For the next several weeks, rather than a long walk through a single book of the Bible, or a thematic series, we’re going to take time to preach through some of the shorter books of the new testament. Two years ago we hit some of the shortest letters, 1, 2, 3 John – for the next five weeks we are going to cover 2 Peter, Jude, and Philemon. We’re starting with 2 Peter this AM and doing about a chapter a week.
And its good timing too. In studying for this, I made a connection between a question that has been hounding me the last several months: In times like these, what ought we as pastors say to the church. What should we focus on? What would be most helpful?
Well, Peter had a similar, if not vastly more intense situation.
Peter wrote two letters to the newborn church – the persecuted, suffering church. Undergoing intense trial and pain at the hands of a tyrannical government. In that situation, what is it that Peter is eager to communicate to them? What does the apostle, preacher, and teacher, focus on?
In that situation, the pastor and apostle Peter wrote the church a call for endurance under slavery, persecution, oppressive governments – and then to focus on, learn, and cling to sound doctrine and to reject false teaching.
And I think that message is extremely relevant for us today. So let’s dive in.
A brief overview of the letter
In 2 Peter 3:1, we see that Peter is writing to the same audience as he did his first letter, so that crowd would called to mind the things he wrote in his first letter. We did a series through 1 Peter here 5 years ago, which I recommend you call go listen back through, you can find it on our site. Ironically, 5 years is probably a longer period of time than the original recipients of 2nd Peter would have had to have waited! The two letters were most likely written within just a couple of years of one another, if not less.
In 2 Peter 3:1, we also see the purpose Peter states having written both letters: to remind them of the truth about Jesus they had originally received from the apostles, and to warn them of false teaching. And again, against the political and cultural backdrop Peter and the church is situated in, that he focuses on these things as most important for the church, is very telling on where our priorities also ought to be in discipleship and as a church today!
Today’s passage, chapter 1:1-15, is super highly concentrated. As we were talking about it as pastors, it occurred to us that is likely the kind of stuff, so loaded with nice-sounding spiritual and churchy language, that it’s the kind of content that is easily skipped when you are reading through the letter, but if you pause on it, it is very very rich, and requires some pause for reflection.
Because there is so much here, and so many off-ramps to different topics we could talk about, I want to stick to the two major threads, highlighted by repeated phrases that we find here, and then a third thread which binds the two together:
- Things we’ve been granted
- Effort we are to make
- The knowledge of God
1 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: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
3 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, 4 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.
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.
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.
10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, 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.
12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.2 Peter 1:1–15 (ESV)
WHAT WE’VE BEEN GRANTED
Let’s first look at the things that are true for those who know Christ: the things we have been given, it’s an astounding list.
v1. Strong Faith – obtained – by the righteousness of Jesus
How “worthy” is the faith you have obtained? “Of equal standing” with the very apostle Peter himself! The faith you have, as a believer in Jesus, is the same kind of faith that Peter had, that John had, that Paul had.
And it is the same worthiness of faith, because it has been given to you by Christ himself. The reason the centurion could say “I do believe, Lord, help me in my unbelief!” Is because he knew, rightly, the source of faith: Jesus. Jesus grants it to you, it says here, by his righteousness.
Righteousness in this case means something like “right-ness”, “justness” – right-judgement. The granting of faith is something that Christ decides, and his decision of who, how, and when, is the right decision.
v2. Grace and Peace – multiplied to us – in the knowledge of Jesus
A little more conditional, it is a blessing/prayer. And doesn’t that sound just like what we need in our life right now? More grace from God? More peace? And he gives us the key to how grace and peace can be multiplied to us: knowing Jesus.
Leaning on him, and trusting him to give you everything you need in life. Trusting that he is your good shepherd — the one in psalm 23 — and that even when you are at a place in life that seems chaotic and hostile, or dark, like the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear, because our strong, good shepherd is right here with us, protecting us and providing us with everything we need.
If you do not have that peace, are not experiencing his grace, I suggest it is not because God is withholding from you the things you are are demanding of him, but rather because you are not surrendering your demands to he who is taking care of you right now, and are instead banging your head against life, trying to do things your own way, according to your own desires, and your own wisdom, rather than his.
He has given us everything we need for life and godliness:
v3. All things pertaining to life and godliness – granted to us – Through his divine power
Life and godliness, referring to a single thing: a godly life. A life that reflects his. A christlike life. A life that glorifies God, and shows others who he is. We have access to everything we need to live that kind of life.
His divine power is the source here. We have the ability to live a godly life, because we have everything we need to live a godly life, because God’s divine power is the source of “everything we need!” It is possible. We’ll define godliness, and we’ll unpack how his power helps us in a bit.
In fact, the thought is repeated, not only has he given everything you need for godliness, he “calls you to his own glory and excellence”. He calls you to it, and then grants you everything you need for it. If you are tempted to answer “no he hasn’t” – you are directly refuting scripture – and if you ask “well then how has he given it to us, I haven’t seen it yet!” My suggestion again is that you are looking to the wrong things for that power, and it is time to rethink your assumptions about who God is, and read the scripture freshly, with help from those who can guide you in understanding.
v4. Precious and very great promises > granted to us – by his glory and excellence
Excellence = goodness
It doesn’t list the great and precious promises here, those we find throughout the scripture, but it does tell us the outcome of these promises: that we are partakers of his divine nature! (Another nice, spiritual-sounding phrase…) What does that mean?
He explains that we have escaped corruption that comes from acting on sinful desire – we are given new desires, we desire new things, we have a new heart that wants things that are different from what the world wants.
v11. Entrance into the eternal kingdom > provided for you – through calling and election
The outcome – entrance into the eternal kingdom, Jesus’ kingdom, is provided for you!
Now there’s a bit of a hitch here, something that has caused a lot of theological debate through the centuries. Because as we keep reading, we’ll see that entrance into the kingdom is something that is provided for you – and if you look at the structure of the thought here – it is provided because of God’s calling and election – but it is provided by way of a whole life of increasing virtue!
The debate is, so which is more important: the calling and election (selection)? Or the life of virtue? Which is more important? If I’m called/elected, as evidenced by my profession of faith in Christ, and don’t have the life of virtue, will I enter into the eternal kingdom? Or, can I earn my way in to the eternal kingdom by living a virtuous life?
Let’s look at the virtues listed here, and then I am going to answer that question.
Let’s give a brief definition of each of the “qualities” listed in verses 5-7:
- Faith – Faithfulness/loyalty.
- Virtue – Goodness / moral excellence (same word as in verse 3)
- Knowledge – In v3, he’s speaking of God’s having introduced himself to us, having revealed himself to us. In v4-5, he’s talking about us pursing knowledge about God. Studying the things God has revealed. i.e., studying the Bible, studying theology..
- Self-Control – Often used as the opposite of ‘sinful desire” found in v4. Distinctly, the thing that the false teachers Peter will describe in the next chapter were lacking.
- Steadfastness – Perseverance over the long haul.
- Godliness – Piety, faith, right action, and reverence/esteem for God, and for those who are associated with him: namely, humanity.
- Brotherly affection – Philadelphia, familial affection. A common virtue in the greco-roman world, but uniquely here applied to those who were part of God’s family – the church.
- Love – Agapé, a uniquely christian virtue. Note it is a virtue, not a feeling. One commentator said, interestingly, Christians are not commanded to have warm feelings toward one another, or even like or prefer one another, we are commanded to act lovingly toward one another.
1 Corinthians 13 provides a very in-depth explanation of what love is, and it speaks primarily of how it acts, what it does. The warm feelings follow.
- …and things Like these – This list is not comprehensive. Several lists appear in the new testament. The most popular is “the fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5:22-23
FRUITFULNESS AND EFFECTIVENESS
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.2 Peter 1:8 (ESV)
Effectiveness and fruitfulness. Isn’t that the kind of Christian life you want? It should be.
If you are content to sit still in your faith, thinking you know Jesus and aren’t going to hell, and so that’s good enough, and let’s get on with life according to my own plans – if that’s you – I’d urge you to consider whether you really know Jesus.
A Christian wants to please God. A Christian wants to grow in their faith. A Christian wants others to know about their savior, lord, and friend, Jesus.
The answer to the age old faith versus works theology debate: is it enough to believe in Christ to get to heaven, even if I don’t have many good deeds to show for it? Or can those who live good lives of virtue get in to heaven is this: If you have a saving faith in Christ – the kind that you need – you will want to live a virtuous life, in all the ways this list says.
It’s the “want to” the “desire” that is the key piece. Jesus says we need a new heart. And he’s the one that gives the new heart. “Richly provided for you…”
That new heart leads to new actions and new decisions. They go together. You should doubt your faith if you look at this list and have a “meh” reaction.
How can we know we have these qualities that are so important?
How can we increase in them?
How can we be fruitful and effective in our faith?
The answer is in the third common thread through the first fifteen verses. The most repeated word and concept: knowledge. Look back through the chapter and look for the word knowledge and three others: know, forget, and remind.
How can we be fruitful in our faith, and so be provided with entrance into the eternal kingdom? By his divine power, through knowledge/revelation.
We must know Jesus. We must know him personally, and we must know things about him.
When Christians use churchy language like “let Jesus into your heart” and “open your heart to Jesus” – this is what we mean. We pray and say “Lord Jesus, I want to know you. I want to find out more about you. I want the things you want. I want to follow the path you told us to go, the one you walked yourself. I want to go the way you tell us to go because of the amazing things you did for us in rescuing us from our sinful rebellion against you, having mercy on us, paying our spiritual debt by dying on the cross for our sin. “
That desire to know Jesus also results in us studying his life – what his first followers wrote down for us in the scriptures about the things he did and said. We study the way he lived and we follow his pattern.
We study theology to find out what other godly men and women thought, led by the same desire and same Holy Spirit, how they reasoned through the hard sayings and hard texts. How they formulated the different complicated parts of the Bible together. We do this to make sure our understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, and what he wants is accurate.
We know Jesus by praying, by worshipping, by reading the Bible, by discussing the Bible with others, and by studying theology. And especially we know Jesus by going and obeying the things we’re learning about.
There’s an analogy here: I love my wife. I’m fascinated by her, still, after knowing each other since high school, and coming up on 18 years of marriage. I want to know what she’s thinking about, so I ask her. I want to know the things she likes, so I pay attention and study her. And when I find out that she wants something, I don’t just say “oh cool, now I know that!” If its in my ability, I go and do something about it!
So a relationship is knowing personally, knowing about, and acting on what you know. We are to know Jesus this way.
Our section today with Peter highlighting how important this is. It’s so important for Christians to know Jesus this way, that he intends to (verse 13) stir them up by way of reminder. And that’s really all I’m trying to do this morning.