#1. Great and Precious Promises (2 Peter 1:1-4)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Rembrandt, Peter in Prison
"St. Peter in Prison" (1631) by famous Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). Oil on panel, 59x47.8 cm, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Peter kneels bathed in light, though his loneliness in prison is accentuated by the surrounding space. Notice his trademark "keys to the kingdom" next to him on the straw. Larger Image.

What does it take to become a mature Christian? Does it just happen over time or is there something you can do to accelerate growth? In this passage and the next (1:1-11) Peter unfolds both God's grace and a growth plan for Christians -- and, incidentally, a discipleship approach for teachers and leaders to use in developing Christians to their full potential.

Sender (1:1)

"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ." (1:1)

Peter identifies himself with both humility ("servant, slave," Greek doulos) and authority ("apostle of Jesus Christ"). While some believe that this letter is pseudepigraphical, that is, written by someone else that is claimed, I've explained in the introduction why I believe that St. Peter should be considered the author. Certainly, that is his claim. I accept it at face value.

Like Precious Faith (1:1b)

Peter's address to his recipients is striking:

"To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours." (1:1b)

I see several important truths in this sentence.

The first is rather amazing. Peter is saying that his readers have a faith that is every much as privileged as his own. "As precious as ours" (NIV, NRSV) or "like precious" (KJV) translates the Greek adjective isotimos, which means "equal in honor or value" and simply "equal, like, of the same kind or value."[1] Sometimes we think that saints have a special quality of faith that isn't available to mere mortals. But that's not true. You and I have received the same kind of faith as St. Peter himself.

Second, this faith is received from God -- "who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received…." It is a gift. Echoes of this truth can be found in Acts 13:48; 17:31; Romans 12:3; 8:28-30; Hebrews 12:2; and Jude 3. Since God gives faith, no one can say, "I don't have much faith." They just need to use what God has already apportioned to them. Jesus pointed out that only a mustard-seed-sized faith is necessary to accomplish the impossible (Matthew 17:20).

Third, we have received faith due to God's righteousness. "Righteousness" is the common Greek noun dikaiosunē, here the "quality or state of juridical correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness."[3] Sometimes righteousness is frightening, because we know that we deserve punishment. But this verse focuses on God's righteousness that brings us redemption -- something that we can't obtain for ourselves. God's uprightness has brought freedom to his undeserving people. Hallelujah!

Fourth, Peter seems to be equating Jesus with God -- "… our God and Savior Jesus Christ…." Green notes, "From the grammatical aspect, the two nouns are bound together in Greek by a single article, which strongly suggests that a single Person is meant."[4] We shouldn't find this strange. The New Testament writers are utterly convinced that Jesus is divine (John 1:1; 20:28; Romans 9:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; Titus 2:13; Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20).

Fifth, Peter points to Jesus as our "Savior." Sometimes, we toss off the word "saved" so often that we don't really think about what it means. It's just Christian jargon to us. "Savior" means "rescuer" --someone who saves our life when we don't have a chance to rescue ourselves.

Q1. (2 Peter 1:1) What does "received a faith as precious as ours" mean in this verse? How does our faith compare to St. Peter's faith? Is our faith equal to his? Why or why not? How do you explain the discrepancy?
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Greeting (1:2)

Now Peter greets them with the typical Christian greeting -- grace and peace.

"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." (1:2)

"Grace" would be the characteristic Greek greeting while shalom, "peace," would be the characteristic Hebrew greeting.

But notice that Peter ties the blessings of grace and peace to knowledge, that will cause these blessings to be multiplied.[5] The Hebrew word yāda´, which underlies Peter's use of the word "knowledge," has a wide range of meaning, but "knowledge" in the Hebrew sense suggests a familiarity or relationship with a thing or situation or person that is known, arising from personal encounter or experience. Thus, to know a woman could mean to have intimate sexual relations with her. To know God meant an intimate relationship, but always based on responding to God's revelation of himself. (For more about the words "knowledge, know" in 2 Peter, see my brief accompanying study, "Knowledge in 2 Peter", www.jesuswalk.com/2peter/knowledge.htm) My dear reader. Do you know God and Jesus in that intimate sense? You can. That is God's desire for you. Reach out to the Father and Son right now in prayer.

Everything We Need (1:3)

Consider Peter's next statement:

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge (epignōsis) of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." (1:3)

What is he saying? That in knowing him he gives us everything we need for life and godliness. "Life" (zōē, from which we get our word "zoo") can include both eternal lives and our lives here on this earth. Remember, to our worries about food and clothing, Jesus responds, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).

"Godliness" is the Greek noun eusebeia, profound or "awesome respect accorded to God, devoutness, piety, godliness."[6] "Knowing God" provides not only physical, but spiritual provisions, which structure our relationship with God with appropriate and profound devotion. This goes beyond external religious acts to a personal relationship. Wow!

Q2. (2 Peter 1:3) Meditate on this verse for a few minutes. It is a verse about provision. What are the scope and extent and boundaries of "everything we need for life and godliness"? What does "knowledge" or "knowing God" have to do with this promise?
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Called by God's Own Glory and Goodness (1:3)

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge (epignōsis) of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." (1:3)

Paul spoke about the "high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14, KJV). Peter explains that we have been called by[7] God's own[8] glory and excellence. God's glory, of course, is first exhibited in the Old Testament. God appears in a burning bush on ground so holy that Moses is told to take off his sandals. God appears in his glory in the tabernacle and on Mount Sinai. Though Moses sees only God's backside, he is changed by it. His face glows so that he covers his face with a veil until the glow wears off (Exodus 34:33-35; 2 Corinthians 3:13).

In Jesus, God's glory is present in the flesh.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

But God's glory on earth is just a fraction of what it is in heaven (John 17:5). The point of this passage is that we are called "by" the standard and holiness of God's shekinah glory -- the power and overwhelming weight of his Presence. We are called by that degree of glory and it is meant to change us as we behold God. Don't flinch in the glory of his Presence (2 Corinthians 3:18).

And -- God's pure character. We are called by "his own glory and his goodness". "Goodness" (NIV, NRSV) and "virtue" (KJV) translate the Greek noun aretē, "uncommon character worthy of praise, excellence of character, exceptional civic virtue," a term denoting consummate "excellence" or "merit" within a social context.[9]

We have the highest of callings!

Q3. (2 Peter 1:3) What does it mean for you personally to be called "by his own glory and goodness"? How does God's glory and awesome Presence affect you? How does his goodness and moral excellence affect you?
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The Power of Promises in our Lives (1:4)

We've all heard that truism and excuse, "Well, no one's perfect." But God is perfect and we are called to his perfection. We are called to "participate in the divine nature," not to "cop out" and say it is impossible.

"Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (1:4)

"Through these" refers to "his own glory and excellence." Through his own glory and excellence he has given us promises -- very great and very valuable promises. Two things define God's promises -- (1) they are exceedingly, extraordinarily great[10] and (2) they are of great and exceptional value.[11] Sometimes, by reason of familiarity, we forget how great and precious God's promises are.

But are the promises[12] that Peter is referring to (1) promises of something yet to come or (2) fulfilled promises -- promises that God has made in the past and which find their fulfillment through Jesus Christ? I think the answer is, "Both."

Those promises that have been fulfilled in Christ are certainly great and very precious:

  • That the Son of David, the Messiah should come (2 Samuel 7:12; Acts 13:22-23).
  • That he would bear all our sins in his body on the cross (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 3).

But the promises which Christ makes to us about the present are precious and very great, too:

  • That we shall receive the Holy Spirit.
  • That we have been adopted and now have the relationship to God as sons and daughters.
  • That God hears our prayers and answers them.
  • That in his name we will do the miracles that Jesus did and even greater.
  • That he will never leave us or forsake us
  • That Jesus loves us in spite of our failures and sins.

The promises Christ makes about the future are equally precious and great:

  • That God will meet every need we have according to the extent of his riches.
  • That we will go to heaven when we die.
  • That we will escape the punishment we deserve for our sins.
  • That Christ will return and take us to himself.
  • That our bodies -- whether living or dead at Christ's return -- will be raised and changed.
  • That we will rule and reign with Christ in the new heavens and new earth.

I've just highlighted a few promises from the hundreds and hundreds contained in the Bible. But you can see how our lives are shaped by them -- or rather, by believing them.

We Christian leaders and teachers may be good at teaching the Christian faith, but how well are we at teaching the promises of God and implanting an expectation for them in our listeners' hearts? We must teach, experience, and expect the promises of God. These promises have power to change us -- and more.

Partaking of the Divine Nature (1:4)

"Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (1:4)

Through the promises we become partakers in God's nature. "Partakers" (KJV), "participants" (NRSV), and "participate" (NIV) translate the Greek noun koinōnos, "one who takes part in something with someone, companion, partner, sharer."[13] It is related to the noun koinōnia, "fellowship, sharing, communion." In other words, we become sharers in God when we believe his promises. The key to communing with God is faith. That almost sounds like a truism, but it is powerful. "Faith comes by hearing" (Romans 10:17), we know. But faith, confidence, and trust in the promises of God is one vital way we become like God and grow in our relationship to him.

"Partaking of the divine nature"[14] doesn't mean that we become divine or become God. In Peter's day, this phrase must have had a deliberate Hellenistic ring about it, but Peter is not at all surrendering to a dualistic Hellenistic worldview. They believed that man couldn't escape corruption because in our bodies we are tied to matter, which is by nature evil. It is our spirits, they believed, that could become like God. They believed in a sort of deification of man. But Peter is saying something else entirely. He is challenging the false teachers in the churches that participating in the divine nature necessitates forsaking sin and lust in our bodies.

Escaping the World's Corruption (1:4)

"Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (1:4)

What does corruption mean? "Corruption" is the Greek noun phthora. The basic meaning is the "breakdown of organic matter, dissolution, deterioration, corruption." Here and in 2:19 it refers to "inward depravity, depravity."[15]

What causes this inward moral deterioration? Evil desires. "Lust" (NRSV, KJV) and "evil desires" (NIV) translate the Greek noun epithumia, "a desire for something forbidden or simply inordinate, craving, lust."[16] Have you struggled with overwhelming desires for something that ends up drawing you away from God and your relationship with him?

We sometimes try to justify our actions and desires saying, "There's nothing really wrong with this." But it's not just desire for evil things that can be destructive. When our desire for good things becomes so great in our lives that it eclipses our relationship with God and our desire for God, then it sows that corruption in our lives. These strong desires can nibble away at our relationship with God bit by bit, like water eventually dissolves limestone and carries it away.

The first commandment is "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). The greatest commandment is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:27-38, quoting the Shema' in Deuteronomy 6:5).

Q4. (2 Peter 1:4) How can strong desires erode our faith and corrupt our lives? What strong desires can build our faith? What does a strong desire for God have to do with the "knowledge" of God, or "knowing" God? How are God's promises and evil desires at odds with each other? How does one build and the other erode our faith?
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2 Peter and Jude: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as an e-book in PDF or Kindle formats.

These first four verses of 2 Peter are so rich that I wanted us to take the time we need to meditate on them. But the next section, verses 5-11 are equally rich. It would be best, of course, to study verses 1-11 together. But so that we give these verse their due, we'll consider them next week.

This week we will meditate on God's character and glory, his gifts of faith and promises. We are examining how he delivers us from the corruption of this world around us. Yes, there's plenty to think and pray about here.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, my God and Savior, I desire to know you more. I want to know you so well that I don't worry about needing anything, that my faith will be so focused on you that I know you as my Provider. Lord Jesus, teach me your promises and lift my faith to see and believe them that I might be like you and reflect your glory, rather than the values, doubts, and sins of the world around me. Let me know you. In your holy and powerful name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:3-4)

References

Standard References http://www.jesuswalk.com/1peter/refs.htm

  1. Isotimos is used only here in the New Testament. Here it means that Peter's faith has no more value or privilege before God than the faith of those to whom he writes. His faith has an equal privilege as theirs before God (BDAG 481). "Faith" is the common New Testament Greek noun pistis, which means here, the "state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted, faith, confidence, faith in the active sense = 'believing' in reference to God" (BDAG 818-820).
  2. "Received" (NIV, NRSV) or "obtained" (KJV) is the Greek verb lanchanō, "to obtain something as a portion, receive, obtain (by lot or by divine will). The word is used only four times in the New Testament (BDAG 581). Hanse notes that the point of using this word in 1 Peter 1:1 is to emphasize that "faith has come to them from God with no cooperation on their part."(Hanse, "lanchanō," TDNT 4:1-2).
  3. BDAG 247, which explains, "Equitableness is especially associated with God, and in our literature is frequently in connection with exercise of executive privilege in conferring a benefit. Hence God's dikaiosunē can be the opposite of condemnation."
  4. Green 69.
  5. "Multiplied" (KJV) or "in abundance" (NIV, NRSV) is the Greek verb plēthunō, "to cause to be greater in number, be multiplied, grow, increase." (BDAG 826).
  6. BDAG 412-413.
  7. The NIV and NRSV take this as the instrumental dative ("called by his own glory…."). The RSV translates it as local dative ("to his own glory…."). See H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Macmillan, 1927, 1955), §94-95.
  8. The last clause can be rendered two ways, depending upon which text the translators believed was earliest, though the difference is very slight. Most of the earliest texts show the adjective idios with the dative case, "own" (NIV, RSV, NRSV) instead of the preposition dia with the accusative case "because of," (KJV; Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 699). The editors give their choice a {D} or "doubtful" designation.
  9. BDAG 130.
  10. "Exceeding great" (KJV) and "very great" (NIV) translates the Greek adjective mega, "large, great." Here is pertains to being relatively superior in importance, great." With the superlative used here it used in the elative sense, "very great, extraordinary" (BDAG 623-624).
  11. "Precious" is the Greek adjective timios, "pertaining to being of exceptional value, "of great worth or value, precious" (BDAG 1006). In 1 Peter 1:19 Peter refers to "the precious blood of Christ."
  12. "Promises" is the Greek noun epaggelma, here means "the content of what is promised, the thing promised" (BDAG 356). Robertson, Word Pictures, observes that epaggelma is an old word used in place of the common epaggelia, "promise."
  13. BDAG 553-554.
  14. "Divine" is the Greek adjective theios, used here and in verse 3, "pertaining to that which belongs to the nature or status of deity, divine" (BDAG 446). "Nature" is the Greek noun phusis, which here means "the natural character of an entity, natural characteristic or disposition" (BDAG 1069-1070). The word is also used in this sense in Galatians 4:8, and Romans 2:14.
  15. BDAG 1054-1055.
  16. BDAG 372.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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