Spiritual growth

Peter’s first letter was written to converted Israelites who were living in “the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)” (Introduction to the First Letter of Peter). Peter focused his attention on two key aspects of these Christians’ lives, submission and suffering. Peter began by stating that God the Father “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). The phrase caused to be born again is “used metaphorically for a change of carnal nature to a Christian life; to regenerate…It is equivalent to being a child of God” (G313). Peter used the pronoun us to indicate that he was a member of God’s family too and as such, was speaking to himself as well as his audience when he said, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious that gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Peter connected the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you with being grieved by various trials in order to show that there is a reason why Christians suffer. Peter indicated that “the salvation of your souls” is the outcome of trusting in God (1 Peter 1:9).

The Greek word that is translated outcome, telos (telˊ-os) means “to set out for a definite point or goal” and is properly translated as “the point aimed at as a limit, i.e. (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state” (G5056). The thought that telos conveys is that there is a purpose for things that happen and that the processes we go through as Christians have an end to them. Telos is often translated as the end in reference to Jesus’ ministry and his purpose for coming into the world. Peter talked about the end in the context of being stewards of God’s grace and suffering as a Christian. Peter said, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:7-8) Peter went on to say, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Peter’s final statement, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19) suggests that doing good is a part of suffering and that it has an effect on our souls. In order to rejoice and be glad when Christ’s glory is revealed, it seems that Peter expected believers to go through a process of suffering that would change their souls and result in Christ’s resurrection being realized in their own lives.

The Apostle Paul talked about being transformed by the renewal of your mind and said that Christians are to be a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1-2 states:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The renewal that Paul was talking about was a qualitative change. “Therefore, a renewing or a renovation which makes a person different that in the past” (G342). The Greek word nous (nooce) defines the mind “as the seat of emotions and affections, mode of thinking and feeling, disposition, moral inclination, equivalent to the heart (Romans 1:28; 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:17, 23; Colossians 2:18; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:15)” (G3563). Paul expanded his teaching on the renewal of the mind in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 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. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your 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 4:17-24)

Paul said that unbelievers 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 4:18). Darkness was being used metaphorically to describe a mind that is void of spiritual truth. Jesus told his followers, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Luke’s gospel tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples and told them, “’These are my words that I have spoken to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). The Greek word that is translated opened, dianoigo (dee-an-oyˊ-go) means “to open thoroughly, literally (as a first-born)” (G1272). Jesus’ opening of the minds of his followers was likely considered to be a part of the process of being born again. They received directly from Jesus an initial understanding of the Scriptures that had to do with his death and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46-49) so that his disciples could proclaim the gospel and start bringing others to a saving knowledge of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Peter indicated that new Christians need to be fed, just like newborn babies. Peter said that having purified our souls by obedience to the truth, we should love one another earnestly from a pure heart, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23). And then, Peter went on to say, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2). The Greek word that Peter used for spiritual milk, logikos (log-ik-osˊ) is derived from the word logos (logˊ-os) which has to do with “the expression of thought…in this respect it is the message from the Lord, delivered with His authority and made effective by His power…’The Personal Word,’ a title of the Son of God” (G3056). “Logikos pertains to the reasoning faculty, reasonable, rational and is used of the service rendered by believers in presenting their bodies a living sacrifice. The sacrifice is to be in accordance with the spiritual intelligence of those who are new creatures in Christ and are mindful of the mercies of God; in contrast to those offered by ritual and compulsion (Romans 12:1)…It is found also in 1 Peter 2:2, ‘(milk) of the word’ and so here the nourishment may be understood as of that spiritually rational nature which, acting through the regenerate mind, develops spiritual growth. God’s word is not given so that it is impossible to understand it, or that it requires a special class of men to interpret it; its character is such that the Holy Spirit who gave it can unfold its truths even to the young convert” (G3050).

In his second letter, Peter talked about spiritual growth in the context of believers becoming partakers of the divine nature. Peter said:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8)

Peter indicated that believers must supplement their faith, which meant that something needed to be added to faith in order for it to be effective. The Greek word epichoregeo (ep-ee-khor-ayg-ehˊ-o), which is translated supplement, comes from the root words epi (ep-eeˊ) and choregeo (khor-ayg-ehˊ-o). Choregeo is where the English word choreography comes from. Choreography is the sequence of steps and movements in dance. I believe Peter was laying out for believers the sequence of steps that need to be followed in order for them to produce spiritual fruit. Peter said, “supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7), suggesting there might be a progressive flow from one spiritual attribute to the next.

Paul talked about the way of love in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-13)

Paul said, “The greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). The Greek word meizon (mideˊ-zone) associates greatness with age (G3187). Paul may have been thinking of the greatness of love in terms of spiritual maturity or as indicator of spiritual growth. Paul said that when he was a child, he spoke like a child, but “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Peter indicated that pure spiritual milk would help believers to grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

Peter referred to the qualities that produce spiritual growth as things that need to be practiced. He said, “If you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). In this instance, fall has to do with committing sin (G4417). Peter’s assertion that you will never fall if you practice the qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love make it seem as if it is possible for a believer to live a perfect life. The point that I believe Peter was trying to make was not that practice makes perfect, but that a continual effort toward spiritual growth will keep you from experiencing moral failure. Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that Israel’s rejection of their Messiah made it possible for the entire world to be reconciled to God (Romans 11:15) and indicated that Israel would at some point in the future be grafted back into the family of God (Romans 11:24). Paul said, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). The irrevocableness of God’s gifts and calling is based on the impossibility of us changing God’s will for our lives. In particular, God’s plan of salvation was instituted before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and our predestination for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who seals us until we acquire possession of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). Peter may have intended the qualities he identified in 2 Peter 1:5-7 to be a gauge of our spiritual progress, rather than a prescription for our spiritual success.

The life of Samson is an Old Testament example of stunted spiritual growth. We know that Samson had faith because he is listed in Hebrews 11:32 as one of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33-34). Samson’s marriage to one of the daughters of the Philistines was used by God as an opportunity against the Philistines, but it resulted in Samson returning to his parents’ home “in hot anger” (Judges 14:19). God gave Samson superhuman strength in order to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (note on Judges 13:24) and the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him on multiple occasions (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14), but Samson didn’t seem to make much spiritual progress during the twenty years that he judged Israel. Samson’s lack of wisdom is evident in the decisions he made about getting involved with foreign women. After Samson’s Philistine wife “was given to his companion, who had been his best man” (Judges 14:20), it says in Judges 16:1, “Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.” During the night, the Gazites set an ambush for Samson, “But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron” (Judges 16:3). Samson’s ability to escape the ambush may have caused him to become reckless or perhaps selfish with the gift that God had given him. “The true source of Samson’s great strength was not in his long hair or in abstaining from strong drink. His might came from the Spirit of the LORD (Judges 15:14) and was provided by God to accomplish his will” (note on Judges 15:14, 15).

After Samson’s escape from the ambush in Gaza, Judges 16:4-6 tells us:

He loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.”

The Philistines objective of overpowering Samson would not have been possible if Samson had refused to reveal the source of his superhuman strength to Delilah. “Samson’s admission to Delilah resulted in the breaking of his covenant, the Nazirite vow, and God left him as a result (Judges 16:20). His strength returned one more time, however, allowing him to decimate the Philistine leaders (Judges 16:30). This came about only after he humbly acknowledged that God was the true source of his strength (Judges 16:28)” (note on Judges 16:17).

Samson demonstrated virtue, the manifestation of God’s divine power, but that seems to be where his spiritual growth stopped. Peter said that believers should “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and your virtue with knowledge, and your knowledge with self-control” (2 Peter 1:5-6). The Greek word gnosis (gnoˊ-sis), which is translated knowledge, “means primarily ‘a seeking to know, an enquiry, investigation’” (G1108). Gnosis is derived from the word ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko). In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship” (G1097). Self-control “is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites…In 2 Peter 1:6, it follows ‘knowledge,’ suggesting that what is learned requires to be put into practice” (G1466). Samson’s failure to learn from his experience with his first wife (Judges 14:17) resulted in him revealing information to Delilah that could be used against him. It says in Judges 16:16-17, “And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he told her all his heart.” The Hebrew word that is translated vexed, qatsar (kaw-tsarˊ) means “to harvest” (H7114) and is usually translated reap. Paul said in his letter to the Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to the flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

Samson’s humble acknowledgement that God was the true source of his strength showed that his knowledge of God had been expanded through his experience of being betrayed by Delilah (Judges 16:18) and the suffering that followed (Judges 16:21). It says in Judges 16:28 that Samson called to the LORD. The Hebrew word qara (kaw-rawˊ) refers to “an encounter through the idea of accosting a person met” and is properly translated “address by name…To ‘call’ on God’s name is to summon his aid” (H7121). Judges 16:28 states, “Then Samson called to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson called the LORD, Lord. The Hebrew word Adonay (ad-o-noyˊ) means “’Lord’ par excellence or ‘Lord over all,’ even as it sometimes does in the form adon (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17, where God is called the ‘God of gods, and Lord of lords’; Joshua 3:11, where He is called the ‘Lord of all the earth’). The word adonay appears in Genesis 15:2: ‘And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless….’” (H138). According to Revelation 19:16, the name “King of kings and Lord of lords will be written on Jesus’ robe and on his thigh at the time of his second coming. It seems that before he gained the victory over his enemies (Judges 16:29-30), Samson had to recognize and acknowledge Jesus in this way.

The crossroads of life

Our journey through life often includes many twists and turns, detours, and roadblocks, but the most important aspect of our travels are the decisions we make when we come to the crossroads of life. The crossroads are typically turning points and may determine whether or not we will continue or stop making progress toward our final destination. One of the ways we know we are at a crossroad is that we experience spiritual warfare and in extreme situations, may be confronted by God or the devil directly. The first crossroad of mankind occurred in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:1-7 tells us:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. 

The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden changed the course of mankind. The issue that was presented to Eve was the truthfulness of God’s word and whether or not she was willing to obey God’s commandment even though she didn’t understand the reasoning behind it.

The Hebrew word massah (mas-sawˊ) is translated as both temptation and trial in the King James Version of the Bible. Massah appears in Deuteronomy 4:32-36 where Moses talked about the LORD being personally involved in the Israelites’ lives. It states:

“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials (massah), by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.”

Moses listed trials along with signs and wonders, as well as war and great deeds of terror as acts of God that were meant to show the people of Israel that there was no other God besides the LORD. The Hebrew word massah “is actually two homographs – words that are spelled the same yet have distinct origins and meanings. The first homograph is derived from the verb masas (H4549), meaning to dissolve or melt, and it means despair. This word occurs in Job 9:23. The second homograph is derived from the verb nasah (H5254), meaning to test or try, and denotes a test, a trial, or proving. It is used in reference to the manifestations of God’s power and handiwork before the Egyptians at the Exodus (Deuteronomy 4:34; 7:19; 29:3[2])” (H4531). Massah also appears in Psalm 95 in reference to the Israelites’ disobedience in the wilderness. It states:

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. (Psalm 95:6-9)

Psalm 95:7-11 is quoted in the book of Hebrews as a warning against unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-11). Paul said, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Paul indicated that an evil, unbelieving heart could lead you to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). The heart is mentioned in all but four of the thirty one chapters in the Book of Proverbs and the heart’s condition is central to its theme of wise living. In the Hebrew language, “the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages believers to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The Hebrew word that is translated ways, derek (dehˊ-rek) “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathways of one’s life, suggesting the pattern of life (Proverbs 3:6)” (H1870). In Proverbs 8:1-2, wisdom is depicted as a woman that is standing beside the way trying to get our attention when we pass through the crossroads of life. It states:

Does not wisdom call?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand.

The Hebrew word that is translated stand, natsab (naw-tsabˊ) means “to station” (H5324) and suggests that wisdom’s role might be to direct traffic or to act as a crossing guard. It could be that wisdom’s job is to protect believers from the trickery of the devil and to make sure that we do not veer off course at critical points in our journey through life.

Proverbs chapter nine compares and contrasts The Way of Wisdom with The Way of Folly. It begins with a description of Wisdom’s attempt to invite those who are open to her influence to come and eat with her. Proverbs 9:1-6 states:

Wisdom has built her house;
    she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
    from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”

Wisdom’s target audience is “him who lacks sense” (Proverbs 9:4). The Hebrew words that are translated lacks sense literally mean without heart (H2638/H3820). A person without heart could be someone that has no will of his own or perhaps, someone that is completely open to the influence of others. It seems likely that Wisdom’s plea to whoever is simple means that she is trying to reach those who have not yet made a commitment to follow the Lord. The woman Folly makes a similar plea in Proverbs 9:13-18. It states:

The woman Folly is loud;
    she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
    she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by,
    who are going straight on their way,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    And to him who lacks sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet,
    and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.

Folly’s plea is the same as Wisdom’s, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” and her target audience is the same, “him who lacks sense” (Proverbs 9:16), but Folly’s objective is very different. She says to him who lacks sense, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” Folly is appealing to the evil desires of naïve people in order to cause them to disobey God’s commandments (H3687/H3474). One of the characteristics of Folly that is mentioned is that she is seductive and it says that she knows nothing. The tactic that Folly uses to cause people to sin is to appeal to their sin nature or what the Bible refers to as the flesh. Jesus told his disciples to, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Paul addressed the issue of the flesh’s weakness in the context of spiritual warfare in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). The Greek word that is translated warfare, strateia (strat-iˊ-ah) is used figuratively to refer to “the apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752) as well as “to contend with carnal inclinations” (G4754). Paul indicated that the weapons of the believer’s warfare have “divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Paul was speaking metaphorically of strongholds as “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794) and indicated that these strongholds consisted of “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We know that Paul was talking about the believer’s mind or heart because he said we need to take every thought captive to obey Christ. The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mosˊ) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Paul’s instruction to take every thought captive meant that we need to cancel out or at the very least refuse to pay attention to thoughts that violate our conscience or clearly contradict God’s word.

Paul concluded his statement about destroying spiritual strongholds with a warning that we need to be ready to punish every disobedience when our obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:6). Paul was likely speaking figuratively of the filling of the Holy Spirit (G4137) and meant that believers should allow God to correct their thinking processes by submitting themselves to the Holy Spirit’s influence in their hearts and minds. Paul used the example of something he referred to as his thorn in the flesh to make the point that God’s power is able to overcome the strongholds that Satan establishes in our minds. Paul said:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

The Lord told Paul that his grace was sufficient for him. The Greek word that is translated grace, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers to “divine influence upon the heart” and indicates “favor” on the part of God by removing the guilt associated with our sin (G5485).

Paul referred to his thorn in the flesh as “a messenger of Satan” that had the ability to harass him (2 Corinthians 12:7). The Greek word that is translated messenger, aggello (angˊ-el-os) “most frequently refers to an order of created beings superior to man (Hebrews 2:7; Psalm 8:5)” (G32). Paul described this angelic order of beings in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12). Paul indicated that the spiritual forces of evil reside in heavenly places. Therefore, it can be assumed that our minds are accessible to beings in the spiritual realm.

Moses’ repetition of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy included several references to purging “the evil from their midst” (Deuteronomy 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7. The Hebrew word that is translated midst, qereb (kehˊ-reb) “denotes the center or inner part of anything…but especially the inner organs of the body…This place was regarded as the home of the heart from which the emotions spring” (H7130). Typically, the phrase purge the evil from your midst was associated with the death penalty and most often had to do with stoning a person to death. You might think that killing people who committed serious crimes would eliminate evil, but it seems that the punishment was actually intended to deal with evil that was affecting the people who were left behind. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 states:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

The Hebrew word that is translated purge, baʾar (baw-arˊ) means “to kindle, i.e. consume (by fire or by eating)” (H1197). A word that is derived from baʾar is baʾar (bahˊ-ar) which is properly translated as “food (as consumed); i.e. (by extension) of cattle brutishness; (concrete) stupid” (G1198). It seems that purging the evil from our midst is related to taking down strongholds that exist in our minds in that actions and memories cannot be erased, but they can be consumed or you might say sacrificed by submitting them to God.

The Old Testament sacrifices depicted submission to God through their purifying effect and atonement for sin. James encouraged believers to submit themselves to God in order to purify their hearts. James exclaimed:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James referred to people that are stuck at the crossroads of their lives as being double-minded. The Greek word that is translated double-minded, dipsuchos (dipˊ-soo-khos) means “two-spirited, i.e. vacillating (in opinion or purpose)…This person lives one life for himself and lives another for God” (G1374). The double-minded person is vulnerable to the pleas of Folly because they appear to be the same pleas as those of Wisdom’s. It says about Folly’s house in Proverbs 9:18, “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” It is only through submission to God that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:5-11, 29-31) and be able to resist temptation by God’s grace (James 4:6-7).

Jesus modeled submission to his Father at the crossroads of his life. During his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus used God’s word to resist the devil. It says in Matthew 4:1-3, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’” Jesus didn’t do what the devil told him to even though he was hungry and could have turned the stones into loaves of bread if he wanted to. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to go to cross, but left the outcome in God’s hands. It says in Matthew 26:39, “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus made it clear that it wasn’t his will to die for the sins of the world. When Jesus fell on his face, he placed himself in a posture of submission and in essence was giving up on the situation. It wasn’t that Jesus was stuck and didn’t know what to do. Jesus knew what he needed to do and didn’t want to do it, but he allowed God to decide for him and prayed the second time, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

Suffering

Paul opened his second letter to the Corinthians with an explanation of why he hadn’t returned to visit them. Rather than sharing the details of what had happened to him , Paul talked about believers suffering. Paul told the Corinthians that God was their primary resource during difficult times and stated, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). The Greek word translated mercies, oiktirmos means pity (G3628). Oiktirmos has to do with the emotions of the heart and typically signifies compassion, a feeling of distress about the unfortunate circumstances of others.

Paul went on to explain that God comforts us in our suffering so that we can comfort others. The two Greek words Paul used that are translated comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:4 are parkaleo and paraklesis. These words mean, “to call to ones side” (G3870) or “a calling to one’s side (G3874). The idea Paul was conveying was togetherness. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that God was by their sides when they went through difficult circumstances and he also stated that God comforts us “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1 Corinthians 1:4, ESV).

Paul didn’t state it specifically, but he somewhat implied by his use of the word comfort that he was talking about the Holy Spirit when he said “the God of all comfort” (1 Corinthians 1:3). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter” (John 15:26). The Greek word translated Comforter, “parakletos is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid and is used of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand” (G3875). The Holy Spirit gives us divine strength so that we are able to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of God’s kingdom.

One of the goals of a Christian’s life is to maintain peace and harmony (G4991). As we go through our daily routines, things can happen that interfere with our peaceful existence. Paul identified three kinds of suffering that Christians have to deal with in his explanation of why he hadn’t made it back to Corinth. First, Paul talked about tribulation (2 Corinthians 1:4) which can be anything that burdens our spirit (G2347). Paul also referred to this as trouble and said, “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

Paul also talked about the sufferings of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5). At the heart Christ’s suffering were emotions that were caused by external influences on his mind (G3804). Most likely Paul was referring to spiritual warfare, but this kind of suffering can also be caused by people who are abusing us, those who try to manipulate us into doing things we don’t want to do. Another scenario Paul mentioned was being afflicted (2 Corinthians 1:6). Affliction is the pressure of circumstances (G2346). According to Paul, affliction is what bonds us with other believers. Out of affliction comes the notion that we are in this together. Paul was essentially trying to tell the Corinthians, I feel your pain and I wish I could be there with you.

Even though he was unable to visit them in person, Paul wanted the Corinthians to know they were very important to him. Paul took his ministry responsibility seriously and didn’t intend to just leave the Corinthians hanging. In order to assure them of his commitment to return, Paul reminded the Corinthians that God had called him to minister to them and said, “I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (2 Corinthians 1:23). Paul had intended to encourage the Corinthians when he returned for a second visit, but because of his own suffering, Paul decided to write to them rather than talk to the Corinthians face to face.