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. 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.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 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. — 2 Peter 1:1-8 (ESV)
There has been a lot of religious debate about faith versus works. One school of thought says you just have to believe. Another says you must do good works. I am of the opinion that if I am in Christ, I can’t help but do good works. If I am a branch of the True Vine, then his sap is flowing through me, producing fruit as he directs.
Nevertheless, all believers are aware of two aspects of our faith: those things that God, in his sovereignty, and by use of his infinite power brings about, and those things that we do (works) that we identify as putting our faith into practice. In one sense, we tend to separate these two aspects in our thinking. We pray for the Lord’s intervention into our affairs, yet sometimes we see ourselves as somehow disconnected from God’s activities in the world.
This passage of Scripture goes a long way to put that confusion to rest. Very generally, verses 1 through 4 address what God has done and how that relates to us, while verses 5 through 8 give us a step-by-step outline of what we need to do and how that relates to others.
The weight of the gospel pulls us in the direction of relationships — our relationship with God and our relationships with others. In this sense, we are drawn to consider our works and God’s works in terms of how they work together. I believe that this is the primary goal of discipleship — learning to live as Jesus commands — fleshing out the idea that Jesus is Lord. He is in charge and we are to obey him, and in that way, not only is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, but we become active partakers with the Lord in his divine nature. Our works are really his works.
The “work” involved in actively participating in God’s plan is a matter of being obedient, and obedience is a matter of love. Being spiritually obedient isn’t an oppressive burden. Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). His lordship over us is the means by which he demonstrates his power to the world. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Why? Because in our weakness, we rely on him. Reliance on the Lord is faith guided by love. The end result is that our faith links us to God’s power through love. This, then, is the “secret” solution to the faith vs works dilemma: God’s power works through us by our willingness to let love direct our faith. As David H. Stern puts it, “…what matters is trusting faithfulness expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6 Jewish New Testament).
Verse 1 addresses “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ”. We didn’t obtain this faith on our own. It was given to us (Ephesians 2:8). This is the “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5), founded and perfected by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). It is a mistake to look at fellow believers who seem to have powerful ministries and say, “I wish I had his faith”. The truth is that if we are indeed Christians, we all have one and the same faith. Jesus added that even if our faith is like a mustard seed, we can move mountains (Matthew 13:31). So all Christians — young and old, smart and simple, strong and weak — are designed to be vessels of faith, conduits of love and instruments of God’s power.
Verse 2 mentions “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord”, which carries the implication that “knowing” is not just a condition but a process. Verse 3 tells us our knowledge of God and his power is sufficient now for living a godly life. But 1 Corinthians 13:12 also says, “Now I know partly; then I will know fully, just as God has fully known me”, which is a promise that one day our knowledge will be full. In the meantime, we should do our best to learn all we can about the things of God.
Near the end of verse 3 is an easy-to-miss phrase, “who called us”. This cements the fact that we have a significant relationship with God. He called us. Romans 11:29 says God’s call is irrevocable, which means there is nothing we can do to alter it. What God has done is done. What we can do (from verse 10) is “make [our] calling and election sure”, which is our Christian walk, our implementation of God’s will in our lives as we try to be sure-footed and not stumble — the “working out” of our salvation (Philippians 2:12).
Verse 4 reminds us that the message of Christ to the world is not really about religion. It’s about a fundamental and essential make-over of our spiritual nature. Examine this verse again: “…his precious and very great promises … through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” This goes to the heart of the gospel. We are born again (1 Peter 1:23), we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we will all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51). What follows is a guide for how we partake in our new, divine nature.
As I read this passage, I envision the qualities and characteristics listed in verses 5-7 as ingredients being poured from one beaker into another, in some celestial laboratory. If that picture sort of makes disciples look a bit like mad scientists, I apologize. For me, this picture helps me to understand what otherwise might be too abstract or too generalized to make any real, practical sense. In short, these qualities aren’t just a bunch of lofty sounding words, to make us feel lofty. These words have specific meanings intended to convey a specific message. Each “ingredient” is labeled as a category of human experience. It is our job, as believers, to see how this process of adding ingredients to the expression of our faith fits us individually.
Verse 5 begins, “For this very reason” (which I translate to mean, “Because of what God has done, what he has promised, and what he is continuing to do”), “make every effort”. “Make every effort” is just another name for our works of faith or walking in faith. It means, “Do your best” or “try your hardest”. This is something everyone can do. Two things that are critical for us to understand is that all believers can continue growing in this process and that making every effort is not something that is necessarily observable. Only the LORD can judge this. It is not the role of one believer to judge another’s works. That is strictly the LORD’s business.
The first step is “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue”. Keep in mind that each step we take in this process is simply a step of faith. It’s something we are trying to do, and does not involve being judged, as to whether it deserves a trophy or a demerit. We start when we have a beaker of faith, given to us by the LORD. Now we are to supplement that faith (“add to”, “furnish with”) something called virtue or “goodness”. In our culture today, the prevailing secular worldview sees good and bad, right and wrong as relative terms. A virtue to one person is a fault to another. The message of Proverbs 20:5 is commonplace: “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?”
But this is not the case with the Biblical worldview. Something that is good in the Biblical sense is not subject to how one feels about it, but what God says about it. The goodness or virtue spoken of in verse 5 refers to moral goodness in the eyes of God. This resonates with the “pure heart, clear conscience and sincere faith” of 1 Timothy 1:5. Philippians 4:8 describes it this way: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There is a beaker of goodness sitting on our shelf, ready to use. And most of us know right where it is, just as most of us know where all the other beakers are. We just need to pour it into our beaker of faith.
Next, we need to supplement that virtue with knowledge. I already have pointed out that verse 3 says our knowledge of God and his power is sufficient for living a godly life. So, even if there is much we still have to learn, we already have some knowledge in our beaker we can pour into our virtue. Someone may ask, “Why?”. Just think about it. The word translated as “supplement” carries the meaning to “furnish” with. A room isn’t very useful without furniture, so you furnish it. Similarly, when you furnish your virtue with knowledge you are being smart about being good. You aren’t being a victim, you aren’t being taken advantage of. But you are making sure that the good things you do actually benefit and bless others, creating opportunities for God to work effectively through you.
Verse 6 tells us that into our beaker of knowledge, we need to pour the contents of the beaker marked “self-control”. At this point, as a gentle reminder, remember that our instructions are to “make every effort”. We’re none of us perfect. God just wants us to try and keep on trying. And while we’re making this effort, we need to remember that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). Jesus helps us to make this effort. Remember to give him the praise when we see ourselves doing the right thing! But why, you might ask, do we need to furnish our knowledge with self-control? Because when we know something, and know that we know it, it tends to make us feel big and important. This problem is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8:1 which says in part, “we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” I’ll say more about love later, but when knowledge “puffs” me up, sometimes I can get out of hand, and feel like hitting people over the head with what I know. That’s why our knowledge sorely needs self-control.
But we also have to pour steadfastness into our self-control. Another word for steadfastness is perseverance. We have to persevere in our self-control. If we use self-control just once in our application of knowledge to the goodness with which we are furnishing our faith, that’s fine for that one time. But once is usually not enough. Driving a nail requires several hammer blows. Chopping a tree down takes many swings of the axe. Painting a house takes many brush strokes. Like the verbs in Matthew 7:7 that mean “ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking”, we need to be persistent. The larger picture of persistence is perseverance — to faithfully continue to try doing what is right, without giving up, even when you aren’t getting the desired results. Our self-control must be steadfast.
At this point, we need to reach for the beaker labeled “godliness”. Just being steadfast, constantly persevering, can make us seem like automatons — stern or forced. We need to furnish our perseverance with godliness because the world needs to see that our faith (the faith God gives us and Jesus perfects) blesses, heals and affirms life. The world already tends to suspect that Christians are all about forcing their rules on them, and they tend to misinterpret our steadfastness as religious legalism. So they need to see the godliness of our efforts. Everything we do should be focused on showing Christ to the world. We should try not to let the world see us without seeing the One who lives in us.
Verse 7 brings our attention to the beaker marked “brotherly affection”. This is also called “brotherly kindness”, “brotherly love”, “mutual affection” and “love of the brethren”. This beaker contains a specific kind of love that is differentiated from the final beaker, which is simply labeled “love”. Remember, that we are adding to, or supplementing or furnishing our godliness with this ingredient. So what is it? Jesus said, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This kind of brotherly love specifically refers to the love disciples are commanded to have for one another, which is agape love (ἀγαπᾶτε) — the highest type of love in the Bible.
However, the Greek word translated “brotherly affection” in our passage from 2 Peter refers to a more common form of brotherly love (φιλαδελφία) which means a familial love — loving others as you would a brother or sister, regardless of whether or not they are a believer. This is a more common, down to earth kind of love. There’s something “down home” about it, something that’s every day, regular, normal. Pouring our beaker of brotherly love into our beaker of godliness, gives the world the plain message that we care for them. Our godliness doesn’t place us above them or make us “holier than thou”. But by meeting them where they live, they’ll learn that God meets them where they live. We can have a part in God’s reaching out to the world simply by having loving hearts for others, just as if they were our very own brothers and sisters.
Finally, we reach for the last beaker: agape “love”, to pour into our down home brotherly love. What do we know about this last ingredient? Between faith, hope and love, love is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love is the first fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and the second greatest was to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (“keep my commands”, “keep my word”) — John 14:15, 23. Again, in 2 John 6, it says, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments”.
There are different ways of expressing our love relationship with God. Whether we call it walking in the Spirit or living in Christ, the supernatural reality is that “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and “the love of God [is] in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39). Look again at the illustration. The top beaker — “love” — will never be empty. “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). All our beakers continue to flow into each other until our faith overflows to the world. That means if we are living our lives in obedience to the Lord, and making daily choices based on his teachings and example, then we will see God’s power working in our lives.
The meaning of this passage is summed up in verse 8, “…if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful…”. Being an effective and fruitful disciple depends on two things: having these ingredients and increasing them. The key to this is allowing the love of God to continually fill your beakers. Let the content of each beaker flow into the next, causing each quality to be filled and overflowing. The only effort it takes is obedience, which is love. It’s just a matter of locating ingredients and pouring ingredients, which in turn, cause a kind of chain reaction. And once everything’s set up, with all our beakers in a row, it just flows.
Now that we understand the “secret” solution, let’s get out there and start pouring our beakers!