Bible Study with Jairus – 2 Peter 1 (Part 6)

The Power of Temperance and the Importance of Focus

 

In past lessons, we have learned how to nurture the seed of faith so that we can grow in our spiritual lives. First, we must water the seed of faith with virtue. This helps us grow a taproot that roots us deeply in our foundation, Christ Himself. Next, we must supply the seed with the knowledge of every saving truth of Jesus Christ. Every time we recognize a truth, we must apply that truth in our lives. The reality and nutrition contained in these truths can then be released and become our life supply. In this way, one truth at a time, we absorb the nutrition we need for our spiritual growth, just like the fibrous roots absorb one mineral at a time from the soil. These truths help sustain our spiritual growth while the taproot is not yet firmly established in the soil.

As our roots grow strong, and our branches multiply, we must learn the lesson of temperance. Temperance is very important for the growth of a tree. A Chinese saying emphasizes the importance of pruning: “Small trees will not grow if they are not pruned.” Unpruned saplings will send out dozens of shoots from the roots, and they will develop into shrubs instead of trees. But if these extra branches are pruned early, a thick central trunk will develop, and the sapling can grow into a towering tree. This is why Peter speaks of the need to add temperance (self-control) to your knowledge (2 Peter 1:6). While it is true that Christians should acquire plenty of knowledge about the Bible and spiritual truths, it is also true that too much knowledge can get out of hand, just like an unpruned sapling. Rather than focusing on the central truth of God’s word (God’s love and grace incarnated in Jesus Christ), some Christians focus on dozens of individual principles to the point of legalism. Their lives are like unpruned shrubs. They grow hundreds of branches (rules, principles), but there is no central focus and they do not grow into a towering tree. Why? Because they lack temperance. They may have a lot of biblical knowledge, but they use it to condemn others, just like the Pharisees.

The Pharisees had a lot of knowledge about the Bible and spirituality, but they did not grow into towering spiritual trees. Instead, they lived as stunted shrubs. Many modern-day Christians are living like Pharisees. Their knowledge of the Bible and spiritual truths are no longer serving as an essential life supply. Instead, their knowledge has become a hindrance to their spiritual growth. 1 Corinthians 8:1 ESV says, “‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” Just like an unpruned sapling that produces dozens of branches and plenty of visible growth without any real growth in height, knowledge puffs us up without any actual growth.

Furthermore, pruning takes place in the area of our gifts. God wants us to realize God’s central call on our lives and the unique gifts He has given us. When we do, we can prune away the excess activities in our lives that don’t relate to our calling. If we don’t focus on our gifts, we will live an unfocused life, our energy and ability will be limited, and our calling and gifts from God will be stunted. We waste time and delay our spiritual growth. We must prune excess branches and allow the trunk to grow in order to realize the infinite potential of our life and our gifts. Some Christians desperately need temperance and disciplined spiritual exercises to promote further growth in their spiritual life.

Why Do We Need to Add Temperance to our Knowledge?

 

Temperance builds on knowledge. Knowledge of God’s truth is very important for the early growth of our spiritual lives. Hudson Taylor’s salvation story illustrates this point. Since his father was a pastor, Hudson Taylor had heard God’s word since he was five years old. He had heard many bits of truth about Christ, or tiny bits of knowledge that provided nutrition to his growing understanding of Christ. But these truths had not “clicked” or turned into a personal revelation as the Holy Spirit enlightened his heart and mind. His mother and sister had been praying for him for some time, but he still hadn’t fully repented.

One day, Hudson saw a leaflet in his study with the words, “The finished work of Christ.” These words caught his attention and made him feel sad. The leaflet in his study was just one more small piece of knowledge, but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this “knowledge” became a personal “revelation,” which released God’s truth in his heart and brought him to salvation. He later learned that his mother had been praying for him at the very moment he had been enlightened, and that the Holy Spirit had revealed to her that her prayers had been answered. When Hudson Taylor told his mother about his repentance, his mother said, “I know, my boy. I have been rejoicing for a fortnight in the glad tidings you have to tell me.”

Later, Hudson Taylor saw a vision that countless Chinese people were going to hell. He knew that God was calling him to go to China to preach the gospel, so he moved to a poor area in East London to train himself with self-discipline and temperance. For a long time, he ate only bread and water to prepare himself for the hardships he would face in China. After preparing himself for many years, he finally arrived in China, established the China Inland Mission, and brought a tremendous breakthrough for the spread of the gospel in China. His story is a good example of spiritual growth. His roots grew deep in Christ (virtue) as he constantly learned nuggets of truth (knowledge) and then disciplined himself for the mission field (temperance). Without knowledge, there can be no real growth. Without temperance, we will encounter setbacks in our spiritual progress. But with all these ingredients in place, Hudson Taylor grew into a spiritual giant.

Hudson Taylor encountered many difficulties in China, and his temperance was critical to his success. China was a very difficult place to live at the time. No one would give Hudson a place to live, so he had to live in the Chinese idol temple that served as a shelter for homeless people. Even in the shelter, Hudson Taylor could hardly sleep at night because other homeless people would steal his clothes and belongings. He had to stay alert at all times and got very little sleep. If he had not spent time in East London, getting accustomed to living in difficult circumstances, he would not have been able to fulfill God’s call to spread the gospel in China.

God’s Holy Spirit showers his anointing and his calling on our lives, like showers of refreshing rain. But our character must be strong and leak-free in order to receive it. If we lack temperance and other virtues, the water of God’s anointing and calling will leak out. Taylor was born into a wealthy family, but he understood that God’s call was for him to preach the gospel in poor China, so he began to exercise his character with temperance. He learned to endure hardship so he would not miss the opportunity to fulfill God’s calling.

Temperance Is One of The Important Fruits of The Holy Spirit

Paul said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Both Paul and Peter knew that temperance is one of the fruits of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit produces Christ’s virtues in our lives, the result is the fruit of the Spirit. Just like the king’s eunuchs anointed Esther’s body with various ointments, the Holy Spirit instills in us the virtues of Christ. Just like the ointments produced a fragrant scent, the virtue of Christ produces a spiritual fragrance as we live them out in our everyday lives. When we truly understand these words of Paul (“knowledge”), the Holy Spirit enlightens us with revelation so we can grow in virtue. This virtue and knowledge supply us with abundant spiritual resources so we can grow.

Although I had read this passage in Galatians many times, God recently gave me a new revelation. I noticed a phrase that I hadn’t paid attention to before: “Against such there is no law.” This phrase helped me see the light. When I produce the fruit of the Spirit, there is no law against it. But when I do not, there are many laws against me. For instance, when we fail to live with temperance (one of the fruits of the Spirit), the Holy Spirit often uses circumstances to “prune” us. We are chastened by many natural “laws.” For example, if we eat too much and lack temperance, our bodies will become obese, which will lead to various diseases. This is the natural law of God’s creation.

If we had lived with temperance, we would not have needed this pruning. When we control our food intake, and even fast and pray, our bodies will be healed. There will no longer be any law against us.

Other laws may come against us as well if we do not produce the fruit of the Spirit. These include human regulations, social customs, and even church traditions which keep us in check. God often uses these “laws” to discipline us, but we often fail to see the hand of God at work in these circumstances.

Christian Intemperance Is Common

In addition to being intemperate with food intake, many Christians are intemperate with entertainment. Watching TV is not a sin, but it is not wise to become addicted to movies and TV, which are filled with sinful and worldly content. When we frequently consume this content, we will eventually become polluted by filth and worldliness, and our spiritual life will be damaged.

Many Christians in the United States have been learning biblical truths since childhood. They have acquired a vast amount of biblical knowledge So why can’t these Christians go deeper spiritually and have a greater impact on society? Because they are lacking temperance. Christians need to stop indulging in sinful and worldly entertainment and start reading the Bible, praying, and practicing godliness. Many Christians know they ought to practice these spiritual disciplines, but do not follow through with consistency. Why? Because they lack temperance and willpower. In other words, the biggest spiritual problem among American Christians is the lack of spiritual discipline and temperance.

In ancient China, there was a military genius named Sun Tzu who wrote a book called The Art of War. His book claimed to contain all the secrets of military prowess, but the emperor was unsure whether his tactics really worked. So he asked Sun Tzu to try to train his concubines as a test run. The emperor promised to meet any conditions Sun Tzu needed during his training.

Sun Tzu began to train the women, but it was very difficult to work with them. When he asked them to perform a drill, the concubines laughed and talked and refused to obey the rules. It was impossible to train them. The emperor began to doubt the validity of Sun Tzu’s methods and abilities. As a result, Sun Tzu decided to behead the two concubines who were most disrespectful. They happened to be the emperor’s two favorite concubines. Despite the emperor’s protests, the two women were publicly beheaded for everyone to see. Immediately, the other concubines became very disciplined, and they obeyed Sun Tzu and did all he asked them to do. In a short time, Sun Tzu created a very effective army of concubines. Sun Tzu proved to the emperor that he was not only a military theorist but also a practical fighter. This true story shows the value of discipline.

Many American Christians would object by saying that only Easterners are disciplined like this. This is incorrect. Hudson Taylor was from the West, but he was also very temperate. Many Western Christian missionaries have been very self-disciplined. However, modern-day Americans have been living a very comfortable life for a long time. Just like the emperor’s concubines, they have never received harsh training, so they have no temperance.

The reason Hudson Taylor developed self-discipline was because he had a vision. He realized that tens of thousands of Chinese people were going to hell every day. This vision prompted him to move to the East End of London, stop relying on the support of his wealthy parents, and voluntarily choose to suffer hardship in order to train himself. The Bible says, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” Western Christians have been at ease from their youth, and they have never suffered much hardship, so they have not developed self-discipline. Jeremiah the prophet said the same thing of Moab: “Moab has been at ease from his youth, and has settled on his dregs; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed” (Jeremiah 48:11). When wine is brewed, the dregs are often filtered out by pouring the wine from vessel to vessel. However, Moab had been at ease for a long time, so the dregs had not been removed.

American Christians need temperance to prune their knowledge. What Western Christians lack is not the knowledge of the Bible, but the spiritual discipline to apply this knowledge to their lives. I believe God will create an environment in which American Christians can learn temperance. These circumstances may include enemy attacks, social turmoil, or economic collapse. Before the pandemic, I had a strange dream about an angel reaching down from heaven and stirring the sea with a huge stick. Many storms and waves arose, many houses were submerged, and people ran for their lives. In the same dream, I swam desperately and reached the shore. God had been telling me that a great revival was coming, and when the pandemic began, I knew the prelude to this great revival had begun.

I had the same dream after the pandemic. I believe that suffering will come to many people to help them learn obedience and self-control. Many Christians will be forced to grow spiritually. Just like God wanted to discipline Moab by pouring out the wine and removing the dregs, I believe God will discipline America in the same way. God still loves America, and America will eventually be saved. But that doesn’t mean it won’t experience suffering and discipline. Many Americans are not psychologically or practically prepared for this discipline. But he who has ears to hear should heed such warnings.

Similarly, I believe that God will allow storms to come to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other places where there has been peace for a long time. In these places, idolatry is rampant. He will send turmoil, wars, and storms in many parts of the world. God wants to shake everything that can be shaken, so that people can enter the unshakable kingdom of God. The shaking in the world today is the prelude to the great revival.

The Importance of Temperance

Temperance prunes the tree of our spiritual life so we can grow straight and tall and not become an undisciplined and unfocused shrub. Without God’s pruning through affliction, we would indulge ourselves and fail to grow. Our roots would not grow deep in the soil and our trunk would not grow straight and tall. Our spiritual backbone would not develop. In a forest, a tree that does not develop a central trunk cannot grow tall enough to get sunshine. It might die as a result. If we add temperance to our knowledge, we can metabolize our knowledge about the Bible. Through spiritual discipline, our knowledge becomes a life force that helps the trunk of the tree grow tall and strong.

Adding Patience to Temperance

In our next lesson, we will learn why we should add patience to our temperance. We will briefly preview this topic here. A life of patience is needed when dealing with others. If temperance is the trunk, then patience is the branches. We are members of the Body of Christ, just like the branches of the vine live in the vine. We need to accept and be patient with each other in love before we can develop into the mature Body of Christ. But before that, we have to develop our trunk.

Many Christian groups have tried to pursue the unity of the Body of Christ, and unity between denominations, but they have not succeeded. Why? Because they are still in the stage of developing the trunk. Only when the trunk is truly developed will God bring all denominations together. Only then will the spiritual tree proceed to the next step of growth: producing leaves (godliness), flowers (brotherly love), and fruit (agape love). This metaphor not only applies to the body of Christ as a whole but also to our individual Christian lives. We must add temperance to knowledge so that our knowledge about Christ is lived out as the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.