By Mark Mayberry
False teachers prey upon those who are unsettled and unstable, weak and vacillating (2 Peter 2:14; 3:16). In contrast, faithful disciples demonstrate a resolute commitment to Christ and His Word. The aforementioned passages involve a negation of an significant Greek word, which in its positive form describes a very desirable Christian characteristic.
The Greek word stērizō refers to a “support” or a “prop,” thus meaning “to make fast” or “establish” . BDAG say it means “(1) to fix firmly in a place, set up, establish, support; (2) to cause to be inwardly firm or committed, confirm, establish, strengthen, fig. ext. of 1.” This word occurs 14x in the NT (Luke 9:51; 16:26; 22:32; Acts 18:23; Rom. 1:11; 16:25; 1 Thess. 3:2, 13; 2 Thess. 2:17; 3:3; James 5:8; 1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:12; Rev. 3:2). Let us examine these verses, along with several others where closely related words may be found.
Among related words of note, one is the Greek word stērigmos, which Thomas defines as “a setting firmly, steadfastness” . BDAG say it refers to “(1) a state of security, safe position; (2) firm commitment to conviction or belief, steadfastness.” It appears once at the close of Peter’s second epistle, where he says, “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Pet. 3:15-18).
The other is epistērizō, an intensification of stērigmos, which Thomas defines as “to make stronger” . BDAG say it means “to cause someone to become stronger or more firm, strengthen, in our lit. of believers in connection with their commitment and resolve to remain true, esp. in the face of troubles.” This word occurs three times in the New Testament (Acts 14:21-22; 15:30-32; 15:40-41).
The meaning of sterizo is well illustrated by two unusual occurrences. As the time of His death drew near, Jesus was “determined” to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-53). The KJV says, “he stedfastly set his face” to go to Jerusalem. In this context, the word implies steadfast resolve and determination of purpose. Consider Luke’s account of Lazarus and the rich man. Lifting up his eyes in torment, the rich man begged for momentary relief from his agony. Abraham said, “No! You received blessings in life – which you did not share – but now you experience agony, which cannot be alleviated.” Furthermore, the patriarch said, “Between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:24-26). The barrier dividing the Hadean realm is unmovable and impenetrable. Thus, the word refers to that which is fixed, established, set fast, or made firm.
All other New Testament occurrences of this word deal with spiritual growth and development. Spiritual weakness must be avoided; spiritual strength must be developed (Luke 22:31-34; Eph. 4:11-16). How is spiritual strength developed? By proclamation, by practice, by patience, and by providence.
Rooted in Proclamation
Spiritual strength develops when the truth is clearly and courageously proclaimed. Following the Jerusalem council, Judas and Silas assembled with the church at Antioch, encouraging and strengthening the brethren with a lengthy message (Acts 15:30-32).
Paul longed to see the saints in Rome, in order that he might impart unto them some spiritual gift to the end that they might be established (Rom. 1:11-12). How is faith made firm? By preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, by affirming the commandments of the eternal God, leading to the obedience of faith among all nations (Rom. 1:16-17; 16:25-27).
In like manner, Peter sought to remind his readers of eternal veracities, even though they already knew them. Why such emphasis on repetition and remembrance? So that they might be established in the present truth (2 Pet. 1:12-15). Ignorance is a threat to our spiritual stability; therefore, knowledge growth is an imperative (2 Pet. 3:15-18).
Let us not complain when faithful evangelists, pastors and teachers present a lengthy message. Christianity-lite will not suffice. “Sermonettes” by “preacherettes” produce nothing more than “Christianettes.” Therefore, protest not against those who faithfully proclaim the word of God. Rather, esteem those who advance Sacred Scripture above human sophistry. Though many turn away from the truth unto fables, committed evangelists will preach the word, and faithful congregations will accept nothing less (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Rooted in Practice
Spiritual strength is an outgrowth of consistent practice. Expressing his deep longing for the Thessalonian disciples, Paul prayed that their hearts might be established without blame in holiness (1 Thess. 3:11-13). In his Second Epistle, the apostle wished that they might be strengthened in every good work and word (2 Thess. 2:16-17). “Wake up and strengthen the things that remain,” said Christ to the church in Sardis, reminding us that repentance and restoration are required (Rev. 3:1-3).
Be not merely a hearer of the word, but an effectual doer (James 1:23-25). Sanctification and service are demanded. Faith must be living and active. Practice proves our profession. The truth must be lived from day to day.
Rooted in Patience
Spiritual strength is produced by the staying power of patience. Returning to the interior cities of Asia Minor, Paul strengthened the disciples, encouraging them to remain faithful, saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22). Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica to strengthen and fortify God’s people against afflictions that were to come (1 Thess. 3:1-3). Persecution calls for the fullest measure of patience (James 5:7-11).
Dangers abound. Satan, our adversary, stalks for prey. Saints should be sober-minded and constantly alert. Despite the prospect of suffering, evil must be resisted. Therefore, let us act with firmness of faith and unwavering resolve (1 Pet. 5:8-10).
Rooted in Providence
Assuming that we fulfill our obligations, spiritual strength is also connected with divine providence. God has granted unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness; however, it is imperative that we add to our faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (2 Pet. 1:2-11). Through His covenant faithfulness, God will strengthen and protect His children from the evil one (2 Thess. 3:1-3; 2 Pet. 2:7-9). However, deliverance from temptation can be realized only if we willingly look for the way of escape that God has provided (1 Cor. 10:13).
Trust in God and obey His will. Remember the words of that old gospel song, “Be not dismayed whate’ er betide, God will take care of you. Beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you.” Jehovah spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God” (Isa. 41:5-16, esp. vs. 10). If God be for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31-39).
From a Biblical standpoint, spiritual growth is an imperative (1 Pet. 2:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:17-18). In the New Testament era, “the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied” (Acts 12:24). The seed of the gospel still has potency (Luke 8:11; Heb. 4:12). By speaking the truth in love, let us grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ (Eph. 4:15). Such growth is possible only when we are firmly grounded in the truth, willingly obey its precepts, patiently endure suffering for the cause of Christ, while trusting in His promises.