Bible Study with Jairus—2 Peter 1-8

Supplement Patience with Godliness: Living Out Christ’s Virtues

Every Christian is destined to live out the virtues of Christ. The Bible teaches us, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). Since we are children of God, we must look and act like children of God. But if it’s difficult to even act like well-behaved human beings, how can we act like children of God? That’s why we need Jesus Christ, the firstborn Son of God, as our example. More importantly, He is our substitute and our very life. He lived the perfect life and he now lives his life through us.

A Chinese Christian once told me that very few Chinese churches talk about growing in the Christian life and living Christ out. When an African American sister thanked me for introducing Witness Lee’s teachings and books on “living in Christ,” she told me that she had heard of Watchman Nee, but not Witness Lee. She had been saved and attended a charismatic church in Baltimore for decades, but no one taught her about “living out her Christianity.”

I believe this phenomenon is not unique to these two believers. Many churches and pastors focus on the importance of evangelizing and saving souls. But they do not teach enough about growing in Christ. Although some churches may teach about living out Christ in our lives, my observation tells me that many Christians are superficial in their spiritual lives. Even though I have met many Christians in the United States, I rarely hear any of them talking about “living out their Christianity.” I was fortunate enough to be saved in the Local Church Movement, where I received a lot of teaching and practical help with “living in Christ.” Although I still have a long way to go in learning to “live out my Christianity,” I have realized that this teaching and practical help can help solve common problems in Christians’ lives.

For example, the divorce rate among Christians in the United States is very high. Although there are many different reasons that a family may experience this misfortune, one common reason for divorce is a lack of patience. The husband and wife do not have enough patience with each other. Many couples choose to separate rather than learn to live out Christ’s life in the midst of their marriage struggles. I’m not saying that couples must stay married despite adultery or domestic violence. But I am saying that couples who are struggling with fleshly responses should not choose the easy way out. Instead, they should choose spiritual growth and maturity as they “live out Christ” in their marriage. In this message, we will share how to live out our Christianity through patience or steadfastness.

The Big Leap from Patience to Godliness

Watchman Nee once said, “You must allow God to give you time to suffer beyond measure; then your capacity will be enlarged.” It may be easy to accept small suffering, but we don’t have the capacity for greater suffering. For instance, we could accept the loss of five dollars, but could never endure the loss of five thousand dollars. We could forgive someone two or three times, but the fifth time would make us tremble with anger. We must allow God to take us through the slow process of maturing, like a slowly ripening fruit.

When we see a ripe papaya or mango, we can tell it is ripe by feeling, smelling, and tasting it. Unripe fruit tastes sour and bitter and is tough and hard, but ripe fruit tastes sweet and fragrant. When we find a ripe piece of fruit, we enjoy it. But we often don’t think of the slow process of ripening that it went through to get to this point.

When we see a mature believer, we are often impressed by their godliness. For example, Madame Guyon was a mature Christian. She was a teacher of the elderly and a friend to children. However, what we do not see is the slow and incremental process of maturing. Day by day, year after year, the individual went through a process of “ripening.” Often the path toward maturity is paved with suffering and the discipline of the Holy Spirit. [1]

Commercial fruit producers have learned to artificially ripen fruit, but there is no such thing as artificial ripening in the spiritual life. If you have the Spirit, you will naturally mature without artificial cultivation. If you do not have the Spirit, there is no way to truly mature. Lilies bloom and birds grow feathers quite spontaneously. There is no need for them to cultivate these features. In the same way, we must allow our spiritual lives to mature naturally.

Artificial spiritual cultivation can produce a self-righteous, rules-following “saint” (according to the world’s concept), but it cannot produce a real Christian. The cross is enough for our sanctification. We cannot bear fruit through our own effort. Striving only delays our spiritual growth; it cannot speed it up. Instead of striving on our own, we must accept God’s means for maturity: the discipline of the Holy Spirit. If we do not cooperate with the discipline of the Holy Spirit, we will lose a chance to increase our spiritual capacity. This will only prolong the time required to reach maturity. We may even have to repeat the lessons we missed.

Watchman Nee said, “A believer can never be the same after passing through suffering. Either he will have his capacity enlarged or he will become more hardened.” This is why it is so important to accept suffering as the path to maturity. One of the most effective tools for maturity is marriage. It is a long-lasting lesson in getting along with others, and it often involves hardship. It is not easy to live out our Christianity while suffering in the marriage relationship. Often, instead of allowing God to increase our capacity and maturity through suffering, we let our hearts become hardened. Although we may not choose divorce or separation, we put up a wall and harden our hearts. Outwardly, we may act patient, but we don’t allow our faith to grow or allow God to perfect us through suffering.

The author of Hebrews writes, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Then he encourages believers who have gone through suffering to seek healing and peace (12-13). He says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (14). “Peace with everyone” means steadfastness or patience. But we can’t stop there. We must also “strive for holiness” so we can grow spiritually. If we want our spiritual lives to grow so we are conformed to the image of Christ, we must make good use of suffering. Although suffering is painful, it is also the means to maturity. When we allow suffering to grow and mature us, we will bear the fruit of righteousness one day. Even Jesus Christ allowed suffering to mature him. The writer of Hebrews says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:8-10). We cannot become the source of others’ salvation, like Jesus could, but we can allow God to use our difficulties to bring others to Him. As our patience leads to godliness, and we learn to live out the virtues of Christ through suffering, our lives will demonstrate the love of Christ so that others can be saved. Brother Witness Lee tells the story of a Chinese man who had a skin disease. The only person who was willing to give him a skin graft was a Western missionary lady. The man was so touched by her sacrifice that he put his trust in Christ. As this Western missionary lived out Christ’s virtues in times of suffering, another individual came to Christ.

Godliness Will Only be Achieved through Prayer

Not only is there a relationship between suffering and godliness, as we have seen in the book of Hebrews, but there is also a relationship between suffering and prayer. James, the natural brother of Jesus, discusses true godliness, prayer, and suffering. James notes that those who are suffering must be patient, because patience leads to godliness and maturity. He says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4). Then he continues, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” He then defines true godliness (or true religion): “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). This is a well-known verse that is often quoted by Christian ministries. Organizations that help the underprivileged often use this verse to encourage people to donate. However, James is saying that suffering produces patience, and patience produces godliness. Only then will we have a heart for widows and orphans.

James speaks of patience again near the end of his book: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:7-10). In verse 13, he says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” James goes on to say if someone needs physical healing, they should call for the elders to pray over them and anoint them with oil. The prayer of faith will heal the sick. These verses give practical advice for three specific situations. People who are cheerful should sing songs; people who are sick should be anointed with oil. And what should we do when we are suffering? We should pray. Prayer is the most important prescription for suffering. Only through prayer can we experience spiritual growth in times of pain and hardship.

In my own life, I have spent a lot of time praying during times of suffering. Through these prayers, I have experienced the presence and grace of God. As a result, these times of suffering became a blessing. They helped me break free from areas where my flesh was hindering the Holy Spirit’s work. I also experienced a great filling of the Holy Spirit.

Suffering alone does not make people mature. It can either increase our capacity or harden our hearts. But if we seek God’s empowerment and help through prayer, the Holy Spirit can bring a breakthrough. He can help us be filled with the life of Christ so our lives are a fuller expression of God’s character. Our own attempts at patience can never reflect Christ’s life. But when we add prayer to our patience, our spiritual lives are elevated so we can live out the life of Christ.

Suffering Produces Endurance and Endurance Produces Character

Paul calls, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). I have often pondered and prayed over these verses. Although I can act patient outwardly, I often struggle to live out of true love. I was very confused by this, but Romans 5 helps bring clarity.

First, the passage teaches us that while we were still God’s enemies, Jesus Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8). This is what God’s love means. God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. However, we may not be able to access the power of His love. For example, your house’s electrical wiring may be perfectly functional. But if you trip the breaker, you still cannot access its power. In the same way, God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, but if something is blocking His love, it cannot flow through our hearts. Without the flow of God’s love, our faith is also hindered, since “faith works through love” (Galatians 5:6). We know that faith is essential to the spiritual life, and the operation of faith requires love, and this love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Once we accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts and allow Jesus Christ to regenerate us, our spiritual “seed” contains both faith and love. But if the shell of the seed is too hard, it will not germinate. The most difficult seed I’ve ever planted is the Sichuan pepper tree, which has a shell as hard as a rock. I bought a Sichuan pepper bush on the Internet, and it produced seeds. I was hoping to grow some new saplings with them. I scattered the seeds on the ground, but none of them came up. Why? Because the seed coat was tough, as hard as a stone. I decided to watch some videos on how to germinate Sichuan pepper seeds, and I learned that it was necessary to pry open the seeds with a brick or a pliers, then soak them in water to soften the shell. The life of the pepper tree is contained in the seed, but the tough seed shell hinders its germination and growth.

In the same way, the works of the flesh can hinder our spiritual growth. God uses suffering and the discipline of the Holy Spirit to break the shell of our flesh so that the life and power of the seed can be released. No one wants to go through suffering, but it is necessary to break the walls around our hearts. As Watchman Nee says, suffering does not necessarily destroy us. It can also make us stronger. It’s our choice. If we choose not to cooperate with God, we may become hardened. But if we cooperate with the suffering he allows, we release the power of His Spirit as He softens our hardened hearts. This process of softening takes a long time and requires much patience. Patience is a process that allows God’s divine life to permeate us so that Christ’s divine power and human virtues can be released in our lives.

Suffering produces patience, and this process is not easy. But as our maturity increases, we will become more faithful to God. After we grow in our endurance, we will develop character as Christ’s divine power and human virtues are manifested in us. The more we grow in character, the more we grow in hope as we trust in Christ’s resurrected life and our ultimate redemption. This hope keeps us from shame because we know that we will one day be like Christ in all his glory (Colossians 3:4).

This is why Watchman Nee tells us that patience is Christ. Not only is patience a quality of Christ’s character and a human virtue, but patience is also a process through which the character and life of Christ are manifested in us. Patience produces character, and patience produces godliness, for godliness is the character of Jesus Christ manifested in us. So we see that Paul’s teaching is consistent with Peter’s teaching.

Conclusion

Patience is the mutual tolerance and connection between members of the Body of Christ, and godliness is the love that we have for one another. If the body of Christ is compared to a tree, then patience is like the branches and godliness is like the innumerable leaves of the tree. As we will see in future lessons, brotherly love is like a flower that blooms, and God’s love (Agape) is the fruit that it bears.

In our personal lives, patience is not only tolerance for others but also the effect of suffering. When we choose to obey God while suffering, we allow the life of Christ to break through our hard hearts, setting free the power of Christ’s life in our lives. The process is not easy, but as we grow in patience and godliness, we will undergo the transformation that many Christians so desperately need.

[1] The editor edited this for reviewer to better understand this and the original quote is, Time is needed for life to mature. Other than having a big head, young people cannot really be matured. Maturity is a matter of the enlargement of capacity. You must allow God to give you time to suffer beyond measure; then your capacity will be enlarged. Some could suffer the loss of five dollars, but could never suffer the loss of five thousand dollars. Some could forgive others two or three times, but the fifth time would make their hands tremble. One discovers by eating whether a fruit is raw or ripe. Raw fruit tastes sour and bitter and is tough and hard. Only ripe fruit tastes sweet and fragrant. Madame Guyon had the flavor of ripeness. She was a teacher to the elderly and a friend to children. The Christian life grows in a natural way. It is not a matter of being artificially ripened like the ripening of a banana with mild heat. The Son of Man came eating and drinking. With some people, their eating and drinking exposes their true condition. Life does not come as a result of spiritual cultivation. If you have the Spirit, there is no need of cultivation; if you [144] do not have the Spirit, there is no way to cultivate. Lilies blossom and birds grow feathers quite spontaneously. There is no need for them to cultivate these features. Cultivation can only produce a “saint” according to the world’s concept; it cannot produce a real Christian. It is sufficient to have the seal of the cross on the negative side. There is no need to strive to bear fruit. Striving only delays the growth of life; it cannot speed it up. It is important for us to receive God’s arrangement in the circumstances. This arrangement is the discipline of the Holy Spirit. To escape God’s arrangement just one time is to lose an opportunity to have our capacity enlarged. This will prolong the time required for life to mature in us and will even require us to make up this lesson in order to reach maturity. A believer can never be the same after passing through suffering. Either he will have his capacity enlarged or he will become more hardened. For this reason, when believers are passing through suffering, they must pay attention and they must realize that maturity in life is the sum total of receiving the discipline of the Holy Spirit. People may see a person who has matured in life, but they cannot see the accumulated discipline of the Holy Spirit which that person has received secretly day by day throughout the years.

Watchman Nee–A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, Witness Lee,  https://bibleread.online/all-books-by-Watchman-Nee-and-Witness-Lee/book-watchman-neea-seer-of-the-divine-revelation-in-the-present-age-Witness-Lee-read-online/19/.