Articles ECF Article The Early Church

Cultivating Virtue

Do you know that the Word of God requires action on our part to bear the virtue of Christ in our lives?


In situations throughout life, we can become impatient when we do not see immediate results and throw in the towel too quickly. For example, trying to put a new habit into practice, maybe even a new year’s resolution, but after a few days or a few weeks it becomes too difficult so we give up. We are subconsciously groomed from an early age to expect quick results in most things; we have instant access to the web at our fingertips to find anything we like, instant access to our friends and family, (or anyone really) through text messaging, even ordering food. All the technology we have today has created a society that is very reliant on quick results with little input from our part. We can treat the Word of God the same way without even realising it. Just as a seed sown into the ground needs time and nourishment to grow to maturity, so do the virtues of God in our soul. The Early Church understood the process of cultivating the Word of God within us,  which requires more than just hearing or reading the Word. They understood that it is a progression and more importantly that we have a part to play in our transformation through our understanding and action. 

Webster’s dictionary describes cultivation as something “to foster the growth of” (1) or, in other words, to assist something to grow. For optimal growth, soil itself needs cultivation to prepare the ground before planting a seed, and once the seed is planted, it requires further cultivation by watering, sunlight, and oxygen. The point is, a seed does not grow into a tree overnight, it takes time and the right elements to gain its roots.

Jesus tells us the seed is symbolic of the Word of God (Luke 8:11). The Word of God is not just stories about the life and time of Christ and those before Him. Every time we hear the revelation, or the unveiled Word, we are getting to partake of Jesus’ virtue, because Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:1). Virtue is “a commendable quality or trait” (2) namely, the character of Jesus Christ; the fruit of the Spirit. This is why it is imperative we do not merely understand the Word of God only in its literal sense. If we read from this perspective alone, we will miss out on the impartation of God’s virtue that He wants to plant in us. 

Jesus spoke a Parable about the seed and the sower, and in it He was not merely teaching how to farm land. Rather, Jesus is teaching us the process of our soul being transformed by His Word. The earth is symbolic of our soul, as it is written, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7). The Parable goes:  

3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:3-9)

A few verses later, Jesus explained the parable:

18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Jesus is teaching that there is a process to becoming fruitful. When we first receive revelation of the virtue of God, it is just seed to us, or in other words, it is immature. It only becomes mature in us through the process of cultivation. We are all called to be transformed into the same image of God (2 Corinthians 3:18). In order for the seed Word of God, to come to the fullness of the virtue of God, there are requirements from us. Jesus teaches that there first must be understanding, and if we have understanding, perseverance through our trials and tribulation causes the Word to be firmly rooted in us. For the Word to continue to grow, we must uproot the vices (cares of this world) from our soul, so they do not overtake the virtue that is being sown into us. Similarly to forming a new habit, unless we diligently train ourselves every day in that new habit, we will easily revert to our old ways. It is the same with the soul, we have patterns in our soul that have been there for years, often our whole lives, and even from before we were born, if we understand there are generational patterns in the soul also.

Early Church Father Origen, wrote the following on the matter: 

I think each word of divine scripture is like a seed whose nature is to multiply diffusely, reborn into an ear of corn or whatever its species be, when it has been cast into the earth. Its increase is proportionate to the diligent labor of the skillful farmer or the fertility of the earth. I sow, therefore, it is brought to pass that, by diligent cultivation, a little “mustard seed,” for example, “which is least of all, may be made greater than all herbs and become a tree so that the birds of heaven come and dwell in its branches.” So it is also with this word which now has been read to us from the divine books. Although when first approached it seems small and insignificant, if it find a skillful and diligent farmer, as it begins to be cultivated and handled with spiritual skill, it grows into a tree and puts forth branches and foliage. (3)

Origen understood that God’s nature is meant to increase in us and change us into the image of God, but it only comes through our diligent cultivation. When we first hear the Word it may seem small, but it has the power to completely transform us if we persevere in the process. Someone sharing wisdom about how they overcame something of their old nature, it is just knowledge to us, until we cultivate that seed within our own soul. When someone shares their wisdom in how we are to overcome something (i.e. a mindset we struggle with), they are sharing with us their fruit, or the virtue of Christ that they have worked to receive, but to us it is still a seed that requires maturing. We can often feel discouraged when someone shares such powerful wisdom of how to overcome something and days later not only have we not changed, we might not even be able to remember what was shared with us. That is because that specific Word needs to mature within us; to go from seed to root, to bud, to fruit, etc. Mindsets do not change overnight; they take time and perseverance, along with the power of the revelatory Word. Just as Paul exhorted the Galatians: 

For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:8-9)

When we have an understanding of Christ’s virtue, that is just the beginning. It takes further understanding and action on our part. Pressing for the Lord to reveal more to us, through rumination and prayer; continuously asking God to show us how to walk more in His nature, how to put the Word into practice each day. He will reveal to those that are seeking wisdom. (Matthew 7:7-8). Through this process we become closer to the Lord because we build trust and form a relationship with Him, and begin to understand His mind (the way He works). When we have the understanding of how to walk in His nature, we must exercise it (1 Timothy 4:7-8), just like exercising a muscle, so it continues to get stronger every day.  

When it comes to the vices (sin) in our soul, just as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower, they need to be uprooted so as not to choke out the virtue. Praying and seeking God for understanding of the root to whatever vice we are dealing with is imperative, so we are not just band-aiding a deeper wound. For example, if I am struggling with unforgiveness toward someone, I need to seek the Lord for understanding of where the unforgiveness came from in the first place, its root. When I understand the cause, I can go through a process of forgiveness, and the Lord can begin to do the healing in that area of my soul. When I understand that Jesus’ virtue is forgiveness and compassion and mercy, in place of that vice, I begin to cultivate the virtue of Christ. 

Origen understood that cultivating virtue comes through action and understanding. He refers to the midwives in Egypt that rebelled against the order to kill all the Hebrew boys (Exodus 1:15-20), to instruct us regarding our soul: 

So, therefore, because those midwives fear God and teach the fear of God, they do not carry out the command of the king of Egypt, but keep the males alive. It is not said, however, that they obeyed the command of the king to keep the females alive. I confidently dare to say in accordance with the sense of Scripture that those midwives do not keep the females alive. For vices are not taught in the Churches nor wantonness proclaimed nor sins nourished-this is what Pharao wishes when he orders the females to be kept alive-but virtue alone is cultivated and it alone is nourished. But let us apply these words also to ourselves. If you too fear God, you do not carry out the command of the king of Egypt. For he commands you to live in pleasure, to love the present world, to desire present things. If you fear God and perform the office of midwife for your own soul, if you desire to confer salvation on it, you do not do these things. You keep alive the male which is in you. You attend and assist your inner man and seek eternal life for him by good actions and understandings. (4)

Origen explains that because of our fear of the Lord, we will destroy the vices in our soul and nourish virtue (cf. Proverbs 9:10).  The Early Church understood that the male speaks of the spirit man and the female speaks of the carnal nature. In his Homily on Genesis, Origen wrote regarding the creation of Adam and Eve: “But let us see also allegorically how man, made in the image of God, is male and female. Our inner man consists of spirit and soul. The spirit is said to be male; the soul can be called female.” (5) In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul explains that the carnal nature is immaturity and the vices (sin) within our soul.  The midwife is symbolic of birthing. So, Origen is teaching that if we have a righteous fear of God we will labour to birth Christ within ourselves, by ridding ourselves of the desires of our flesh (females), preserving and strengthening our spirit (male); striving for eternal glory. This is what it means to be a midwife (spiritually speaking), bringing salvation to our soul through increasing virtue through our understanding and actions. 

The process we must go through to be mature in the nature of Christ is through cultivating virtue. God does His part by providing the seed (His Word) and He expects us to do our part by walking in it daily; we cannot expect to be changed just through hearing the Word (James 1:22). Even nature shows us the requirement of further action, just like the process of a seed growing into a tree, requiring water, sunlight, and oxygen. God will always help us in times of need (Psalm 46:1) and He will never give us more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). Through the forming of His nature in us we become one with Him and can impart that wisdom into others, to help them in their process of salvation. To God be the Glory!


1. Dictionary, “Cultivate.”

2. Dictionary,  “Virtue.” 

3.     Origen, Exodus Homily 1, Chap. 1

4.     Origen, Exodus Homily II, Chap. II

5.   Origen, Genesis Homily 1, Chap 15

All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.