Can a person embark on a journey that leads to knowing God? The overwhelming claim of the Bible is yes! Not only can anyone of us know the Lord and the Creator of everything that exists, we are invited---even urged---each one of us, to know him intimately, personally and deeply.
It is certainly evident today that the majority of people in the world neither know, nor want to know, the living God. The masses are totally indifferent to the One by whom all life is given. If He exists at all, He is evidently unimportant and irrelevant as far as making any difference in their daily lives from the cradle to the grave. Following what they say or emulating the way the majority lives is definitely the path of ignorance not the way to life.
Another class of persons in the human race claims to know God, or they say they are seeking him. Judging from the quality of their lives these folks shout to us that the Lord of glory is a disappointing, uninteresting Person or else he is never to be found at all in practical experience. Still other people see representing God, (or rather misrepresenting him), as a way to get rich quick or to gain power and influence in the world. Although there seem to be few true atheists around these days, religious confusion abounds and it is clear that not many enjoy the intended relationship for which God created them in the beginning.
Yet God is the ultimate reality in all the universe, and as the Apostle Paul says "from him and for him and to him are all things, to him be the glory forever." Those who genuinely desire to know him (as he really is) are never disappointed. In one sense knowing God is the easiest thing in the world, easier than falling off a log. Indeed the Bible says simply, "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you," and again, "Ask and it will be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you." Jesus said, "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for you souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
In another sense knowing and loving God is a lifetime process that follows that initial introduction we call regeneration or the "new birth." There are many pitfalls and difficulties in following God on a long term basis. Countless numbers of once-enthusiastic seekers drop out and fall along the wayside. Others make shipwreck of their lives and write off God as unable to save them or put their damaged lives back together again failing to see the depths of his mercy. But it is He who said to Israel, "All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people." So what is needed is a sure word, a clear instruction on how to know God and how to build a solid foundation for a life lived in fellowship and harmony with him.
The word religion is extremely rare in the New Testament and the writings of mystics. The reason is simple. Those attitudes and practices to which we give the collective name of religion are themselves concerned with religion hardly at all. To be religious is to have one's attention fixed on God and on one's neighbour in relation to God. Therefore, almost by definition, a religious man, or a man when he is being religious, is not thinking about religion; he hasn't the time. Religion is what we (or he himself at a later moment) call his activity from outside. --C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), Lilies that Fester
In the gospels, we can see Peter showing natural leadership and initiative. But he was impetuous, and seemed to always be putting his foot in his mouth. His impulsive approach was often "Ready, Fire, Aim" (Chuck Missler). Then, after Pentecost, Peter emerged suddenly as a bold, articulate, and effective champion of the message Jesus had taught him during their three years together.
In his second Epistle, this great Apostle presents a wonderful, succinct program for living life as a follower of Christ. It's the kind of message we especially need to hear these days in a culture which insists on instant results and immediate gratification-we seem to have so little regard for long term goals. As far as God is concerned what matters most is not whether we start the journey as professing Christians, but that we endure to the end and finish the race.
"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:1-4, 12-15)
Chapter One of Second Peter is one of those sections of the Bible which needs to be unpacked. There is more here than meets the eye. Here is the text:
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 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, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason 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 things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:1-11)
One big help in digging into these verses is to examine the original Greek and look up the key words in a Greek-English Lexicon. Then the verses can be paraphrased to better suit our contemporary language. (I found William Barclay very helpful, I've drawn on him in the notes below).
Peter opens the epistle by telling us ordinary Christians that we have a faith of equal standing, equal access, we are on the same ground--as the apostles. The word he uses--isotimos--means "equally privileged." The Apostles John and Paul say the same thing. These men who were personally trained by Jesus Himself are not "over us" in the Lord, but servants of God on our behalf. Here is a reminder that there is no hierarchy in the church of Jesus Christ. Neither are gentile Christians second-rate believers compared to the Jews.
Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)
Each of us, if truly born again, has a direct relationship with our Lord. Pastors, elders, apostles, and mentors are the servants of God on our behalf. We are each justified before God by our faith. The righteousness we have has been credited to our accounts because of our faith in Jesus. Furthermore, we have been able to know God because of knowledge imparted to us by God in His mercy. (The entire passage in 2 Peter 1 places a strong emphasis on "knowledge" as will become clear). "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ."(Romans 10:17)
"May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" --the ordinary Greek word for knowledge (gnosis) is not used here. Peter uses epignosis (full-knowledge). Paul uses this same word in Colossians where he teaches that the knowledge which God grants to us is greater and more vast than the incomplete knowledge available from any secular source. Epi means "toward." Epignosis is knowledge which points to God and to an ever increasing knowledge of Him. In his opening greeting Peter asks God on our behalf, "may peace and grace be yours in ever greater measure."
It may appear that it is God the Father and Jesus the Son (two Persons) who are referred to here in verse one, but actually the grammar indicates one Person--Jesus is both our God and Savior. Peter now tells us about our resources for living the Christian life.
"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness"
In Colossians, Paul tells us that God's mighty power is given to us so that we might be patient with people and persistently endure in difficult circumstances. Here in Second Peter we learn that God equips us with all the resources we need to live real life (zoen) and to live in "godliness" (Greek: eusebeia from eu = "well" and sebomai = "to be devout").God is never much impressed with one's external religious fervor. Isaiah Chapter 58 tells us this with regard to Israel's external religion which maintained its outward form long after the heart-values of loving God were gone.
"Pure and undefiled religion (threskeia) before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27)
"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness"
"through the knowledge (epignosis = "full knowledge") of him who called us to his own glory (doxes) and excellence (arêtes = "virtue, moral excellence")"
"by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises"
"that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion"
to escape (apophugontes from apopheugo = "to escape completely, to flee as a fugitive.")
corruption (phthora = "rottenness," decay from within, as in a corpse)
passion (epithumia, = "strong desire," sexual lust, selfish desire, covetousness, love of the world, lust for power or control")
Because the unbelievers of the world (kosmos = the world system) pursue self interest and pleasure and not God (which is what we were designed for)--the result is death and inner corruption.
"Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:1-4)
"and become partakers of the divine nature (theias koinonos phusis)."
That we may become "partakers of the divine nature" does not mean that men can become gods. That delusional lie was introduced into our race by the devil at the time of the fall (Genesis 3). As a result of believing what Scripture now calls THE lie (Rom. 1:25), men who live apart from Christ strive to run their own lives and pursue their own ambitions and goals without reference to God or His purposes for humanity. The truth is that normal humanity is supposed to be indwelt by God. We were designed to live in partnership, in union with, our Creator. "He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him." (1 Cor. 6:17) We are, however, not absorbed into God--which pantheism assumes--we retain our full individual identity and we realize our full potential when we are indwelt and controlled by God.
Peter makes mention of God's "precious and very great promises." The Bible is full of these promises. Some are unconditional, such as "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (James 4:8) Other promises are conditional, if we do something, God will respond with certain guaranteed results. An example of a conditional promise is Philippians 4:6-7 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Obviously we can keep our anxiety if we wish, and be miserable. We will get God's peace, however, only when we have aired the matter thoroughly with God "by prayer and supplication." The Bible offers hundreds of promises to God's people. We are always on safe ground when we pray according to God's stated character and purposes, and according to His promises. It should be obvious that ignorance of the Bible imposes a big and unnecessary handicap on us.
The Royal Road
For this very reason 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.
To supplement (epichoregein, lit., "to outfit the chorus," to equip an army, to equip the soul with all the necessary virtues for life)
faith (pistis, = to believe, trust, "to lean one's entire weight upon Jesus") as opposed to merely acknowledging)
virtue (arete = operative, or efficient, excellence). It can be used of land which is fertile; and it can be used of the mighty deeds of the gods. Arete is that virtue which makes a man a good citizen and friend; it is that virtue which makes him an expert in the technique of living well. Arete often means courage. Arete is very rare in the New Testament but it is the supreme Greek word for virtue in every sense of the term.
knowledge (gnosis, knowledge [of God]). In today's world we are flooded with secular knowledge and useless, ephemeral information, but the knowledge of God is in short supply.
self-control (egkrateia = "to get a grip on oneself.") When reason fights against passion and prevails we call it self-control, or sell-mastery. Egkrateia is one of the great Christian virtues; and the place it holds is an example of the realism of the Christian ethic. There is akolasia, which is the precise opposite; it is the state in which reason is entirely subjugated to passion; we might call it unbridled lust. In between these two states there is akrasia, in which reason fights but passion prevails; we might call it incontinence. There is egkiateia, in which reason fights against passion and prevails; we call it self-control, or self-mastery.
steadfastness (hupomene lit., "a remaining under," standing firm under pressure, patient enduring, steadfastness). "The voluntary and daily suffering of hard and difficult things, for the sake of honor and usefulness." Hupomone does not simply accept and endure; there is always a forward look in it. It is said of Jesus, by the writer to the Hebrews, that for the joy that was set before him, he endured the Cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2). It is the courageous acceptance of everything that life can do to us and the transmuting of even the worst event into another step on the upward way.
godliness (eusebeia = practical religion, godliness which means piety, or a sincere devotion to God). The word has to do with true religion: worship and dedication to God and at the same time service to one's fellow man. Eusebeia is the nearest Greek word for religion; and, when we begin to define it, we see the intensely practical character of the Christian religion. When a man becomes a Christian, he acknowledges a double duty, to God and to his fellow-men."
brotherly affection (philadelphia, tender love and affection for the brethren)
love (agape, that self-giving, self-denying love that seeks the best for the beloved no matter the cost to the giver).
The list given to us begins with faith and ends with love. This eight-step program, or "ladder of virtues" begins when we first trust Jesus Christ as Lord. For many of us, we have little knowledge of God or the Bible when we first become Christians. However, when we reach out and place our trust in Jesus, God responds to us. Jesus said, "No man can come to me unless the Father draws him. "In some mysterious way, God both desires that we seek Him--indeed, He commands us to seek Him --and, at the same time, He seeks us first, draws us to his Son, and enables us to believe. The apostle Paul said that faith is a gift. We cannot, by exercising our wills, create faith in our own hearts. Nor does God enter our lives uninvited. We must ask for faith, and give God permission to change us from the inside. Like Thomas, we may often need to pray, "Lord, help my unbelief!" And then He is merciful and true and gracious to give us the help that we so desperately need. Wondrfully our capacity to believe and to trust God grows stronger with exercise, "Faith apart from works is dead."
One of the most interesting prayers I was heard when I began seeking in earnest was "Lord, liberate us to respond to you in submission."
Obviously the list of virtues is not something we work through once and then stop--it's a pattern for day by day living for the rest of our lives. Peter is not telling us how to be saved by good works, but rather about our God molding us into the likeness of His Son. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, because God is at work in you, both to will and to do according to his own good pleasure."
Step Two (virtue) means that our new-found relationship with Christ will lead us to make life-style changes. "Repentance" means to "have a different mind"-to see things differently and to change our behavior accordingly. Knowing Jesus causes our priorities to change. We abandon old habits and put in place new activities. New friends come into our lives and other deleterious relationships come to an end. We start to "try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord" (Eph. 5:20).
In the way of virtue, there is no standing still; anyone who does not daily advance, loses ground. To remain at a standstill is impossible; he that gains not, loses; he that ascends not, descends. If one does not ascend the ladder, one must descend; if one does not conquer, one will be conquered. --St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)
Step Three asks of us that we acquire further knowledge. As we apply the truth we have received, it becomes part of who we are, and we then have the capacity to acquire new and deeper truth (On the other hand, truth not acted on is lost). The Christian must never stop learning and growing! "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17) When we plateau in the Christian life, thinking that we now know enough to get by, we soon find ourselves running on autopilot, thus no longer exercising genuine faith. Real faith is always reaching out in trust for that which is beyond our immediate grasp. But "whatever is not based on faith is sin." Therefore standing still in the Christian life actually causes us to lose ground. Treading water upstream from the Falls in the Niagara River is not recommended. "Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed." (Hannah in 1 Sam. 1:23)
Self-control, Step Four, is actually a part of the fruit of the Spirit. "...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another..." (Galatians 5:22-26).
As we mature in Christ we become reliable, dependable, consistent, patiently-enduring--Step Five. We keep our promises and stop the roller-coaster living that often marks our early Christian life. Jesus said, "If you continue in My word, you will become My disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)
Step Six is godliness. William Barclay says, "The word is eusebeia and is quite untranslatable. Even piety is inadequate, carrying as it does a suggestion sometimes of something not altogether attractive. The great characteristic of eusebeia is that it looks in two directions. The man who has eusebeia always correctly worships God and gives him his due; but he always correctly serves his fellowmen and gives them their due. The man who is eusebes (the corresponding adjective) is in a right relationship both with God and his fellowmen. Eusebeia is piety but in its most practical aspect. Eusebeia is the nearest Greek word for religion; and, when we begin to define it, we see the intensely practical character of the Christian religion. When a man becomes a Christian, he acknowledges a double duty, to God and to his fellow-men.
Finally, it is by faith that we discover how to show brotherly concern and affection towards our fellow believers. The self-giving love which comes from God is last on the list. Godly love does not depend on our emotions. We love by exercising faith--trust in God--by faith, just as we lay hold of all the other attributes in the above list of virtues by faith. Furthermore, when we are born again by His spirit, we are a new kind of “tree,” grounded and rooted in Him, and bearing good fruit because of Christ's resurrection Life which He imparts in us.
It is easy for us to forget that "God is love" and that all that the Law and the Prophets require of us can be summed up in two great commandments: to love God with one's whole heart and mind and soul and strength, and one's neighbor as oneself.
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
"Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13)
Putting off the Old Life, Putting on Christ
An overview of Peter's teaching shows that we are to put off an old lifestyle daily, by saying "no" to the flesh, the world, and the devil--and to put on our new nature which is Christ’s nature. This is the same thing as "putting on love" as described by the Apostle Paul, The eight attributes on Peter's list are actually attributes of Jesus Himself. Therefore Peter's eight-step plan is the same thing as Paul's word to us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." In Colossians Paul writes,
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.
"Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:1-17)
For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective (argos) and unfruitful (akarpos) in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted (muopazon) and has forgotten that he was cleansed (katharismos) from his old sins.
Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an [the] entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
To conclude, William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible Series says,
"Peter strongly urges his people to keep climbing up this ladder of virtues which he has set before them. The more we know of any subject the more we are fit to know. It is always true that "to him that hath it shall be given." Progress is the way to more progress. To keep climbing up the ladder of the virtues is to come ever nearer to knowing Jesus Christ; and the further we climb, the further we are able to climb.
"On the other hand, if we refuse to make the effort of the upward climb, certain things happen. (a) We grow blind; we are left without the guiding light that the knowledge of Jesus Christ brings. As Peter sees it, to walk without Christ is to walk in the dark and not to be able to see the way. (b) We grow what Peter calls muopazon. This word can have either of two meanings. It can mean short-sighted. It is easy to become shortsighted in life, to see things only as they appear at the moment and to be unable to take the long view of things, to have our eyes so fixed upon earth that we never think of the things beyond. It can also mean blinking, shutting the eyes. Again, it is easy in life to shut our eyes to what we do not wish to see, and to walk, as it were, in blinkers. To walk without Christ is to be in danger of taking the short-sighted or the blinkered view of life.
"Further, to fail to climb the ladder of virtue is to forget that the sins of the old way of life have been cleansed away. Peter is thinking of baptism. At that time baptism was adult baptism; it was a deliberate act of decision to leave the old way and to enter upon the new. The man who, after baptism, does not begin upon the upward climb has forgotten, or never realized, the meaning of the experience through which he has passed. For many of us the parallel to baptism in this sense is entry into the membership of the Christian Church. To make our commitment and then to remain exactly the same, is to fail to understand what church membership means, for our entry into it should be the beginning of a climb upon the upward way.
"In view of all this, Peter urges his people to make every effort to confirm their calling by God. Here is a most significant demand. In one way all is of God; it is God's call which gives us entry into the fellowship of his people; without his grace and his mercy we could do nothing and could expect nothing. But that does not absolve us from every possible effort. God has called us in his free mercy and his unmerited grace, but at the same time we have to bend every effort to toll upwards and onwards on the way. If we follow this upward way, Peter says, we shall in the end be richly gifted with the right of entry into his eternal kingdom, and we shall not slip upon the way. By this Peter does not mean that we will never sin. The picture in his mind is of a march and he means that we will never fall out upon the march and be left behind. If we set out upon this upward and onward way, the effort will be great but God's help will also be great; and in spite of all the toil, he will enable us to keep going until we reach our journey's end."
Notes: From William Barclay's commentary on 2 Peter (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1976).
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, writes this letter to those to whom there has been allotted a faith equal in honour and privilege with our own, through the impartial justice of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:1)
The letter opens with a very subtle and beautiful allusion for those who have eyes to see it and knowledge enough of the New Testament to grasp it. Peter writes to "those to whom there has been allotted a faith equal in honour and privilege with our own--and he calls himself Simon Peter. Who were these people? There can really be only one answer to that. They must once have been Gentiles in contradistinction to the Jews who were uniquely the chosen people of God. Those who had once been no people are now the chosen people of God (1 Peter 2:10); those who were once aliens and strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, and who were once far off, have been brought nigh (Ephesians 2:11-13).
Peter puts this very vividly, using a word which would at once strike an answering chord in the minds of those who heard. Their faith is equal in honour and privilege. The Greek is isotimos; isos means equal and time means honour. This word was particularly used in connection with foreigners who were given equal citizenship in a city with the natives. Josephus, for instance, says that in Antioch the Jews were made isotimoi, equal in honour and privilege, with the Macedonians and the Greeks who lived there. So Peter addresses his letter to those 'Who had once been despised Gentiles but who had been given equal rights of citizenship with the Jews and even with the apostles themselves in the kingdom of God.
Two things have to be noted about this great privilege which had been extended to the Gentiles. (a) It had been allotted to them. That is to say, they had not earned it; it had fallen to them through no merit of their own, as some prize falls to a man by lot. In other words, their new citizenship was all of grace. (b) It came to them through the impartial justice of their God and Savior Jesus Christ. It came to them because with God there is no "most favored nation clause"; his grace and favour go out impartially to every nation upon earth.
What has this to do with the name Simon, by which Peter is here called? In the New Testament, he is most often called Peter; he is fairly often called Simon, which was, indeed, his original name before Jesus gave him the name of Cephas or Peter (John 1:41, 42); but only once in the rest of the New Testament is he called Simon. It is in the story of that Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 which decided that the door of the Church should be opened wide to the Gentiles. There James says, "Simon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name" (Acts 15:14). In this letter which begins with greetings to the Gentiles who have been granted by the grace of God privileges of equal citizenship in the kingdom with the Jews and with the apostles Peter is called by the name of Simon, and the only other time he is, called by that name is when he is the principal instrument, whereby that privilege is granted.
Simon has in it the memory that Peter is the man who opened doors. He opened the doors to Cornelius, the Gentile centurion (Acts 10); his great authority was thrown on the side of the open door at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).
Peter calls himself the servant of Jesus Christ. The word is doulos which really means slave. Strange as it may seem, here is a title, apparently one of humiliation, which the greatest of men took as a title of greatest honour. Moses the great leader and lawgiver was the doulos of God (Deuteronomy), 34:5; Psalm 105:26; Malachi 4:4). Joshua the great commander was the doulos of God (Joshua 24:29). David the greatest of the kings was the doulos of God (2 Samuel 3:18; Psalm 78:70). In the New Testament Paul is the doulos of Jesus Christ (Romans l:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1), a title which James (James 1:1), and Jude (Jude 1) both proudly claim. In the Old Testament the prophets are the douloi of God (Amos 3:7; Isaiah 20:3). And in the New Testament the Christian man frequently is Christ's doulos (Acts 2:18; 1 Corinthians 7:22; Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:24). There is deep meaning here.
(i) To call the Christian the doulos of God means that he is inalienably possessed by God. In the ancient world a master possessed his slaves in the same sense as he possessed his tools. A servant can change his master; but a slave cannot. The Christian inalienably belongs to God.
(ii) To call the Christian the doulos of God means that he is unqualifiedly at the disposal of God. In the ancient world the master could do what he liked with his slave; he had even the power of life and death over him. The Christian has no rights of his own, for all his rights are surrendered to God.
(iii) To call the Christian the doulos of God means that he owes an unquestioning obedience to God. A master's command was a slave's only law in ancient times. In any situation the Christian has but one question to ask: "Lord, what will you have me do?" The command of God is his only law.
(iv) To call the Christian the doulos of God means that he must be constantly in the service of God. In the ancient world the slave had literally no time of his own, no holidays, no leisure. All his time belonged to his master. The Christian cannot, either deliberately or unconsciously, compartmentalize life into the time and activities which belong to God, and the time and activities in which he does what he likes. The Christian is necessarily the man every moment of whose time is spent in the service of God.
We note one further point. Peter speaks of the impartial justice of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. The Authorized Version translates, "the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ," as if this referred to two persons, God and Jesus; but, as Moffatt and the Revised Standard Version both show, in the Greek there is only one person involved and the phrase is correctly rendered our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Its great interest is that it does what the New Testament very, very seldom does. It calls Jesus God. The only real parallel to this is the adoring cry of Thomas: "My Lord and my God. (John 20:28). This is not a matter to argue about; it is not even a matter of theology; for Peter and Thomas to call Jesus God was not a matter of theology but an out rush of adoration. It was simply that they felt human terms could not contain this person they knew as Lord.
May grace and peace be multiplied to you by the knowledge of God, and of Jesus, our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)
Peter puts this in an unusual way. Grace and peace are to come from knowledge, the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Is he turning Christian experience into so thing dependent on knowledge? Or is there some other meaning here? First, let us took at the word which he uses, knowledge (epignosis). It can be interpreted in two directions:
(a) it can mean increasing knowledge. Gnosis, the normal Greek word for knowledge, is here preceded by the preposition epi which means towards, in the direction of. Epignosis could be interpreted as knowledge which is always moving further in the direction of that which it seeks to know. Grace and peace are multiplied to the Christian as he comes to Jesus Christ better and better. As it has been put: "The more Christians realize the meaning of Jesus Christ, the more they realize the meaning of grace and the experience of peace."
(b) Epignosis has a second meaning. Often in Greek it means full knowledge. Plutarch, for instance, uses it of the scientific knowledge of music as opposed to the knowledge of the mere amateur. So it may be that the implication here is that knowledge of Jesus Christ is what we might call "the master-science of life." The other Sciences may bring new skill, new knowledge, new abilities, but the master-science the knowledge of Jesus Christ, alone brings the grace men need and the peace for which their hearts crave. There is still more: Peter has a way of using words which were commonly on the lips of the pagans of his day and charging them with a new meaning. Knowledge was a much-used word in pagan religious thought in the days when this letter was written. To take but one example, the Greeks defined sophia, wisdom, as knowledge of things both human and divine. The Greek seekers after God sought that knowledge in two main ways.
(a) They sought it by philosophic speculation. They sought to reach God by the sheer power of human thought. There are obvious troubles there. For one thing, God is infinite; the mind of man is finite; and the finite can never grasp the infinite. Long ago Zophar had asked: "Can you (by searching) find out the deep things of God?" (Job 11:7). If God is ever to be known, he must be known, not because man's mind discovers him but because he chooses to reveal himself. For another thing, if religion is based on philosophic speculation, at its highest it can be the preserve of only the few, for it is not given to every man to be a philosopher. Whatever Peter meant by knowledge, he did mean that.
(b) They sought it by mystical experience of the divine, until they could say, "I am thou, and thou art I." This was the way of the Mystery Religions. They were all passion plays; the dramatically-acted story of some God who suffered and died and rose again. The initiate was carefully prepared by instruction in the inner meaning of the story, by long fasting and abstinence, and by the deliberate building up of psychological tension. The play was then played out with a magnificent liturgy, sensuous music, carefully calculated lighting and the burning of incense. The aim was that, as the initiate watched, he should so enter into this experience that he became actually one with the suffering, dying, rising, and eternally triumphant God. Again there are troubles here. For one thing, not every one is capable of mystical experience. For another thing, any such experience is necessarily transient; it may leave an effect, but it cannot be a continual experience. Mystical experience is the privilege of the few.
(c) If this knowledge of Jesus Christ does not come by philosophic speculation or by mystical experience, what is it and how does it come? In the New Testament knowledge is characteristically personal knowledge. Paul does not say, "I know what I have believed"; he says, "I know whom I have believed" (2 Timothy, 1: 12). Christian knowledge of Christ is personal acquaintance with him; it is knowing him as a person and entering day by day into a more intimate relationship with him.
When Peter speaks of grace and peace coming through the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, he is not intellectualizing religion; he is saying that Christianity means an ever-deepening personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
THE GREATNESS OF JESUS CHRIST FOR MEN
Since his divine power has bestowed upon us all things that are necessary for true life and true religion, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, and since through these gifts there have been bestowed upon us precious and very great promises, that through them we might escape the world's corruption caused by lust and become sharers in the divine nature--since all this is so, bend all your energy to the task of equipping your faith courage, your courage with knowledge, your knowledge with self-control, your self-control with steadfastness, your steadfastness piety, your piety with brotherly affection, your brotherly affection with Christian love. (1 Peter 1:3-7)
In verses 3 and 4 there is a tremendous and comprehensive picture of Jesus Christ.
(i) He is the Christ of power. In him there is the divine power which cannot be ultimately defeated or frustrated. In this world one of the tragedies of life is that love is so often frustrated because it cannot give what it wants to give, cannot do what it wants to do and must so often stand helpless while the loved one meets disaster. But always Christ's love is backed by his power and is, therefore, a victorious love.
(ii) He is the Christ generosity. He bestows on us all things necessary for true life and true religion. The word Peter uses for religion is eusebeia, the characteristic meaning of which is practical religion. Peter is saying that Jesus Christ tells us what life is and then enables us to live it as it ought to be lived. He gives us a religion which is not withdrawal from life but triumphant involvement in it.
(iii) He is the Christ of the precious and great promises. That does not so much mean that he brings us the great and precious promises as that in him these promises come true. Paul put the same thing in a different way when he said that all the promises of God are Yes and Amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). That is to say Christ says, "Yes. So let it be," to these promises; he confirms and guarantees them. It has been put this way once we know Jesus Christ, every time we meet a promise in Scripture which begins with the word "Whosoever," we can immediately say to ourselves, "That means me."
(iv) He is the Christ by whom we escape the world's corruption. Peter had to meet the antinomians, the people who used the grace of God as an excuse for sin. They declared that grace was wide enough to cover every sin; therefore, sin does not matter any more, the grace of Christ will win forgiveness for it. For any man to speak like that is simply to show that he wants to sin. But Jesus Christ is the person who can help us overcome the fascination of the world's lust and cleanse us by his presence and his power. So long as we live in this world sin will never completely lose its fascination for us; but in the presence of Christ we have our defense against that fascination.
(v) He is the Christ who makes as sharers in the divine nature. Here again Peter is using an expression which the pagan thinkers well knew. They spoke much about sharing in the divine nature. But there was this difference--they believed that man had a share in the divine nature by virtue of being man. All men had to do was to live in accordance with the divine nature already in them. The trouble about that is that life flatly contradicts it. On every side we see bitterness, hatred, lust, crime, on every side we see moral failure, helplessness and frustration. Christianity says that men are capable of becoming sharers in the divine nature. It realistically faces man's actuality but at the same time sets no limit to his potentiality. "I am come," said Jesus, "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). As one of the great early fathers said, "He became what we are to make us what he is." Man has it in him to share the nature of God--but only in Jesus Christ can that potentiality be realized.
Equipment for the Way
Peter says that we must bend ail our energies to equip ourselves with a series of great qualities. The word he uses for to equip is epichoregein which he uses again in verse 11 when he speaks of us being richly gifted with the right of entry into the eternal kingdom.
This is one of the many Greek words which have a pictorial background. The verb epichoregein comes from the noun choregos, which literally means the leader of a chorus. Perhaps the greatest gift that Greece, and especially Athens, gave to the world was the great works of men like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, which are still among its most cherished possessions. All these plays needed large choruses and were, therefore, very expensive to produce. In the great days of Athens there were public-spirited citizens who voluntarily took on the duty, at their own expense, of collecting, maintaining, training and equipping such choruses. It was at the great religious festivals that these plays were produced. For instance, at the city Dionysia there were produced three tragedies, five comedies and five dithyrambs. Men had to be found to provide the choruses for them all, a duty which could cost as much as 3,000 drachmae. The men who undertook these duties out of their own pocket and out of love for their city were called choregoi, and choregein was the verb used for undertaking such a duty. The word has a certain lavishness in it. It never means to equip in any cheeseparing and miserly way; it means lavishly to pour out everything that is necessary for a noble performance. Epichoregein went out into a larger world and it grew to mean not only to equip a chorus but to be responsible for any kind of equipment. It can mean to equip an army with all necessary provisions; it can mean to equip the soul with all the necessary virtues for life. But always at the back of it there is this idea of a lavish generosity in the equipment.
So Peter urges his people to equip their lives with every virtue; and that equipment must not be simply a necessary minimum, but lavish and generous. The very word is an incitement to be content with nothing less than the loveliest and the most splendid life.
But there is something else at the back of this. In verses 5 and 6 Peter goes on that we must, as the Revised Standard Version has it, add virtue to virtue, until the whole culminates in Christian love. Behind this is a Stoic idea. The Stoics insisted that in life there must continuously be what they called prokope, moral progress. Prokope can be used for the advance of an army, towards its objective. In the Christian life there must be steady moral advance. Moffatt quotes a saying that, "the Christian life must not be an initial spasm followed by a chronic inertia." It is very apt to be just that; a moment of enthusiasm, when the wonder of Christianity is realized, and then a failure to work out the Christian life in continuous progress.
That brings us to still another basic idea here. Peter bids his people build energy to do this. That is to say, in the Christian life the supreme effort of man must co-operate with the grace of God. As Paul has it: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12, 13). It is true that everything is of faith; but a faith which does not issue in life is not faith at all, as Paul would heartily have agreed. Faith is not only commitment to the promises of Christ; it is also commitment to his demands.
Bigg well points out that Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, says that there are three theories of the source of happiness. (i) It is something which can come by training, by learning and by the formation of right habits. (ii) It is a matter of divine allotment, the gift of God. (iii) It is all a matter of chance.
The truth is that, as the Christian sees it, happiness depends both on God's gift and on our effort. We do not earn salvation but at the same time we have to bend every energy towards the Christian objective of a lovely life. Bengel, in commenting on this passage, asks us to compare the Parable of the Ten Virgins, five of whom were wise and five of whom were foolish. He writes: "The flame is that which is imparted to us by God and from God without our own labor; but the oil is that which a man must pour into life by his own study and his own faithful effort, so that the flame may be fed and increased." Faith does not exempt a man from works; the generosity Of God does not absolve a man from effort. Life is at its noblest and its best when our effort co-operates with God's grace to produce the necessary loveliness.
THE LADDER OF VIRTUES (1)
Let us then look at the list of virtues which have to be added one to another. It is worth noting that in the ancient world such lists were common. It was a world in which books we not nearly so cheap and so readily available as they are today. instruction, therefore, had for the most part to be carried in the pupil's head; and easily memorized lists were one of the commonest ways of inculcating instruction. One ingenious way of teaching the child the names of the virtues was by means of a game played with counters which could be won or lost, each of which bore the name of one of the virtues. Lists of virtues were common in the early Christian writings. Paul gives us the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23). In the Pastoral Epistles the man of God is bidden to follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (I Timothy 1, 6:11). In The Shepherd of Hermas (Visions 3.8-1-7), faith, self-control, simplicity, innocence and reverence, understanding and love are daughters one of another. In the Epistle of Barnabas (2) fear and endurance are the helpers of faith; patience and self-control are our allies; and when these are present a man can develop and possess wisdom, prudence, understanding and knowledge. Let us look one by one at the stages in the list which this letter gives us.
(i) It begins with faith (pistis); everything goes back to that. For Peter faith is the conviction that what Jesus Christ says is true and that we can commit ourselves to his promises and launch ourselves on his demands. It is the unquestioning certainty that the way to happiness and peace and strength on earth and In heaven is to accept him at his word. (ii) To faith must be added what the Revised Standard Version calls virtue and we have called courage. The word is arete; it is very rare in the New Testament but it is the supreme Greek word for virtue in every sense of the term. It means excellence. It has two special directions in which its meaning moves. (a) Arete is what we might call operative, or efficient, excellence. To take two examples of its usage from widely differing spheres--it can be used of land which is fertile; and
It can be used of the mighty deeds of the gods. Arete is that virtue which makes a man a good citizen and friend; it is that virtue which makes him an expert in the technique of living well. (b) Arete often means courage. Plutarch says that God is a hope of arete, not an excuse for cowardice. In 2 Maccabees we read of how Eleazar died rather than be false to the laws of God and his fathers; and the story ends by saying that he left his death for an example of noble courage (arete) and a memorial of virtue, not only to young men, but also to all the nation (2 Maccabees 6:31).
In this passage it is not necessary to choose between these two meanings; they are both there. Faith must issue, not in the retirement of the cloister and the cell, but in a life effective in the service of God and man; and it must issue in the courage always to show whose it is and whom it serves.
(iii) To courage must be added knowledge. The word is gnosis. In ethical Greek language there are two words which have a similar meaning with a very significant difference. Sophia is wisdom, in the sense of "knowledge of things both human and divine, and of their causes." It is knowledge of first causes and of deep and ultimate things. Gnosis is practical knowledge; it is the ability to apply to particular situations the ultimate knowledge which sophia gives. Gnosis is that knowledge which enables a man to decide rightly and to act honorably and efficiently in the day to day circumstances of life. So, then, to faith must be added courage and effectiveness; to courage and effectiveness must be added the practical wisdom to deal with life.
(iv) To this practical knowledge must be added self-control, or self-mastery. The word is egkrateia, and it mean s literally the ability to take a grip of oneself This is a virtue of which the great Greeks spoke and wrote and thought much. In regard to a man and his passions Aristotle distinguishes four states in life. There is sophrosune, in which passion has been entirely subjugated to reason; we might call it perfect temperance.
There is akolasia, which is the precise opposite; it is the state in which reason is entirely subjugated to passion; we might call it unbridled lust. In between these two states there is akrasia, in which reason fights but passion prevails; we might call it incontinence. There is egkiateia, in which reason fights against passion and prevails; we call it self-control, or sell-mastery.
Egkrateia is one of the great Christian virtues; and the place it holds is an example of the realism of the Christian ethic. That ethic does not contemplate a situation in which a man is emasculated of all passion; it envisages a situation in which his passions remain, but are under perfect control and so become his servants, not his tyrants.
(v) To this self-control must be added steadfastness. The word is hupomone. Chrysostom called hupomone "The Queen of the Virtues." In the Authorized Version it is usually translated patience; but patience is too passive a word. Hupomone has always a background of courage. Cicero defines patientia, its Latin equivalent, as: "The voluntary and daily suffering of hard and difficult things, for the sake of honour and usefulness." Didymus of Alexandria writes on the temper of Job: "It is not that the righteous man must be without feeling, although he must patiently bear the things which afflict him; but it is true virtue when a man deeply feels the things he toils against, but nevertheless despises sorrows for the sake of God." Hupomone does not simply accept and endure; there is always a forward look in it. It is said of Jesus, by the writer to the Hebrews, that for the joy that was set before him, he endured the Cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2). That is hupomone, Christian steadfastness. It is the courageous acceptance of everything that life can do to us and the transmuting of even the worst event into another step on the upward way.
(vi) To this steadfastness must be added piety. The word is eusebeia and is quite untranslatable. Even piety is inadequate, carrying as it does a suggestion sometimes of something not altogether attractive. The great characteristic of eusebeia is that it looks in two directions. The man who has eusebeia always correctly worships God and gives him his due; but he always correctly serves his fellowmen and gives them their due. The man who is eusebes (the corresponding adjective) is in a right relationship both with God and his fellowmen. Eusebeia is piety but in its most practical aspect.
We may best see the meaning of this word by looking at the man whom the Greeks held to be its finest example. That man was Socrates whom Xenophon describes as follows: "He was so pious and devoutly religious that he would take no step apart from the will of heaven; so just and upright that he never did even a trifling injury to any living soul; so self-controlled, so temperate, that he never at any time chose the sweeter instead of the better; so sensible, so wise, and so prudent that in distinguishing the better from the worse he never erred" (Xenophon: Memorabilia 1.5.8-11).
In Latin the word is pietas; and Warde Fowler describes the Roman idea of the man who possesses that quality: "He is superior to the enticements of individual passion and of selfish ease; (pietas is) a sense of duty which never left a man, of duty first to the gods, then to father and to family, to son and to daughter, to his people and to his nation."
Eusebeia is the nearest Greek word for religion; and, when we begin to define it, we see the intensely practical character of the Christian religion. When a man becomes a Christian, he acknowledges a double duty, to God and to his fellow-men.
(vii) To this piety must be added brotherly affection. The word is philadelphia, which literally means love of the brethren. The point is this--there is a kind of religious devotion which separates a man from his fellow-men. The claims of his fellowmen become an intrusion on his prayers, his study of God's word and his meditation. The ordinary demands of human relationships become a nuisance. Epicletus, the great Stoic philosopher, never married. Half-jestingly he said that he was doing far more for the world by being an unfettered philosopher than if he had produced "two or three dirty-nosed children." "How can he who has to teach mankind run to get something in which to heat the water to give the baby his bath?" What Peter is saying is that there is something wrong with the religion which finds the claims of personal relationships a nuisance.
(viii) The ladder of Christian virtue must end in Christian love. Not even affection for the brethren is enough; the Christian must end with a love which is as wide as that love of God which causes his sun to rise on the just and on the unjust, and sends his rain on the evil and the good. The Christian must show to all men the love which God has shown to him.
On the Way
For, if these things exist and increase within you, they will make you not ineffective and not unfruitful in your progress towards the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever does not possess these things is blind, short-sighted, and has lapsed into forgetfulness that the sins of his old way of life have been cleansed away. So, brothers, be the more eager to confirm your calling and your choice. For, if you do practice these virtues, you will never slip; for you will be richly gifted with the right of entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8-11)
Peter strongly urges his people to keep climbing up this ladder of virtues which he has set before them. The more we know of any subject the more we are fit to know. It is always true that "to him that hath it shall be given." Progress is the way to more progress. Moffatt says of ourselves and Jesus Christ: "We learn him as we live with him and for him." As the hymn has it:
May every heart confess thy name,
And ever thee adore,
And, seeking thee, itself inflame To seek thee more and more.
To keep climbing up the ladder of the virtues is to come ever To keep climbing nearer to knowing Jesus Christ; and the further we climb, the further we are able to climb.
On the other hand, if we refuse to make the effort of the upward climb, certain things happen. (a) We grow blind; we are left without the guiding light that the knowledge of Jesus Christ brings. As Peter sees it, to walk without Christ is to walk in the dark and not to be able to see the way. (b) We grow what Peter calls muopazon. This word can have either of two meanings. It can mean short-sighted. It is easy to become shortsighted in life, to see things only as they appear at the moment and to be unable to take the long view of things, to have our eyes so fixed upon earth that we never think of the things beyond. It can also mean blinking, shutting the eves. Again, it is easy in life to shut our eyes to what we do not wish to see, and to walk, as it were, in blinkers. To walk without Christ is to be in danger of taking the short-sighted or the blinkered view of life.
Further, to fail to climb the ladder of virtue is to forget that the sins of the old way of life have been cleansed away. Peter is thinking of baptism. At that time baptism was adult baptism; it was a deliberate act of decision to leave the old way and to enter upon the new. The man who, after baptism, does not begin upon the upward climb has forgotten, or never realized, the meaning of the experience through which he has passed. For many of us the parallel to baptism in this sense is entry into the membership of the Christian Church. To make our commitment and then to remain exactly the same, is to fail to understand what church membership means, for our entry into the membership of the Christian Church. To make our commitment and then to remain exactly the same, is to fail to understand what church membership means, for our entry into it should be the beginning of a climb upon the upward way.
In view of all this, Peter urges his people to make every effort to confirm their calling by God. Here is a most significant demand. In one way all is of God; it is God's call which gives us entry into the fellowship of his people; without his g and his mercy we could do nothing and could expect not But that does not absolve us from every possible effort. Let us take an analogy, which, although not perfect, may help us to understand. Suppose a man who is wealthy and kind picks out a poor lad, who would never otherwise had had the chance, and offers him the privilege of a university education. The benefactor is giving the lad something he could never have achieved for himself; but the lad cannot make use of that privilege unless he is prepared to work, and the harder he works the more he will enter into the privilege offered to him. The gracious free offer and the personal hard work have to combine before the privilege becomes fully effective.
It is so with us and God. God has called us in his free mercy and his unmerited grace; but at the same time we have to bend every effort to toil upwards and onwards on the way.
If we follow this upward way, Peter says, we shall in the end be richly gifted with the right of entry into his eternal kingdom; and we shall not slip upon the way. By this Peter does not mean that we will never sin. The picture in his mind is of a march and he means that we will never fall out upon the march and be left behind. If we set out upon this upward and onward way, the effort will be great but God's help will also be great; and in spite of all the toil, he will enable us to keep going until we reach our journey's end.