Bible Study with Jairus

2 Peter 1 (Part 9)

Brotherly Love: Breaking Away from Self

and Entering the Eternal Kingdom of Christ

 

One of the biggest problems in the church is self. Many Christians have had a degree of success in living out the fruit of the Spirit and the virtues of Christ. But overcoming self is a different story. Overcoming selfishness is a very difficult spiritual task, yet it is an indispensable step to reaching maturity in our spiritual lives. Only when we break away from   self can we begin to show brotherly love. Only then can we live out the highest spiritual virtue of Christians, divine love (Agape).

How can we be free from self? How is this possible? Is this asking for too much? No. This is God’s destiny for us. Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Likewise, we as Christians must move beyond personal godliness to unity with one another in order to attain the highest form of godliness. We, the body of Christ, must together become the complete fullness of God. As the Bible says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is, when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) What our Heavenly Father wants most is for His children to love one another, yet we as the church fall far short of our Heavenly Father’s expectations.

The Lord Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). If Christians in America loved one another perfectly, all unbelievers in America would be eager to come to Christ. If Christians all over the world loved one another perfectly, all Muslims, Buddhists, and others who don’t know Christ would recognize us as His disciples. It is a pity that we do not live out the life of love that Jesus commanded. If our church could achieve unity, it could grow to the full stature of Christ, the head.

But unity cannot be achieved without love. Paul spoke of attaining “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). He also said, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). God’s will is for the body of Christ to grow and be built up in love.

The original word for “love” here is Agape, which is divine love. It is God’s will that we be built up in divine love, so we can be set free from individualism and the self and be joined together as the body of Christ. When we love one another as brothers, we allow divine love to be manifested in us.

 

Excessive Individualism Is a Big Problem For Western Christians

As a Chinese believer who moved to the West, I have seen the difference between Eastern collectivism and Western individualism. The denomination I was saved in originated in China and spread to the West. The Local Church Movement founded by Watchman Nee is the only Christian denomination that originated in China and spread to the West and other parts of the world. Although The Local Church is a very small denomination, there are hundreds of churches in the West, and there are also many churches in Asia, Europe, Africa, and other places. Unlike most Chinese churches whose members are mainly Chinese, these churches have attracted not only Chinese people but also many local people. The Local Church places great emphasis on the Body of Christ and multi-ethnic church members, as well as attracting Chinese Christians. I was saved in a Local Church in the United States, and I observed that there were many Americans and many Chinese in these churches. Therefore, Chinese Christians who come from a relatively strong collectivistic tradition and American Christians who come from a relatively strong individualistic tradition have many conflicts in church culture and views.

Some elements of Eastern authoritarianism sometimes permeate the church life of the Local Churches. Western Christians focus on equality and personal freedom and find this type of authoritarianism unthinkable. An American brother once told me that Chinese culture has penetrated the Local Churches. Much of the church culture is not Christian culture, but Chinese culture. This brother said that this prevents Christians from experiencing Christ. On the other hand, a Chinese brother told me after participating in a training that some of the young Americans participating in the training were completely selfish and did not consider others at all. Moreover, the Americans felt that this was a natural and right thing to do. He said this because Chinese people prefer collectivism and like to help one another, but he found that Westerners are more impersonal than Easterners and tend to focus on personal independence and following rules. As people from authoritarian Eastern countries, we must learn the values of freedom, democracy, and respect from individuals from the West. Eastern countries have been learning these values from the West for hundreds of years, and they need to continue to do so. However, the West can also learn from the East.

In this article, I am not refuting the respect for individual value that comes from the Bible’s revelation of human value. Instead, I am talking about the extreme individualism that many Westerners practice. In urbanized societies, it is difficult to find close social relationships between communities and neighbors, such as those that exist in rural areas of the West or in third-world countries. People have become so accustomed to an individualistic lifestyle that they don’t even know who their neighbors are. Sometimes when a neighbor dies, they don’t even know. People in the West greatly value their privacy. The expansion of individualism is not only greater in the United States than it is in third-world countries, but it is also greater than it was in the USA a few decades ago. Will these rampant individualistic tendencies invade the church and affect Christians’ ability to build each other up in love? Most definitely.

The Bottleneck That Western Christianity Is Currently Facing

The Bible reveals that God created man in His image. This gives humans inherent value, and this value has become a cornerstone of personal development in Western Christian civilization. The United States’ respect for the value of human life has created a society based on freedom and democracy. The USA has become a beacon to the world. But why is the United States gradually degenerating? There are many reasons for this. First, many of God’s children worship idols and make the same mistakes that Israel and other Christian nations have made throughout the ages. Second, this truth about individual value has been taken to an extreme. American Christians have focused on the value of the individual to the exclusion of the value of the community. They have forgotten the importance of building up the church. This has led to extreme individualism. Therefore, although there were a vast number of individual Christians in the USA, the church as a community was not strong enough to withstand the attacks of the enemy. The Lord Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Lord Jesus said that only a well-built church can overcome the gates of hell.

The East values collectivism and family values. These values are especially strong in China. Unfortunately, over the past few centuries, this emphasis on the value of a collective identity has been taken advantage of by dictators. It has become a means of controlling the society, to the point that China even fell to the extremes of communism. However, I believe that these Eastern cultures that focus on collectivism are from God. The East is going through a big reformation and is about to be released from the authoritarian system. Through the preaching of the gospel, many Eastern people will be freed from slavery. Through the gospel, they can be transformed from darkness into light. Through the understanding of the Bible’s respect for individual value, they can rediscover their individual value. But God wants them to retain their collective culture that focuses on building the community. They need to not only recognize their individual value, but also the value of the Body of Christ. This is one of the reasons why God wants to raise up the Eastern Church in this era. God has revealed to me many times that China will experience a great revival, after which the Chinese Church will have a great influence on the West.

How can the Chinese church profoundly influence the Western church if much of the richness of Christianity lies in the European tradition? When I was in seminary in the United States, I discovered that the English-speaking world had preserved many of the books of the Christian tradition from thousands of years ago. But in the Chinese-speaking world, the amount of Christian literature was still very limited. However, God can still use the Chinese to impact the West. I believe God will use the Chinese to combine respect for individual people with an emphasis on a collective church identity. This will create a new model that not only emphasizes the salvation and spiritual progress of individual Christians but also builds up the body of Christ. Many American Christian leaders say that although there have been many great revivals in American history and many people have been saved, the work of bringing these disciples to maturity has not been successful. As a result, these revivals have not had a profound impact on American society as a whole. I agree with this statement. But I think this lack of influence can be traced to another source as well. Although there are many Christians and many churches in the United States, there has not been an emphasis on building up the collective Body of Christ. Therefore the church cannot withstand the winds and the floods. Just as the Lord Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27).

The Collective Building of The Church Comes From The Spiritual Growth Of Individual Believers

What does Peter mean by “adding brotherly affection to godliness”? He means that Christians must break away from personal spirituality and build each other up in the Body of Christ. These are two sides of the same coin. If Christians only focus on personal spiritual growth, without loving one another and building up the Body of Christ, they will not be able to meet God’s expectations and requirements for the church. By the same token, if Christians only pursue unity and building of the church but neglect the individual spiritual life of each believer, it will be difficult to build the church. Therefore, both aspects need to be developed.

The first aspect is the pursuit of godliness. Many Christians are lacking in this area. They live in the world and fail to pursue godliness in their personal lives. Godliness is like the leaves of an oak tree. The leaves supply oxygen and other nutrients to the tree through photosynthesis. They also manifest the life of the tree. When a tree dies, all its leaves fall. Conversely, it is difficult for a tree to survive without its leaves during the growing season. If all the leaves of a tree are removed, the tree’s survival will also be affected. When we live out godliness in our personal lives, we will be like a beautiful tree full of leaves. We will show that we are spiritually alive.

The second aspect is collective godliness. In the Body of Christ, the highest form of godliness is love. Our love for one another is like a blossoming tree. The tree’s flowers are a precursor to bearing fruit. In the same way, the last virtue mentioned is love. It is the fruit that the tree has been working toward throughout its growth cycles.

The Goal: Entering the Eternal Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ

Peter sums up the picture of mutual supply by saying, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). In other words, Peter knows that if we continually add virtue to the seeds of faith, knowledge to virtue, temperance to knowledge, patience to temperance, godliness to patience, brotherly love to godliness, and divine love (Agape) to brotherly love, we will be conformed to the image of Christ. He goes on to say, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (1:9). Isn’t this an apt description of many Christians today? Many Christians lack these qualities. As a result, they do not live out the full reality of the Christian life. They are like spiritual babies. Peter continued to encourage his readers by saying, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:10-11).

Only then did Peter talk about his experience of seeing the transfigured Lord Jesus on the Holy Mountain. He said, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’, we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (1:16-18). At the beginning of the study of 2 Peter, I talked about my belief that the entire letter of Peter is Peter’s extended reflection on his experience of the Transfiguration. Here again, Peter demonstrates that he is describing spiritual growth in light of his experience on the Holy Mountain.

Conclusion:

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus transcended the limitations of time and flesh and fully manifested the kingdom of Christ contained within Him. Since we are in Christ and Christ is in us, the kingdom of Christ has taken root in our hearts through faith. But it needs to grow like a tree. In order for this tree to grow, we need to continually supply the virtues of Christ to the seeds of faith. We must add knowledge of Christ to virtue, and then supply temperance to knowledge, and patience to temperance, godliness to patience, brotherly love to godliness, and love to brotherly love. In this way, you can grow your spiritual life step by step and build up the spiritual temple. This spiritual temple is the eternal kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the New Jerusalem we hope for. In this eternal kingdom, there will be no more tears, no sorrow, no competition, and no jealousy—only brotherly love between brothers and divine love that flows between us. This is the reality of the Kingdom of Christ and the Transfiguration. I hope that the body of Christ matures as soon as possible so that we can enter the Eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ.