by Kevin Burton
There is a passage in 2 Peter that forces me to slow down to get the depth of meaning. It’s just too much to take in all at once.
In fact, it’s too much for one post. We’ll finish the subject tomorrow.
I’m talking about Peter’s exhortation to believers to build their Christian character in 2 Peter 1: 5-7. In the course of three verses he strings together eight attributes needed for Christian growth.
In the New King James version the passage reads, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge,to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.”
See what I mean? That’s a lot!
But before we tackle the eight attributes, consider an important point made by John Piper, writing on www.desiringgod.org. The key is the “for this very reason” at the beginning of verse 5. What very reason?
“Probably the most important thing to notice here is that this command is based on verses 3 and 4 which are not a command but a description of what God has done for us,” Piper writes. “God’s divine power has given us all things that lead to godliness,”
“For this reason” make every effort yourself to be godly. Don’t miss the connection. Since God has given power for godliness, strive to become godly! This is the heart of New Testament ethics.”
Piper then dives into the eight attributes.
“Verses 5–7 describe how we should live,” Piper writes. “There are eight things he mentions: faith, virtue (or moral excellence, or fortitude), knowledge, self-control, steadfastness (or patience), godliness, brotherly affection, and love. The list begins with faith and ends with love.”
“That agrees with the rest of the New Testament: confidence in God’s promises is the way we plug into God’s power, and love (even for our enemies) is the goal and sum of life, the light of the world that shows others the way into the kingdom.”
“Between faith and love are six other qualities we should have,” Piper writes. “I don’t think Peter means, though, that they are added to our character always in just this sequence. There is a lot of overlapping among these qualities.”
“For example, love is already present in patience (1 Corinthians 13:4). It is not strictly added on.”
“Therefore, I think what Peter is saying in verses 5–7 is this: true Christians do not stop pursuing growth in grace. They go on. They advance. They apply themselves with diligence to increase in these things. Peter calls us to a holy dissatisfaction with our present attainments.”
“The literal translation of verses 5–7 does not say, ‘add to your faith virtue’ and so on; it says, ‘furnish in your faith virtue’ and so on. You can hear a kind of surging ‘Forward! Forward! Forward!’”
Piper says we should render the verse as, ‘as you have obtained faith in Christ and stand in it, now apply yourself diligently to advance in moral excellence; and as you stand in that, do not be satisfied but press on to increase your knowledge of God’s will; and as you stand in that, do not be satisfied but be diligent to enlarge your capacities of self-control and mastery of your passions; and as you stand in that, don’t be satisfied but cultivate every form of patience and serenity; and in that let devoutness and piety and sweet love to God flourish; and in that strive to kindle your affection for other believers; and in and through it all, grow in love to all men.’
“In other words: Forward! Forward! Press On! Advance!”
Peter goes on in chapter one to talk about what happens to those Christians who do, and those Christians who do not, follow this formula to as Piper puts it, “press on and advance!”
That is the subject of tomorrow’s post here on Page 7.