Growing in Grace and Knowledge

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

Peter’s final written words continue to resonate.

The second letter of Peter features the Apostle’s reminders to his fellow Christians regarding the holiness of their conduct, the behavior and condition of false teachers, and encouragement regarding the end of time (the eschaton) and warnings regarding those who distort the Apostolic witness (2 Peter 1:1-3:17). After his departure Peter does not want his fellow Christians to be carried away by the error of the wicked, falling from their steadfastness in Jesus (2 Peter 3:17); the only way to avoid that is to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to whom glory belongs from now until forever (2 Peter 3:18).

Peter thus expects Christians to grow. He is not speaking merely to Christians who remain young in their faith; quite the contrary! The Christians to whom Peter wrote could recall and remember the words of the Apostles and prophets regarding the last days (2 Peter 3:2); they had a working knowledge of the faith and thus had “been around the block” for awhile. During this life there is no point at which it becomes acceptable for a Christian to stop growing! Whether we have been Christians for one day, one year, or almost a hundred years, we must continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Chrisme Colosseum Rome Italy

Christians must grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:18). This knowledge certainly involves the facts about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, lordship, and return as established in the New Testament. We also do well to buttress our knowledge of the Lord through gaining understanding of the story of the people of God in the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:15-16). If we do so we are better equipped to recognize how Jesus would have us think, feel, and act in the twenty-first century as His faithful disciples (1 John 2:3-6).

Yet Christians are also to grow in the grace of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Grace, Greek charis, is “unmerited favor,” obtaining things we do not deserve. The preeminent way in which we have received grace is through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sin, the means by which we are offered reconciliation with God (Ephesians 1:7, 2:1-10). But how can we “grow” in that grace? We know it cannot be through greater sin (Romans 6:1-23). But how can Christians grow in the gift of God in Christ?

Christians can grow in grace through more effectively manifesting the fruit of that gift and being that gift toward others. God has displayed grace toward us inasmuch as He has given His Son for our reconciliation and restoration. Yet it is not enough for us to obtain the reconciliation but remain as we are; we must manifest the transformation of the follower of Jesus, no longer walking in the ways of the world, but walking in Jesus’ ways, displaying the fruit of the Spirit (Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 5:22-24, 1 John 2:3-6). When we are transformed to not only be saved by Jesus but also to think, feel, and act like Jesus, we are able to serve others as Jesus did and they will give praise and glory to God as Jesus intends (Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Peter 2:11-12). The Body of Christ ought to be recognized as a gift of God to the world; it is incumbent upon its members to act accordingly (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16)!

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”; Peter’s final words echo through the centuries (2 Peter 3:18). The Christian must recognize that while in the flesh there is always more to learn, more to do, lessons to obtain, and growth to experience. An important part of that growth involves knowledge, but there is always more to learn, and of the making of books there is no end (Ecclesiastes 12:12). We can, and should, study the Scriptures; are we bearing the fruit of that study through the demonstration of the transformed life, manifesting growth in the grace of the Lord Jesus? Are we trusting less in ourselves and more in Him? Do we continue to rely on our own strength or are we entrusting ourselves to God’s strength in Christ (Ephesians 3:14-21)? Are people better able to see Jesus reflected in us on account of our investment in study and trust in God? We must grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ but also in His grace; let us learn more of Jesus so as to serve Him more effectively, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, giving others reason to glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Commands and Appeals

Wherefore, though I have all boldness in Christ to enjoin thee that which is befitting, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus (Philemon 1:8-9).

“Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Theodore Roosevelt made this “proverb” famous as a way of describing his governing policy. He preferred diplomacy so as to resolve differences but made it clear how he could use force to accomplish his purposes.

In the short letter Paul wrote to Philemon, a letter which raises more questions than it answers, Paul wishes to use the spiritual equivalent of speaking softly while carrying a big stick in order to persuade Philemon regarding the condition of Onesimus. Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ, one granted power and authority (cf. Colossians 1:1). All of the province of Asia would have heard of the mighty acts which Paul had accomplished in the name of Jesus in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:1-20). The authority granted him by the Lord Jesus and his personal commitment to the Lord’s purposes were unquestioned in Colossae (the likely home of Philemon; cf. Colossians 4:12-16, Philemon 1:1-2). Paul would have been entirely in the right to issue a command to Philemon to act as Paul believed he should (Philemon 1:8).

Yet Paul has great respect for Philemon. Paul thanks God for him in his prayers, having heard of his love and faith for Jesus and the Christians (Philemon 1:3-5). Many Christians have been refreshed by him, and he is likely hosting the assemblies of the church in Colossae in his house (Philemon 1:2, 7). By all accounts, Philemon is seeking to please the Lord Jesus and to do His will in all respects.

Therefore, Paul does not think it best to enjoin, or command, what Philemon should do; instead, for love’s sake, he will beseech, or appeal to, Philemon to act as he should (Philemon 1:9). Paul will go on to make his request: to not penalize Onesimus the slave of Philemon in any way on account of his departure and time spent with Paul, but instead to receive his slave as a fellow brother in Christ (Philemon 1:10-17). Paul wishes for whatever would be charged against Onesimus to be charged against him instead (Philemon 1:17-19).

We have so many questions to ask regarding this situation and especially about the aftermath of the letter and what happened among Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. Even though we will not come to a complete answer to these questions in this life, we can share in the same trust which Paul maintained: since Philemon seeks to live for Christ and glorify Him, and Philemon seems to be aware of the “debt” which he owes Paul (cf. Philemon 1:19), we can have confidence that Philemon did the right thing on the basis of Paul’s appeal. Yet we must ask: if Paul had instead decided to maintain his boldness in Christ and command what was necessary, would we feel as confident that Philemon would have done the right thing? If Paul had not first so commended Philemon for his faith and manner of life, thereby giving us confidence in his faith, would we have any basis upon which to believe that Philemon would be well-disposed to do the right thing?

As Christians, when we consider what is written in the New Testament for our instruction, it is easy to conflate commands and appeals and consider the two as completely synonymous. This is understandable: as servants of God in Christ, we should seek to follow after both what has been commanded in the name of the Lord as well as the appeals made toward thinking, feeling, and acting in holiness and righteousness (Colossians 3:17, 2 Peter 3:11-12, 1 John 2:3-6). If anyone comes away from Scripture thinking that what is commanded is all that is required and therefore anything regarding which an appeal is made is less than required and thus optional is still thinking in worldly, carnal ways, and has not fully imbibed the mind of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Appeals can be made because there are commands and the Lord Jesus behind them!

While we ought to follow after both those things which are commanded and concerning which appeals are made (and, to be fair, many things regarding which appeals are made are also commanded in other places, and vice versa), in terms of communication, there can be a big difference between a command and an appeal. A command is more forceful, and might rub someone the wrong way. To have to make something a command, at times, could imply a lack of trust and confidence in the one being commanded. An appeal, especially when made in a way that appreciates the faith of the one to whom the appeal is made, can often lead to the same desired end more effectively. If the appeal does fail, then the “big stick” can be used.

Another “proverb” of our time which speaks to the same reality is that one can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. We should not compromise the Gospel message or God’s standard in order to make the message more palatable to people. There will be times when people are going to be offended and rubbed the wrong way no matter what we say or do. Yet everyone appreciates being appreciated. Every Christian is sustained in their faith by encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). People often do not mind being encouraged toward a higher goal or better service toward God but do not respond as well when they are berated, denounced, or denigrated because they have not done as well as they could. None of us are perfect; all of us fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Sometimes people do need a wake-up call, but how many times are commands dictated and rebukes blasted when a loving appeal would be more accurate and effective?

There is a time for commands, but there are also times for appeals. We might carry the “big stick” of the Word of God, but that does not mean that we do well to use it constantly to beat up on other people. Instead, let us seek to persuade men through appealing to them by the message of God. Let our presentations of the Gospel really be good news, not bad news. Let us make sure that we are truly encouraging one another, exhorting each other toward greater faithfulness to God in Christ, growing together in the Way!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Suffering for the Name

And to [Gamaliel] [the Sanhedrin] agreed: and when they had called the apostles unto them, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name (Acts 5:40-41).

The pattern was repeating itself yet again.

As it happened during Jesus’ life, so it was happening after His death and resurrection: the proclamation of salvation and life in His name went forth, people heard it gladly, and it earned the jealousy and ire of the Jewish religious authorities. Jesus was delivered into their hands, and they had Him executed (Luke 22:47-23:49). Peter and John had previously been arrested for preaching and teaching in the Temple (Acts 4:1-22); now, on account of the continued popularity of the message of Jesus, all the Apostles are imprisoned (Acts 5:17-19). An angel sets them free and they go preach to the people in the Temple (Acts 5:20-25), but the Apostles do eventually stand before the council– the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:26-39). Wise Gamaliel dissuaded the Sanhedrin from killing them, but that did not stop the Sanhedrin from having the Apostles beaten (Acts 5:40). The call made for them to stop preaching Jesus was in vain; they would soon again be proclaiming the message that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of Israel (Acts 5:42).

How would we have felt had we been standing there with the Apostles? Ancient beatings were not pleasant– perhaps up to thirty-nine lashings on the back (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24). Today such behavior would be considered “cruel and unusual punishment”; in ancient times, it was probably understood as cruel, but it was all too usual. The thought today makes us cringe. But what would we have done had we been compelled to experience such abuse?

It would be easy to be angry; we might want some form of retribution. The carnal aspect of us would want to see them beaten in a similar way. It would be tempting to take solace in the idea that they would experience such in the hereafter, if not sooner.

It would also be easy to just deal with the pain and be quiet. Sure, we might not want to break out in anger, but we would not necessarily be cheerful about it either. We would probably want to go home, nurse the wounds, perhaps complain and whine about the pain and the humiliation a little bit, and then move on with our lives.

But how many of us would react as the Apostles reacted– rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor because of the Name of Christ (Acts 5:41)?

Dishonor is not something most of us want to experience. If we have to suffer, then we will suffer, but we will hardly glory in it. The last thing most of us would do is think about suffering in terms of being “worthy” to suffer– if anything, we would equate “worthiness” with a lack of suffering!

Yet the attitude of the Apostles is precisely why their message was turning the world upside down. They had understood not just what Jesus’ death and resurrection meant for the world; they also understood what life should be like because of how Jesus lived. They experienced Jesus’ humiliation, in a way, having had their feet washed by Him (John 13:1-17). They saw through His life and death how the greatest among them was their Servant, since Jesus had come not to be served but to serve and to be the ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28). To be humiliated and to be degraded was to be like Jesus; to suffer unjustly was to follow in the path of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2:18-25). Even though the Apostles would agree that the beating was unpleasant, they would point to Jesus’ own scourging so that they– as well as us– could be healed from our transgressions (cf. Mark 15:15, 1 Peter 2:24). Suffering with Christ was the means by which they would be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17); therefore, to be counted worthy to suffer for the Name means that they are counted worthy to obtain glory in salvation.

This is completely foreign to the world; nevertheless, in light of Jesus and the life He lived, it makes some sense. In Christ we can glory in degradation and humiliation; in Christ we can rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for His name.

We will suffer; this much is assured (Acts 14:22, 2 Timothy 3:12). How far we have grown in Christ and matured in our faith will be evidenced in our reaction to that suffering. Will we get angry, harbor resentment, and demand retribution, as people of the world would? Will we instead decide to turn inward, nurse the wound, and act as Stoics regarding the whole situation? Or will we rejoice in that we have been counted worthy of suffering for the Name of Jesus, assuming that our suffering is for that cause, and glorify God that we are joining with Christ in humiliation and suffering? Let us grow and mature in our faith and rejoice in God no matter what circumstances may befall us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Good Soil

“…and others fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty…and he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8, 23).

Finally, after speaking about the unbelievers, those who were not firmly grounded, and those who allow the cares of the world to choke out the faith, Jesus comes to the good soil in the Parable of the Sower.

Soil is good by virtue of the climactic conditions in which it exists along with the nutrients present within it. So it is with people and the message of the Gospel– the good soil are those people who have good and honest hearts, who hear the Word, understand it, believe it, and consequently bear fruit with patience (Matthew 13:23, Mark 4:20, Luke 8:15). All of these conditions must exist for the soil to be good.

The condition of the heart is critical. As we saw with the “road soil,” an unreceptive heart will not accept the message of the Gospel. A person must have a good and honest heart for the Gospel to do them any good. They must be willing to question themselves and the way they have conducted themselves. They must be willing to accept that they were wrong and acted wrongly and must change. They must be willing to accept truth as truth and to not justify error or rationalize their improper conduct in any way. In short, they must be willing to humble themselves so as to learn from Christ (Matthew 20:25-28).

The Gospel is preached, and those who are of the “good soil” hear it, understand it, and believe it (cf. Romans 10:9-17). Yet such was also the case for the “rocky soil” and the “thorny soil.” But the “good soil” has greater depth than the “rocky soil” and lacks the weeds of the “thorny soil.” Because conditions are more optimal, the seed bears fruit in the “good soil.” So it is that believers are to be known by their fruit– by how their faith operates in their lives (cf. James 2:14-20, 1 John 3:16-18). Most everyone wants to be the “good soil,” just like everyone is a good person, a good driver, and feels pretty well. Yet, as we have seen, this is not the case with everyone or even of most. Most will prove to be the road soil, the rocky soil, or the thorny soil. “Good soil” is not something we declare ourselves to be by our words; instead, we are manifest as good soil (or, for that matter, less than ideal soil) by how what we profess changes our lives, our attitudes, our thoughts, and our deeds (Matthew 5:13-16, Romans 6:1-11, 8:29, Galatians 5:17-24). And, as Luke adds, this requires patience (cf. Luke 8:15). As fruit and grain take time to grow and ripen, spiritual transformation demands time and effort (cf. Romans 12:2); patience with others is also manifest as fruit of spiritual maturity (Galatians 5:22-24). Growth may take time, but it must be something for which we consistently seek and toward which we endeavor.

Jesus ends His discussion of the “good soil” with what may seem to be a puzzling addendum– the harvest is not necessarily the same with every patch of the good soil. Some bear thirtyfold, others sixtyfold, and some even a hundredfold (Matthew 13:8, Mark 14:8)! Was not “good” soil really “good” soil?

We go back to the source of Jesus’ story: farming. Farmers know that one can grow the same crop in different soils and get different yields based upon the soil quality and conditions. “Good soil” in one place may yield, say, 200 bushels an acre, while “good soil” somewhere else might yield 300 bushels an acre. They are both good, but based upon conditions, one may get more from some than others.

So it is spiritually. The “good soil” is that which is open and receptive to the Gospel, working to bear fruit for God. Yet God has not made us all the same. We are different, and different people not only have different abilities but also different levels of ability. In our egalitarian society it might not be politically correct to say as much, yet it is affirmed by the Gospel (Romans 12:3-8). Consider the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30: three people are entrusted with different amounts of money. The five talent man who made five more talents is rewarded equally as the two talent man who made two more talents. It is not important for us to try to compete with one another and try to boast about how many gifts or talents we may have; instead, we must ascertain what God has given us so that we can serve Him and one another in accordance and in proportion to what we have received (1 Peter 4:10-11, etc.). One bearing a hundredfold and one bearing thirtyfold are both “good soil,” and one is not inherently better than the other. “Good soil” that could bear a hundredfold but gets a big head or does not work up to his potential is worse off than “good soil” actually bearing thirtyfold. Likewise, “good soil” that bears sixtyfold does better than “good soil” that could bear thirtyfold but does nothing because they are not equipped to bear a hundredfold. The emphasis is on the fruit borne, not a spirit of competition.

Few people who understand the Parable of the Sower would define themselves as road soil, rocky soil, or thorny soil. We all aspire to be the “good soil.” That is a good and noble aspiration, but it is meaningless if we do not prove to be the “good soil” by our works. Let us strive, then, to have that open and honest heart, seeking after and trusting in God our Creator and Savior, and devoting our lives to bearing fruit for His cause, be it thirtyfold, sixtyfold, or a hundredfold. Does the Lord know that we are His by our works? Let us serve Him and prove to be good soil!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fig Tree Religion

And on the morrow, when they were come out from Bethany, [Jesus] hungered. And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season of figs.
And he answered and said unto it, “No man eat fruit from thee henceforward for ever.”
And his disciples heard it (Mark 11:12-14).

The long-awaited time had come. Jesus of Nazareth, believed by many to be the Messiah, the Christ of God, had entered Jerusalem in triumph (cf. Mark 11:1-11). He will soon strike at the heart of the religious power structure in Jerusalem by cleansing the Temple of its moneychangers and merchants (Mark 11:15-19). And what do we find in the middle of these great events? Jesus’ rebuke of a fig tree.

It seems rather anticlimactic. Why does Mark interrupt the grand story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem by telling us about this fig tree?

It may help to understand a bit about the situation. Even in Jerusalem, late March or early April is a bit early for figs to be ready. Most of the trees would not even have their leaves yet. But this fig tree did have its leaves– and when a fig tree has its leaves, it is indicating that it has its fruit hidden underneath. This particular fig tree, however, was false– perhaps it was a different subspecies, or perhaps it was a young tree– for it exposed leaves but had no fruit within it. Highly disappointed, Jesus curses the tree because it made a presentation without its substance.

That may be the clue to understanding the importance of this interaction. Mark very well may have us to understand that there is more to this story than just a fig tree.

The fig tree may represent the Jews and the Judaism of the day. Fig trees are good, and figs are good. Fruitless fig trees that have no leaves are understandable, but what cannot be tolerated is the fig tree that has leaves but no fruit. Thus it is with Israel in Jesus’ day, especially the religious authorities, the chief priests, the elders, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. It was a good thing to be a Jew and to be a part of the covenant with God. It would be understandable if a Jew were learning his faith or recognized in humility how much further he had to go. But to have the outward appearance of religion without its substance– its fruit– was intolerable. And that was precisely what Jesus saw in the Judaism of His day!

Soon after these events He would excoriate the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs– pretty on the exterior, but full of dead men’s bones inside (cf. Matthew 23:27). They worry about keeping dishes clean, but inwardly are defiled (Matthew 23:25-26). On the exterior their religiosity is beyond a doubt; inwardly they remain unconverted and sinful. There is little hope for such people; they are, like the fig tree, cursed, never to provide fruit for mankind again.

We would do well to learn the lesson of the fig tree and avoid “fig tree religion.” We know from experience and statistics that the vast majority of the people around us in America believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ. Most people would claim to be Christians. A lot of those people attempt to maintain the exterior of goodness and piety– they seek to look like the “good people” of society, and yet inwardly they may remain unconverted and sinful. Such a faith cannot save (Matthew 7:21-23)!

It is one thing to be as a fig tree without fruit and without leaves– had this fig tree been as such, Jesus would have likely just passed it by. Therefore, it is one thing for people in our society to be sinners and recognize that they are sinners. Such is actually the first step in coming to a real knowledge of the truth (Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:3-8). Jesus, after all, came to save sinners (cf. Matthew 9:11-13).

The real danger comes from providing the pretense of righteousness and/or religiosity without any substantive fruit. These are the “righteous” of Matthew 9:11-13, those who certainly think they are healthy and sound and profitable but really are not. They are self-deceived, and self-deception is the hardest kind of deception to overcome (Galatians 6:3, James 1:22-25, 1 John 1:8). As long as they remain in that condition, nothing can be done for them or with them (cf. Revelation 3:14-22)!

But what of ourselves? Who are we? Are we fig trees without leaves and without fruit? Then let us grow in knowledge and faith to maturity, showing fruit for the Lord (Hebrews 5:14, 2 Peter 3:18). Do we have leaves and fruit, believing in God and obeying Him? Well and good; let us abound all the more (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:1, 9). Or are we the fig tree with leaves but no fruit, having the pretense of religion but not the substantive fruit thereof? We must always be on guard against this danger, considering ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5, Galatians 6:4). If we find ourselves in this condition, we must immediately repent, and work to show the fruit that is in keeping with that repentance (1 John 2:3-6)!

Therefore we can see that the story of the fig tree is quite appropriate in its context. Jesus is about to encounter the superficial piety of the Judaism entrenched in Jerusalem, and it will be cursed. Let us not fall into the same trap, and let us both show leaves and bear fruit for God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Maturity

But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

Physical development, for the vast majority of people, is a given. Most children, as long as they are continually nourished, will experience physical maturation. Those are trying times for themselves, their parents, and everyone else who has contact with them! Nevertheless, the maturation process is essential if life will continue. Ideally, the child will be mentally and emotionally maturing while he or she is physically maturing. This is the process by which small children become responsible adults.

Spiritual maturity has the same imperative but is not a “given.” In fact, the Hebrew author is chastising the Hebrew Christians for not maturing spiritually as they should have– even though they should be teachers by now, they still need someone to teach them the basic truths of the faith (Hebrews 5:12-6:4)! It is entirely possible for a believer to live 20, 30, 50, or even 60 years without spiritually maturing.

But this is not what the Lord wants! We are commanded in 2 Peter 3:18 to grow in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. The servant who did nothing to advance his Master’s purposes in Matthew 25:14-30 was cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth– who wants to experience that fate?

Therefore, it is important for us to grow and mature spiritually. Unlike physical maturity, we must make the determination to mature and to grow in our faith. On the other hand, this means that a believer can mature more rapidly, and reflect a spiritual maturity “greater” than his spiritual “age” as reckoned by human time!

Spiritual maturity is a challenge. It requires us to know God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17). How can we grow if we do not know how to grow? How can we learn to do the will of our Lord if we remain ignorant of His will? The growing and maturing believer in Christ will truly be His disciple, sitting at his Master’s feet, learning what he or she should do (cf. Luke 10:38-42).

Maturity requires much more than just “book learning.” Christianity is not a mere intellectual exercise– it is designed to be a lived belief. We demonstrate that we are of Jesus Christ by walking as He walked (1 John 2:6). As the Hebrew author demonstrates, we train our senses to discern good and evil “by reason of use.” It is one thing to know that Jesus teaches us to love our enemy, to turn the other cheek, to do good to all men, and so on (cf. Matthew 5, Luke 6); it is quite another to practice such things and to be enriched through our experience. Just as “hands on” work experience has practical value and provides lessons unable to be fully gleaned through “book learning,” so practicing Christianity has value and provides deeper understanding of what can be gained from studying the Scriptures.

Let none be deceived, however: spiritual maturity has its cost, just as physical maturity does. We grow in faith when our faith is tested– when we are called upon to defend our beliefs in front of a hostile audience (1 Peter 3:15), when we must decide whether we will succumb to temptation or escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), when we experience persecution or suffering (James 1:2-3, 1 Peter 1:6-8), and other such challenges. Sadly, many times we will fail (1 John 1:8); we must then get up, confess our wrongs, learn from them, and allow those experiences to help us grow (1 John 1:9). Furthermore, just as we obtain greater responsibilities as we mature physically, so more is expected of us as we grow spiritually (cf. Matthew 25:14-30, Romans 15:1). As we grow, we can see just how much more growth and maturity is required– there is never a point in this life when we can feel as if we have matured enough or grown up enough, for we can always abound more and more in the work of the Lord (cf. Philippians 3:13-14, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-9).

Growing and maturing in the faith is a challenge, indeed, but failure to grow and mature might very well lead to eternal torment. Growth and maturity come at great cost, but so did our salvation (Philippians 2:5-11)! Let us seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, constantly striving to be more conformed to His image!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fertilizer

And he spake this parable; “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none.
And he said unto the vinedresser, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground?’
And he answering saith unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9).

Agriculture provided plenty of fodder for Jesus when it came to His parables.  Jesus perceived that there were many parallels between how plants develop and grow and how His Kingdom would develop and grow, and people readily understood matters of agriculture.  Here we have one such parable– one that you may not hear about as often as the others.

We expect fruit trees to produce fruit.  Yet we ought not expect excellent fruit to come immediately after such a tree is planted; according to the Law, the Israelites were to consider the fruit of a tree during its first three years as “uncircumcised,” the fourth year devoted to the LORD, and afterward the fruit could be eaten (Leviticus 19:23-25).

The master, therefore, comes to see the fig tree after its three years, and it has not produced any fruit.  Without fruit, the tree has no value, and ought to be cut down in his eyes.

Yet notice what the vinedresser tells him.  He confesses that the tree has not been productive, yet before any permanent decision is made, he makes a request to have one more year to “dung” it– provide fertilizer– and then see if the plant will produce its fruit.  If so, well and good.  If not, it can be cut down.

Parables generally have application to Christ’s Kingdom, and this one is no exception.  There is much to be gained here!

When people come to belief in Christ, it takes time for the proper fruit to be manifest (Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:14).  It takes time to grow in the faith.  Therefore, we should not expect mature “fruit” from immature “trees.”

Yet fruit is still expected.  What happens when there is no “fruit”– no indication that there is any growth in a young believer?  Should they be immediately cast out?

Absolutely not– we must apply the “spiritual dung,” that is, proper encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Sometimes growth does not take place because the proper nutrients are not present, and when nutrients are provided, the growth will come.

This is why it is so important for believers to encourage one another, building up the Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).  Yet it is not limited to believers.  Do we know people who are struggling to get through life, and who do not seem to be getting very far?  Consider how to encourage them.  Are there people in despair?  Seek to encourage them.

Encouragement is the fertilizer of life.  Use it bountifully among others, and see how much fruit can be borne!

Ethan R. Longhenry