If you are like me, you often wish that there were a lot more simple answers at hand to life’s many perplexing questions. I love to think and search for answers but sometimes I would just like someone to spoon-feed me what I need to know. Life is hard and I need all the help I can get.
I used to feel this way about the scriptures. I just wanted someone to hand me the synopsis of a passage and tell me what it meant so I could move ahead and put that knowledge to work in my life. Then I began to realize the value of mining God’s word for every little nugget he had placed there just for me to find all by myself. I realized this led to real spiritual growth, and there was no substitute for my own labors in working hand-in-hand with the Lord to edify and grow my faith in Him.
Spiritual growth can be hard, and very often what is needed is quite contrary to our natural tendencies. But now that God has invested us, through faith in Christ, with divine power to escape the corruption of this world, it is our duty and responsibility to grow our faith. It will take personal exercise, not simply church attendance or activity, to make this happen in our lives.
“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.” (2 Pet. 1:5-7)
Our faith gives embodiment to our hope in Christ and is the “conviction of things not seen,” (Heb. 11:1). In Peter’s letter we are told to supply our faith with virtue, which means courage, strength, and energy but also carries the thought of moral excellence. Without virtue our faith will be weak and sickly and devoid of the moral certitude needed to stand for the truth against the enemies of our Savior. With it we can live a life of practical holiness as we bear up against the flesh within and the devil without. We gain virtue by learning of the One we serve, by gaining confidence in our Lord and Savior as we know more about Him. We will never have the energy to sustain the good fight – to contend for the faith – without finding our constant supply in Him.
With this virtue we are to have knowledge. Strength and energy can make us mighty warriors for the Lord or it can lead us terribly astray as our zeal gets ahead of our understanding. We must have knowledge of the mind of God – not our thoughts, but His – to avoid running down a self-willed path. Godly knowledge will supply us with godly wisdom (i.e. the ability to properly apply what we know) for proper guidance along our earthly path.
To avoid the extremes to which advanced knowledge can lead us, we are to add self-control – moderation or self-restraint – to what we possess intellectually. Even a little knowledge can tend to puff us up if we are not careful, and nobody likes a know-it-all! If we act in this way we can actually discourage our brothers and sisters, rather than help them grow. We will have our proper attitude if we remember from where we have come ourselves, recognizing that our “weaker” brothers and sisters may be in a spot along their path that we once trod ourselves.
In view of this we are to display steadfastness (patience), to go along for the long-run with those immature in the faith; not using our knowledge as a club against others but rather helping them by unfolding the truth with gentleness and perseverance. As for ourselves, we will certainly be faced with trials individually and in our relationships with other believers, so endurance will be vital for our own growth.
But let us be careful with this, because patience may lead us into toleration of evil if we do not have a proper fear of God, or godliness. We must have His glory in view in order to act appropriately, to be under His guidance, and to avoid compromising on sin in the name of patience. Let us recognize the Lord’s actions in our circumstances and be obedient to Him above all else, understanding that He watches over everything we do.
As we pursue godliness we cannot forget our Christian brother. It is possible that we can get so focused on our own growth and spiritual needs that we lose sight of other people, causing us to grow cold and distant from those to whom our Christian affection should naturally flow. This may be the case even if our focus is quite godly. For this reason we are cautioned to add brotherly affection to everything else mentioned.
And then we discover the end-point. To everything else we are to add love. This is clearly divine love that compels us to demonstrate love even where we would not be naturally inclined to do so.
How many times have you said, “I know I’m supposed to love my brother, but…”? Let’s face it, many of us are not very lovable. But if that were God’s qualification we would be left in our sins forever! The love spoken of here is one that reaches beyond our human prejudices to those we may esteem unworthy of it, whether other believers with whom we have disagreements or the ungodly persons found all around us. If we love in this manner we are truly displaying the divine nature – the very character of God – in showing love to all, regardless of our fleshly preference for certain individuals or classes of people.
How wonderfully God has shown us the path for growing our faith through this portion of scripture. Certainly the necessary labor will bear fruit in us that will be pleasing to Him and which will properly motivate us to real service in His name. And we can be assured the outcome for us will be the peace and joy we so often seek.