Bible Study with Jairus- 2 Peter 1 (Part 7)

Adding Patience to Temperance: Loving God and Your Neighbor

 

As I mentioned in our last lesson, a life of patience is needed when dealing with others. We need to be patient with each other before we can develop into the mature Body of Christ. But in order to cultivate patience with one another (the branches), we need to strengthen the trunk (temperance). Before we can pursue unity within the body of Christ, we need to strengthen the trunk of temperance. Only then will we produce leaves (godliness), flowers (brotherly love), and fruit (agape love). Many efforts to unify the body of Christ have failed because the trunk (temperance) is still undeveloped.

Although the body of Christ as a whole is still at the initial stage of developing the trunk, we as individual Christians or individual churches may be ready to progress to the next stage of spiritual growth: developing the branches. We as believers are the individual branches of the same vine. This is what Peter is referring to when he speaks of “adding patience to temperance.” Temperance refers to our vertical relationship with God. Through temperance, we gain the strength we need to grow in our relationship with God above. Spiritual disciplines help us develop a personal relationship with the Lord, allowing the power of the life of Christ to develop within us. To add temperance to our knowledge is to love God. When we stop loving the world and abandon the lusts of the flesh, we share in God’s nature. This is the essence of temperance.

Knowledge without temperance does not help us grow. If we know facts about God and the principles of his word, yet we do not love God or have an intimate connection with him, we cannot progress further in our spiritual life. But when we add temperance to our knowledge, we develop the trunk of our spiritual tree. And if we love God, we will love others. The Apostle John said, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him, there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:9-10). The Lord Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

When we develop love for God through temperance, we will automatically love our neighbors as ourselves and be patient with others. Loving others with patience is like developing the branches of the tree. Many Christians cannot tolerate Christians of other denominations, and they also fail to love sinners. This is because they have not developed temperance or love for God.

When we constantly add temperance to our knowledge, we will not only leave behind our worldly “truth,” but we will also be set free by God’s truth. Then we will love God even more and abandon the world even more. Then we will naturally progress to the next stage of spiritual growth: building one another up with mutual patience in the body of Christ. Temperance is necessary for a vertical relationship with God, and patience is necessary for a horizontal relationship with other believers.

Patience Is Christ

When I left the Local Church Movement to study in other churches, I attended a Charismatic Church Conference. A pastor said that he once fasted and prayed for forty days, hoping to become more holy, but he still didn’t attain the holiness he hoped for. Later, a preacher told him that holiness is a person, that is, Christ. It is not enough to just fast and pray. We must allow the person of Christ to live his life through us. What this preacher said was very helpful to him, so the pastor gave special thanks to him during this conference.

This reminds me of another story. One day, Watchman Nee, the founder of The Local Church Movement, was rocking in a rocking chair. He asked a question of Witness Lee, who was interning with him. “What is patience?” asked Watchman Nee. Witness Lee tried to answer his question many times, but Watchman Nee said all his answers were wrong. Finally, Watchman Nee said, “Patience is Christ.” In other words, patience is a person, as the pastor learned in the first story above. If you live in Christ, live out Christ’s life in your words and actions, and allow Christ to replace your old man and live through you, you will be able to live out patience. Otherwise, no matter how much you try to have patience, you will not be able to generate patience through your own effort. This story is very thought-provoking.

Adding patience to temperance is not just about being able to love others because of our fellowship with God. This is certainly true. But even more, it is a picture of Christ living his life through us. Jesus loved God, so He was willing to sacrifice himself to save the people God loved. Of course, Jesus also loved people, and He was willing to give his life for the lost sheep.

Not only can we say that patience is Christ, but temperance is also Christ. An intemperate person cannot truly love God. Whether a person is intemperate in eating too much, in consuming worldly entertainment, in failing to read their Bible and pray, or in some other way, that person is showing they love the flesh and the world more than they love God. The Apostle John said, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17). As we exercise temperance and patience in our lives, we live out the virtues of Christ. In other words, Christ’s life is manifested in our lives.

From Knowledge to Temperance to Patience: Developing Love For God and People within the Framework of the Law and the Prophets

 

The Old Testament Israelites followed laws and principles which revealed basic facts about God. As they learned and obeyed these laws, they would have life. However, the New Testament Pharisees went to an extreme in obeying the law. They overdeveloped their knowledge of the law and underdeveloped their love for God and man. They even felt that if they had given a tithe to God, they no longer needed to obey His command to honor their parents. Jesus criticized the Pharisees severely for this, saying that they had put the cart before the horse. Jesus said, ” ‘…he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God” (Matthew 15:6). There was even a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, who tested Jesus and asked him, “Which commandment of the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:35) Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (37-38). This is the definition of temperance. It is very difficult to love a person, event, or thing with all our hearts, and it is also very difficult to love God with all our hearts. That is why we need temperance.

Then Jesus said, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (39-40). What Jesus meant was that after loving God, you should love others. You should love your neighbor as yourself. These two commands form the basis for all the principles and teachings in the Old Testament. As I have mentioned in previous lessons, the law reveals God’s nature, as does the ministry of the apostles. They help us understand God’s nature and principles by teaching God’s words (including the laws of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament). The ministry of the prophets helps people recognize God’s leading and guidance so they can demonstrate love for God and people in every unique circumstance. So all the teachings of the law and the prophets are based on these two commands: loving God and loving your neighbor.

The Apostle Paul explained that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Paul deeply understood the teachings of Jesus about the Great Commandments. Paul knew that these two commands—“love God and love people”—sum up the law and the prophets. These two commands communicate the essence of the teachings of the apostles (laws) and prophets. Love for God and people is fully expressed in Jesus, which is why He is the cornerstone. Jesus not only connects us with God, but also connects the Jews with the Gentiles, “and [reconciles] us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:17-19). “…Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21).

These verses teach the same truth that Peter teaches about building the spiritual temple. We are a spiritual temple where the Holy Spirit lives. As living stones, we must grow and be built up so we can become a spiritual temple. The finished temple is beautiful like the New Jerusalem, with the throne of God and the Lamb in the highest position, surrounded by streets of pure gold and the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God. We as believers are the New Jerusalem, a tabernacle in which God dwells. But God is also a tabernacle, and as we abide in the Trinity, we become a spiritual temple connected with the Trinity and with all saints. We, the branches, must abide in Christ, the Vine. The Father is the vinedresser. As we become one with Christ, we are also one with other members of His body.

In order to grow into a mature temple in the Lord, or to grow into a mature vine, we must develop temperance and patience. Temperance connects us to the trunk as we grow closer to God, while patience connects us to our fellow branches as we grow closer to other believers. These two are connected. That’s why Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(John 13:35). Love is the natural expression of our spiritual life.

Before my mother came to Christ, she was deeply impressed by the love that Christians had for one another. In her village, there were some people who believed in Jesus. Unlike the rest of the farmers, the Christian farmers helped each other with their wheat harvest. My mother, who was a Buddhist, noticed that the Christians loved one another, and this left a deep impression on her. The Christian farmers were so filled with love that my mother recognized them as disciples of Jesus.

Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself Is Harder Than “Loving God”

In the church, we often see Christian brothers and sisters who love the Lord but have difficulties in their family lives. Perhaps the wife loves the Lord very much, reads the Bible, prays every day, and attends many church meetings, but her husband is spiritually indifferent. In fact, he notices that she seems to care more about God than she does about her family. “You go to church every day,” he says to her, “but you never spend time with us.”

Later, through the Lord’s conviction, the wife realizes she needs to spend more time at home with her husband and family. When the husband feels his wife’s love, his attitude toward spiritual things begins to change. His cold heart begins to soften.

This story shows that a Christian can be very devoted to God and still come across as unloving to the people around them. Why is this? Because it is more difficult to “love your neighbor as yourself” than it is to “love God.” It requires more maturity to communicate and cooperate with the people around us than to hide in a monastery or cave seeking intimacy with God. It also requires more patience.

I have seen some single people who love the Lord very much and have dedicated their lives to God, but I feel that their spiritual lives lack maturity. When I see the spiritual struggles they are going through, I often think that these weaknesses could have been dealt with if they had a spouse to correct them. Marriage is often God’s tool to deal with us spiritually.

God uses relationships in our lives to train us in patience and holiness. During my spiritual journey, I have experienced many stages of growth. I believed in the Lord in 2002, then experienced a spiritual revival in 2004. I was crazily in love with the Lord. After that, I grew closer to God through reading the Bible, praying, and other spiritual disciplines. Jesus appeared to me many times during that period. Yet despite my intimacy with God, I still was not good at loving people. I was often unable to love the people around me, let alone my enemies. I felt distressed and powerless. I later realized that God allowed these relationship struggles in order to train me to truly love others.

If we want to love our neighbor as ourselves, we need to grow in patience. It seems easy for us to “love God” because God is great and can tolerate many of our shortcomings. But humans are limited, and many people are often not as tolerant as God is to us. So human relationships expose our quirks, weaknesses, and personality flaws more quickly. It is easy to “love God alone,” but it is more difficult to love God and others.

How Do We Add Patience to Temperance?

When we are with our spiritual mentors or discipleship leaders, we can just be recipients and accept what they give us spiritually. But when we are shepherding younger believers or less mature members, it is not that simple. We need to be constantly rooted in the Lord and connected to the vine so we can receive His abundant supply of mercy and love. Only then can we supply God’s love to these members. He can give us the patience to deal with the complex situations that arrive.

For example, in the church, our goal is to grow to maturity. However, it is often easier to do things ourselves than to teach others how to do them. It takes way more time to teach someone a skill than to do it ourselves. Therefore, many pastors or spiritually responsible people often take care of everything themselves. Younger believers do not have the opportunity to practice. And when the pastor retires, many believers are still spiritual babies. Instead, we need to slow down, teach others, and have patience with them as they learn and grow. We need God’s grace and provision as we help others grow in maturity.

It is difficult to grow in maturity, but it is even more difficult to help someone else grow in maturity. Those of us who are parents or have helped young Christians grow spiritually know this dilemma. Just like children, new Christians often make mistakes as they serve God. We need to be tolerant of their mistakes and be patient as we help them grow and mature.

When I was first saved, my church taught us that in order to be fruitful people, we needed to try to convert one person every year. But I found that I often went years without bringing even one person to Christ. I often prayed about this, seeking the Lord’s help and guidance. When we serve the Lord, we often fail to see results, so we become discouraged. But Paul said, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Many people do good deeds, but because they don’t see results at first, they slowly lose faith. It takes time for our spiritual life to grow and for our service to become effective. Sometimes it takes a long time, so we must also learn to be patient.

In my personal ministry, patience is important. I studied for many years to prepare to serve the Lord, and the Lord promised that my ministry would lead many people into the kingdom and help them grow spiritually. However, I find that I often run into obstacles when trying to promote my ministry, and few people listen to my sermons. This doesn’t mean that God’s promises to me are false. It only means that I need to learn patience in this process. The process of experiencing patience is also the process of experiencing Christ. In this process, Christ is not only revealed in our lives, but our character is also strengthened. Only through longsuffering can the farmer obtain the yield he hopes for.

In order to be a fruitful person, we need to be rooted in the Lord. When we are rooted in Christ, we will develop lush branches and leaves, and we will naturally bear fruit. In addition to the patience we need in our dealings with others, we also need patience as we grow in the Lord. Just like trees do not bear fruit in the first year, it takes years for us to mature spiritually enough to bear fruit.