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
If God has supplied everything we need for living the godly life to which He has called us, are we free from having to bring anything to the table? Do we play any part at all? Peter quickly eliminates any notion that we have no responsibility in our own spiritual growth. He has just reminded his readers that they have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). This is because God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). And it is through those promises that we “may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). So, with that reality in mind, Peter encourages his audience to “make every effort”. The Greek could be translated, “giving all diligence”. They are to contribute something, in addition to or alongside of, that which God has supplied. And they are to do so diligently and earnestly. There is a sense of urgency to Peter’s words. He is not making a suggestion, but communicating a non-optional necessity. This is something they must do and the sooner, the better. He is going to provide them with a list of seven character qualities that should mark the life of every believer. And Peter points out that we are not born with them. We are not even “born again” with them. He says that we are to “supplement” our faith with them. The Greek word Peter uses is interesting. It is epichorēgeō, and it comes from another Greek word, chorēgeō, that means, “to furnish the chorus at one’s own expense”. The preposition, epi, seems to convey the idea of time, place or order. Faith is the necessary ingredient and the only prerequisite for salvation, but it is to be followed in close order by this chorus of qualities, and they are to be added “at one’s own expense”. This doesn’t mean we self-manufacture them or develop them out of thin air based on our own human effort. But we must strive, alongside the Spirit and with His help, to see that this things are added to our faith. In essence, our faith is to grow and produce fruit in the form of tangible, visible character traits.
Peter begins with virtue. The New Living Translation calls it “moral excellence”. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action”. This ties back to Peter’s admonition in his first letter, “be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). This moral purity or excellence of character is to show up in every area of life. It is to be internal as well as external. Virtue is not to be a facade we manufacture to fool those around us. It is to flow from the inside-out. Next, Peter adds knowledge. His idea here seems to be moral wisdom, the ability to know what is right and wrong. Good behavior is dependent on a solid understanding of what God demands and expects. Paul talks about this very thing in his letter to the Romans.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT
God wants to change the way you think. The word, orthodoxy, refers to right beliefs. But the word, orthopraxy, refers to right behavior. Moral knowledge or wisdom that does not show up in moral purity is worthless.
Next on Peter’s list is self-control. This has to do with temperance or moderation. It is the ability to master one’s desires and passions, especially sensual desires. Paul put it this way:
15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit… – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT
Knowing what to do is of no use if we lack the self-control to follow through on that knowledge. The night that Jesus was going to be betrayed, he prayed in the garden and was forced to confront His disciples about their inability to stay awake. They lacked self-control, so He said to them, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41 NLT). Paul confessed, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT).
The next characteristic on Peter’s list is steadfastness. It is a word that conveys patient endurance and perseverance, even in the face of difficulties and trials. The journey of faith is a long-term, life-long commitment. Knowing what is right and having the self-control to do it is great, but not if it cannot be maintained over an extended period of time. Jesus described this kind of short-term, impatient person in a parable He told to the disciples.
20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. – Matthew 13:20-21 NLT
No endurance. As soon as the trials of life show up, they give up. But our faith is going to require an ongoing, steadfast, never-give-up-no-matter-what kind of endurance that lasts to the end. Jesus told us “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13 NLT). He was not inferring that some will lose their salvation. But He was stressing that endurance is a hallmark characteristic of those who have placed their faith in Him, and within whom He has placed His Spirit.
It should come as no surprise that Peter adds godliness to the mix. After all, he clearly stated in his first letter, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). Godliness is nothing more than behavior that reflects the character of God. As His children, we should emulate His nature. We are sons and daughters of God, so our behavior should reflect that reality. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned him of the state of affairs that would mark the end times.
2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… – 2 Timothy 3:2-4 ESV
What’s interesting is that Paul goes on to say that these very same people will have “the appearance of godliness” but will deny its power. What a minute? Look at that list again. Do any of those characteristics even remotely come across as godly? No. But we have to keep in mind that they are qualities that issue from the heart. They can remain hidden from view. So, these people were capable of appearing one way, but on the inside, they were something completely different. Godliness is not just an outward action, but it stems from an inward disposition that is determined to do what God desires. It stems from a desire to please God in every area of life.
What does Peter mean by “brotherly affection”? It is the Greek word, philadelphia, and it literally refers to the love of one brother for another. Jesus matter-of-factly stated, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). John expands on the words of Jesus, providing us with even further insight into what this kind of love entails.
9 If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness. – 1 John 2:9-11 NLT
The kind of love John and Jesus are describing is a tangible expression of love that can be seen and felt. It is not a sentimental, Hallmark-card kind of love that shows up in words only. It gets fleshed out in acts of mercy, compassion, and kindness.
And on top of this brotherly-focused love is to be added agape love. That’s the Greek word Peter uses. And it is the highest expression of love. It is the way in which God has loved us. It entails selfless sacrifice. It is a love that expects nothing in return. In other words, it is not self-serving. This is not a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of love. Jesus described this kind of love in stark terms.
12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:12-13 NLT
Jesus loved us enough to die for us. He gave His life for us. And that is the kind of love that is to characterize our lives. Jesus came to serve, not be served. He came to sacrifice His life for those who hated Him. Jesus didn’t love the lovely, the lovable, or those who loved Him back. And John reminds us that our love should emulate that of Jesus.
16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. – 1 John 3:16-18 NLT
These things are essential to healthy spiritual life. They are like supplements to aid in our spiritual development and formation. Like vitamins and minerals are necessary for our physical well-being, these seven characteristics need to be added to our faith on a daily basis, so that we might grow stronger and more vibrant in our faith. Having a bottle of vitamins in the cabinet will not make you healthier. You have to take them, regularly and over the long-term. Having these seven characteristics pointed out to you is pointless if you are not going to add them to your spiritual life. Which is why Peter said we are to make every effort to supplement our faith with these things. They don’t replace our faith. And we do not add them apart from faith. But they are the fruit of our faith. We must believe that God desires these things for us and that He will empower us as we strive to make them a permanent part of our lives.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.