A close-up photo of a pair of hands gently tending to a young sapling, symbolizing the biblical meaning of cultivate – nurturing growth, fostering spiritual development, and cultivating a fruitful life.

What Does “Cultivate” Mean In The Bible?

The Bible often uses agricultural imagery when referring to our spiritual lives and our relationship with God. One term that crops up on numerous occasions is “cultivate.”

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: in the Bible, the word “cultivate” means to care for, nurture, grow, or develop something – often used in reference to our relationship with God or developing godly virtues in our lives.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the meaning of “cultivate” across both the Old and New Testaments, examining how this term is used in different contexts. We’ll look at some specific examples of cultivation in the Bible and what they can teach us about actively growing our faith.

The Origins of “Cultivate” in the Bible

The agricultural roots of the term

The English word “cultivate” traces its origins back to Latin words related to agriculture. The Latin verb “colere” meant to tend, till, or care for the land. This evolved into the Latin noun “cultura” meaning cultivation or care.

When “cultura” entered English in the 15th century, it referred specifically to the tilling and fertilization of land. By the 16th century, “cultivate” took on a figurative meaning related to mental and moral improvement. But the agricultural foundation of the word remains clear.

In the Bible, “cultivate” often translates Hebrew and Greek terms connected to farming. For example, in Genesis 2:15 God places Adam in the Garden of Eden “to cultivate it and keep it.” The Hebrew verb here is עָבַד (‘abad) meaning to work, serve, or till the ground.

The imagery reflects ancient Israel’s agrarian lifestyle where cultivating crops was essential for survival. Genesis 2 uses “cultivate” to describe Adam’s responsibility to care for the garden’s crops.

Cultivation in the Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden was fertility and abundance. God provided “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen 2:9). Adam’s role was to cultivate these natural resources as God intended. This paints a picture of harmonious coexistence between humans and the environment.

Adam cultivated the garden through careful pruning, watering, and protecting the plants. His cultivation brought ORDER to the garden, unlocking its productive potential.

The garden also involved spiritual cultivation. God “walked in the garden in the cool of the day” to commune with Adam and Eve (Gen 3:8). As they cultivated the garden’s plants, their souls were also cultivated through fellowship with God. Physical and spiritual cultivation intertwined.

Work in the garden was not burdensome but an act of obedience and love.

After the Fall, cultivation became difficult. Thorns and thistles hampered Adam’s efforts (Gen 3:18). But cultivation remained necessary, providing food, livelihood, and a link to God’s intended plan. As an agrarian term, “cultivate” in the Bible connects humanity’s fundamental need for physical nourishment with the higher need for spiritual nourishment.

Cultivating Relationships With God

Nurturing intimacy through spiritual disciplines

Developing an intimate relationship with God requires dedication through spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, Bible study, and worship. Setting aside regular quiet time to seek God’s presence and listen for His voice is key to hearing Him and deepening bonds between us (Isaiah 30:15).

As we pour out our hearts to Him, dig into His Word, deprive ourselves of distractions through fasting, and lavish praise on Him, we draw nearer to our Creator. According to the 2022 State of the Bible report by ABS, Scripture engagement notably increased during the pandemic, indicating people’s awareness of the value of spiritual disciplines.

Immersing ourselves in disciplines that focus our eyes on Christ nurtures an environment where intimacy with God can thrive.

Bearing good fruit in our lives

As we foster intimacy with God, our lives bear the good fruit of His Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit inspires and blesses others, pointing them toward the light of Christ in us.

For example, patience cultivated through time alone with God allows us to respond gently when a barista messes up our coffee order. Joy from the Lord becomes contagious when we smile at strangers. Our real-world relationships with family, friends, coworkers and neighbors benefit from the behind-the-scenes nurturing between us and God.

According to Christianity Today, living Spirit-filled lives plants seeds of faith and draws unbelieving spouses and children toward relationship with Jesus. Our fruitfulness has ripple effects, ultimately bringing glory to the Gardener Himself.

Cultivating Godly Virtues

Growing in Love

When the Bible talks about “cultivating” godly virtues, growing in love is central. As 1 Corinthians 13 makes clear, love is the most important virtue of all. To cultivate love means nurturing patience, kindness, empathy, compassion, gentleness, and forgiveness in our relationships with others (1 Cor.

13:4-7). It is an active process of softening our hearts, looking past surface flaws to see the inner beauty in those around us.

As we open our hearts more fully to God’s perfect and unconditional love, we become more gracious conduits of that love in the world. This applies in our closest relationships but also in how we relate to strangers and even enemies.

As Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). This kind of radical, sacrificial love has the power to break down barriers and change hearts and minds. When we love others well, we reflect the very heart of God.

Developing Patience and Self-Control

Cultivating godly virtues also means nurturing patience and self-control. These help us rein in harmful impulses and exercise wisdom even in challenging situations. According to one recent study, people who exhibit patience and self-restraint tend to have better relationships, excel in their careers, and enjoy better mental and physical health.

Patience enables us to give people the benefit of the doubt versus reacting harshly. As Proverbs 19:11 (ESV) states, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” And self-control helps us refrain from selfish behaviors that might feel good in the moment but violate God’s standards and often hurt others.

By caring more about pleasing God than ourselves, we can develop self-mastery with the Spirit’s help (Galatians 5:22-23).

Cultivating Wisdom and Righteousness

Additionally, cultivating godly virtues involves nurturing wisdom and righteousness. As Proverbs 1:7 (ESV) declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” When we reverence God, we gain true perspective and insight that transcends worldly intelligence.

Wisdom enables us to view circumstances – both blessings and hardships – through the lens of God’s loving sovereignty and design.

Righteousness means living by God’s moral standards with integrity. It flows from having our hearts and minds renewed by Scripture (Romans 12:2), which transforms our conduct. As we spend more time in God’s Word, it recalibrates our internal compass to align with godly virtues versus worldly values.

Righteousness also connects to acting justly and compassionately in all our relationships and social spheres.

As 2 Peter 1:5-8 describes, pursuing spiritual growth is like a farmer cultivating a crop – it requires active investment and care. By watering the seeds of godly virtues already planted in our hearts, we cooperate with God’s work to yield a harvest of love and righteousness in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).

And this harvest not only nurtures us but spills over to nourish others as well.

Our Role in Spiritual Cultivation

Being faithful gardeners for God

As Christians, we are called to be faithful gardeners tending God’s vineyard (1 Corinthians 3:9). This means actively cultivating our spiritual lives through practices like prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and service.

Just as a gardener prepares the soil, plants seeds, waters, weeds, and prunes, we must also nurture our faith. We weed out sinful habits, prune away distractions, and plant seeds of God’s Word in our hearts. It takes patience, diligence, and reliance on God’s grace to grow spiritually.

But with care, our lives will blossom and bear good fruit for God’s kingdom.

Cultivating with patience and care

Spiritual cultivation is a lifelong process that requires patience and attentive care. As 2 Peter 3:18 encourages, we are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This doesn’t happen overnight but gradually as we faithfully walk with God day by day.

Just as a fruit tree takes time to mature and produce flavorful fruit, spiritual growth also takes time. We may face setbacks or periods of doubt, but persistence in cultivating our faith is key. Staying connected to the Vine (John 15:5) through prayer, Scripture, worship, and fellowship enables us to withstand the storms of life and continue blossoming into Christlikeness.

Relying on God’s grace to produce growth

While spiritual cultivation involves our active participation, the growth itself comes from God (1 Corinthians 3:7). No amount of effort on our part can produce spiritual life apart from God’s grace. As Paul explains, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Cor 3:6).

Our role is to be faithful gardeners, but it is God’s supernatural power that transforms our hearts and bears fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). So we can cultivate with confidence, not relying on our own strength but trusting that God will produce miraculous growth and spiritual maturity in us.

Verse Key Idea
1 Corinthians 3:9 We are God’s garden/vineyard
John 15:5 Staying connected to Jesus enables fruitfulness
Galatians 5:22-23 God produces spiritual fruit in us

As gardeners of God’s vineyard, we cultivate not in our own power but through His amazing grace. We can have confidence that despite trials and seasons of doubt, as we patiently tend our faith, God is able to grow our spirits into the image of Christ (GotQuestions.org).

What joy to experience the miraculous blossoming of spiritual fruit through a lifetime of walking faithfully with our Lord!

The Harvest of Spiritual Cultivation

Abiding in Christ to bear lasting fruit

When we cultivate an intimate relationship with Jesus, abiding in Him through prayer, worship, and studying the Bible, we begin to grow spiritually and bear good fruit in our lives (John 15:5). As we depend on Christ each day, turning from sin and walking in repentance and obedience, the Holy Spirit transforms us to become more Christlike (Romans 12:2).

Our actions, attitudes, and character start aligning with godly virtues like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This spiritual harvest has an impact that ripples outward, enabling us to bless others.

For example, one study found that churches exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit showed more care and concern for their neighbors during COVID-19. Their spiritual cultivation was resulting in compassionate service.

As we keep in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25), He produces His fruit through us far more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), with effects that endure for eternity.

Reaping eternal rewards through diligent care

The Bible compares our spiritual life to a crop that we sow, tend, cultivate, and eventually harvest. While salvation itself is a free gift, there are also eternal rewards we can reap based on how we build our life on the foundation of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Diligently nurturing our relationship with God is like tending a garden – it takes consistent, patient effort and care. But the harvest of righteousness and spiritual maturity is well worth it.

As we seek God first (Matthew 6:33), invest in His kingdom, nurture our faith, and serve others with the strength He provides, He promises we will reap blessings, both in this life and for eternity (Galatians 6:9).

The more excellent and abundant our spiritual harvest is, the greater the eternal rewards we can lay at Christ’s feet when we finally stand before Him face-to-face (Revelation 22:12). This gives us motivation to cultivate our lives wholeheartedly for God’s glory today.


As we have explored, the call to “cultivate” in the Bible is a rich, agricultural metaphor for intentionally nurturing our relationship with God and allowing Him to produce spiritual fruit in our lives.

When we abide in Christ, tend to our faith with great care and patience, develop godly virtues, and rely on God’s grace, we will reap an abundant harvest of blessing and spiritual growth.

The growth happens slowly, through daily cultivation – but the harvest contains eternal rewards. Our lives can become beautiful gardens under the gardener’s constant care when we heed the Bible’s call to actively cultivate our spirits day by day.

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