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 1:12-15 ESV
Peter is dead serious about the seven virtues he has just brought up. They weren’t just friendly suggestions that the readers of his letter were free to take or leave. No, Peter saw them as indispensable and unavoidable necessities for living the Christian life. They were the attributes of Christ Himself. And since growing in their knowledge of and intimacy with Christ was to be an objective of their relationship with Him, they should also grow in the likeness to Him. Their character of their lives should emulate His. So, Peter warns them that he is going to continue to lovingly nag them about these things. He knows that he has not told them anything they have not heard before. This was basic Christianity 101. But, he knew that they needed constant reminding because these things were easy to lose sight of in the midst of all the pressures of life and the temptations that come with living in a fallen world. Other things take precedence. Each of the seven virtues have competing alternatives that can tempt believers to display opposite character qualities that are destructive, rather than constructive. Instead of virtue or moral excellence, there is always the temptation to live in moral compromise or mediocrity. In other words, to live a slightly-less-than holy life. This usually happens when we begin to live according to human, rather godly standards.
If knowledge is the Spirit-empowered capacity to know right from wrong, how simple it is to silence that still, small voice of the Spirit and listen to the wisdom of this world. When we do, we begin to call good evil and evil good. Our sense of perspective becomes corrupted by the passions associated with our old sin nature. And instead of displaying wisdom based on a knowledge of God’s will and ways, we begin to act like fools, operating in ignorance, and all the while thinking we are wise.
Self-control is the ability to master one’s desires and passions. So, it doesn’t take a genius to understand what a lack of self-control looks like. When we stop adding self-control to our faith, we fall into the trap of operating according to our own fleshly desires. For the Christian, self-control is really about being controlled by the Spirit and not by our own flesh. And the apostle Paul makes it clear what happens when we let our old nature take back over the reigns of our life.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT
Steadfastness is patient endurance and perseverance, even in the face of difficulties and trials. The obvious alternative is impatience and impulsiveness. We find ourselves quickly running out of endurance and the stamina it takes to live Christ-like lives in this fallen and sin-filled world. The pressures of life mount up and we find ourselves giving up.
The opposite of godliness is ungodliness. But that doesn’t necessarily mean totally depraved, sinful behavior. Godliness is nothing more than behavior that reflects the character of God, so ungodliness is any and all behavior that fails to reflect His character. You don’t have to hate someone else to fail to reflect God’s character. You just have to refuse to love those He has called you to love. You can simply ignore others and refuse to give them the time of day. You don’t have to murder someone to reflect ungodly character. You simply have to slander them or spread damaging rumors about them. Even despising them in your heart is ungodly in the eyes of God. So, if we are not constantly adding godliness to our lives, the opposite will show up.
Brotherly affection is nothing more than love for a brother or sister in Christ. But it is more than a feeling of affection for them. It is an outward display of tangible care and concern. It is the ”one another” passages of Scripture lived out in real life. We are to encourage one another, admonish one another, carry one another’s burdens, accept one another, forgive one another, and patiently tolerate one another. You can easily see what the opposite of brotherly affection would look like.
Finally, there’s love – agape love – the kind of love by which God loved us. It is selfless and sacrificial, expecting nothing in return. It is other-oriented, not me-focused. And when our love of self overshadows our love for others, we are not living out this non-negotiable character quality of Christ Himself. We are not loving as He has loved us.
So, Peter tells his readers that he is going to continue to bring these attributes up, even thought he knows they are already familiar with them. Knowing them and living them out are two different things. Having a cognitive understanding of them is of no use if our lives fail to display a visible application of them.
In this passage, Peter says that he feels it is only right that he remind them of these things, and that he will do so as long as he is alive. Then he makes an interesting statement: “since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me” (2 Peter 1:14 ESV). What is he talking about? What did Jesus makes clear to him regarding the putting off of his body or his death? If you recall, after the resurrection of Jesus, when He had made numerous appearances to the disciples, He had a particularly memorable encounter with Peter. Three separate times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. It is important to recall that Peter had denied Jesus three different times on the night that He had been betrayed and was being tried. The three questions Jesus asked Peter had been difficult for him to hear and answer. But each time, Peter answered in the affirmative. “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’” (John 21:17 ESV). And, it was right after this that Jesus said to Peter:
18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” – John 21:18-19 ESV
Notice that last two words, “follow me”. Those were the same two words that had started Peter’s journey with Christ more than three years earlier. But this time, Jesus was indicating that Peter was going to follow Jesus in death. Tradition states that Peter was eventually crucified. His hands were stretched out and he was carried where he did not want to go. But at the time Peter wrote this letter, he had no idea when his fate would come. He simply knew that he was going to one day follow Jesus in death. So, he was driven by a sense of timeliness and urgency. And he tells his readers, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 2:15 ESV). In other words, Peter was going to leave them some form of written encouragement to continue to remind them about these seven character qualities.
Peter made “every effort” – he wrote down his thoughts, making them a permanent record of his feelings concerning these things. And that letter not only encouraged those who received it initially, it became a permanent part of Holy Scripture, providing all of us who have come to faith in Christ with words of encouragement and admonition. These seven virtues are as necessary today as they were the day Peter penned his letter. “These things”, as Peter calls them, are still a vital part of living the Christian life. Times have changed. Cultures have evolved and adapted themselves to new conditions. But there is still a need for virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. And only the body of Christ can display these characteristics, because they are spiritual in nature. They are Spirit-empowered. Apart from the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God, no man is capable of producing these qualities. We can fake it. We can display poor imitations of them. But these Christ-like character qualities begin with faith in Christ and are supplements to that faith. They are the marks of those who have been chosen by God and who have received new natures and a new capacity to live as His children in a lost and dying world.
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.