely and when it's untimely”: when it's popular and when it's not.

Or to contextualize the phrase for the current crop of evangelical fashionistas: Preach the Word even when preaching the Word seems hopelessly uncool and unstylish.

The expression is ambiguous as to whether Timothy or his audience is the barometer declaring what's “in season [or] out of season.” It doesn't matter. Regardless of how you or your audience—or anyone else—feels about it, keep preaching the Word.

Preach the word whether the timing seems opportune or awkward. Preach it whether it's convenient or inconvenient. Preach it whether you feel like it or not. Preach it whether the door is open or closed. Preach it no matter how much resistance you encounter. Preach it whether or not people say they want it. Preach it—and make it the heart and soul of your ministry strategy—no matter how many church-growth experts tell you otherwise.

Paul goes on to give several more imperatives, and all of them expand on or modify this initial command: “Preach the Word.”


by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Phil back in March 2010. Phil offered his thoughts on the warning Paul gives in 1 Cor 16:13.

As usual, the comments are closed.
“Be watchful” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

 

That's a single word in the Greek text, γρηγορέω. It's a common New Testament word with doctrinal, practical, and eschatalogical overtones, and Paul clearly has all those things in mind in his message to the Corinthians: Stay on guard. Enemies of the truth are already in your midst. You need to “strengthen what remains and is about to die.” And the Lord is coming. (That's the exact meaning of Maranatha in verse 22.)

The mass of modern and postmodern evangelicals simply ignore this command. I'm tempted to say they rebel against it. Many are simply too arrogant to think they need an admonition like this. They carelessly think they are skilled enough and knowledgeable enough to recognize any and every error at its very first appearance, so they have let down their guard.

Mostly, though, evangelicals simply have no stomach for the duty—and they won't tolerate it if anyone else tries to interrupt the evangelical frat party with shrill alarms—even while the frat house is engulfed in flames.

We don't mind reading about Spurgeon's courage and foresight in the Down-Grade Controversy; we just don't want anyone today to exercise that kind of discernment. In fact, listen to what Spurgeon said about that very same phenomenon in his era:

    It is very pretty, is it not, to read of Luther and his brave deeds? Of course, everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want any one else to do the same to-day. When you go to the [zoo] you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering loose about the street? You tell me that it would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.

    So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago; the past ages are a sort of bear-pit or iron cage for him; but such a man to-day is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if you can think of one. Yet imagine [if] in those ages past, Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and their compeers had said, “The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great row, and get ourselves into disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night-caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake up things will have grown better.” Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on.

The need for vigilance today is greater, not less, than it has been in times past.

When before our very eyes we can see “evil people and impostors [going] from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived”—it is more important than ever to stay alert and on guard against false teaching and against personal temptations. And it's more important than ever to make ourselves ready for the return of the Savior.

That's what Paul was telling the Corinthians: “Be watchful”—first of all over yourselves—your hearts, your passions, your words, and your whole way of life. Be watchful over one another, lest you fall into sin and temptation. Be on guard against Satan, “so that we would not be outwitted by [him]; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” Likewise, be on guard against false teachers, who lie in wait to deceive and who have already begun to sow their deception in your midst. Be on guard against the world, with all its snares and seductions. Also, watch unto prayer, and prepare yourselves for the Lord's return.

All of that is packed into this one-word admonition: “Watch.”