Here are some thoughts on II Peter 1:5-8. We read this recently in our family devotions and it struck me in a new way. I hope this consideration will be helpful.
II Peter 1:5-8
… Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful…
Here Peter presents us a list of eight Christian qualities. Sometimes when I read such lists, I just breeze past them because they are obvious things that I know I ought to be doing. But it is really worthwhile not to go by this list too fast. Peter makes this point emphatically later in the chapter. He says in verse 12,
Therefore, I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them…
Then Peter tells his readers that he will soon die. Jesus has made that clear to him. He says that his dying wish is that somehow, we would always have these qualities in our minds. Verse 15 says,
And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
I find it interesting that Peter does not present these qualities in the form of a simple list. Rather, each quality comes packaged with the idea of, “supplement A with B”. One way to think about this is that we are tempted to think that each quality is unimportant if we have some success in the previous quality, i.e., if we have A, we can go ahead and skip B. Let me propose a short example of what each “supplement with” connection between the various qualities might entail. I’m sure you can think of others.
First, if we have faith, we could be tempted to think our faith gives us an excuse to not bother too much about virtue. This is a common fallacy addressed throughout the NT. Since our salvation is by grace through faith, and not of works, why should we think that virtue is really important?
Likewise, virtue becomes an excuse to not bother about knowledge. It is quite popular to pooh-pooh knowledge, because virtue is what matters.
But, as Paul said, “knowledge puffs up”. Without self-control, knowledge easily leads to boasting, argumentativeness, or just making an ass of oneself.
Now, one way to practice self-control is to just keep some distance and avoid getting too involved. But, self-control without steadfastness is actually just shirking.
Maybe you are a “steady-Eddie”, someone who can always be counted on to do what is needed. Does that give you an excuse to punt on godliness? On having a weak prayer life or to not read and meditate on the Word of God?
Maybe you are disciplined in your piety. You pray a lot. You read the Bible faithfully. You regularly attend the church meetings. You are introspective and confess your sins regularly. But in all this personal godliness, have you forgotten about brotherly kindness? Or, do you just consider brotherly kindness unimportant surface stuff?
Finally, maybe you are warm and friendly, and always ready to help. You not only are ready to help, but you are good at knowing how. But, do you really think about how to meet the deeper needs of others’ souls? Agape love must be added to brotherly kindness.
I suspect that we each can see ourselves needing some serious improvement in one or more of these links, and that, unfortunately, we sinfully use success in one area as an excuse to shirk our responsibility in another. Remember that God has called us to increase in all these qualities, not just the few that match our temperament. This is the key to effectiveness and fruitfulness. This is Peter’s dying wish for the church.
Your brother in the Lord,
—Elder Jim Blake