Vol. 6, No. 4
Priscilla's Page *Editor's Note*
~ Page 16 ~
Each of us has faced, will face or is facing various trials and struggles in her life. These trials come in many forms. It may be that you, or a loved one, face great health problems that cannot be cured. You may have financial difficulties because you or your spouse's job has been eliminated. You may be dealing with an erring child who was reared with biblical teachings and has now left God for an immoral lifestyle. You may be suffering grief from the death of a loved one. Whatever the struggles, we all face them throughout our lives.
Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 3:12-13 that we will be tried or tested to see what manner of persons we are. Peter stated in 1 Peter 5:8 that the devil is actively searching for ways to tempt us to steal our souls away from God. The devil does not need to spend his time tempting individuals in the world; they are already his children. The devil tempts the children of God, trying to win them back into his fold of condemnation. The devil knows our weaknesses and uses that knowledge against us. Sometimes the devil will openly use our weakness to lure us into sin, such as drinking alcoholic beverages or encouraging us to miss services for a pleasurable activity. Other times we will be tempted by the manner in which we handle various problems in our lives. Do we give up, become angry and mistreat those around us; do we blame God for our problems? Whatever the temptation, we must overcome in order to be pleasing to God.
I have been asked to speak to you (North Suburban Church of Christ Ladies Inspiration Day 2004, Carrollton, OH) about the strengths obtained through our struggles. How does one become strong? How does one overcome without succumbing to the various difficulties she faces? As always, the answers to these and many other questions are in the Bible. First, we must remember that God said he would not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to handle, and he will always provide a way to escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is the first step to being able to overcome whatever we face.
When our daughter was a very small child, one of her first toys was a box of building blocks. Over the years as our sons were born, that box of blocks grew to be a rather large plastic container of blocks that has moved from state to state as we moved from one location to another.
As our children grew and their toys changed with their ages and abilities, toys were packed away, given away or sold to make room for toys more suitable for their ages. These building blocks remain today as a mainstay to occupy visiting children. Children of all ages enjoy going to the closet to get that container of blocks, pour them out on the floor and build towers and walls.
The Christian life is like a child learning to build with wooden building blocks. A toddler stacks only a few blocks before they tumble down. With continued effort and growth of the child, later he can build an elaborate castle. Christian growth and maturity is not obtained overnight. It takes time, study and the passing of many struggles to mature. A study of 2 Peter 1:5-8 explains this concept. Many know these verses as the "Christian graces." One reference book that I read called them "Christian Personalities." Our personalities tell who we are. As Christians, we belong to Christ and should strive to be like him. Thus, we should develop the qualities (personalities) of Christ in order to be Christ-like.
Just as the child must have a good foundation to build his tower of blocks, the Christian must have a solid foundation to grow as a child of God. That foundation is a deep abiding faith in God. A Christian accepts that God is a God who "says what he means and means what he says." Further, the foundation of faith must first be an acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Christ has all authority in heaven and earth. It is only through Christ that one may one day see God. Secondly, that faith must be a trusting, dependent faith on Jesus for strength and guidance. Third, that faith is an obedient faith. Hebrews chapter 11 repeatedly says, "by faith ... obeyed God." James Chapter Two gives a lengthy discourse comparing faith and works (obedience). Verse 26 concludes this discussion with "faith without works [obedient action] is dead."
With a firm foundation of faith, we can begin to build upon this faith to change our lives from a worldly outlook to a spiritual outlook. Romans 12:2 commands, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." According to Peter, the first building block to transform our lives is virtue.
We are to "add to your faith virtue" (v 5). The word add does not mean 'mix more into' but, "to develop one virtue in the exercise of another:...each new grace springing out of, attempting, and perfecting the other." (Vincent's)
The word virtue in this passage has a stronger meaning than is apparent with a mere reading of these verses. This word means more than goodness and purity, although goodness and purity are implied. The Greek word means "manliness" as that of a soldier. Another definition of virtue is "moral power, moral energy or vigor of the soul." Yet, another definition is "praise or fame." Our faith is not something that is hidden under a bushel but is a bright shining light for all to see (Matthew 5:15-16). Peter uses the same Greek word translated "praises" to explain to Christians that we are God's chosen people. As God's chosen people, we should live so that all can see Christ in us (2 Peter 2:9). When coupled with virtue, our faith will have the courage to stand and "fight the good fight" of 1 Timothy 6:12, and it will shine as a beacon to influence and draw those who see it into a like relationship with God.
Our Christian personality will not develop if we do not have the moral courage to stand firm when opposition arises and questions our belief in God and his Son. We must have the courage to mold our lives to "Christ-likeness" as we continue to grow in biblical knowledge.
According to Romans 10:1-3, the courage to fight and the zeal to let our light shine is not enough. We must have a knowledge of God's Word in order have the proper light shining from us and to know for what and when to fight.
This naturally brings us to the building block of knowledge in developing Christian personalities. Peter is not talking about a mere acknowledgement that there is a God, but a knowledge that produces growth and maturity in Christ. Simply reading the verses in our Bibles is not sufficient to grow in knowledge. There is a place for daily Bible reading, but we must go beyond a mere reading of God's Word. True Bible knowledge comes from a diligent study of his Word. A good Bible student uses Bible helps to learn word meanings, geography, customs of the times and background information to better understand the context of the verses being studied.
In children's classes and at home we teach our children to memorize the books of the Bible, the divisions of the Bible, the shortest and longest verses, the plan of salvation, the acts of worship, etc. and to memorize Bible verses. This is good information that will help in searching the Scriptures, but it is not enough. Knowledge is more than knowing Bible facts. One must be able to apply those facts to one's life. One must have wisdom to put knowledge to work. Paul prayed that the Colossian brethren "be filled with knowledge of God's will and with wisdom and understanding" (Colossians 1:9). We must be able to discern and apply moral facts to promote Christian character in our life.
In 2 Peter Chapter One, Peter instructed Christians to grow in knowledge so that they would be able to identify and overcome false teachers. All Christians must know enough Bible to know the things being taught are true, or to be able to study the Scriptures to verify the teachings we hear. The Bereans were praised because they "searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). The greatest weapon at our disposal to fight error is knowledge. An audience's ignorance allows false teachers to succeed in the doctrines they teach. We will never attain a time in our lives when we can afford to stop learning. Our Christian lives must be an ongoing period of study and application of God's Word. Knowledge will increase our faith and fortify our courage as we live in an immoral world. A continual study of God's Word naturally progresses from building on our knowledge to temperance.
Now that we have an understanding of God's Word and his plan for us, we need to implement that knowledge into our lives. This brings us to our building block of temperance.
Temperance or self-control literally means "to hold oneself in." The knowledge of God's Word enables us to control our appetites through reason, emotions and desire. Using self-control will enable us to put Romans 12:1-2 into practice in our lives as we transform our lives from that of the world into spiritual lives. Just as a caterpillar struggles to transform into a beautiful butterfly, we must exert the necessary effort to develop Christian personalities in order to change from the old man of sin to a new man for God (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:22-24).
There are three basic ways that we must exercise self-control. First, we must abstain from evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We cannot participate in things God has forbidden. Second, we need to abstain from certain lawful things. Some things are lawful in themselves, but hinder our influence when dealing with others (1 Corinthians 10:27-33). Third, we should use moderation in all things. The excessive use or participation in something that is nether right or wrong in itself hinders our ability to worship and serve God as he has commanded. Self-control is having the wisdom to know when something becomes self-indulgence. Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 6:12, "All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any." Christians need to control their natural desires, not allow their desires to control them. We must have knowledge to properly use self-control in our lives.
Virtue, knowledge and self-control are ongoing characteristics that we continually strive to perfect. Time and maturity go a long way in developing these graces into our personalities. This brings us to our building block of patience.
There are two Greek words for the English word patience. The first means endurance, constancy, forbearance or long-suffering. This word shows patience in respect to people such as the patience of David in 2 Samuel 16:10-13. This Scripture refers to Absalom wanting to kill King David to become king of Israel. Verses 10-13 give the account of men cursing and throwing stones at King David. David chose to ignore the men rather than fight with them. King David acknowledged that God might have told the men to curse David.
The second Greek word for patience means steadfastness, constancy, patiently waiting. This word shows patience in respect of things such as the patience exhibited by Job in the loss of his family, possessions and friends. Even his wife suggested he curse God and die. James brings Job to our remembrance in James 5:11 stating, "Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." In the end, God restored all that Job lost.
Developing patience will give us the strength and courage to serve God in the midst of heartache and trial. James says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience" (James 1:2-3). When times are difficult, read Luke 21:7-19; then compare your life with what the early Christians endured during the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus states that through patience they would win their souls. We must persevere unto the end regardless of the "bumps" along the way. When patience is coupled with self-control, we will be fortified and protected from the many struggles we face.
God shows great patience with his children when he chooses not to punish us each time we fail to do his will. Should we then not show patience toward others when they become irritable and annoying? Remember Christian means Christ-like, letting Christ shine through us. This brings us to the building block of godliness.
Peter's use of the term godliness is not referring to having the qualities of God. Peter is referring to our relationship with God. Godliness is having a right relationship with God and worshipping God in the way he has commanded us to worship him. Respect, awe, reverence and piety are synonyms for godliness when used in relation to God.
Paul mentions godliness eleven times in his instructions to the young preachers, Timothy and Titus. Each time Paul is talking about their relationship with God. First Timothy 4:8 states, "For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Can the world around you tell that you are a Christian by the way you act and dress? A part of godliness is having a godly attitude and conduct (1 Timothy 2:10). Our dress and behavior show the world the degree of godliness in our lives.
In order to possess godliness, we must bow in humble submission to God. Jesus did just that when he submitted to the will of the Father to suffer the cruel death upon the cross (Matthew 27:27-37). With effort, we too can and must submit to the will of God.
Godliness will make our lives on earth better and give us a reward in heaven one day. Godliness coupled with perseverance, knowledge, patience, self-control and courage will enable us to resist the ungodly and their lawless ways. It will also give us the strength to treat the ungodly in a kind and gentle manner. This leads us to the next building block of brotherly kindness.
The Greek word for brotherly is philadelphia, derived from philadelphos, a compound word -- philos meaning friend and adelphos meaning brother. Brotherly kindness is having and showing the degree of love and concern exhibited within the physical family. As children, siblings may fuss and fight with one another, but let an outsider start picking on one and the other one will step in to defend his sibling. Usually, as the children mature, the love for one another becomes more apparent.
The truest form of brotherly kindness can only be among those of like precious faith. While we must still follow the Golden Rule toward all mankind, we should prefer to spend our time with those who believe in the one, true God and practice that belief. How can we say we love God when we choose to spend our time with those who mock him by the way they live? We must sever ourselves from the ungodly while still treating them fairly, lovingly and with compassion.
With brotherly kindness as part of our Christian personality, we will show genuine concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will rejoice when they rejoice and weep when they weep (Romans 12:15). We can only do this when our relationship is such that we know who is rejoicing and who is weeping. This involves spending more than a few hours a week with them. We do not get to know someone when the only interaction is a couple of hours on Sunday and an hour on Wednesday.
The final building block in developing Christian personalities is charity (love NKJV). The Greek word used in our text is agape, meaning love, the highest form of love expressed in the Bible. Agape love is the love God has for all mankind and it endures unto the end of time. First Corinthians Chapter Thirteen shows the meaning and demonstration of agape love in action. The last verse sums the chapter with, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Agape love will enable us to have a sacrificial love for others as God did toward us when he sent his Son to die on the cross that we might have the hope of salvation. We cannot understand God's love in sending his son to die for our sins if we do not demonstrate our love for mankind, even toward those who hate us. Agape love should be the motive for all our actions, thus demonstrating concern for the welfare of all mankind (Romans 15:2), striving to cause no harm or ill feelings toward others (Romans 13:8-10) and seeking opportunities to do good to all men (Galatians 6:10). Paul begins the list of the fruits of the Spirit with love in Galatians 5:22-23. Love is the evidence that portrays our concerns for others.
Peter begins the list of Christian personalities with the foundation of faith and ends it with the expression of highest form of love. Agape love is the icing on the cake, the jewel in the crown, and it will lead us to our reward in heaven when our life on this earth is over.
Add to your faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. All these Christian personality characteristics depend on one another. When we fail to incorporate any one of these into our lives, we will crumble when difficulties arise, just as a child's tower of blocks crumbles when not built properly.
As we work to develop these characteristics in our lives, we need help along the way. Following are a few suggestions that may be helpful when dealing with the many struggles we face.
The top item on the list is prayer. Just before the crucifixion, Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to God. His prayer was so intense that he sweated great drops of blood. Jesus prayed that he would not suffer the pain of death on the cross and ended his prayer "thy will be done (Luke 22:45)." James 5:16 states "...The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." God answers prayer. We may not receive the answer we want, but God does answer prayer. Jesus was willing to let God decide what was best at the time. We too, must let the all-knowing God decide what is best for us. We need to take our problems to God and leave them there!
Study the Bible. A mind searching the Scriptures for knowledge will be unable to worry about trivial things of this life. The answers to our problems can be found in the Scriptures. We may discover a Bible character who suffered a similar situation. Learning how he managed can give us guidance respecting our problem. The Scriptures can add great comfort during the sickness and death of loved ones. Remembering God will provide a way of escape and can be comforting as well.
Another suggestion is to have a close friend and confidant with whom you can discuss the problem. Sometimes just talking about a problem will lessen the burden. Galatians 6:2 tells Christians to "bear one another's burdens." We are to be there for each other, to offer assistance when possible and listen with an open mind and a closed mouth. The things told in private must remain in private not repeated to others. We should weigh the advice of our friend and act accordingly. Sometimes we may need professional help and we should seek that help when necessary.
We need to "get busy" during troubling times. A mind occupied with other matters will not be able to dwell on the problem. A preacher once told me, "When my wife is troubled about something, she goes to the church building and prepares a bulletin board." She busied her mind and hands with something useful for others.
Lean on others for comfort and support. Ask others to pray for you. It is not necessary to give the details of the problem when asking for prayers. Some things are personal and should remain that way. Spend as much time as possible with those of a like precious faith. Just being with other Christians is an encouragement. This also means when we know of individuals who are in the hospital or unable to leave their homes because they or a loved one is sick, we should be visiting them. Offer to do laundry, clean their house and cook meals. If there are children in the home, offer to take them to their activities and offer to take them to your house or to the park for a while to give the sick and those caring for them a much needed break. Christians should always be there for each other!
Developing the Christian personalities in our lives will help with the daily struggles of life. Unfortunately, we will never attain true maturity when we will not have trials and temptations. We must look at each trial as a stepping-stone to heaven. It is when we slip off the stone that we have lost our way and will not reach our goal until we are back on the path of righteousness. Paul said he had not attained (Philippians 3:12).
The areas in life that we think we have conquered and for which we let our guard down are the most susceptible to the devil's devices. The devil knows our weaknesses and when our guard is down. We must be ever vigilant in our Christian walk!
A child is unable to stack the blocks without a few crashes along the way. Children learn to stack with planning, patience and practice; we too develop with planning, patience and practice.
Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.