by Mark Mayberry
Synopsis: In his editorial, Mark considers the admonition, "Be Strong," which occurs throughout the Bible, challenging us to rise above complacency to reach our full spiritual potential.
Spiritual growth is imperative and should be evidenced at every stage of our lives. Parents take delight in the growth of their children. As a baby girl grasps her father's finger, he states, "She has a strong grip." After a long bout of crying, her mother might exclaim, "She has strong lungs!" As the years pass, children continue to grow. "Hey, Dad! Look at my muscles!" "Mom, look how fast I can run!"
Strength can be measured in various ways: physical and spiritual, muscles and morals, control and character, etc. Let us focus upon spiritual and moral strength, the cultivation of self-control and Christian character.
Strength is needed in new converts: "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Pet. 2:2). Soon after Saul's conversion, Luke states, "Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 9:22). It is also an essential aspect of spiritual maturity. Concluding his epistle to the Ephesians, an active and vibrant congregation, Paul commanded, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" (Eph. 6:10).
The American Heritage Dictionary offers twenty-one distinct definitions for the adjective "strong." The first five are as follows: "Physically powerful; capable of exerting great physical force; in good or sound health; robust; economically or financially sound or thriving; having the force of character, will, morality, or intelligence; having or showing ability or achievement in a specified field…"
In Romans 1:16, the inspired apostle Paul affirmed, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). The Greek worddunamis, translated "power," communicates the concept of miraculous power, might, and strength. "Dynamite," derives from this Greek word.
The biblical concept of strength carries a related meaning. The Greek wordendunamoō means "to empower" (Thomas, 1743). Louw and Nida define it as "to become able to do something" (74.7). BDAG offers the following detailed definitions:
As Israel was about to cross over and possess the land of Canaan, the Lord thrice commanded Joshua, "Be strong and courageous…" (Josh. 1:1-9, esp. vv. 6-7, 9). Strength and courage would be reflected by full obedience to the law of Moses and the will of God. Similar qualities are needed among elders and evangelists today.
The Sweet Psalmist exhorted Israel, "Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord" (Ps. 27:14). Again, he said, "Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord" (Ps. 31:24). Near the end of his life, King David offered similar instruction to his son, Solomon (1 Chron. 22:11-13; 28:20).
King Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to the people when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded Judah and besieged the fortified cities, including Jerusalem: "Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria, nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him" (2 Chron. 32:1-8, 20-22, esp. v. 7).
Paul exhorted the Corinthians: "Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Cor. 16:13-14), the Ephesians: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might…" (Eph. 6:10-17, esp. v. 10), and Timothy: "You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…" (2 Tim. 2:1-7, esp. v. 1).
Hear the youthful descriptions of John the Baptist and Jesus: "And the child (i.e., John the Baptist) continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel" (Luke 1:80). "The Child (i.e., Jesus Christ) continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him" (Luke 2:40).
Youth is a time of open doors and opportunity. Early choices may impact our future lives and eternal destiny (Eccles. 11:9-12:1). Who will I choose as friends? What qualities should I seek in a spouse? What talents do I possess (or might I develop) that would lead to a productive occupation? Will divine revelation be the foundation of my faith, or will I be swayed by human traditions and worldly wisdom? Answers to these questions will reflect either my spiritual strength or weakness.
John (the apostle of love) addressed individuals at different stages on their spiritual journey. Whether we are "little children," "young men," or "fathers," we share blessings and responsibilities. Concerning "young men," i.e., believers that had passed beyond being babes in Christ, and achieved a level of maturity, John praised them, saying, "You are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one" (1 John 2:12-14). Such strength is needed to establish successful homes (Eph. 5:25-6:4), to bear the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-26), and cultivate the Christian graces (2 Pet. 1:5-11).
With the passing years, Christians don't just get older—they get better (Prov. 4:18-19). Strength should continue into our silver or golden years (Ps. 92:12-15). Elderly saints can profoundly influence younger generations (Ps. 71:17-18). Older women have much to share with younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Overseers of local congregations, who by definition are "elders" (i.e., relatively older men), serve as examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-3).
Strength is not primarily based upon one's size, intellect, or genetics, but rather upon one's desire, discipline, and diet.
Does desire reside in your heart like that of the Psalmist: "Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps. 73:25-26). We are not speaking of an idle wish, but a deep and genuine longing to know God and share a relationship with Him.
Discipline grows out of regular training, which may not be pleasant but is certainly productive (Heb. 12:7-11). Although sinful men hate discipline (Ps. 15:17), the righteous submit to the same, knowing that divinely guided reproofs are the way of life (Prov. 6:23). Paul reminded Timothy, "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline" (2 Tim. 1:7).
Diet provides the necessary energy/fuel (1 Pet. 2:1-3). Jesus is both the water of life and the bread of life (John 4:13-14; 6:32-33, 35, 48-51). Instead of seeking sustenance from Sacred Scripture, like Israel of old, many today pursue the path of error—spending their money on the spiritual equivalent of junk food and wasting their wages on that which does not satisfy (Isa. 55:1-3). Forsaking the fountain of living waters, they hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:9-13).
Therefore, my brethren, regardless of our age, let us "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might!"
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.
BDAG = Bauer, Walter, Frederick W. Danker, William Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich.A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene Albert Nida.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.
Thomas, Robert L.New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition. Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.
Author Bio: Mark and Sherelyn have labored with the Adoue Street church of Christ in Alvin, TX since 1998, where he serves as the evangelist and an elder. The church website is ascoc.org. His Bible study website is markmayberry.net. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.