I was reading in 2 Peter this morning. Sometimes things stand out a little more than normal — things I have seen but not seen; that I have read but never really considered.
“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3. I tend to read right through stuff like this — kind of like, “Ok, yes, that’s good, that’s nice, that’s right.” But stop and think about it for a moment: we have everything we need for life and godliness. How often we think, “If only I had this, if only I could do that, then I would be able to be a good Christian.” I cannot count the number of times I have heard Presbyterians lament the lack of some quality or opportunity that is preventing them from sharing Jesus with others. It is a lie we tell ourselves. He has given us everything needed for life and godliness.
Then came the part that really hit me
For this very reason, you must make every effort to:
- support your faith with goodness,
- and goodness with knowledge,
- and knowledge with self-control,
- and self-control with endurance,
- and endurance with godliness,
- and godliness with mutual affection,
- and mutual affection with love.
For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This exhortation is a description of the life of discipleship. It is a profound description of Jesus’ Passion.
Faith is the foundation and beginning of the life of discipleship. It is not the stopping point.
Faith must lead to goodness; that is, the choice to pursue that which God commands.
How do you know what God commands? Knowledge. The only way to gain knowledge is to be invested in the life of a community which is itself invested in the study of God’s word. The author of Hebrews chastised listeners/readers with this word, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the based elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Knowledge of God’s commands — not for our oppression, but for our liberation and freedom in holiness — frames our self-control. Self-control (sometimes patience, sometimes obedience, sometimes action, sometimes passive) requires endurance because self-control inevitably involves choosing to do the right thing and choosing not to do the wrong thing, and that’s not always easy. In fact, self-control is difficult because the wrong thing would be easier, more fun, instantly self-gratifying, etc. And the wrong thing does not just go away; it continues to present itself as a pleasing option which must be endured and resisted.
Endurance yields godliness. It is not a self-righteousness we seek; rather, we humbly praise God for giving us the strength to endure. Our priority is to worship God, to glorify God, and to enjoy God; endurance is, as Eugene Petersen once entitled a study of the Psalms, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”
Godliness is not its own end, either. Godliness does not isolate us from others, it draws us to others. The example of Christ illustrates the point: Jesus did not take his holiness as a reason to distance himself from others; he thrust himself into the midst of community after community in order to express God’s love for those who were lost. Mutual affection is what believers are called to express. We do not have to be Lone Rangers, we are called to partner in Christ’s service.
Mutual affection manifests love. This is more than Hallmark sentiment – violins playing – soft lighting kind of love — this is the kind of love that goes obediently to the cross in the midst of turmoil, controversy, and even betrayal. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
All of that is true and I can trace it through and I can still get to the place where I am thinking, “Ok, yes, that’s good, that’s nice, that’s right.”
But then comes the kicker: “For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And I thought, “Wow, there it is.” God has given me everything needed for life and godliness; am I being effective and fruitful? Are we being effective and fruitful in the congregation I serve? In our presbytery? In the denomination?
Responding to those questions will be tomorrow’s reflection. Today, I just want to sit and dwell in the questions.