5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7; ESV)
Since we have these precious promises through which we are partakers of the divine nature and escaping the corruption of the world, we need have responsibility to act. God has acted by granting everything we need for life and godliness. Now we need to act because of all that God has done for us. One of the important keys we learn is that we must never satisfied in our faith. True Christians never stop growing. True Christians are never content in where they are in their faith. There is always more to supply to our faith. When you think you are getting a handle on virtue and moral excellence, don’t be satisfied in that but strive forward in knowledge. But don’t be satisfied in growing in knowledge alone, also make every effort to grow in self-control. But don’t be satisfied in your self-control. Also striving to grow in steadfastness. But don’t be satisfied in working on your steadfastness. Make every effort to also move forward in godliness. But as you grow in godliness, do not be satisfied with that. Grow in brotherly affection also. But don’t be satisfied with your growth in brotherly affection, move forward in love. Keep growing. Never stop making every effort. Never stop striving. Keep reaching forward. Continue pressing onward to deeper spiritual qualities that will bolster your faith. Don’t stop swimming, or you will be drifting back. There is no floating in the Christian life. If you are satisfied, you are falling back. If you have stopped making every effort, then we are slipping away from the Lord. Peter will make this point more clearly in verses 8-11.
It is also important to know that Peter is not giving a sequential list. That is, Peter is not saying that you do not work on knowledge until you master virtue and that you do not work on self-control until you have mastered knowledge. That is not at all the point. This is a common literary device called a sorites (NLT Study Bible) that is not stressing sequence, but functions as a stair-step structure.
I think we need to learn something from these traits before we examine the meaning of these traits. We learn that Christianity is not about perfection. Rather, it is about making every effort. Christianity is about striving, working hard, and making every effort because of the great and precious promises that God has given us. We are admitted sinners. We cannot attain perfection. But we are striving to supplement our faith with the following characteristics.
Virtue. This is a person who demonstrates excellence of character, shown in generosity toward others and is not merely motivated by a sense of duty. I think the word “virtue” carries the proper picture to our minds. We often think of the lack of virtue that is in our society today. We are to be people of virtue. This means that we act with honor and integrity toward God and toward others. Work on being a virtuous person.
Knowledge. This has been a key topic thus far in Peter’s letter even though we have just begun to read it. This is the third time knowledge has been mentioned in the first five verses. We must grow deeper in our knowledge of God through Jesus. We learn about God by looking at the life and teachings of Jesus. We can never learn enough from Jesus because we learn about God through him. We need to always go deeper in God’s word. Even texts that we think we know we need to continually examine again to make sure that we have understood those texts properly. The more we learn the scriptures we will see that we will need to reevaluate our understanding of other texts. For example, once I understood Matthew 24, it caused me reevaluate Matthew 25. My understanding of 1 Corinthians 14 caused me to reevaluate 1 Corinthians 11. My understanding of Daniel caused to me reconsider Revelation. New knowledge should cause us to reevaluate our previous understandings.
Self-control. Self-control is to have power or dominion over oneself, especially regarding physical desires. It is personal restraint over emotions and desires. This is a great challenge today because we are constantly told to cave in to our desires, not to control them. We are told fulfill our desires and lusts. We see people in this society that are completely out of control, not in control of their bodies. But God has given us what we need to exercise power and rule over our bodies.
Steadfastness. Some translations read “perseverance” (NKJV, NASB, TNIV) or “endurance” (NRSV, HCSB). It means to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty. But this steadfastness is particularly dealing with bearing up in the face of temptation. Our source for endurance is our hope in God who gives us the strength for the spiritual battle we are fighting. “It is the virtue needed to stand firm in one’s commitment to Jesus over the long haul in the face of persecution (thus its prominence in James and Revelation) or other hardships” (Pillar NT Commentary). These Christians needed to stand firm in the face of the false teachings that confront them.
Godliness. This is a demonstration of due reverence and loyalty to God. Green defines it as “a very practical awareness of God in every aspect of life” (Baker Exegetical Commentary, p. 70). Everything we do in life should reflect our devotion to God. From work life to home life, we should reflect loyalty and devotion. Our worship should also show that we are loyal to God.
Brotherly affection. This is the love that family members extend to each other. It is more than just friendship. It is acts of affection and generosity among family members. One commentator suggested that “familial love” would be a better rendering than “brotherly love.” We are to exhibit a family love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, this familial love was a notable mark of Christians in the early centuries and pagan despised Christians for this. This gathering of Christians needs to have the feel of family, with familial love and care.
Love. Actively seeking the benefit of others is the primary concept. I think it is important to consider this again. Love is not feelings. Love is not how I feel about doing things on a given day. Love acts regardless of feelings. Love actively seeks the best interests of others without regard for feelings. This is how we can love our enemies. This is how we can love our spouse. This is how we can love one another.
8 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. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:8-9; ESV)
Now we come to the heart of Peter’s point. If these qualities are yours and you are increasing in them, then you will not become ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of Jesus. We cannot be increasing in sins. We must be increasing in these qualities. We must be making every effort to grow in each of these areas. Now we may wonder why it is so important be fruitful. Jesus repeated taught the need to be fruitful and condemned Israel for its lack of fruitfulness. Recall this teaching of Jesus –
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2)
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:5-6)
So here is a great and precious promise of our Lord. If we continue to increase in these qualities we will not be useless, ineffective, fruitless branches on the vine that need to be cut off. We will have a transformed life and become the servants that God is developing. The word of God, that is, the knowledge of Jesus that changes are lives, will change us into fruitful and productive servants. We have the faith delivered once for all that grants us all we need for this kind of life.
But look at the contrasting statement in verse 9. If we are lacking in these qualities and are not striving to improve in them, we are so nearsighted that we are blind. I truly understand this metaphor. I am extremely near-sighted. To those of you who have prescriptions for your eyes, you will be able to appreciate these numbers. My eyesight in my left eye is -6.5 and my right eye is -8.0. I have a large digital alarm clock and, with my contacts out, I cannot read the numbers unless I put my nose against the clock. All that I can see are colors, but everything is fuzzy because I am so nearsighted. Peter is saying that when we lack these qualities and not striving to increase in these qualities listed in verses 5-7, we are so nearsighted that we cannot see what Jesus has done for us. We cannot see that Jesus has cleansed us from our sins. HOW CAN WE FAIL TO SEE WHAT JESUS HAS DONE FOR US! How can we be so nearsighted in our vision that we become consumed with life here on earth, with the physical, and with the material! It is nearsighted to leave Jesus as the most important thing in life to be focused on everything else in this world. When we do so, Peter says that we have forgotten what Jesus has done for us. That is an insult to our Lord! Do not be blinded by this world. Never forget what Jesus has done and our need to be devoted to Jesus because he has cleansed us from our sins.
10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10-11; ESV)
Here is the conclusion to this section. Therefore, we need to be all the more diligent to make our calling and election sure. We cannot come to Jesus, have our sins forgiven, and then coast in our service. We cannot come to the Lord and then stop. Baptism is not the endpoint but merely the beginning point. We need to be diligent and practice these qualities. But look at the confidence and consolation we have in our effort. If we practice these qualities — we are striving and increasing in these things — Peter says we have a two part promise.
First, we will never fall. Peter is not saying that you will not sin. We won’t be perfect. But we are able to have a confidence that our salvation is secure. When we doubt our salvation, the answer concerning whether our doubts are legitimate are found right here. If we are increasing in these qualities and striving to practice them, then our doubts are unfounded and need to have confidence that our calling and election is sure. However, if we stop trying and decide to float in this Christian walk, then we need to be very concerned. We are fruitless and there are consequences for fruitlessness. We must be moving forward, diligently trying to grow in these qualities. Peter is teaching us to make this effort to increase in these qualities our highest priority.
Second, by increasing in these qualities a way has been provided so that we can enter the eternal kingdom of Christ. You are part of the kingdom of Jesus. You are citizens of the glorious kingdom. It is like having the gates opened into the eternal kingdom and you are able to walk into the city of God. It is a picture of a triumphal celebration and welcome. You have reached the goal. You have finished the race. You are receiving the imperishable crown of glory. You are a fellow heir with Jesus and joined to the divine nature (vs. 4). God has provided everything we need so that we can confidence that we are children of God and are part of the eternal kingdom of Jesus.
Are you making every effort to add these characteristics to your life? There is never a point where we can stop growing. If we are not moving forward and growing in these qualities, then we are falling away from the Lord. There is no coasting in this walk with God. There is no drifting or floating. Make every effort to increase in these godly characteristics. In so doing, we know our salvation is secure and we know that we are part of the eternal kingdom of Jesus.