Bible Study with Jairus-2 Peter 1 part 5
Supplement Virtue with Knowledge: Nourishing our Life of Faith
As we learned in a past lesson, Christ’s virtue is the water that nourishes the seed of our faith so the “tree” of spiritual life can take root in Christ. Today, we will extend that metaphor even further by thinking about a tree’s root system. A tree has a large, central taproot and many branching, fibrous roots. These fibrous roots absorb nutrients, water, and various elements that a tree needs to grow. These nutrients not only help the tree grow taller but also help the taproot grow deeper. Furthermore, the fibrous roots play an important role in supplementing the growth of the leaves and branches when the taproot is not strong enough.
Some time ago, I purchased some evergreen Thuja Green Giant seedlings and transplanted them from five-gallon pots into the ground. To help them grow as quickly as possible, I put some fertilizer around the roots. But I didn’t realize these fertilizers would burn the roots. Soon, I noticed that many branches and leaves were turning yellow and withering. I realized I had made a mistake and that over-fertilizing was destroying the fibrous roots. Since these young saplings did not yet have a deep taproot, they relied primarily on the fibrous roots to supply their leaves with nutrients. However, when I gave the same amount of fertilizer to older trees that had already taken root, I encountered no problems since they were already deeply rooted in the soil. I quickly learned from my mistake. I now know that overfertilization can kill a tree if it has not yet taken root in the soil.
In the same way that fertilizer can burn the roots of a new sapling, excessive rules can burn the spiritual growth of an immature Christian. When young Christians are overly restricted by rules in the church when they are young, they may turn away from their faith and from their parents when they grow up. Why? Because their parents did not carefully cultivate and protect the “fibrous roots” of their faith. Instead of burning them with excessive rules that are not deeply supported by a personal knowledge of Christ, parents should help these young Christians absorb the knowledge of Christ through their “fibrous roots.” As they begin to take root and rely on the continuous supply of Christ’s love, the “leaves and branches” of their Christian life will begin to grow. Their “taproot” will become deeply rooted in Christ. Only then will they begin to live out the principles of the Christian life without stumbling.
This is what Peter means when he says, “supplement virtue with knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5). When we “water” the “seed of faith” with Christ’s virtue, the Christian life will begin to take root. As we root ourselves incrementally in Christ, we gain one piece of knowledge after another, and this knowledge comes to life in our hearts. Just like the fibrous roots provide water gradually to the plant, we must absorb the truth about Jesus and his salvation bit by bit. In this way, we will eventually achieve our goal of being rooted in Christ.
Practically speaking, how do we do this? Many Christians only have grand visions for success, but they don’t know how to achieve their goals step by step, so they fall short. This is the great dilemma faced by many American Christian parents today. We need a great strategic goal and the tactical means to accomplish it.
The Role of the Taproot
Most trees have both a taproot and fibrous roots. The taproot helps the tree withstand the wind and rain by being deeply rooted in the soil. While the taproot provides long-term stability, it also takes a long time to grow. Meanwhile, the countless small fibrous roots provide the nutrients and water the tree needs in order to grow upwards toward the light and downwards into the soil.
Near my house, workers were planting a new forest. When the workers planted the saplings, they inserted wooden stakes beside them to stabilize the young trees and prevent them from falling over. However, some stakes eventually broke. Since no one took care of them, some of the saplings fell over. Gradually, other trees grew taller and blocked the sunlight. As a result, these young saplings died.
The role of the taproot is not only to help saplings absorb nutrients but also to help them grow vertically. This is a beautiful picture of the Christian life. When we are not rooted in Christ, we will be tempted by the things of the earth and lose our ability to receive provision from above.
How can we root ourselves deeply in Christ? It will take a long time to develop a deep taproot. This is why it’s so important to continuously develop our fibrous roots as well. One insight at a time, we can learn about God and salvation. Through Bible reading, prayer, and spiritual disciplines, our spirits can be nourished continually, the branches and leaves of our spiritual life can continue to grow, and our taproot can take root in the virtue of Christ.
Two years after I put my faith in Jesus for salvation, I heard Jesus speaking to me at a conference, asking me to dedicate myself to Him. This spiritual experience changed my life, and I developed a crazy love for the Lord. I started the habit of reading the Bible and praying every day, and never let anything interrupt it. My wife saw me reading the Bible every day, but didn’t see any changes in my life. She saw me leading a Bible study, but I didn’t know how to speak for the Lord or receive his illumination.
One time, she said to me, “You are like a monk chanting Scriptures with only the mouth but no heart.” What she meant was that my spiritual practices were doing no good.
“I am establishing a habit,” I responded. “Although this habit may not change my life immediately, I know it will change my life and my character if I continue to persevere. If I create a habit, I will benefit from reading the Bible.”
Even though the leaves and branches of my spiritual “tree” did not start growing right away when I began reading my Bible and praying every day, the fibrous roots were constantly absorbing the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Slowly, this knowledge began bringing me insight and revelation through prayer. This spiritual understanding helped me draw on the virtue of Christ so that my taproot would continue to take root in Christ. Once my taproot was firmly rooted in Christ, and as the fibrous roots continued to supply daily insights to my spirit, the branches and leaves of my life began to flourish.
A few years after I began leading a weekly Bible study, the Holy Spirit began to use me. He would give me inspiration while reading and sharing God’s word. My wife was astonished and curious about what was happening to me. My wife started to see changes in my life and noticed that I was receiving inspiration from my devotions. But these outward changes took place years after I began secretly rooting myself in the Lord.
In this chapter, Peter tells us to make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge. Diligence is one of the best qualities of a Christian, and it is also one of the spiritual qualities that American Christians lack the most. Many American Christians are spiritually idle.
In China, there is a type of bamboo that grows only one inch per year in the first five years. But once it reaches its sixth year, it can grow a few feet every day! In no time, it becomes a towering stand of bamboo. How can it grow so quickly all of a sudden? Because during the first five years, its roots grew dozens of feet per year. In the same way, we as Christians need to root ourselves deeply in the life of God. We need to diligently root ourselves in Christ’s virtue. We need to develop the knowledge of Christ’s salvation, applying his salvation to our hearts through prayer and with the help of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we will begin to grow and bear fruit as our fibrous roots connect to the foundation of Christ’s virtue.
The Spleen Nourishes the Body
Years ago, I had frequent diarrhea and fatigue. I had diarrhea immediately after drinking ice water or eating watermelon. Since restaurants in the USA rarely give people lukewarm water, I went through a lot of embarrassing and awkward situations.
When I went to the doctor, their tests were inconclusive. So I went to see a traditional Chinese medicine doctor. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the kidney is the foundation of a person’s level of health inherited from their parents. Meanwhile, the spleen is the foundation of the level of health you can acquire by healthy eating and supplements. I was born weak because of a congenital kidney deficiency or qi deficiency. The spleen was failing to strengthen the kidney or qi through nutrient absorption. I also had symptoms of spleen deficiency, which in turn worsened my kidney deficiency. The spleen deficiency was causing the diarrhea, and the kidney deficiency was causing the fatigue. The traditional Chinese doctor told me that some Chinese medicine would invigorate the spleen, thus reducing the symptoms of diarrhea and fatigue.
I began to take traditional Chinese medicine and my body improved a lot. My spleen deficiency improved, and I no longer had diarrhea. When my spleen was deficient, I couldn’t absorb the nutrients from food. As a result, the nutrients could not be delivered to my kidney, which was why I constantly felt tired. When I took traditional Chinese medicine to treat the spleen deficiency, the nutrients from the food I ate could be supplied to my kidney, and I no longer felt tired. There are many mysteries in God’s creation of the human body, and God revealed them to ancient Chinese doctors. I am very grateful to God for healing my body through Chinese medicine.
This example reminds me of the example of the taproot. The kidney is the innate root received from parents. Just like the power of God is contained in the seed, life is contained in the kidney. We know that the kidney is related to reproduction, so this does make sense. If our spleen is deficient, it will affect our growth. When the spleen works properly, our food is absorbed into our body and supplied to the kidney so we continue to gain the power of life. The digestion and absorption of our food is a complex process. Of course, we need teeth to chew, a stomach to digest, and intestines to absorb, and these are all essential. But only Chinese medicine points out that the function of the spleen is to refine the digested food into life energy and supply it to the kidney. This is rarely mentioned in Western medicine, and it is difficult for Americans to understand. The work of the spleen is similar to the work of the fibrous roots, continuously supplying nutrients to the tree.
We can also illustrate this concept with cars. In order to drive, a car needs gasoline. The combustion of gasoline is a complicated process. The gasoline is ignited and begins to burn. Through a complex process, it is turned into the power that runs the car. This process reminds me of the role of the spleen in the human body. The mouth, teeth, stomach, and intestines break down food so that it can be “burned” and energy (qi) can be created. The spleen then turns the qi into the driving force of life. The spleen and kidney interact with one another just like the taproot and fibrous root do.
Many Christians have the symptoms of spiritual “spleen deficiency.” They have a lot of knowledge about the Bible and Jesus Christ, but their knowledge has not been broken down by the spiritual mouth, teeth, stomach, and intestines, and it has not been processed by the spleen to provide power to the spiritual life. They lack the necessary dynamics that provide the conditions that ultimately lead to a flourishing life that is deeply rooted in God. It takes a complex process for food to become energy, and it also requires a complicated process for us to turn spiritual manna (God’s word) into a life force. Many people ignore this complicated process, and without these previous steps, they cannot experience the vitality of God’s word.
Bible Reading, Prayer, and the Holy Spirit Help us Absorb God’s Life
We have talked about the process of turning food into energy and gasoline into power and our knowledge of God’s word to go through a similar process. We must first absorb God’s word into our minds. Then through prayer and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we must turn the words on a page (logos) into living words (rhema). This process is inseparable from constant Bible reading and prayer. It may take a while before we see results, as it did for me. That’s why we must persevere with “effort” and “diligence,” as Peter said. No farmer plants a seed and immediately reaps fruit from it. He must water, fertilize, weed, and wait patiently in faith before he can finally reap the fruit of life.
There is a Chinese idiom, “pulling seedlings to encourage growth,” which refers to a farmer who pulls up his seedlings to see if they are growing. Of course, this causes them to die. Instead of worrying, we must persevere and wait for our spiritual growth. It takes a long time for life to mature. Many Christians lack the long-suffering necessary to see a noticeable change. They give up on their efforts prematurely.
Many Christians cannot metabolize nutrients into energy, because they don’t even have the nutrients in the first place. They don’t have much knowledge about God and Jesus Christ because they are not familiar with the Bible. They can’t change the gasoline into power because there is no gasoline in the tank!
Other Christians have a lot of biblical knowledge but lack a life of prayer, like a car with a full gas tank but no ignition to start the process. In order to move forward, Christians must read the Bible (refuel the car), and they must also pray (turn the ignition). Only when these two steps are carried out at the same time will power be produced.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit cannot illuminate God’s word if we do not know God’s word. If we do not know and store God’s word, the Holy Spirit will have nowhere to enlighten us. At the same time, if we read God’s word but do not pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate us, the Scripture will remain words on a page. Neither produces true spiritual “kinetic energy” to help us move forward.
We must diligently persevere in reading God’s word and praying so we can absorb God’s life and store it in our hearts. Through prayer and the Holy Spirit’s illumination, we can ignite the truth we have learned so God’s word can provide us with spiritual sustenance. In this way, each truth about Christ will begin to nourish us. As the roots supply us with nutrients, the leaves and branches will begin to grow. Our taproot will sink more deeply into Christ’s virtue so we can grow strong and tall, avoid earthly temptation, and drink in the sunshine and rain. This is what Peter means when he says, “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge.”
In the next lesson, we will discuss the meaning of supplementing our faith with “knowledge with self-control.” We will learn to eliminate false teachings and character defects from our lives so we can continue to grow spiritually.