This week, we take our second look at the apostle Peter’s repeated use of the phrase “these things” – ταυτα. By way of reminder, this is a single word, “these,” in the Greek text, but the various translations will append “things,” or “qualities,” or some other phrase-completing word because it feels awkward in English to just say, “these”
Last week, we saw how the phrase, “these things” is tied to the power and the promises of God. This week, the list of “these things” is much longer!
Coming to Christ is not merely a change of position, where we were “in the world,” and now we are “in Christ.” Without question, that happened, but there is so much more to the transition than that. So extensive is this change, that the Bible describes it as a new birth (John 3:3-8), (1 Peter 1:3, 23).
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9, NKJV
This rebirth in Christ is the beginning of something completely new. And with life, new life, there must be growth. Without growth, we know something is terribly wrong – illness, malnutrition, something…
Our granddaughter, Peyton, is just recently two years old. Alean watches Peyton several days each week while her mother and father are at work. Alean and I look toward those days with eager anticipation of “what’s she going to be doing this week that she wasn’t doing last week?”
For example, Peyton has started dancing to music with fairly accurate rhythm. She spins in circles and marches to the beat of the song. Her vocabulary is growing, and with that, one of her favorite games to play (this week) is whispering “Hi.” She whispers it, and we whisper it back. She whispers it again and we whisper it back. About the third time, she busts out with a silly giggle. She wants to feed herself, and gets irritated if we try to hold the spoon to feed her. She knows the exact routine for changing a diaper and getting redressed.
All of this is growth, expected growth. It is maturing (though it feels silly to use that word in connection with a two-year-old). If I am your pastor, and I cannot detect quantifiable growth in you as a two-year-old Christ-follower, I am going to become deeply concerned about your spiritual life and health.
Just as a newborn infant needs feeding and exercise to grow, a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) does not grow automatically. The apostle Paul tells us to “work out our salvation,” because God is at work within us to will and work his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12–13).
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation. – 1 Peter 2:2, ESV
These 7 Things
Peter lists seven of “these things” that characterize a growing follower after Christ. These characteristics are not items on a checklist that we plow through as accomplished disciplines. Neither are they seven levels or stages of disciple development. It is easy to view them as such when we see the list started with the phrase “add to.”
The term translated “add to,” επιχορηγεω (epichoregeo) means to provide for, to support, to supply. This gives us a picture of the growing, or maturing Christ follower. To grasp the singularity of the concept, it might be helpful to think of it in terms of the fruit of the Spirit from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches.
Far too often, I hear believers speak of the fruits (plural) of the Spirit, as though there are many, and that some may be more prevalent within me/us than are others. This is not a biblical concept. If you look up Galatians 5:22-23, you will quickly see that it is fruit (singular) of the Spirit rather than fruits (plural). It is true that the fruit has numerous qualities, but it is singular fruit. I have it, or I do not.
It is the same with “these things” in 2 Peter 1. I am growing in these things, or I am not. And I am to work at growing in these things. Do not lose sight of the phrase in Peter’s charge that we “apply all diligence” or “make every effort” regarding “these things.”
We Start With Faith
We begin with faith, knowing that it is by grace we are saved through faith. Then we begin amplifying “these things” [attributes] of our growth in the Spirit of God.
Virtue: The initial character quality listed is virtue, meaning goodness or moral excellence. In a secular sense, the word means to fulfill a purpose – my hammer is “aretei” [virtuous] because it drives nails. A Christ-follower shows excellence in living up to hir or her God-infused purpose of glorifying God and being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Knowledge: Much of what takes place in Christian assemblies today focuses on the experiential, the emotional. It is from this vantage point that we get absurd phrases like, “God really showed up tonight.” Without discounting the validity of the emotions God gave us, Peter says to grow in knowledge. This is discernment, understanding, or comprehension. It is completely cognitive.
The knowledge Peter (and Jesus) calls us to requires action on our part. It requires obedience. Where one may say, “Once I know, I will obey,” Jesus says, rather, “Obey, and then you will know.”
If any one chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. – John 7:17, NIV – 1973
Obedience precedes knowledge.
Self-control: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28, ESV). Notwithstanding the reality that self-control is fruit of the Spirit, the concept of self-control and discipline is ubiquitous in scripture. The apostle Paul speaks of training his body, disciplining it to keep it under control (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). In Acts 24, Paul taught the governor, Felix, about self-control. He instructed Titus to teach the men to be self-controlled.
Perseverance: Whereas self-control is resisting indulgence in pleasure, perseverance is the endurance of difficulty. Also translated as patience or steadfastness, this is a necessary component for enduring the inevitable challenges of a disciple’s walk.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4, ESV
Godliness: Eusebia (godliness) is not a mindset, but an action. It is a devout practice, the substance of one’s walk as a disciple. While I have been known to teach emphatically that our faith-life in Christ is not a matter of what we do, but rather one of who we are, in this case, “godliness” is absolutely referring to our actions as a disciple. It is piety.
for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. – 1 Timothy 4:8, NASB
The man or woman walking in godliness is at peace both with God and with humanity. He or she lives above the pettiness that attaches itself to much of society (particularly in social media!), and in this godliness seeks not only God’s will, but also what is best for others.
Brotherly kindness: This is Philadelphia. As we love Jesus, we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Elsewhere, Peter called on us to practice an “unfeigned” love of the body of Christ, and to love one another earnestly from a pure heart. The apostle Paul taught the Roman church to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor,” almost as though it were a love and honor competition (Romans 12:20, ESV).
Love: We have all read and heard a great deal about agape. This is the love that is a choice, a decision. This is the love God has toward us even when we were/are drowning in sin. It is the love the apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13. It is the love the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5). Where brotherly love is for our brothers and sisters in Christ based on our shared faith in Jesus, agape is for everyone, without exception.
We saw last week that we are “partakers of the divine nature.” This week’s list gives us a glimpse of what that means. We cannot accomplish “these things” in and of ourselves. This is a work that we must surrender to, a work that we allow God to do within us. In allowing this, we become increasingly “conformed to the image” of Jesus.