Going Beyond Metaphorical Language
Philip P. Eapen
As thousands turn to Jesus Christ worldwide, true discipleship is the need of the hour. We need to unpack biblical metaphors to help each Christian understand vital spiritual principles.
And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation … – 1 Peter 2:2
What is spiritual growth? How can a grown man grow any further to attain the “full stature” of Jesus Christ? How tall is Jesus? Imagine a child asking her father these questions. The answer would probably sound like this: “To grow spiritually is to grow spiritually. You will understand it when you grow up.” This might sound funny, but it is a sad reality. Some Christians find it hard to restate biblical truths in simple language.
We like metaphors. They help us visualize an abstract concept. When we discuss spiritual “growth,” it is almost impossible to avoid a picture of physical growth. Similarly, most Christians cannot but visualize parts of Roman military armour when they think about spiritual battles.
We have grown so accustomed to these metaphors that we lost sight of what they signify. Flowery language is like ornate packaging; it sometimes causes us to overlook the true nature of the gift inside the box. We do not care to go beyond these metaphors to “unpack” these lofty literary devices. We hardly ever express vital spiritual concepts in simple, practical terms, at least for the sake of our children.
How do I know I am “growing” in my spiritual life? I shall describe a few dimensions of “growth.” This is not an exhaustive list. Please pay careful attention to the verses cited in the footnotes.
LOVE for God: If you experience God’s love more than what you experienced yesterday, it shows you are growing.1 You love God because He first loved you.^[1 John 4:19. You express your love for God through obedience to His commandments.2
LOVE for your neighbor: As a result of knowing God’s love, you love your fellow beings all the more – in word and deed3 – more than you did yesterday.4 Your focus is now on activities and spiritual gifts that benefit others, not on things that only benefit you. In church, you are not asking, What do I get out of this? Instead, you ask, How can I be a blessing to others?5 You stopped asking, Who is my neighbor? Instead, you now ask, To whom can I be a good neighbor?6
FAITH: Prayer is an expression of your dependence on God. You are more eager to take your needs to God in prayer. If your dependence on God is stronger today than yesterday, it is a sign of growth.7
You are more aware of your weaknesses, poverty, illness, and helplessness. But you know that the weaker you are, the stronger you are in Christ. The poorer you are, the richer you are in Christ.8
HUMILITY and Gratitude: Greater your trust in God, the greater your humility. You are not ashamed to request prayer. When God answers the prayers of your friends, you abound in gratitude.9 In humility, you acknowledge that everything you have is a gift from God.10
KNOWLEDGE of God: You have grown a little if you know God better today than you did yesterday. You know God through your experience of Him in your daily life. Through His Word, you get to know what makes God happy.11 You are a careful student of the Word of God.12 It is not easy for someone to destabilize you with false teachings.13 And yet, you are eminently teachable.14
HOLINESS: When tempted, you resist. Your goal is to resist sin to the point of death and you are making progress in this area.15 The key to your victory is your complete surrender to God. Today, if God has greater ownership over your body and mind, time, wealth, speech, abilities, and choices than He had yesterday, you have grown!16
WITNESSING: If you are bolder today as a witness who shares the Gospel with outsiders without fearing persecution, it shows you have grown a little more. This is the clearest sign of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in you.17
ENDURANCE and character: As you get closer to the Lord, the world will hate you because of what you tell them about Jesus’ Way. They will isolate you. Or, they may even ridicule and persecute you. The more you suffer for Christ, the more you learn perseverance and patience. Patient endurance creates a godly character within you.18 Your behaviour and attitude increasingly resemble those of Jesus. That is a sure sign of spiritual growth.
If you are not growing, you’re “shrinking” spiritually. The Christian life is like being on an escalator going down. You have to work hard to go up. If you stand still, the escalator will take you down!
“In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8 NLT)
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Paul prayed for the Ephesian Church:
“I pray that … you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:18-19 NET.↩︎
“My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. … If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” – John 10:27; 14:15 NET.↩︎
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them,”Go in peace, keep warm and eat well," but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it?” – James 2:15-16.
“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.” – 1 John 3:18 NET.↩︎
Paul rejoiced over the spiritual growth of the Thessalonian Church:
“We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater.” – 2 Thess. 1:3 NET.↩︎
Many in the Corinthian Church were selfish and immature. They were obsessed with spiritual gifts (for instance, speech in unknown tongues) without due concern for their fellow believers. Paul exhorted them,
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. … Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. … The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. … Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. – 1 Cor. 13:11; 14:1,26 NET.↩︎
After narrating the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think became a neighbor123 to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” – Luke 10:36 NET.↩︎
Through the intense hardships he endured, the apostle Paul learned to trust in God all the more. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us … Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He delivered us … he will deliver us yet again” – 2 Cor. 1:8-10 NET.↩︎
“I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Cor. 12:8-10 NET.↩︎
“God will deliver us yet again, as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to God on our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many.” – 2 Cor. 1:11;
“Pray for me also, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak - that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may be able to speak boldly as I ought to speak.” Eph 6:19-20 NET.↩︎
“For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not?” – 1 Cor. 4:7 NET.↩︎
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him …” – Eph. 1:17;
“Walk as children of light … trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. … For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is.” – Ephesians 5:10,17 NET;
“[We have not ceased praying for you] … so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects – bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God.” – Col. 1:10; 2 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 3:18).↩︎
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom” – Col. 3:16 NET.↩︎
“So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.” – Eph 4:14 NET.↩︎
“Apollos was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. … but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately.” – Acts 18:24-26 NET.↩︎
“… we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us … You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin.” – Hebrews 12:1-4 NET.↩︎
“Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice - alive, holy, and pleasing to God - which is your reasonable service.” – Romans 12:1 NET;
“But now that you have been set free from the control of sin, and have become servants to God, the fruit that you reap is an ever increasing holiness, and the end eternal life. The wages of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through union with Christ Jesus, our Lord.” – Romans 6:22-23 OEB.↩︎
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses …” – Acts 1:8 NET.↩︎
“… we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.” – Rom. 5:3.
“Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold - gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away - and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” – 1 Peter 1:7.↩︎
Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers; he also runs a small ‘tent-making’ business. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.
Date: November 30, 2022