Play the Man 1 Corinthians 16:13

I suspect the Lords People would be surprised to hear that football and the Apostle Paul share something in common. Strange bedfellows you might think! Those who follow football will be used to the rather unique parlance or football speak which comes up from the terraces and TV commentary. “Playing the Man” is one which immediately puts me in mind of Paul’s words to the Corinthians. The football enthusiast uses it to explain the fact that in a tackle a player was fouled rather than getting the ball. But for our purposes this expression “Play the Man” was the command of Christ’s Chief spokesman. The Lord of the Church wishes all His people to “Play the Man”. Of course in history these words have been immortalised and they readily come back to my remembrance. In the 70’s like many others, I was drawn to Reformation Theology, as I became acquainted with the Reformers (there was a great upsurge of interest in the Reformation at that time, not least because of Dr Lloyd Jones, J I Packer and others who had blazed a trail) being drawn to their purity of doctrine but also the courage which accompanied their profession.

“Play the Man” takes us back to the tragic and momentous events of Oxford in the Autumn of 1555. There on the 16 October, near Balliol College, Dr Nicholas Ridley and Bishop Hugh Latimer met their deaths. I understand that there is still in existence the bill of costs for burning the two martyrs. £1 5shillings and 2 pence. However these are not by any stretch of the imagination the most memorable facts. Rather it was the words of one brother to another that have survived. As they walked to their death Latimer said to his friend “Be of good cheer Master Ridley and Play the Man, we shall this day by Gods Grace light such a candle in England as I trust in God shall never be put out”. They died in the flames. The blood of the Martyrs is indeed the seed of the Church. Ridley and Latimer, though long since dead, still speak. My hope is that I can inspire us to think about such faith as theirs, surely God knows we need it in our times.

The Text 1 Corinthians 16

The text in 1 Corinthians 16 is almost certainly where Latimer took his words from. Paul says be on guard stand firm in the faith, be courageous be strong. The NLT has a footnote for courageous in Greek “Be Men”. The AV translates it “quit you like men”. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 Paul had already urged them to remain immovable, the NIV says let nothing move you. The thought is let nothing make you alter or change in your faith. It is worthy of note that Paul speaks not of faith only, but “The Faith”. This is exactly how the Lord speaks when He anticipates His return to the world “When I return shall I find “The Faith” on the Earth” Luke 18v8. We should all beware that faith may not be “The Faith”. And such trials in history as our current one, find out where the faith is really on display. The Faith is always at risk, it is always under pressure, hence the need to be courageous and “Play the Man”.

Pressure Points

If we went back into history, we would have seen quite different pressure points in the lives of believers from those with which we are familiar. In the past the Pressure may above all else, have been keeping body and soul together, how to stay alive, how to provide bread for starving loved ones. How to survive disease. Spurgeon focused on this subject in his sermon of 1866, “The Voice of Cholera”; when he highlighted the cholera epidemic in London, something which none of us probably ever concern ourselves with. However, we are under pressure but our pressure is undoubtedly one of ease, what Francis Schaeffer warned against in the 70’s, namely Personal Peace and Affluence. Ease has done its worst to us, in part it has robbed the church of “The Faith” and now the proverbial rug has been well and truly pulled from under our feet. Let us consider that since the early post war years we have seen the creation of the Welfare State, the Health Service and great scientific advances in medicine, this coupled with burgeoning affluence has seen “The Faith” leak at an alarming rate. Christians have God Plus. Probably by now the Church does not know how to do God alone. The age of ease has done more to persecute us than all the darkness of Rome ever did to Gods beloved people.

I think if we were all brutally honest, we have all walked in the nether regions of faith. I liken it to someone who all their life only walked the flat terrain of the Netherlands and then tried to climb the Alps. The challenge would be beyond them, and we would not be surprised if they threw the towel in. This challenge of “The Faith” at this time is immense. Paul’s Faith: The Faith

For Paul faith was only in God, there was no faith in God “Plus”, He had no Health Service, no back up, no other plan. If God did not help him there was nothing. His words in 2 Corinthians 1 have been much on my mind over the last days; and they come out very helpfully in the NLT. Paul says “God comforts us in all our troubles”, troubles were obviously never far from him. But he’s always thinking of others, he sees Gods comfort to him so that he can comfort others. He acknowledges trouble as suffering, He speaks of being weighed down with troubles, but even then he’s thinking of how it accrues to the good of others.

The thought also of patiently enduring the same things together is very pointed (v6). They were all in it together. I repeat all these troubles came with no back up service, nothing else to lean on. Let us just stop and think of being like him and having nothing in our troubles except God alone. Latimer and Ridley had no-one except God alone. Paul says we were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact we expected to die. Other versions at this point say “The sentence of death was on us”. However, then comes Paul’s blockbuster, what remarkable words: 2 Corinthians 1:9 NLT “But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to ONLY rely on God”. What extraordinary faith Paul had: The truth is this kind of approach must not be Paul’s it must be that of every true Christian. Of course Paul was free of “Personal Peace and affluence”. These lead weights did not sink him to the bottom and yet amazingly he says “we stopped relying on ourselves”. This must mean at some time, the great Apostle had himself even fallen foul of such weakness. However, the trouble, the experience of being crushed and the spectre of death had shown him the only way for the Christian is to lean ONLY on GOD, Only rely on God. In his circumstances he realised he had no ability to overcome his predicament, the solution was Only God. If our present crisis results in us all walking on higher places, depending only on the Lord; then great good will have been done to us. Perhaps this is time for Christs Churches to ask do we have “The Faith?” You may call me cynical, but I fear that when it is all over (one day it will be) like Israel of old we will quickly forget, and walk in nether regions again, because what will matter will be the vaccine or the antiviral drugs, these will be our salvation. Our Politicians all speak one message at the moment “Above all else we must restore our Personal Peace and affluence. What really matters is the economy!” Unfortunately, I fear the aftermath will be very cruel and dark, millions may be unemployed, as I write sixteen million Americans have filed as unemployed, there may be breakdown in some societies. African countries may suffer beyond our imagination. If we are to survive, I think it must not be selfish or personal, but rather to see the Kingdom of God at stake and cry out to learn Paul’s lessons and gain his faith. Having Paul’s faith will not be just surviving but triumphing.

With a view to the Young People

“Play the Man” is to show courage in the face of danger and acute difficulties: How many of us could have faced the test of Latimer and Ridley? Equally how many of us today might even say, Ridley and Latimer were not sensible, they risked too much. I suppose if our generation of the church had been looking on we would probably have told them not to be so silly and irresponsible…I can just hear it now. As I write we have just heard of two nurses in their thirties who have lost their lives risking all selflessly for others, they have tragically paid the ultimate cost. It calls to mind the text “Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13. We must all say, Boy did they play the man!! Very often the world teaches the Church the things it ought to know. (19/21NHS staff have so far died of the virus).

In the present crisis there is only one people who ONLY have God, this is the Lord’s People, here is our chance to show nothing moves us: 1 Corinthians 15:58, In this regard we should think about all the young children and young people. For certain they will recall these days and they will remember us. Either our faith will be crystal clear or as murky as mud.

At the moment the Politicians and the rest continue to tell us that what we face is unprecedented, an unprecedented national moment; if this is true then the same must be said for Christs Church. It is a unique moment to be strong, to be unmoved to play the man, so that the young will remember our faith forever. Remember the light shines brightest in the deepest darkness. So let our light shine, and let them say the former generations said ONLY GOD, and practiced ONLY GOD. Here is a moment in History, not only to speak of faith, but to do it.

Caleb’s faith

There are many remarkable things revealed in those passages of scripture which record the journey of the People of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land. But to me one that stands out is when the spies were sent out by Moses from Kadesh Barnea to reconnoitre and report on the status of the land which Israel was to go into: Numbers 13:1-16. Scripture does not just tell us that they were spies, it names them, and by the way, they were all leaders. Yet apart from Caleb and Joshua, they all failed, they failed regarding faith. Only Caleb and Joshua “Played the Man”. When the mission was over, the recurring thought was the size of the people in the land and this clearly overwhelmed the spies. They saw giants there. They were overcome by fear and trepidation. But of course, we should not forget, all the spies saw the giants, Caleb and Joshua saw them also, they were just as much aware of the size of the task which lay ahead of them. They did not bury their heads in the sand, they knew it would not be easy. Caleb’s words are stand out in the timorous atmosphere. “we should go up and take possession of the land for we can certainly do it”. By contrast the other spies made the hearts of the people melt; all they could see was the size of the enemy, I suspect all Caleb could see was the size of his God. Caleb would have said ONLY GOD. Joshua would have said ONLY GOD. But what is even more instructive in all this is when we read of Caleb in his eighty fourth year, Joshua Chapter 14. Caleb recalls that he was forty years of age when Moses sent him out and he says he brought back a report according to his convictions 14:7, but he then adds, my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. Remember “Playing the Man” is contagious, but so also is fear. Caleb says I followed the Lord wholeheartedly. Clearly the other spies did not. This secret of whole heartedness is available to us all. It is enough of course to know that the Lord himself knows if we are truly wholehearted. Yet the Young People will watch us and this will be as much a message as any we wish to give at this time. Caleb is remarkable he speaks of his willingness still to play the man in his eighty fourth year, and his certainty of success would be down to “The Lord helping me”v12. Forty years after his experience Caleb is still the same, he is unaltered, he had not forgotten the great Battle of the Giants. He had seen God Only God, he was just as strong and vigorous for battle, his eye had not dimmed.

Yet there is something else which is also clear, Caleb had not forgotten, after forty years he still remembered those who failed and let us not forget the consequences of the lack of faith on the part of the spies. It was catastrophic. We must not fail the Young People in this vital hour, instead let our faith in God shine out. Latimer and Ridley are remembered because they played the man, they are remembered for their strength, faith and fortitude. Let us all be like them in this unique moment of history.

Open the young mans eyes

None of us could ever doubt Latimer’s motives, he was trying to spur his friend on, his words were meant to encourage Ridley. It is often the case that others around us see with greater perspicacity i.e. with penetration of thought. They seem to possess a discernment above our own, this is why our best friends, are in fact ‘face to face’ friends who tell it as it is, without fear, intending our great good. This proves to be the greatest of encouragements, friends without flattery or guile; see the Holy War by Bunyan. Elisha was such a friend to his young companion.

In 2 Kings 6 we have the account of the King of Aram trying to apprehend the Prophet Elisha, the Kings Intelligence told him Elisha was in Dothan, that was the place to capture him. The King of Aram sent a great army and many chariots and horses to surround the city. Early the next morning the Servant of Elisha was perplexed, to say the least, the AV says he said “Alas” the NLT “Oh sir what will we do now?” The truth is the young man can see no way out. He was surely puzzled, bewildered, here he was with the Man of God Elisha, yet now surrounded by foes. Oh what will we do now! In our present plight we are surrounded by an unseen enemy, if we were not bewildered by it all it would be surprising. The young man has his eyes fixed now on those surrounding him, yes God’s servant is present, he has Elisha by his side, but still he says “Alas”. I think in fact he could smell death and of course it is the fear of death which has gripped the nations of the world in this present crisis. A huge part of being perplexed for so many folk in the current virus outbreak, is the sheer volume of facts and figures, which they have to pick through and try to process. It is all too easy to get weighed down with them if we allow them the loudest voice. However, I think there is a huge problem with the facts and figures and believing them implicitly. It is perplexing indeed to see our Government follow a policy which many or most Christians might endorse, yet in Sweden the Christians there are following, and believing in, a different policy, the French Christians following another, and the Italians yet another. Who’s right? Who should Christians believe? Is it not perplexing to see a young couple in the park enjoying the sun moved on by the Police, (no fault of the Police) yet the next day hundreds and thousands of people still cramming on to tubes in London, in close proximity. Hundreds of workers on construction sites labouring cheek by jowl. Sadly I think one is being permitted for commerce and the other unfortunately smacks of leisure and has to be stopped at all costs. Either way these things simply do not join the dots, no wonder people are perplexed and there is so much to take in, as a consequence the unanswered questions raise anxiety.

There are more for us than against us

For the Christian I think the answer lies with the Young Man. Open your eyes. Lord let us see the Host of God, the armies of heaven camped around us. This will be the answer to fear and uncertainty. What is uncertain and perplexing to us is certain with the Lord. He is at the helm. The Governments strategy will change again, of this we can be quite sure. Let us fix our eyes on Him who does not change. The Government and its advisors know only so much, The Lord knows all. Open your eyes the Lord would say to us. “The Angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him and delivereth them”. Psalm 34:7. The Host of God was encamped around Elisha and the young servant, shall the Lord not encamp round about his blood bought people? More are they that are for us than those against us v16. How useful the great hymns are at times like this. Stand up, Stand up for Jesus carries this line “Ye that are men now serve him against unnumbered foes Let courage rise with danger and strength to strength oppose”. Paul urges courage upon the Corinthian Christians, so must it be urged upon us, Let courage RISE. The danger seems to be all around us so let courage rise and let us play the man. In heavenly love abiding. The first verse supports what I’ve been saying. “In heavenly love abiding NO change my heart shall fear, for safe is such confiding for NOTHING changes here. The Storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid BUT GOD, But God, But God is round about me and can I be dismayed”. Latimer said to Ridley “It is possible we shall light a candle in this dark day which will be remembered and not put out”. Equally it is possible we shall, by God’s grace, do the same. We will if we play the man.

The Proper Man

Luther in his great hymn “a safe stronghold” speaks of Jesus as the Proper Man. Of course He is the Perfect Man, yet he also had to Play the Man. Easter is almost upon us, a very different one from usual. Yet surely for the Lord’s People it is not changed or altered one iota, the circumstances can’t alter the Glories of the Cross and the Victory of the Resurrection Morning. The things eternal which accrue to His people are in great measure secured by his selfless bravery. He set his face like a flint. No man ever played the man like our Saviour. No one was ever so courageous, so strong, so resolute, so determined, so fixed upon His God entirely entrusting his soul unto His loving Heavenly Father. Latimer and Ridley must have had a pure sight of him who endured all for their sake.

To my mind nothing can possibly dampen the joys of Easter. So I would encourage everyone, let us look long and hard with faith at Calvary and let it put steel into us. There we shall see triumph, victory over the greatest foe, none shall be able to triumph over Him who is my Lord, He holds the Keys of Death. Not a stroke can hit until the God of Love sees fit. His Love at Calvary must be all to us. It must make all fear be banished to the shadows, and the Resurrection Morning fill us with the brightest hope we could ever have. This is not whistling in the dark, but that quiet dignified assurance and certainty of hope based upon Him who is the risen Lord of Life. Hence go on quietly!

This Easter millions of candles will be lit in acts of solemn remembrance, I don’t recommend that, but rather let us light a candle of faith and may it be some small reflection of that which Latimer and Ridley lit all those years ago, “Playing the Man”, and may it shine forth for the Lord Jesus Christ and His Glory alone.

God help us all and preserve us in His Almighty hand.

Your friend, Andrew