Christian Character During Tough Times (2 Pet 1:1-11)

Introduction

Someone has coined the phrase, “tough times never last, but tough people do.” As the years pass and the hurdles of life with them, this axiom becomes profoundly evident. Life is relentless, however, in its daily dosage of aches and pains – on all fronts.

Sometimes people flail their arms up and give up, feeling helpless. But, for those who are disciples of the Christ, a renewable source of strength and comfort is available: the apostle Peter says that we have been granted “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3). This is the power of incorporating the word of God into a person’s life.

At some time near the end of his life, the apostle Peter dispatched a letter to a church suffering internally because of a number of false teachers were spreading immorality, anti-authoritarianism, and skepticism (2 Pet 2-3). It was, therefore, essential to stay grounded in the true knowledge. These Christians must carry the truth of the gospel in the one hand, and maintain a well rounded Christian lifestyle on the other hand.

In articulating these important instructions, we have been bequeathed a treatise that provides guidelines for developing Christian character during tough times. Tough times manifest themselves politically, socially, familially, spiritually, and emotionally. As in the first century, the contemporary climate of immorality, anti-authoritarianism, and skepticism is prevalent; and likewise, the inspired apostolic instruction is as relevant as when it was first composed nearly two thousand years ago!

To be sure more could be said; however, reflect on these quick notes on a section of Scripture that is often labeled “Christian Graces,” and in so doing perhaps this study will achieve its goal. The goal is to be more mindful of growing as a Christain (2 Pet 1:3-7), and to realize that being active in this process underscores our awareness of the redemption we have received in Christ (2 Pet 1:8-9). May the Lord bless you, as you strive to make your calling and election sure (2 Pet 1:10-11).

Greeting (2 Peter 1:1-2)

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Unlike modern letter writing standards, ancient letter writers put the author’s name first, followed by some reference that connects the author and the readers. Peter calls himself a servant and apostle, two terms that are quite descriptive. As a servant (the word used for slave), Peter stresses his submission to God and his disposition regarding his ministry to others. The word apostle stresses his spiritual commission to represent God as His ambassador to the world, delivering His message exactly as God empowered him.

The readers are those who share the same faith as he does, they are on “the same level as the author.”[1] Here we find the principle of equality of a faith to be shared. This faith is personal, as developed with their relationship with God and Jesus. Then consistent with ancient letter writing, Peter sends them a greeting. Grace is usually seen as the Greek salutation while peace is typically considered to be the Hebrew way of saying hello. Consistent with the themes of his letter Peter sends this greeting in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3-4: The Basis for Godly Living

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Peter continues the theme of knowledge and says that it is through Christ’s divine power (God-based ability), that Christians have been given access to all things that pertain to life and godliness. Christians cannot have the latter without the former. In agreement is Frederic Howe, we conclude that Christians must learn that “the ultimate condition, prerequisite, or essential foundation for holiness in the believer’s life is God’s divine power.”[2]

The Christian has this access through knowledge, but this is not simple knowledge, it is the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. The reference to his glory and excellence is a “pointer” to which our calling finds completion -to abide with God. Yet this final reality can only be obtained in a life governed by knowledge of the Savior and his teaching.

Knowledge has given us his precious and very great promises, which are the means by which God allows us to become partakers of the divine nature (i.e. to share the holy nature of God). Modern man -even the modern Christian- may feel skeptical about this promise,[3] but it is a promise that in some way those who are faithful will “like him” in the immortal state (1 John 3:2). This holy nature is obtained as one learns how to escape from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. Christians are expected to employ God’s knowledge to do this, holiness will not happen by accident.

5: Faith, Virtue, and knowledge

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,

Naturally, since the Christian aim is to escape the corruption of this world and partake of the divine nature through knowledge, Peter provides a list of “virtues” that must be added to one’s lifestyle in order reach these goals.

The virtues described in the chain in 1:5-7 not only are holy actions, but the very chain indicates the fullness of holiness that they must strive for. Thus those who seek them will be completely holy.[4]

In fact, the word supplement implies that “the believer contributes lavishly to the work of his salvation.”[5] Christians must contribute faith with virtue; moreover, this faith is probably the same referred to earlier -a personally developed reliance upon God- that must be contributed to with virtue (moral excellence).[6]

Furthermore, Christians are to supplement their moral excellence with knowledge, meaning that they are to have knowledge in the “how to’s” of a godly life. Contextually, this knowledge is what allows Christians to become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

6: Self-Control, Steadfastness, and Godliness

and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,

In addition to moral excellence and knowledge, to become completely holy and capable of partaking of the divine nature, the Christian is to assume the development of self-control, steadfastness, and godliness. Instead of self-control, some translations have the word temperance (KJV), but this is inaccurate since “temperance” usually implies a self-imposed censorship against alcohol. The Greek word in the text means, “to exercise complete control over one’s desires and actions – ‘to control oneself, to exercise self-control.’”[7] The overarching theme of self-control is one’s ability at self-mastery – i.e. self-government.

Next, is the idea of bearing up courageously under suffering, here translated steadfastness.[8] Perhaps this word provides a better hint of the local situation of Peter’s audience:

The need to persevere is particularly important in the situation Peter addressed, for the opponents were threatening the church, attracting others to follow them (2:2), so that some who began in the way of the gospel had since abandoned it (2:20-22).[9]

And then, disciples of Jesus are to supplement their behavior with godliness. One would think that this exhortation is unnecessary since the whole list of virtues revolves around the idea of devotion towards God in such a way where one “does that which is well-pleasing to Him.”[10] But this list of virtues would be incomplete without such an important inclusion of a vital virtue.

7: Brotherly Affection and Love

and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

The last two virtues of Christian godliness are brotherly affection and love, elements which are of special consideration because there is a distinction being made here between the two. Brotherly affection (philadelphia) is mutual love, while purposeful love (agape) is more encompassing because it requires self-generated love directed consistently upon another with their best in view.

Fred Craddock discusses these words in the following way:

Mutual affection is literally ‘love of one’s brothers and sisters’ (philadelphia) and is an essential component of church life. But that is just the point: mutual affection, reciprocal love, pertains to life in the church, to the fellowship. Beyond that, however is love, agape. Love does not require reciprocity; it includes the stranger, and even the enemy. It behaves favorably and helpfully toward the other regardless of who the other is or what the other had done.[11]

Sometimes the differences between these words are overstated, but these words of filial and “purposeful” love simply accentuate important capacities a person must engender in order to be a well-rounded Christian. We must be able to embrace the love (philadelphia) that comes easiest to us (usually familial love), and likewise be able to love on a deeper spiritual level – a beneficent love (agape).[12]

8-9: The Importance of these Characteristics

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Peter does not hold back here, where people are prone to; instead, he affirms clearly that these things -qualities- must be in the Christians possessions and in the process of development. In so doing, he affirms, they will keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter does not let loose of two concepts -godly living and knowledge- for the two are joined at the proverbial “hip.”

This stands more clearly in stark contrast to the false teachers in chapter 2. Rigorous training and development in godly behaviors assure one that they will not become “useless and unproductive” in the joys that exist in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A strong warning is made against those who would lack these qualities, stressing that to lack these qualities are the result of forgetting that a person’s sinfulness was forgiven and that these sins represent one’s imperfection and need to develop morally. Failure to do this will be detrimental to one’s calling and election.

10-11: Making Your Calling and Election Sure

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Because of the dangers that inhere should a Christian not develop these qualities of godly living, Peter warns with a logical conclusion, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.[13] The answer to the question “why?” is provided, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. It is crystal clear that Peter is demonstrating that one’s salvation can be a fragile thing should one neglect personal development.

Neglect will give way to falling, and contextually, this fall refers to one’s failure to enter into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Peter even affirms, by supplementing one’s life with godly characteristics, one will be richly provided an entrance into this kingdom; however, failure to do this makes this entrance void – it is not just the richness of the heavenly entrance being considered, it’s the entrance into heaven itself.[14] And here we see another major crack in the veneer of the Calvinistic error “Once Saved, Always Saved”.

Conclusion

2 Peter places a high premium on knowledge, especially as it pertains to knowledge and morality, and knowledge and truth. True knowledge appropriately originates from God and of Jesus our Lord and provides the proper framework for the development of godly living. This knowledge is now collected in the 27 documents of the New Testament, as the final revelation of Jesus Christ (John 16:13; Heb 1:1-2).

Guy N. Woods once observed that in this passage a godly character is developed and revealed in the person of deep Christian virtue: (1) those which are necessary to form the Christian character, and (2) those traits which reveal a follower of Christ to be a genuine servant of God.[15]

One of the most striking things about this section of Scripture is the methodical response of the Christians against the false teachers. It was not a brutal attack by physical force – a literal blow by blow as they stand toe to toe. The Christians were to respond with godly character, with love and truth. Viewing this life as concluding with the final judgment, only godly conduct will withstand the type of final exam the Divine Tribunal will release (2 Pet 3:9-13).

Finally, recalling the problem facing the group of Christians of 2 Peter was internal church problems of false teaching manifested in immorality, anti-authoritarianism, and skepticism (2 Pet 2-3). The best way, it seems, to outlast troublesome times, is to endure and become spiritually tough. This is precisely Peter’s point. False teachers with their troubles will come and go, but spiritually tough churches will last and last because they are grounded in godly knowledge and have kept their calling and election sure. And for that matter, so will spiritually tough Christians!

Sources

  1. Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude (Louisville, KY: Knox, 1995), 167.
  2. Frederic R. Howe, “The Christian’s Life in Peter’s Theology,” BSac 157 (2000): 307.
  3. Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, 169; Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1991), 149.
  4. Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1993), 154. Michael Green’s observation of the use of the Stoic practice of making similar virtue lists, and comments, that the “practice of making lists of virtues was already well established among the Stoics, who called it a prokope, ‘moral advance.'” This is not an attempt to make the church thinking like the world (i.e. the Greek world), but to use a familiar practice and leverage its familiarity to equip these Christians to embody Christian character (The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002], 75-76).
  5. Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), 251.
  6. Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), 24.
  7. (L&N) Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2d ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1989), 1:751.
  8. William E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1984), 2:200.
  9. Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 300.
  10. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, 2:273.
  11. Fred B. Craddock, 1 and 2 Peter and Jude (Louisville, KY: WJK, 1995), 101.
  12. Michael Green has a worthy quote on agape and philadelphia: “This word agape is one which Christians to all intents and purposes coined, to denote the attitude which God has shown himself to have to us, and requires from us towards himself. In friendship (philia) the partners seek mutual solace; in sexual love (eros) mutual satisfaction. In both cases, these feelings are aroused because of what the loved one is. With agape, it is the reverse. God’s agape is evoked not by what we are, but by what he is. It has its origin in the agent, not in the object. It is not that we are lovable, but that he is love. This agape might be defined as a deliberate desire for the highest good of the one loved, which shows itself in sacrificial action for that person’s good” (80).
  13. Perhaps no one word is so misunderstood as the term “called” in the New Testament. Essentially, the church is a group of individuals called out to assemble into a congregation (ek, out of, plus kaleo, to call = ekklesia). A person is called by the Gospel (2 Thess 2:14) and becomes a member of the church (a called out group) through immersion for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-47; Gal 3:26-29 – notice the transitional tenses – “you are” because “you were”).
  14. Kistemaker, Exposition, 257-58.
  15. Woods, Peter, John, and Jude, 152. Woods hand selects which virtues form character and which other virtues reveal genuine discipleship, and here we must disagree because such a segregation is artificial, and not natural with the flow of the passage. In fact, there is the reason to believe that the list of eight virtues is consistent with a literary form called sarites, “in which we have a step-by-step chain that culminates in a climax” (cf. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 297). At any rate, we agree with Woods’ observation – albeit modified to be descriptive of all the virtues enlisted by the apostle.
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2 thoughts on “Christian Character During Tough Times (2 Pet 1:1-11)

  1. Marilyn Rushing

    Thank you for calling my attention to this article. The world has changed so much since Laws & I were young it is very discouraging to us, especially since we have children & grandchildren.

    You are a very brilliant young man. It is encouraging to read an article like this written by a man in your age group. It seems like most young people, even the ones raised in the Church, never grow up & fall into sin. Now our grandchildren have temptations like the internet & cell phones & other influences that our children didn’t.

    We all need to work diligently to add or improve these virtues. Older people have their own set of temptations.

  2. Jovan Payes

    Marilyn:

    Thanks you so much for your encouragement. It means a lot to me to know that the work is appreciated. You and Laws have always been a steady rock of encouragement, I cannot multiply that sentiment enough. I hope the studies help!

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