2. Add to Your Faith Goodness (2 Peter 1:5-11)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

St. Peter from the Studio of Ruebens
"Saint Peter" (1605-1615), studio of Peter Paul Rubens, oil on panel, 92 x 67.5 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Larger

In last week's lesson we considered the first part of Peter's plan for Christian maturity.

  • Faith (1:1)
  • The knowledge of God ("knowing God") to which faith opens the door (1:2), and
  • The promises of God that stimulate and energize that faith (1:4).

The next steps in Christian growth are additive, but vitally important in order to keep us growing and progressing.

Building Character One Quality at a Time (1:5-7)

 "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love." (1:5-7)

"For this very reason…." What reason? So that we might escape the world's corruption and share in the divine nature (1:4). For this very good reason we are to take this spiritual growth regimen with all seriousness. "Make every effort," Peter urges us. "Effort" (NIV, NRSV) or "diligence" (KJV) is the Greek noun spoudē, which has the basic meaning, "swiftness of movement or action, haste, speed." Here it means "earnest commitment in discharge of an obligation or experience of a relationship, eagerness, earnestness, diligence, willingness, zeal."[1]

We think of the word "add" in mathematical terms. But the Greek word goes a slightly different direction. "Add" (NIV, KJV) or "support" (NRSV) is the Greek verb epichorēgeō, "to provide (at one's own expense), supply, furnish."[2] Robertson translates it, "adding on your part."[3]

It sounds very spiritual to say, "Just let God do it" -- and there is truth in that. But here Peter is enumerating some things that we ourselves must add to what God has already done. God does his part, we do ours. These virtues we "provide at our own expense" -- that is the thrust of the Greek word. Of course, we are aided by the Holy Spirit, but we, too, must "make every effort." These qualities of Christian character and maturity are like seven rungs of a ladder -- except that we don't achieve them sequentially, but work on them all at the same time. However, I'll stick with the ladder analogy as we look at the virtues that we must add to the basic faith that God himself has given us (1:1).

Rung 1. Goodness (1:5)

The first virtue is "goodness" (NIV, NRSV) or "virtue" (KJV) which translate the Greek noun aretē, which we saw in 1:3 -- "uncommon character worthy of praise, excellence of character, exceptional civic virtue," a term denoting consummate "excellence" or "merit" within a social context.[4] God wants us to be exemplary citizens, both of the Kingdom of God and of the society in which we live. We are called to be of the highest moral character.

What will that take for you? What character flaws have you been excusing all these years? God calls you to move higher and take on his own excellence of character. Lying, cheating on income tax, petty theft, inappropriate flirting, you name it. God calls you to his own excellence of character. Yes, you and I will fall short. But if you're serious about growing into spiritual maturity, moral goodness is the first rung of the ladder.

Rung 2. Knowledge (1:5)

The second rung is "knowledge," the Greek noun gnōsis. I don't think Peter is talking so much about "knowing God" here. That's part of the basis that comes with faith (1:2). Here he's talking about knowledge of scripture, knowledge about how to live the Christian life. We can bungle around in spiritual ignorance only so long. Now it's time to learn spiritual lessons and begin to grow.

You might begin be taking a few minutes to review some of the lessons God has taught you through the tough times in your life. What did he teach you? Write it down. Make it part of your knowledge base on which you can learn more. Begin to ask more mature Christians about how they handle various kinds of struggles. They'll share with you. No one is immune from these lessons. Seek after knowledge of God's ways and his word. This is the second rung of the ladder.

Rung 3. Self-Control (1:6)

The third rung is "self-control" (NIV, NRSV) or "temperance" (KJV). The Greek noun here is egkrateia, "restraint of one's emotions, impulses, or desires, self-control,"[5] "the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites."[6] This was an ancient Greek virtue -- and no wonder. It is the basis of any achievement in any field of endeavor -- self discipline. If we're good parents, we try to instill self-discipline and self-control into our children. But do we discipline ourselves? Do we burst out in anger or fear or quick judgment upon another? Do we allow ourselves to be spiritually soft, to skip the gatherings of God's people, to skip reading God's word and prayer? The same character quality, self-control, self-discipline also relates to how we use or abuse alcohol, prescription drugs, illicit drugs -- and food, for that matter. We must learn to control ourselves. No one else can do it for us. Dear friends, we must be our own task master and discipline ourselves if we would grow in maturity. It is a must. It isn't all up to Jesus. This discipline part is up to us. It's what we "provide at our own expense."

Rung 4. Perseverance (1:6)

The fourth rung on the ladder to maturity is "perseverance" (NIV), "patience" (KJV), and "endurance" (NRSV). The Greek noun hupomonē denotes "the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty; patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance."[7]

Mature Christians have a long view of the Christian life. A short view causes us to start and stop a lot, looking at short-term results. But in the long run, steadfastness will win the day. This means, of course, that we need to be careful about the directions we take. When you know you have taken a wrong turn, of course, you don't stay on that path out of stubbornness. But God can help us to take fewer wrong turns. I've learned that opposition from others doesn't mean that you're doing something wrong. It may mean you're doing something right. When Peter and the apostles were arrested and flogged for preaching Jesus (Acts 5:40), they didn't stop. They prayed for boldness and continued on. Perseverance requires courage and faith -- and is an essential step towards Christian maturity.

Q1. (2 Peter 1:5-6) Which of these virtues so far has been the easiest for you to move into? Which has been the hardest for you? Why?
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Rung 5. Godliness (1:6)

The fifth rung is "godliness." "Godliness" is the Greek noun eusebeia, which we saw in 1:3 -- profound or "awesome respect accorded to God; devoutness, piety, godliness."[8] This word encompasses a lot. But I want to highlight two aspects of godliness:

(1) A healthy fear of God. Sometimes I hear a kind of flippancy about God, a light attitude that doesn't fear to joke about him. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I don't think that's appropriate. In my experience, it's the people who don't know God very well at all who speak about him in jest. Those who do know him, love and respect him too much to do so. I have a rule about driving: Don't mess with buses and large trucks. For me, the same goes for God.

(2) A devotional life. Christians who grow in their faith always have (or are in the process of developing and refining) some kind of disciplined way in which they approach God -- reading the word, fasting, times of prayer, meditation, etc. I find myself failing in these at times, but I pick up and continue because I know that this kind of devotional discipline is necessary for me to have a consistency in my seeking God. Left to my own devices, I would seek God only when I'm in trouble. With a structured pattern of devotions, I learn to seek God for his own sake -- a much better motive.

Q2. (2 Peter 1:6) Why is a disciplined devotional life important to you? What happens when you forget or don't have time? What Christian disciplines do you employ to help you open your spirit to God's Spirit?
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Rung 6. Brotherly Kindness (1:7)

The sixth rung is "brotherly kindness" (NIV, KJV) or "mutual affection" (NRSV). The Greek noun philadelphia means, "love of brother or sister," the affection one has for family members. In the New Testament it refers to a sense of affection for a fellow-Christian.[9]

I think "brotherly kindness" gets the short end of the stick as far as our value of it. We are often taught that agapē love (the seventh rung of Peter's ladder of virtue) is more important. And thus we value "brotherly kindness" less. Why does Peter mention both rather than lump them together under agapē love? I believe he is talking specifically about the love that Christians have for one another in the Body of Christ.

"If it weren't for people, ministry would be great," I sometimes joke after some less-than-ideal encounter with a church member. The reason the quip is funny at all is because it is impossible. God has placed us among people -- imperfect people who, at their best moments, strive to follow the Lord more fully. And he expects us to treat them as brothers and sisters. Not brothers and sisters at the height of sibling rivalry and spats, but brothers and sisters who would do anything for each other.

In the Middle East and many others parts of the world, family is everything. You will die to protect a family member. If a family member is out of work or homeless, you take them in to help them through this time.

We have a saying, "Blood is thicker than water," which means that family relations are more important than all other relationships. It is this attitude that Peter tells us is a sign of Christian maturity. Rather than retreat from our brothers and sisters, we must embrace them and love them -- warts and all. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love (agapē) one another" (John 13:35).

Rung 7. Agape Love (1:7)

Last, but not least is "love" (NIV, NRSV) or "charity" (KJV), Greek agapē -- "the quality of warm regard for and interest in another; esteem, affection, regard, love (without limitation to very intimate relationships, but very seldom in general Greek of sexual attraction)."[10] To tell the truth, this word just wasn't used much in Greek culture; it was pretty rare. However, it became an extremely common word in the early Christian community. Christian writers appropriated an uncommon word for love and used to convey a very special kind of love -- love which gives without thought of what it will get back.

It's highest expression is found in God our Father and Jesus his Son:

"We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

These verses could be multiplied many fold. But this kind of love isn't supposed to be just a "God thing." Jesus teaches us to love in the same way:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)

To love this way just isn't human nature, you object. If sinfulness and fallenness are the essential definition of humanity, you may be right. But God made us humans to be more than we are. He created us in his image so that we can transcend our selfish, animal selves -- even for a short time -- and become like him. To think like him, to love like him, to dream like him. We are called to something higher than that which benefits us. We are called to love. Paul put it most eloquently:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13)

And so Peter outlines the ladder of virtues. But why are they so important? He mentions two reasons: (1) productivity and (2) integrity.

Q3. (2 Peter 1:7) Why do we imagine that "agape love" is easier than loving church members? If we avoid church because of our hurts at the hands of church members, can we mature fully in Christ? Why or why not?
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Christian Productivity and Effectiveness (1:8)

First, we need these virtues to be productive in the Christian life.

"For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1:8)

Notice the phrase "increasing measure" (NIV, cf. NRSV) or "abound" (KJV). This is the Greek verb pleonazō, "to become more and more, so as to be in abundance, "be/become more or be/become great, be present in abundance, grow, increase."[11] Growth in the fruit of the Spirit, in establishing Christian character in our lives, is a continuing and expanding process.

There's an old saying, "Jesus catches his fish before he cleans them." You've been rescued. You've been caught. Now Jesus is working on your character, producing his character in you.

Christ's character prevents two related problems for Christians: ineffectiveness and low productivity.

"Ineffective" (NIV, NRSV) or "barren" (KJV) is the Greek adjective argos, and denotes "unemployed, idle, lazy." Here it is "pertaining to being unproductive, useless, worthless."[12] I've known many church-goers whose lives have little positive, Christian impact on either their families or their workplaces. They are spiritually barren because they have resisted letting Jesus transform their lives with his character.

"Unproductive" (NIV) or "unfruitful" (KJV, NRSV) is the Greek adjective akarpos, literally, "without fruit." Here it is used figuratively, "pertaining to being useless, unproductive."[13] No fruit, no fruitfulness. This kind of person is a taker, not a giver, for he has little to give.

How sad to have "knowledge" of Christ, but keep it so in ourselves that no one knows it! How very sad, to be spiritually barren.

Cleansed from Old Sins (1:9)

Some brands of Christianity in America try to survive without virtue, without righteousness. But this is a weak, impotent Christianity that is rightly the laughing stock of those around. The false teachers that Peter is combating in this letter were proclaiming Christian freedom but offering licentiousness: "They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity" (2:19). In 1:9, Peter warns us:

"But if anyone does not have [these virtues], he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins." (1:9)

I understand about "nearsightedness" (from the Greek root that gives us our word "myopic").[14] Since I was in Junior High, I've use corrective lenses to see clearly at a distance. My mother is blind from macular degeneration. She can see through small parts of her retina to get general shapes, but for all intents and purposes she is blind. She can't see well enough to take care of herself.

Peter says we are blind if we don't think we need to build Christian virtues into our lives. If we make excuses for ourselves and don't leave our old sins behind, we are in danger of spiritual blindness, spiritual amnesia. Jesus cleansed us[15] to bless us -- and that blessing includes growing up in Christ and leaving our old sins behind.

Be Eager to Confirm God's Call on Your Life (1:10)

Peter concludes this section with an exhortation to grow into Christian maturity.

"Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure." (1:10)

If this verse seems to grate on you theologically, my suggestion is to set aside preconceived theologies and just listen to what Peter is saying. After all, theology is built on the Scripture, not the other way around. Let's examine these two sentences carefully.

"Be all the more eager" (NIV, NRSV) and "give diligence" (KJV) is the Greek verb spoudazō, which is related to the noun spoudē, "speed" (which we saw above in 1:5) and means "hurry, hasten, expedite" -- and here by extension means, "to be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation, be zealous, be eager, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious."[16] Peter is urging us with all seriousness to add to our faith a whole list of Christian virtues. This is not a matter of personal whim, but an apostolic command.

Growing in maturity and in Christian virtues is what is meant by "making your calling and election sure." He's not talking about perfection, but growth -- "possess these qualities in increasing measure" (1:8). Calling (klēsis) and election (eklogē) both refer to God's actions to summon and select us. Paul indicated that God's selection is not just temporal, but made before we were even born (Ephesians 1:4; 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; also Revelation 17:8). This is difficult for us to fathom, but don't drown in philosophical concepts. Peter is calling on us to do something concrete.

Peter commands us: "make your calling and election sure." The words "Sure" (NIV, KJV) or "confirm" (NRSV) translate the Greek adjective bebaios, a general term relating to stability, "firm, permanent, reliable, abiding." Here it means "pertaining to having validity over a period of time, in force, valid," here "'keep the call in force,' that is, confirm it so that it does not lapse."[17] Peter is saying: Your growing character in Christ is a vital indicator that you have been truly called and chosen by God.

Other New Testament writers concur. James says something similar, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:17, 20, 26). Paul makes the same point when he talks about the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-26) and self-deceived people who refuse to forsake sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). John says, "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning" (1 John 3:6). Don't ever make the mistake of supposing that you can be saved by means of your own moral improvement. Your moral improvement is a sign that you are already saved, that the Spirit is working in you, not the other way around.

Q4. (2 Peter 1:10) Why is Christian character an essential indicator of being saved or rescued by Christ? What Biblical assurance of salvation can you offer the fruitless, barren "believer"?
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Keep from Falling (1:11)

Peter makes a two-fold promise to those who diligently open their lives to God's working and character-building -- (1) the assurance of salvation and protection from falling and (2) a grand welcome in heaven upon death or Christ's coming.

"For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (1:10-11)

What does he mean, when he says that building Christian virtues into our lives keeps us from falling? "Fall" (NIV, KJV) and "stumble" (NRSV) is the Greek verb ptaiō, "to lose one's footing, stumble, trip." Figuratively it means, "to experience disaster, be ruined, be lost."[18]

Does this mean (1) stumbling and then recovering and repenting or (2) stumbling never to rise? Bauckham is probably right when he translates the word "come to grief." He believes the meaning of this word is similar to how a related word is used in Jude 24 (aptaistos), referring to "the disaster of not reaching final salvation."[19]

A Rich Welcome into God's Presence (1:11)

My own Protestant tradition warns me not to pray for the dead -- I'm sure as an historical reaction against excesses. But sometimes I find myself praying for those who have just died with a prayer something like, "Give this person a great welcome as she enters your Kingdom." In a sense, I am praying this promise:

"For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (1:10-11)

"Rich" (NIV, cf. NRSV), "abundantly" (KJV) is the very common Greek adverb plousiōs, richly, abundantly."[20]

Think of this promise! Peter says that if we add to our faith Christian character that we will receive an abundant, rich, and glorious welcome into God's presence. God will roll out the red carpet for us. Why? Because we are so deserving? No, but because we took his gift of faith seriously and let Christ work in our lives.

I think of people in my church who attend services with some regularity, but are suffering from spiritual atrophy, with small, pinched, desiccated spirits. They may find their way to heaven through faith in Jesus, by God's grace, but there won't be a big welcoming party at the pearly gates. 

2 Peter and Jude: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as an e-book in PDF or Kindle formats.

How about you? Are you letting Christ build his character in your life? Or are you flirting with your pre-Christian sins, unwilling to let go and trust Christ to guide you? Believe this promise:

"If you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (1:10-11)
As for me, I need Jesus' protection to keep me from falling and that rich welcome will feel mighty good after crossing Jordan alone. Mighty good!

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I pray for myself and for my brothers and sisters. We are weak. Sometimes we are just plain lazy. There's a streak of rebelliousness in some of us, a desire to live life our own stubborn way. Forgive us, me especially, Lord. Soften me up in the way that meat tenderizer makes tough steak more chewable. And build your life in me, virtue by virtue, rung by rung. Make me more like yourself. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love." (2 Peter 1:5-7)

References

  1. BDAG 939-940. The verb here is pareispherō, "apply, bring to bear," here "make every effort, do your best" (BDAG 774).
  2. BDAG 386-387.
  3. Robertson, Word Pictures, loc. cit. He notes that this is an old double compound verb, eispherō "to bring in" + para "besides."
  4. BDAG 130.
  5. BDAG 274. This is a compound word, from en, "on" + kratos, "strength, might."
  6. Thayer 166-167.
  7. BDAG 1039-1040.
  8. BDAG 412-413.
  9. BDAG 1055.
  10. BDAG 6-7.
  11. BDAG 824.
  12. BDAG 128.
  13. BDAG 35.
  14. "Nearsighted" (NIV, NRSV) and "cannot see afar off" (KJV) is the Greek verb myōpazō."
  15. "Cleansed" (NIV, cf. NRSV) or "purged" (KJV) is the Greek noun katharismos, "cleansing" is used both of Jewish rites of purification as well as figuratively of "cleansing from inward pollution, purify" (BDAG 489). Our words "catharsis" and "cathartic" come from the same root word.
  16. BDAG 939.
  17. BDAG 172.
  18. BDAG 894. A number of Greek words are used in the New Testament to describe stumbling and falling (e.g., Matthew 11:6; 13:21; 18:6-9; 26:31, 33 and parallels, Romans 14:20; 1 Corinthians 8:9, 13; 10:12, 32; Galatians 5:14; 1 Timothy 3:6; 6:9; Hebrews 4:11; 6:6; James 2:10; 3:2 (ptaiō); 2 Peter 3:17; 1 John 2:10; Jude 24).
  19. Bauckham, p. 191.
  20. BDAG 831.

Copyright © 1985-2014, 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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