In previous posts, we have spent time discussing the concept of spiritual victory. We’ve taken a two-pronged approach, looking at our position in Christ which makes us overcomers as well as the promises God makes to overcomers. Over the next few posts, we will look at the principles John shares with overcomers. Here’s the first principle:
Abiding in God’s Word gives strength
If you’ve met me personally, you can attest to the fact that I’m not a very big guy! When I graduated from high school, I was finally able to bulk up to 112 pounds!
I remember as I neared the end of my freshman year; it was that dreaded time to pick my classes for the next year – and this included a physical education (PE) elective.
Like yesterday, I can still see in my mind’s eye when I went up to the coach to make my request. There I stood, a skinny freshman weighing every bit of 95 lbs. (soaking wet!) asking if I could sign up for weight training. The coach was trying to be delicate and let me know that I may not be a fit for that class. “Mike, a lot of football players take that class…we do some heavy lifting…it doesn’t look like you have been involved in these exercises before…”
I was undeterred. “Coach, if anyone needs to develop strength – I’m your man! I can only go up from here!”
I don’t know if it was my unbounded optimism or the fact that he couldn’t rightfully deny me the class, but he signed me up! I looked forward to that class all summer, waiting for school to start back.
Our first day, Coach decided it was “max” day on the bench. He let us know that he expected us to move our max up each week by five pounds. I didn’t know it at the time, but a lot of guys “held back” on this first attempt to allow a cushion for growth. I didn’t know where to even start…I had heard that if you could press your weight, that was a good start.
So, with the help of friends, I took the forty-five-pound bar and placed a twenty-five-pound plate on each side. With great effort, I was able to push it up – and I was pumped! That is, until one of the students picked it up and curled it…That’s when I knew I had a lot of work to do.
Over the course of those two semesters, I listened to the coach. Amazingly, I was able to increase my max by the required five pounds each week. By the last day of school, I had earned the nickname “Little Man” – which I took as a compliment. My 95-pound frame was now a solid 112! For the last max, I was able to press 225 lbs. once – and I haven’t touched that much weight since then!
Why share the “Little Man” story? Simply put, the principles of strength training are relevant. I didn’t go from pressing 95 lbs. to 225 over-night. There was a process – a gradually building of strength through disciplined exercise. In like manner, as a believer begins to spend time, daily and disciplined, in God’s Word, he begins to find his spiritual strength is increasing. Increased strength is a principle that John has embedded in his instructions for overcomers. Let’s take a look.
Abiding or Visiting?
This principle of abiding in God’s Word and seeing our spiritual strength increase comes from John’s first epistle. Let’s hear what John is saying in 1 John 2:13-14, the key text for this principle.
I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. 14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
The young men are strong and are described with two characteristics: first, the Word of God dwells in them, and secondly, they have overcome the wicked one. This strength doesn’t come from their own will power or self-discipline.
It’s important to make sure we understand this word abide and what it means in Scripture. Translated from the word μενω (meno), the word carries the idea of remaining, dwelling, living, to continue in a certain state, condition, or activity…in short, it carries the idea of “to stay.”
Sometimes, a way to understand a word is to see its opposite. What would be the opposite of abide? Simply put, you could visualize it as a visit. Think of the holidays – do you visit family or move in with family? Do they visit you, or do they move in with you? In both situations, they happen to be in the same room with you at the moment, but the implications of each situation are vastly different!
If someone is only visiting, you know that eventually they will leave! If they have moved in, it may become permanent (said partly joking, but only partly!)
With the picture of your in-laws now permanently abiding at your address, let’s apply the picture…From your own honest self-reflection, are you visiting God’s Word, or are you abiding in it?
If you are only a guest, then I have some news that is probably disheartening: your practice will never match your position as an overcomer. You will continue to be frustrated in the Christian life because this walk was never intended to be lived in our own strength.
This chapter deals not with promises, but with principles. We have studied nine great promises that are applicable to you, but now we come to the personal responsibility aspect. God’s Word must live in me.
Compare this with what John has said earlier in the first chapter. In 1 John 1.10, we read, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” When God’s Word is truly in us, we live like overcomers. When it’s not, we deceive ourselves.
If I am going to live as an overcomer should live, it will be demonstrated in direct proportion to how much of the Word of God resides in me. This is both a challenge and a comfort!
Reading or Meditating?
Another way to look at this principle of strength is to consider our response to God’s Word. Do we meditate upon it, or read it semi-distractedly (out of duty, to cross off a task list, etc)?
Before addressing this question, a definition and observation is in order. Today, we tend to equivocate on the phrase, “the Word of God” as it is used in the New Testament (and, for the record, I don’t believe we do this intentionally).
We have a blind spot due to our 21st century presuppositions. We hold the Bible in our hands and rightfully declare it to be the Word of God. However, when pressed, we also understand that when this phrase was used in the New Testament, there was no canonized, 66-book, leather-bound, words-of-Christ-in-red, wide-margined Bible! So, what did the apostles have in mind when they used this phrase?
Consider Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is quick (alive) and powerful…” Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 2.13 “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe…”
It’s not just Paul; look at Acts 4:31 and note how the apostles spoke “the word of God” with boldness. In Stephen’s day, Acts 6, the “word of God” increases. Peter says that we are born “by the word of God” in 1 Peter 1.23. What does he mean? Do we have to read the entire Bible to be saved? Do we have to read at least one verse? What if someone is saved using the “wordless book” – is that a legitimate salvation?
This is not an argument of semantics; it’s a desire to understand what the Bible teaches (rather than tradition). In the context of the New Testament writers, the “word of God” included the Old Testament, the oral teachings of Jesus, and the apostolic teachings about Christ. Later, as their teaching became inscripturated (a fancy word meaning that it was written into the Bible), the phrase “Word of God” referred to the entire Scriptures (either by application or by extension – but that’s a theological hair I’m not willing to split!).
So, back to John – he instructs us to have the word of God abiding in us. Primarily, he means the teaching of and about Jesus, and secondarily, we extend it to the Scriptures.
If we are going to have these truths abide, we need to move from simply reading our Bible and into meditating upon what we’ve read. Joshua 1.8 provides instruction – and incidentally the only time the word “success” is used in the Bible is in the context of scriptural meditation.
Whereas in Eastern religions meditation is seen as “emptying” the mind; biblical meditation is seen as “filling” the mind with Scripture. Here are a few suggestions about meditating on the Word:
- Find a quiet place.
- Read the passage several times (and again later in the day).
- Take notes about what you have read (writing helps to connect these truths into our thinking).
- Think out loud (verbalize any promises, precepts, or principles to follow).
- Pray about what you’ve read, asking the Lord to keep these truths in your mind.
Reading Scripture is not sufficient to provide the strength you need. Meditation (as well as application) are important steps to heed in “hiding God’s Word” into your thoughts and worldview. So, how are you doing?!