A harvest of righteousness

The biblical concept of righteousness can be confusing if think of it in terms of actions or duties. The Greek word dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) has to do specifically with Christian justification and can be thought of as “being just as one should be” (G1343). In other words, Christians that have been justified are just the way they were intended to be when God created them. From an internal perspective, justification means that our hearts are right with God, hence we are considered to be righteous with regard to our relationship to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Righteousness was imputed or counted to Abraham because he believed what God told him. The Apostle Paul explained Abraham’s justification by faith in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)

Paul made it clear that the only way we can be justified in God’s sight is by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul stated, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26)

Justification by faith is expected to produce a change in the believer’s lifestyle. In his first epistle, the Apostle John talked about God’s seed abiding in all who have been born again. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) means “something that is sown” (G4690) and is derived from the word speiro (spi’-ro) which means to scatter (G4687). Jesus’ parable of the sower and parable of the weeds illustrated how the believer’s heart is either influenced by the Holy Spirit to practice righteousness or by the devil to practice sin. Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower indicated that we must understand God’s word in order to benefit from it. Jesus said:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Paul associated righteousness with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and said, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Paul identified the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Sprit” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25). Keeping in step with the Spirit essentially means that we are conforming our behavior to be consistent with God’s word. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians included a reminder of their pledge to take part in the relief of the saints. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians’ reputation of excelling in spiritual matters might be hurt by their reluctance to participate in this act of grace (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Therefore, Paul admonished them saying:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Paul identified the Corinthians’ contribution as a willing gift. The Greek word that is translated willing gift, eulogia (yoo-log-ee’-ah) means “fine speaking” and is used of God and Christ in connection with the invocation of blessings, a benediction (G2129). Paul emphasized the importance of the execution of the Corinthians’ act of grace by linking their pledge to give to the relief of the saints to the invocation of a blessing. The point Paul was likely trying to make was that every word that comes out of the mouth of a believer is considered to be a testimony on behalf of Christ. Paul indicated that he would be humiliated if the Corinthians didn’t do what they said they were going to because they would be making him out to be a liar (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul seemed to be linking the Corinthians’ giving with Jesus’ parable of the sower when he used the analogy of sowing and reaping to convey the significance of the size of their gift. Paul said, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul eluded to a connection between teaching the word of God and receiving financial support in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

According to Leviticus chapters 6-7, many of the animal sacrifices that were made to the LORD under the Mosaic Law were able to be eaten by the priests. The guilt offering in particular was considered to be compensation to the LORD for an offense that an individual had committed (Leviticus 6:6). Leviticus 7:5-6 states, “The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.”

God specifically commanded the people of Israel to give a portion of their peace offerings to Aaron the priest and to his sons because they were serving him. The LORD told Moses, “Whoever among the sons of Aaron offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel. This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations” (Leviticus 7:33-36). The portion that was given to Aaron and his sons was a consecratory gift that signified justification on the part of the gift and the giver.

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that giving would result in God’s grace overflowing in a believer’s life. Paul said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; righteousness endures forever” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9). The phrase righteousness endures forever refers to an eternal state of justification, which is “the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). Paul indicated that when God’s grace abounds to us, we have all sufficiency in all things at all times. In other words, we are completely content with our circumstances. Whether Paul was talking about an eternal state of bliss or a life that is available to believers as soon as they accept Christ isn’t completely clear, but it seems that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were able to effect their circumstances by giving generously.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to rely on God’s provision for their gift. Paul said, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) is used figuratively in 1 John 3:9 “of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that keeps them from practicing sin” (G4690). From that standpoint, Paul’s reference to “the harvest of your righteousness” may have had to do with the fruits of the Spirit. The Greek word that is translated harvest, gennema (ghen’-nay-mah) means offspring (G1081) and is derived from the word gennao (ghen-nah’-o) which speaks “of one who by means of preaching the gospel becomes the human instrument in the impartation of spiritual life” (G1080). Paul seemed to be saying that the Corinthians financial support of the saints in Jerusalem had the same impact and reward of preaching the gospel to them. It could be that the act of grace that Paul associated with the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:6-7) was a type of ministry that complimented the preaching of the gospel in that it depicted the love of God in a tangible way that was unmistakably supernatural and gave the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in the hearts of the people that were receiving the gift and to bring them to Christ.

Paul’s explanation of the harvest of righteousness that he hoped the Corinthians would experience seemed to center around the grace of God being activated in the lives of believers. The Sermon on the Mount had a similar objective and in it Jesus mentioned giving to the needy in the context of receiving spiritual rewards. Jesus said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The phrase Jesus used, practicing your righteousness, had to do with bringing forth fruit (G4160) and is related to a statement Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians about God’s effort to transform the lives of believers. Paul talked about the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us in bringing us to Christ (Ephesians 2:5-7) and then he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Greek word poiema (poy’-ay-mah), which is translated workmanship in Ephesians 2:10, refers to a thing that is made, a product (G4161). One of the reasons God saves people is so that he can use them to bless others. We can’t take credit for the good things we do because they are actually a result of God working in and through us to accomplish certain tasks that he had already planned ahead of time to do regardless of our involvement. Jesus’ ministry is filled with examples of the kinds of things that God wants to do and how our submission to his will can make a difference in the world. Jesus indicated that our giving should be done in secret so that our Father “who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). What Jesus meant by that was that our spiritual growth is a private matter, but God is aware of everything that goes on in the spiritual realm and is keeping track of our spiritual progress. The New King James Version of Matthew 6:4 states “your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” One way of interpreting this statement would be that God will make himself apparent in our lives or that the reward we get will be visible to others. With regard to a harvest of righteousness, this might mean that we will receive a greater portion of the Holy Spirit which would be evident to others through the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The important thing to remember is that we are a spiritual work in progress and God is behind every act of grace that we are prompted to do.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous because it would result in more fruit for the entire body of Christ. Paul stated:

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15)

Paul specifically mentioned the Corinthians submission to the will of God in order to point out that they were following the example of Christ and were in turn being good examples to others. Paul also made note of the fact that the recipients of their gift would be longing and praying for the Corinthians as a result of their generosity and would be able to recognize that the surpassing grace of God was upon them (2 Corinthians 9:14).

The surpassing grace that Paul referred to (2 Corinthians 9:14) may have been what Peter was talking about when he encouraged believers to be good stewards of God’s grace. Peter said, “Since therefore Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1). Peter went on to say that believers should not be judged in the flesh the way people are, but “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). To live in the spirit means that we have recovered the physical life from the power of death. The Greek word zao (dzah’-o) means to live “in the sense of to exist, in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter: to live forever” (G2198). Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Spiritual disclosure

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included a prayer that was meant to encourage their spiritual growth. Paul asked, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:17-18). The phrase “eyes of your hearts” refers to one’s ability to see things that are normally covered up or kept secret in order to prevent them from being disclosed to the wrong person. The Greek word that is translated enlightened, photizo (fo-tid’-zo) is used figuratively to refer to the impartation of moral and spiritual light (G5461). What Paul meant was that he wanted the Holy Spirit to illuminate the minds of the Ephesian believers so that they could understand spiritual truth. The implication being that without the help of the Holy Spirit it would be impossible for the Ephesians to understand what God was saying to them through Paul’s teaching.

The Greek word that is translated revelation in Ephesians 1:17, apokalupsis (ap-ok-al-oop’-sis) means disclosure or an uncovering (G602). Apokalupsis probably originated from the idea of discovering a crime. The reason why the knowledge of God can only be received through a revelation or spiritual disclosure is because the devil has stolen our ability to discern the truth about our creator. In a sense, we are spiritually blindfolded until God decides to reveal himself to us by way of photizo or shedding light on the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians 1:18). Paul said that it is by grace that we are saved through faith. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul went on to say that believers are God’s workmanship, something that is produced by an inward act of the mind or will (G4160). Paul said, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

The process of spiritual growth includes several stages, one of which King David described as being like a weaned child. David said about the difficult situation he was dealing with, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2). David realized that his circumstances were out of his control and had decided to accept them rather than scream his head off to God like a hungry child that wanted to be fed immediately. David said, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1). The Hebrew word that is translated marvelous, pala’ (paw-law’) has to do with distinguishing the supernatural ability of God. “Pala’, as a verb, means ‘to be marvelous, be extraordinary, be beyond one’s power to do” (H6381). David said that he did not occupy himself with things too great and too marvelous from him. In other words he left things in God’s hands rather than trying to work them out himself.

After Laban departed and returned home, Genesis 32:1-2 tells us that “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” The angels of God did not accidentally cross Jacob’s path, but were there to intentionally intervene in his situation. When it says that the angels of God met him, it implies that Jacob was like a target that they were focused in on and that there was a reason why the angelic host had been sent there. The fact that Jacob was able to see the angels suggests that he had become consciously aware of the supernatural activity that was taking place around him. The reason why he said “This is God’s camp!” (Genesis 32:2) was because Jacob recognized that a spiritual war was taking place (H4264) and yet, he seemed to ignore the angels presence and went about his business as if nothing unusual was happening.

Rather than continuing on his journey, Jacob stopped for the night and sent messengers ahead of him to let his brother Esau know he was on his way home. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, ‘If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape'” (Genesis 32:6-8). The thought didn’t seem to occur to Jacob that God’s heavenly host was there to help him and that he had nothing to worry about with regard to engaging in a battle with the four hundred men that were headed toward him with his brother Esau. Even though Jacob could see the angels of God, the eyes of his heart had not been enlightened and he was therefore ignorant about what God was doing in his midst.

John the Baptist is an example of an Old Testament believer that saw Jesus, Israel’s Messiah with his own eyes and yet, was unable to spiritually comprehend what his ministry was all about. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” (Matthew 11:2-3). John’s question seems completely absurd given that he had already declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Savior of the World did not mean that he understood his mission of spreading the gospel. Matthew said, “And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me'” (Matthew 11:4-6). In other words, Jesus wanted John to know that he needed to be saved like everyone else.

Jesus explained to his disciples that John was no different than anyone else. Yes, John had been given the gift of prophecy, but that did not mean that the eyes of his heart had been enlightened. John had limited knowledge of God’s plan of salvation and was operating under the assumption that Jesus was going to establish his kingdom on Earth immediately. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). What Jesus was saying was that John knew more than anyone else from a human standpoint about how God’s kingdom was supposed to operate and yet, he still hadn’t received the spiritual disclosure from God that was necessary to place his trust in Christ. John was blinded to the fact that Jesus was in the process of saving the world even though he was on his way to being crucified by the very people he had come to save.

Jesus told his disciples, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). The Greek word that is translated suffered violence, biazo (bee-ad’-zo) means to “force one’s way into” (G971). Biazo is derived from the root word bios (bee’-os) which means life, i.e. literally “the present state of existence” (G969). The phrase “the violent take it by force” has to do with exerting energy in order to accomplish something. What Jesus may have meant by his comment that the kingdom of heaven had suffered violence until he came into the world was that before salvation was offered to man as a gift from God, the only way people could obtain eternal life was by fighting for it or you might say to demand that God give it to them, except that it was the other way around, God was continually forcing the Israelites to let him save them.

Jacob’s struggle to do things his own way instead of following God’s instructions culminated when he spent the night at Mahanaim, a place he described as “God’s camp” (Genesis 32:2). When Jacob discovered that his brother was on his way to meet him with 400 men, he prayed this prayer:

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good.’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of Esau for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'” (Genesis 32:9-12)

In his hour of desperation, Jacob poured out his heart to God and was finally willing to ask for his help. One indication that Jacob had a genuine change of heart was that he sent his brother a present in order to make peace with him (Genesis 32:20).

Jacob indicated that he wanted to appease his brother Esau and said, “Perhaps he will accept me” (Genesis 32:20). The Hebrew word that is translated accept, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). Jacob realized that he had sinned against Esau and wanted his brother to absolve him of his spiritual debt. Unfortunately, the debt Jacob owed wasn’t to Esau, but to God. During the night, Jacob sent his family across the river to safety, “And he was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24). The wrestling match that took place at Mahanaim may have had both physical and spiritual qualities. The person that wrestled with Jacob was simply identified as a man, but later was recognized by Jacob as God (Genesis 32:30). Therefore, it seems likely that God’s purpose in having hand to hand combat with Jacob was to bring him to a point of submission. It says that, “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him” (Genesis 32:25).

God’s use of force to disable Jacob suggests that he wasn’t going to let Jacob win their battle of the wills and yet, it says in Genesis 32:28 that God told Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” The Hebrew name Israel or Yisra’el (yes-raw-ale’) means “he will rule (as) God” (H3478). The key to understanding Jacob’s victory over God could be his demand to be blessed by his creator. After the man put Jacob’s hip out of joint, it says in Genesis 32:26, “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.'” Jacob was determined to get the spiritual advantage he felt he needed in order to succeed in life. The implied benefits of God’s blessing were righteousness, prosperity, and eternal life (H1293). All of these things together could be summed up in what we think of today as being saved, “the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept his conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus in whom alone it is to be obtained” G4991).

It isn’t clear how much of what happened at Mahanaim was understood by Jacob. The only thing we are told is that Jacob called the place where he wrestled with God “Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered'” (Genesis 32:30). The Hebrew words that are translated “seen God face to face,” ra’ah (raw-aw’) ‘elohiym (el-o-heem’) paneh (paw-neh’) indicate that Jacob could perceive God’s attitude toward him (H7200/H430/H6440). In other words, Jacob’s personal encounter with God made it possible for him to tell by the look on God’s face how he felt about him. Paneh which is translated face to face is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) and most likely meant that God was turning towards Jacob or becoming attached to him in the sense of developing a relationship with him (H6437). It’s possible that the Lord was giving Jacob a chance to see that he was his friend, not an adversary that needed to be beaten. The Hebrew word that is translated delivered in Genesis 32:20, natsal (naw-tsal) is the same word Jacob used when he prayed that God would deliver him from the hand of his brother,” so it seems likely that Jacob thought God would kill him if he got too close to him, but discovered that it was safe for him to interact with God in an intimate manner.

Jesus thanked his Father, whom he referred to as the Lord of heaven and earth, because he had hidden the things that he was teaching the people from “the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). Jesus was comparing those who had intellectual capability with a simple minded person who had no ability to communicate spiritual truths. Jesus was pointing out that spiritual disclosure wasn’t dependent on a person’s intellectual development, but could even be received by someone that was a brand new believer. An example of this principle was the complicated doctrine that Paul delivered in his letter to the Ephesians, Gentiles that had been deeply immersed in worshipping the Greek goddess of Diana until Paul arrived on the scene. Paul talked to the Ephesians about spiritual blessings in Christ and covered such topics as predestination, redemption, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14) and then, Paul indicated that he was praying that God would give the Ephesian believers the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation of Jesus, so that they could comprehend these great truths.

Jesus told his disciples, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). This seems to suggest that Jesus was entrusted with the sole responsibility of disclosing spiritual truth to believers. Jesus said that all things had been handed over to him, meaning that everything there was to know about God’s kingdom was transmitted to him by his Father. The Greek word that is translated chooses in the phrase “whom the Son chooses,” boulomai (boo’-lom-ahee) “expresses strongly the deliberate exercise of the will” (G1014), indicating that God’s gift of salvation was distributed by means of Jesus choosing who would be saved. Paul said that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, Jesus identified the people he wanted to save and communicated it to his Father before the world was created. Jesus’ desire to have certain individuals with him throughout eternity was based on God’s love for humanity.

One of the ways we know what kind of people Jesus wanted to be with him in his Father’s eternal kingdom was who he invited to follow him. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus was looking for people that were tired of carrying the burdens of their sins around with them. Jesus said that his followers could find rest for their souls by taking his yoke upon them. The Greek word that is translated yoke, zugos (dzoo-gos’) means to join and refers to a coupling that enables two people to work together to complete a task (G2218). Jesus said that his yoke was easy, meaning that everything that was needed to get the job done was being provided (G5543); and his burden was light, it would be easy to handle (G1645). The only thing that Jesus required from those that wanted to be saved was faith and he made that possible by enlightening the eyes of the believer’s heart.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

A remodeling project

Every remodeling project begins with the demolition of something that needs to be transformed. God began his remodeling of Earth with the destruction of every living thing that he had created. God warned Noah, “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground” (Genesis 7:4). The phrase blot out is properly translated as “to stroke or rub” and by implication to erase (H4229). In a sense, you could say that God intended to get rid of the evidence of his creative effort, but there was more to his plan than destroying everything that was alive.

The Hebrew word that is translated living thing, yequwm (yek-oom’) refers to something that is standing (H3351). Yequwm is derived from the word quwm (koom) which means “to arise, to stand up, come about” (H6965). Quwm is sometimes used “to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged.” I believe God’s complete destruction of life on Earth was connected to his plan of salvation and was intended to enable a different kind of structure for life on Earth to be established.

One of the ways of looking at the world we live in is an orderly arrangement of things that God controls (G2889). The Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos) is derived from the word komizo (kom-id’-zo) which means to provide for (G2865). God’s decision to blot out all of the life that he had created was based on his awareness of mankind’s need to get rid of the effects of his sinful behavior. God specifically intended to flood the Earth so that he could provide a means of salvation for the world, but his plan began with a single person, Noah.

God commanded Noah to “Go into the ark, you and all your household” (Genesis 7:1) and it says in Genesis 7:5 that “Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.” The Hebrew word translated did, ‘asah (aw-saw’) has to do with the relationship of an individual to another in his action or behavior in the sense of what one does. “The emphasis here is on an ongoing mutual relationship between two parties obligating them to a reciprocal act” (H6213). Noah responded to God’s command because he wanted to have a relationship with him or you might say because Noah wanted to keep his relationship with the LORD intact.

God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:18) guaranteed that he and his family would be saved from the flood that was intended to wipe out every living thing from the face of the earth. Even though God guaranteed his safety, Noah had to do something to put God’s promise into effect. Noah’s obedience to God’s command to build the ark and bring in all the animals that he wanted him to save (Genesis 6:14, 19) symbolized Noah’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation, but to a certain extent, you could say that Noah still had to save himself by doing what was necessary for his life to be spared.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explained that everyone has to make a choice to leave behind the world that is controlled by Satan and become a member of God’s family. He stated:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5)

Genesis 7:16 states, “And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.” The Hebrew word translated shut him in, cagar (saw-gar’) figuratively means to surrender and in an extreme sense, “to imprison” (H5462). This seems to suggest that God shut the door of the ark from the outside so that no one could escape. A Hebrew word that is similar to cagar that might clarify why God shut Noah and his family inside the ark is cegullah (seg-ool-law’) which means to shut up in the sense of wealth being preserved. “Cegullah signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves. Six times this word is used of Israel as God’s personally acquired (elected, delivered from Egyptian bondage, and formed into what He wanted them to be), carefully preserved, and privately possessed people” (H5459).

The Apostle Paul referred to himself as “a prisoner for the Lord” and encouraged the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). The Greek word Paul used that is translated prisoner, desmios (des’-mee-os) refers to “a captive (as bound)” (G1198), meaning a prisoner that is in shackles or some other form of physical constraint. Paul considered himself to be serving a good cause by suffering for his commitment to preaching the gospel. In reference to walking in a manner worthy of one’s calling, Paul said believers should walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Noah and his family experienced extremely dangerous circumstances during their captivity in the ark which lasted for a whole year (Genesis 7:11, 8:14). It’s likely that Noah had to deal with some issues related to creating and maintaining a peaceful environment. Paul’s instruction to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) had to do with agreement about the principles of Christianity. Paul felt that it was his job to preach to the gospel to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:7), but there were many obstacles to him doing that. One of the specific claims that was brought against Paul while he was in Ephesus was that he was ruining their economy by preaching against idolatry (Acts 19:26-27). After a riot broke out, Paul had to flee Ephesus (Acts 20:1) and was forced to say his final goodbyes from a distance (Acts 20:25).

Noah’s three sons and their wives entered the ark with him, but there is no evidence to suggest that any or all of them were in agreement with his decision to obey the LORD’s command. Noah’s faith was an internal persuasion that most likely contradicted his external circumstances. There were no signs that confirmed Noah’s belief that a flood was imminent and that all who lived on Earth were going to be destroyed by God (Hebrews 11:7). The Apostle Peter referred to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) and Paul said he “condemned the world,” and became an “heir of righteousness” by his faith (Hebrews 11:7). The single thing that differentiated Noah from everyone else was his conviction that God was going to do what he said he would.

Peter connected the flood of Noah’s day to the second coming of Christ (2 Peter 3) and indicated that the word of God “that brought watery destruction on the wicked of Noah’s day will bring fiery destruction on the world that exists today and on its wicked people” (note on 2 Peter 3:7, KJSB). According to Peter, Noah’s salvation from the flood illustrates God’s redemption of his chosen people and typifies baptism. Peter said of Noah’s confinement to the ark while water covered the face of the Earth, “This is like baptism to us. Baptism does not mean we wash our bodies clean. It means we are saved from the punishment of sin and go to God in prayer with a heart that says we are right. This can be done because Christ was raised from the dead” (1 Peter 3:21, NLV).

Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:4-7). Paul’s argument that there is only one hope for mankind makes it clear that God’s salvation of Noah and his family was not different from what we are able to experience today. The critical element that connects these two ways of being born again is water baptism. “Baptism is a symbol of salvation in that it depicts Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and our identification with Him in these experiences” (note on 1 Peter 3:21, KJSB).

It says in Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” The Hebrew word translated remembered, zakar (zaw-kar) is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized)” (H2142). You could say that God’s covenant with Noah caused Noah to be recognized as a member of God’s family. Somewhat like the bond between a mother and her child, God and Noah became permanently attached to each other in such a way that God would never forget about or abandon Noah because of the feelings he had from him. The bond between God and Noah was most likely the same kind of bond Paul referred to as the “bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Paul indicated the primary characteristic of believers that are joined together in the bond of peace is unity. The Greek word Paul used, henotes (hen-ot’-ace) is derived from the word heis (hice) which represents the primary numeral one (G1520). Emphatically, this means “a single (‘one’), to the exclusion of others.” Henotes may be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts of believers. Since there is only one God and one faith that is received from him, it makes sense that all believers will eventually come to the same conclusions about their belief in Christ, that his incarnation made it possible for him to die for the sins of the world (note on Ephesians 4:8-10).

God’s renovation of the world would not have been possible if he was unable to systematically replicate its original structure. One of the things that had to be preserved during the 375 days that Noah and his family were in the ark was the spiritual ecosystem that connected every living thing to its partner in the physical realm. It says in Genesis 7:8-9, “Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah.” The perfect one to one correlation of males and females meant that every living thing that went into the ark had to come out alive or God’s spiritual ecosystem would be disrupted.

The ark that Noah built was somewhat like a life preserver that was meant to keep the lives of all those who were in it safe until they were able to return to the land. In the same way that a dismantled plumbing system has to be replicated or it won’t function properly, the people and animals living on the ark each represented a critical piece of structure that had to go back in place and be able to function properly after the flood was over. Paul used the metaphor of a human body to describe the structure that results from believers being united by knowledge of the Son of God. He said, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Paul talked about the whole body of Christ being joined and held together (Ephesians 4:16) as if it was a physical structure with pieces that could be perfectly connected to each other. The Greek word Paul used that is translated building up in Ephesians 4:12, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) refers to architecture (G3619) and implies that there is a spiritual building or structure that every believer functions within. Paul indicated this building is being repaired or adjusted to fit the needs of its members as growth takes place (G2675). The way this adjustment happens is through a complete discernment or comprehension of God’s plan of salvation (Ephesians 4:13).

Paul identified five roles involved in the equipping or complete furnishing of the spiritual building that is made up of believers: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Paul indicated each of these roles has a unique contribution to make in believers’ spiritual growth. Paul said they are like joints or ligaments that join muscle to bone and “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). The process whereby this growth takes place is fellowship or in the Greek, koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah). Paul referred to koinonia as the “plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made know to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10, italics mine).

To a certain extent, you could say that Noah and his family were the first members of Christ’s church and their time on the ark was an opportunity for Noah and his family to learn firsthand what God’s plan of salvation was really all about. After they were released from the ark, it says in Genesis 8:20-21, “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.”

God’s conclusion that the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth confirmed that Noah’s righteousness was not a result of his own human nature. “Although righteous Noah and his family had been saved, he and his offspring were the descendants of Adam and carried in their hearts the inheritance of sin” (note on Genesis 8:21, KJSB). Paul described the sinful condition of humans as “the futility of their minds” and said, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18).

Paul’s description of unbelievers as being “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18) basically meant they were alienated from God’s family and therefore didn’t fit in with the body of Christ. You might say they were stray parts because God had no use for them due to their ignorance of his plan of salvation. Paul told the Ephesians that they needed to “put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated renewed in Ephesians 4:23, ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o) means to renovate. “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365). In other words, Paul’s instruction to put off the old self and put on the new self meant that he wanted the Ephesians to be born again and to be completely remodeled into dwelling place that was fit for God’s Holy Spirit.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Process of spiritual growth

Peter’s second epistle is believed to have been written not long before he was martyred for his faith during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (The Second Epistle General of Peter, Introduction). Peter’s final instructions focused on the process of spiritual growth. Somewhat like stepping stones that mark an unfamiliar pathway, Peter identified the characteristics that result from a believer’s diligent effort to produce spiritual fruit. Peter said, “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

Peter assumed that the people he was writing to had already been born again because he told them to add to their faith virtue (2 Peter 1:5). Faith in this context is the initial reliance upon Christ for salvation (G4102), a decision to accept Jesus as your savior. Peter indicated that after being born again, a person must learn to or at least make an effort to be virtuous. The Greek word translated virtue, arete (ar-et’-ay) is properly translated as manliness or valor (G703). Arete has to do with the impression one makes on another person. You could say that it is the image of ourselves that we project to others or our appearance. What I believe Peter was getting at was that after we become Christians, we should start looking like Christians. People should notice and be impressed by our Christlike behavior.

Peter instructed believers to add to their virtue knowledge (2 Peter 1:5). The Greek word Peter used that is translated knowledge is gnosis (gno’-sis). Gnosis denotes spiritual truth and in this instance is concerned with the initial understanding that one should have of his or her faith, what it means to be a Christian. In other words, Peter was saying that Christians should understand the Bible enough to answer the question, what does it mean to be saved? The first three steps that Peter identified in the process of spiritual growth were things that almost every person that has been born again is able to do as soon as or shortly after becoming a Christian. They don’t take very much effort. Therefore, you could say they have to do with being a baby Christian, someone that has not really started to mature yet.

Peter said we are to add to our knowledge temperance or self control. Paul mentioned temperance in his list of spiritual fruits (Galatians 5:23). This seems to suggests that Peter was shifting gears and was beginning to focus on the kind of spiritual growth that is usually associated with a mature Christian. The Greek word translated temperance, “Egkrateia is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites” (G1466). For some people this might be a rather easy task, but for others it can take a long time, sometimes a lifetime for them to get their addictions and habits under control. Peter’s next step, patience is what I would refer to as the characteristic that separates the men from the boys. Patience or hupomone (hoop-om-on-ay’) is also translated as waiting, but it is more than just sitting idly by and expecting something to happen. Patience has to do with enduring trials and is sometimes associated with God’s disciplining of his children.

According to James, patience perfects Christian character (James 1:4). “fellowship in the patience of Christ is therefore the condition upon which believers are to be admitted to reign with Him, 2 Ti 2:12; Rev 1:9” G5281). Peter encouraged believers to go beyond this point and instructed them to add to their patience godliness (2 Peter 1:6). Godliness has to do with conforming oneself to the will of God (G2150). I believe this is where the transformation of a believer’s life becomes evident to everyone around him. You could say that the Christian that exhibits godliness definitely stands out in a crowd. I think this step in the spiritual growth process is where the majority of Christians drop out or give up, thinking that it is too hard or not worth it. I can say from my own personal experience that this step is not for the faint of heart.

The next step in the process of spiritual growth is one that might seem like it should be at the beginning rather than the end. Peter said we are to add to our godliness brotherly kindness (2 Peter 1:7). Brotherly kindness or philadelphia in the Greek represents the kind of love that is usually expressed between blood relatives, but in this context it refers to all believers or the family of God. The final step in the process of spiritual growth, charity is closely linked with brotherly kindness. The Greek word Peter used that is translated charity, agape is the highest or purest form of love that can be expressed between two people. It conveys “the attitude of God toward his Son” (G26). I believe what Peter was getting at was that in order to reach full maturity as a Christian, we need to first learn how to love other believers the same way we love our own family members and then, we need to be able to love everyone else the same way we love ourselves.

Spiritual discipline

Hebrews chapter twelve focuses on the task off exercising our faith. In the same way that the great heroes of faith identified in chapter eleven had to demonstrate their reliance upon God, so believers today are expected to make every effort to not give up on what they say they believe God is going to do in their lives. In the context of a competition, we are told, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV).

The sin that does so easily ensnare us is a reference to unbelief. Our faith is constantly under attack because the world we live in is a contradiction to it that cannot be explained away. Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, died on a cross as a criminal. Thinking of him as the Savior of the world, takes a significant amount of spiritual effort. One of the most difficult statements in the Bible to comprehend is, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:6, NKJV).

One of the ways believers are expected to think of themselves is children. Since everyone had been or still is a child, it is easy for us to imagine a parent correcting or disciplining us as a child. The Greek word translated chastens, paideuo (pahee-dyoo’-o) actually means “to train up a child” (G3811). Most people who are good parents discipline their children in ways that are sometimes perceived to be harsh or what we use to call being strict. The intent was to keep our children out of trouble. God’s children should be associated with godly behavior.

The purpose of spiritual discipline is explained in Hebrews 12:11. It says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (NKJV). The peaceable fruit of righteousness means that people are able to see evidence of God’s work in our lives. When a person goes through a difficult time and survives, and even gets stronger in the process, it is usually because his faith was at work in spite of his difficult circumstance.

The author of Hebrews identified two specific types of spiritual discipline. The instruction to “make straight paths for your feet lest that which is lame be turned out of the way” (Hebrews 12:13) refers to Bible study. Sometimes the truth is painful, but we have to continue to read and study the Bible even when it hurts. Ultimately, the word of God heals and restores us and makes it possible for us to stay on course.

The second type of spiritual discipline is associated with a root of bitterness that springs up and causes us trouble (Hebrews 12:15). I believe this refers to wounds from our past. You might think of a root of bitterness as a weed that was pulled out of a garden, but the root was left behind, therefore, it is able to come up again. Jealousy is often a source of bitterness because we don’t like it when someone takes what is rightfully ours. Once bitterness takes root in our hearts, it is very difficult to get rid of it. The only way to remove a root of bitterness completely is to accept that what has been lost is irretrievable and it is time to move on.

Christ in you

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Christianity to comprehend is the fact that Jesus lives in the heart of every believer. Paul referred to this doctrinal truth as a secret and said;

Now I am full of joy to be suffering for you. In my own body I am doing my share of what has to be done to make Christ’s sufferings complete. This is for His body which is the Church. I became a preacher in His church for your good. In the plan of God I am to preach the Good News. This great secret was hidden to the people of times past, but it is now made known to those who belong to Christ. God wants these great riches of the hidden truth to be made known to the people who are not Jews. The secret is this: Christ in you brings hope of all the great things to come. We preach Christ. We tell every man how he must live. We use wisdom in teaching every man. We do this so every man will be complete in Christ. (Colossians 1:24-28, NLV)

Paul wanted the believers in Colosse to understand that the truth of the gospel was not conveyed to them through natural means, but that God had imparted the wisdom and knowledge of Christ directly to them through his Holy Spirit. Paul described the supernatural process of regeneration in Colossians 2:11-15. He said:

When you became a Christian, you were set free from the sinful things of the world. This was not done by human hands. You were set free from the sins of your old self by what was done in Christ’s body. When you were baptized, you were buried as Christ was buried. When you were raised up in baptism, you were raised as Christ was raised. You were raised to a new life by putting your trust in God. It was God Who raised Jesus from the dead. When you were dead in your sins, you were not set free from the sinful things of the world. But God forgave your sins and gave you new life through Christ. We had broken the Law many ways. Those sins were held against us by the Law. That Law had writings which said we were sinners. But now He has destroyed that writing by nailing it to the cross. God took away the power of the leaders of this world and the powers of darkness. He showed them to the world. The battle was won over them through Christ. (NLV)

Christ’s death on the cross was the final step in God’s effort to reconcile the world to himself. Because the penalty for all our sins was paid by Jesus, we are able to live free from the guilt of sin and escape the penalty of death that we deserve. Through the process of regeneration we have not only been united with Christ, but also with every other believer in the world. Paul said, “And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” (Colossians 2:19, NKJV).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated knit together in Colossians 2:19 is sumbibazo (soom-bib-ad’-zo) which means “to drive together that is unite (in association or affection)” (G4822). Mentally, sumbibazo infers showing or teaching someone something. The Greek word sumbibazo is derived from the words sun (soon) and basis (bas’-ece). These two words have to do with Jesus’ ministry on earth when he was spending all his time with his disciples teaching them about the kingdom of heaven (G939/G4862). What Paul was saying was that when we become Christians, we enter into the same kind of relationship with Jesus that his disciples had. He is with us all the time, actually dwelling inside us through his Holy Spirit, and he causes us to grow spiritually.

A building project

Paul’s analogy of spiritual growth focused on the progressive steps that were necessary to reach spiritual maturity. Paul began by pointing out that God’s gift of salvation did not guarantee spiritual growth. He stated, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The two Christian characteristics Paul compared in this passage, spiritual versus carnal, represented the difference between being supernaturally regenerated or born again and unregenerated, living an animal-like existence. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were not only acting like babies, but also were in danger of missing the whole point of their salvation. His statement, “I have fed you with milk” (1 Corinthians 3:2) eluded to the Corinthians’ immaturity and lack of awareness of their own bad behavior. Most likely, Paul was trying to make the point that his advice needed to be taken seriously and not treated as meaningless babble.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that spiritual maturity required a process of growth similar to a building project or planting a garden. The process of growth involved stages that might be compared to things like laying a foundation, erecting a structure, etc. Paul started by making it clear that he and others might be involved in the process, but God alone produced the results. He stated, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Paul differentiated himself from other teachers by indicating he was a masterbuilder, a chief constructor or architect (G753). He said, “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).

Paul seemed to be concerned that his work of preaching the gospel was being undermined by teaching that was inconsistent with God’s plan of salvation. Paul didn’t give any examples of the errant messages that were being circulated, but implied that Jesus Christ’s role was not being emphasized enough. It could be that the process of salvation was being miscommunicated and Paul needed to remind the Corinthians that their supernatural regeneration was a result of what Jesus did for them through his substitutionary death on the cross. Paul explained that when it comes to the process of salvation our work and Christ’s work are two separate things. Although we cannot save ourselves, our service to God contributes to our spiritual growth and development and we will one day be judged for the results we’ve produced. Paul stated, “Every man’s  work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthian’s 3:13).

Spiritual fruit

After he identified the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), Paul went on to say that all Christians are personally responsible for the outcome of their spiritual lives (Galatians 6:4-5). Paul stated, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Paul intended that the principle of sowing and reaping would link spiritual activity with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When he said, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” Paul meant that these characteristics would be produced by the Holy Spirit and become more and more visible over time in a Christian’s behavior if he or she remained in fellowship with God.

An important aspect of the principle of sowing and reaping was the idea that a particular type of seed produced a specific kind of fruit (e.g. you can’t grow an apple tree from an orange seed). Whatever kind of seed you started with was the only thing you were able to produce. Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8) indicated that the seed that needed to be sown in order to reap the fruit of the Spirit was the word of God. In his explanation of this parable, Jesus said:

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:19-23, ESV)

The Greek word translated understands in Matthew 13:23, suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee) is derived from the word sun (soon) which denotes union; “with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition, etc.” (G4862). Another way of describing the Greek word sun would be assimilation, the process of taking in and fully understanding information or ideas. Assimilation also refers to the absorption and digestion of food or nutrients by the body or any biological system (Oxford Dictionary).

The process of assimilating the word of God can take years, sometimes decades, or even an entire lifetime. What is important to note is that it is an intentional process, one that does not happen automatically. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as a carnal Christian, a person that is saved, but does not produce any spiritual fruit (1 Corinthians 3:3). Paul encouraged believers to stick with the process of spiritual growth, even if it seemed like nothing was happening. He said, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). In other words, your appointed time to be blessed by God may come when you least expect it, when you are past the point of giving up.

Patience

James letter “to the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad” (James 1:1) was meant to be a lesson on the topic of patience (James 1:2-4). Apparently, Jesus’ promise to return to Earth was being questioned and the delay of this event was causing believers to be filled with doubt. James encouraged Christians to wait patiently in his statement, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5:7-8). The phrase “stablish your hearts” has to do with the way we think about our lives. It is likely James was referring to the commitment believers make when they give their lives to Christ. James was pointing out that even though the primary function of salvation was to secure God’s forgiveness and eternal life, Christians should expect to go through a difficult and sometimes long process of transformation before they go to heaven.

The return of Christ was misunderstood to be an event that would happen in the near future, perhaps before the first generation of Christians died. The reason it was so important to believers was likely because the persecution that was taking place was very difficult to handle. The return of Christ may have been used as a coping mechanism to get through the horrible circumstances Christians had to deal with. The problem with that approach was that it didn’t leave room for the possibility that suffering was to be expected and embraced rather than avoided in the Christian life. James wanted believers to understand that spiritual development was counter intuitive and shouldn’t be thought of as a quick and easy process that anyone can get through. His analogy of the precious fruit of the earth (James 5:7) being like the faith that Christians are developing throughout their lives suggests that the cultivation of spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace, etc.) is the outcome that we need to focus on in order to survive the trials and temptations that we all have to go through.

I think patience is often misunderstood because we associate it with things that are unpleasant. I believe James’ opening statement, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) was meant to teach us that joy and patience actually do go together. The key to understanding this strange concept may be James use of the Greek word hegeomai (hayg-eh’-om-ahee) which is translated “count it” in James 1:2. Hegeomai means “to lead, i.e. command (with official authority)” (G2233). Hegeomai is also translated as “have rule over.” You could say that exercising patience means that you take control of a situation, you don’t let your circumstances determine how you are going to behave. Another way of describing patience is long-spirited. From this perspective, you could say that patience is letting yourself be stretched spiritually. In other words, your spirit is dominating your flesh or human nature. One way of doing this is through prayer. James encouraged believers to pray about their difficult circumstances (James 5:13) and stated, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

Spiritual conflict

James’ stark description of Christian living made it clear that a choice to follow Christ was not only a choice to swim against the tide of normal human existence, but also a conscious decision to suffer for one’s beliefs. His opening statement, “My brethren count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2) might have seemed like a slap in the face to the many Jewish Christians that were experiencing extreme persecution as a result of their decision to openly identify themselves with Jesus, the Savior of the World. It seems probable from reading James’ letter that conflict had deteriorated the spiritual health of the church located in Jerusalem. James’ harsh depiction of the ravages of an unbridled tongue may have come from real life experiences that had prompted him to address the problem in a practical way, through a reminder of the lesson Jesus taught his followers in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3, 3:10-12).

James associated spiritual conflict with a lack of humility and an imbalanced prayer life. Apparently, people were selfishly seeking God’s blessing on their own lives and neglecting to intercede for the needs of their friends and family members. James stated, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:1-3). The Greek word James used that is translated lusts, hedone (hay-don-ay’) means to please. This word is linked to the ethical theory of hedonism which suggests that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life. James was probably not trying to convince Christians that the pursuit of pleasure was wrong, but that it was disruptive to the pursuit of godly living in the sense that suffering was actually good for them because it would lead to spiritual growth.

James chose to illustrate the spiritual conflict that selfishness produces by likening it to an internal battle or civil warfare. The phrase “war in your members” (James 4:1) suggests that spiritual warfare is more of an internal than external battle. It’s possible that James was referring to the voices in our heads that tell us what to do. To a certain extent, all sin is a type of temporary insanity. We know we shouldn’t do it, and are often times aware of the negative consequences that will result from our bad behavior, but we go ahead and do it anyway because we think the pleasure it will bring us is worth it. James argued against hedonism when he stated, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The Greek word translated enmity, echthra means hostility and denotes the opposite of God’s unconditional love (G2189). Another way of stating James argument would be to say that you hate God when you choose to ignore his commandments.