A minister once stated: “The one thing we all need to do more is to grow in the love of God and in His grace and knowledge. And that means in learning how to let these rivers of living water flow out of our innermost being.” Truer words could not have been spoken. Yet, how many individuals believe this today?
Both 2 Peter 3:18 and Colossians 1:9-10 clearly show the importance of growing in knowledge. On the one hand, we are called to a knowledge of the Truth – the unalterable revealed Truth that contains no error – and we are told to hold fast to that Truth. On the other hand, we are admonished to grow in grace and knowledge.
False Concepts of Growth
Before examining what it does mean to grow in grace and knowledge, let us examine what it does not mean. By doing so, we will be able to more easily understand what is meant, and lay to rest some false concepts that are being promulgated today.
One false concept of growth is that in order to grow, one must become more restrictive. Therefore, any additional teachings that offer a stricter way will be welcomed. Teachings that offer a more permissive approach are shunned. The Bible clearly describes the Way of life as a narrow way (Matt. 7:13-14), not a way that is progressively becoming narrower and narrower. As it is, putting God’s Truth to practice is already a highly demanding endeavor, especially when we encounter various trials along with the pulls of human nature.
Closely related to this concept is the opposite point-of-view-that growth occurs by becoming increasingly permissive. Thus, any teaching perceived as being burdensome-anything that was “Jewish,” or from the Old Testament-is discarded in favor of the “new-found freedom” that Christ brought. The concept of progressive revelation and a perversion of the writings of the Apostle Paul take on special significance when it comes to adhering to this view.
An honest reading of scripture, however, does not support either approach. The biblical record shows that in the early Church of God, there was no deleting of or adding to the Truth that was given initially. Additions were made to show how the Truth should be administered in the New Testament era, but the Truth itself was an unalterable, divinely revealed message. It was and still is the unchanging standard. Therefore, there was no need for it to become progressively stricter or liberal, although there were always those who constantly agitated from both directions. Similar to the first century church of God, there have also been those today who have constantly agitated from both directions.
The Bible emphasizes over and over again – do not add to or take away from the Truth. Do not go to the right or to the left. Do not conservatize or liberalize (Deut. 4:2; 5:32; 12:1, 32; 28:14; Joshua 1:7; 23:6; 2 Kings 22:2; Prov. 4:26-27; 30:5-6; Eccl. 3:14; Isa. 30:21; Rev. 22:18-19). God wants balance, stability, and consistency, not vacillation with every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). God does not want us to go to extremes. Both the biblical and historical record clearly show that when any church organization begins to tamper with the revealed Truth, whether making it more restrictive or less restrictive, it is only a matter of time until that organization repudiates what it originally believed. It happened in the first century church of God and in the church of God of the last days.
Another false concept is that the ministry is able to ascertain which Church members are ready to receive additional knowledge and which church members are not. According to this view, the ministry is able to read hearts and minds and to determine who will or will not respond favorably to new knowledge. Those who respond favorably will be given even more knowledge, while those who do not, will fall even further behind. Or, worse yet, they will be allowed to practice erroneous teachings.
Does a minister have the right to selectively pick and choose who will or will not receive knowledge? Does that servant have the right to determine who will grow, and when? Does that servant have the right to discriminate among those whom God intended to have the Truth, providing some with more of the Truth and others with less? Or is it God alone who decides who will or will not receive Truth?
Look at the example of Moses. Were some of the twelve tribes excluded from receiving the knowledge that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai? Did Moses selectively pass on the knowledge given? Did he determine that some were not quite ready to know about committing idolatry? After all, many of the Israelites were guilty of committing this sin at the very same time that Moses was on the mountain. Surely, the events and circumstances were unfavorable with regard to approaching the Israelites about the wrongs that they were committing. Yet, Moses did not hold back the Truth.
A common example used by some in order to justify a withholding of the Truth involves the Apostle Paul and the Corinthian church. Those who adhere to this view believe that, in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 and 12:12-18, Paul withheld the truth about tithing, due to a lack of spiritual maturity among the Corinthians. In other words, the Corinthian church did not know about tithing and Paul decided that it would be best to wait awhile before providing them with such strong spiritual meat. Yet, is this reasoning correct? Did Paul withhold the truth about tithing from the Corinthians?
Clearly, the Corinthians knew about tithing and properly supporting the ministry. After all, Paul had just written about the subject in his previous letter (1 Corinthians 9:4-14). That he had no problem in asking them for money in general can be seen in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. He had no problem accepting support for himself. This is seen in 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 and Philippians 4:14-16. The indication is that the Corinthians were tithing, but to false ministers (2 Cor. 11:4). What was significant was that Paul did not enforce the administration of the tithing doctrine upon the Corinthian church. In brief, Paul did not force the Corinthians to tithe to him. But neither did he enforce any other doctrine upon the Corinthian church. The Truth should never be forced upon anyone. Paul came into a situation where church members were tithing to false ministers. Rather than accept tithes from the Corinthians, Paul decided not to make this demand at that time.
After all, Paul was not after their money, just as 1 Thessalonians 2:3-9 indicates. If Paul had begun accepting support from the Corinthian church, the false ministers would probably have accused him of fleecing the flock, which is what they were doing.
Additionally, Paul did not want the false ministers to have any possible reason to be able to brag that their work was the same as his. Had Paul received tithes they would probably have told the Corinthians: “We are just like Paul and we preach the same message. In fact, we receive support from you just as he does.” Paul wanted to distance himself from this erroneous point-of-view as much as possible. Paul’s not accepting support from the Corinthians would likely prompt them to stop, think, and evaluate the situation. Thus, it is easily proven that Paul did not withhold the truth about tithing from the Corinthian church.
Biblical examples demonstrate that the true servants of God delivered all the oracles they were given. Also, not all of God’s servants continued in active service until death. The case of Elijah is a perfect example. God began using Elisha while Elijah was still alive. The transfer of responsibility had occurred, and God used Elisha dramatically. Later, we find that Elijah was still alive (2 Chron. 21:12-15), yet not being used in the same dramatic way that he was previously. While Elijah was a faithful servant all his life, it is an assumption to believe that God will continue using a servant who goes astray until that servant dies.
There is a vast difference between minimizing a particular teaching and not preaching it at all, or ignoring that it even exists. In the former case, the particular teaching is a known teaching but for various reasons, is not being emphasized. Yet, at the same time, all are aware that the teaching still exists. The previous example of the Corinthians and tithing would apply here. In the latter case, the situation is quite different. The ministry is aware, or claims to have been aware, of certain vital information. However, due to a supposed lack of spiritual maturity among certain of the brethren, the ministry perceives that it is necessary to withhold this information, waiting instead for the right opportunity to present itself. In application, it may be a long time before the situation is deemed favorable for releasing this information. In some cases, it may take years-in fact, many years. But, the ministry somehow justifies this approach in an apparent attempt to show love and patience toward the brethren. The only problem with this misguided approach is that it is simply not biblical. And it is not logical.
Related to this concept is the belief that God “plays favorites” among those whom He has called into His church. But God is a fair God. He does not play favorites. He does not allow one group of church members to have special, privileged knowledge while another group is still blindly stumbling along in blissful ignorance. The yardstick is the same for all – Jews and Gentiles, male and female, Americans and non-Americans (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). God is fair. There is no partiality with Him. When God calls us, He imposes the same standards upon all. All Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians and all seven churches of Revelation were given the same saving knowledge. Whether or not these individuals and groups lived up to it is another matter. If God’s Holy Spirit is working with or dwelling in an individual, then the individual who hears the true Gospel message will understand and begin to respond accordingly. With today’s means of rapid communication, there is no excuse for not letting an entire church membership know, in a timely manner, about any issues that are deemed to be significant and vital.
Thus, it is quite clear that growth does not come about by becoming more restrictive or more permissive in one’s approach. God is pleased with the individual who maintains the Truth by walking down the straight and narrow path, not one who veers away. Furthermore, it is not the responsibility of the ministry to decide which church members are ready to grow in knowledge and which church members are not. It is the ministry’s responsibility to preach and teach the Truth. It is the laity’s responsibility to hear and respond. God does not “play favorites” among those whom He has called. God certainly gives various gifts to those in His church, but He does not discriminate when it comes to the Truth.
Perhaps much of the confusion with regard to “growth” exists because of a faulty understanding of what “growth” means. “Growth” does not mean, “change” -it means, “add thereto.” But it does not mean, “add to the written word of God.” The Bible expressly forbids such a thing. And, decidedly, it does not mean to “add additional requirements to what you already have, and that you must now also adhere to these before you can be saved.”
This would be similar to an individual entering a university, being fully aware of all of the requirements that were necessary to obtain a degree. Then, after the individual has taken classes for several years, the university decides to add additional requirements that the student must meet, before being allowed to graduate. Clearly, the rules have changed since the individual first enrolled. In light of the fact that many churches today have made various doctrinal adjustments over the years, it would be wise for many individuals in those churches to ask themselves, “Has God changed the requirements that are necessary for salvation? Have the rules changed from when I first signed-up?”
In order to realize that one has grown, one must have a starting point, a point of comparison. We are admonished to build upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Eph. 2:19-22). And what was it that Christ and the apostles taught? Adhere to the physical requirements, while adding to that knowledge a spiritual dimension (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15). Furthermore, we should drink in God’s Word-a necessary requirement on the path to salvation, “like newly born infants, crave pure spiritual milk, that you may be enabled by it to grow till you attain Salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2, The Twentieth Century New Testament).
Next, we are told to build upon the foundational doctrines:
So let us go on to grown-up teaching. Let us not go back over the beginning lessons we learned about Christ. We should not again start teaching about faith in God and about turning away from those acts that lead to death. We should not return to the teaching about baptisms, about laying on of hands, about the raising of the dead and eternal judgment. And we will go on to grown-up teaching if God allows. (Heb. 6:1-3, New Century Version)
. . . We must become like a mature person, growing until we become like Christ and have his perfection. Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about like a ship that the waves carry one way and then another. We will not be influenced by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. They make plans and try any kind of trick to fool people into following the wrong path. No! Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head. (Eph. 4:13-15, New Century Version)
Thus, we can certainly understand that growth is essential. Yet, do the scriptures provide any specific indications of how to grow? Indeed they do, at the beginning of 2 Peter we read:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:4-8)
Here, in a few short verses, is a clear description of what it means to grow. And to be “neither be barren nor unfruitful” means that one is bearing fruit and growing! The New Century Version of the Bible does an excellent job in rendering 2 Peter 1:4-8 (emphasis added):
Through these he gave us the very great and precious promises. With these gifts you can share in being like God, and the world will not ruin you with its evil desires. Because you have these blessings, do your best to add these things to your lives: to your faith, add goodness; and to your goodness, add knowledge; and to your knowledge, add self-control; and to your self-control, add patience; and to your patience, add service for God; and to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love. If all these things are in you and are growing, they will help you to be useful and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The above is a concise explanation of what it means to grow in grace and knowledge. We should progressively add more and more acceptable characteristics to our lives. “If all these things are in you and are growing, they will help you to be useful and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we want to be “useful and productive” – if we want to bear good fruit – then we will be doing our best to add certain qualities or characteristics to our lives. Please note that faith, virtue, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity are characteristics that are not acquired through personal study and intellectual prowess. There are many intelligent individuals in this world who are sorely lacking in these attributes. No, these are characteristics that we gradually obtain and slowly develop, over a lifetime, with the help of the Holy Spirit. In like manner, the “knowledge” that Peter is referring to also is not acquired through study.
Additionally, just like you cannot “work yourself up” to a level of faith, you cannot “work yourself up” to a level of knowledge. We cannot grow in spiritual knowledge on our own – we need the help of the Holy Spirit. Some believe that growth in knowledge involves uncovering some vital nugget of information that was allegedly lacking in what was consistently taught and practiced by the church of God, while at the same time believing that the Truth was revealed initially. In other words, some contend that, even though the Truth existed initially, “more Truth” is apparently needed. However, the texts in 2 Peter clearly dispute this notion.
It would be similar to adding perfection to perfection. The Truth was either perfect in the first place or it was not. If it were perfect in the first place, then any additions would detract from its present state. For example, in an event at the Olympics, a gymnast could be well on his way to scoring a “Perfect 10,” assuming the judges are being fair and honest. As long as the gymnast continues performing at this same level, he will be awarded a “Perfect 10.” The gymnast can certainly try harder, but his score will not be any higher, since the score of “11” does not exist. But what could very well possibly happen is that the gymnast could try too hard and make a mistake, and bring his final score down to a “9.” Likewise, the revealed Truth is a “Perfect 10.” When some begin tampering with the Truth, there is no way to go but down.
Knowledge-More Than One Type
While it is mandatory to grow in knowledge, what is often overlooked is that the Greek word for knowledge in 2 Peter 1:8 is not the same Greek word that is used in verses 5-6 and 3:18. In 2 Peter 1:8 the word that is used is epignosis, while in verses 5-6 and 3:18 the word that is used is gnosis. While both words mean “knowledge,” “epignosis denotes ‘exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition,’ and is a strengthened form of gnosis, expressing a fuller or a full ‘knowledge,’ a greater participation by the ‘knower’ in the object ‘known,’ thus more powerfully influencing him” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W.E. Vine).
Adding the characteristics described in 2 Pet. 1:5-7 helps us to gradually grow into a full knowledge (epignosis) of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:8). This does not just mean a cursory, general knowledge of Christ. It means that our behavior will begin to reflect His behavior. Our actions will begin to reflect His actions. Our thoughts will begin to reflect His thoughts. Growth in this knowledge is far more significant than coming up with “new” doctrines.
This admonition to grow in knowledge is also mentioned by the Apostle Paul:
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge (epignosis) of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge (epignosis) of God. (Col. 1:9-10)
It is important to understand that knowledge of the Truth – that Way of life which leads to eternal life in God’s Family – is something that we are given initially, not something that we gradually grow into after many, many years. On the other hand, our knowledge of God and Jesus Christ is something that we grow into and gradually acquire. It is through much diligence (2 Pet. 1:5, 10) that we become an individual whose actions are totally pleasing to God.
If we are members of the church of God in these last days, then we are recipients of the Truth. This is not just a physical, letter-of-the-law truth, but also spiritual truth, which can only be comprehended through the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. This does not imply that we have all understanding about everything. Far from it. We still have partial understanding with regard to many things.
The verb forms of gnosis and epignosis are ginosko and epiginosko, respectively. Of the many scriptures that contain these four Greek words, one scripture is especially insightful. We see that 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 provides an excellent comparison that shows the distinction between ginosko and epiginosko.
From the New Living Translation we read:
It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know (ginosko) now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know (epiginosko) everything completely, just as God knows (epiginosko) me now.
When we are born into God’s Family, we will finally understand things with perfect clarity. We will have full knowledge of all physical and spiritual matters. Questions or concerns that we once had will be answered. We will know God as intimately as He knows us now. Until that time, we walk by faith, realizing that the knowledge that we currently possess is partial and incomplete.
Also of interest is how the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translates Hosea 4:6. This verse, a long-range prophecy for the last days, is significant since it contains both gnosis and epignosis:
My people are like as if they had no knowledge (gnosis): because thou hast rejected knowledge (epignosis), I will also reject thee, that thou shalt not minister as priest to me: as thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
It is interesting to note that God Himself will reject those ministers who reject epignosis, while those who lack gnosis (the people) are in the process of destroying themselves. God repudiates those who reject epignosis, while those who lack gnosis will encounter many problems in their physical life.
What, then, does it really mean to grow in grace and knowledge? While some believe that it means “coming up with more and more new teachings,” that disagree with or add to the original revelation, the Bible clearly indicates otherwise. Growing in grace and knowledge has nothing to do with changing the Truth of God. One does not grow in grace and knowledge by adding additional restrictions to the revealed Way of life. Neither does one grow by taking away any requirements from the revealed Way of life.
What we must do is persevere in our application of the knowledge of the Truth, for “perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:4, New International Version). We should labor fervently, that we “may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12).
Those called during this present dispensation are given knowledge (epignosis) of the Truth (1 Tim. 2:4, Heb. 10:26), while others are ever learning, yet never able to come to it (2 Tim. 3:7). Sadly, some would have been better off not to have “known (epiginosko) the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Pet. 2:21). In the final analysis, it is the Christian’s responsibility to diligently remain faithful to the Truth, firm and unwavering, from the beginning to the end (Heb. 3:6, 14; 1 John 2:24).
As we “let these rivers of living water flow out of our innermost being,” let us strive to manifest the qualities and characteristics heretofore described. It is by doing so that we can understand what it means to really grow in grace and knowledge.