Simon’s Peter’s 7 Disciplines (2Pet. 1.5-15) Part 2

For this reason make all effort to supplement your faith with excellence, and to excellence, knowledge, and to knowledge, self control, and to self control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. If you increasing practice these, they will not leave you idle or fruitless in the [personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these is blind or short sighted and has forgotten he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, rather, my family, give all diligence to settle your calling and election. For if you practice theses [disciplines], you will never ever stumble. For accordingly your entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly furnished. Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these[spiritual goals] though you know and truly have them. I esteem it fitting while still in this tent to to awake your recollection of them knowing that the laying aside of my tent is at hand as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. Also, I will now be diligent to provide for your remembrance of these [disciplines] after my exodus. (2Pe. 1.5-15)

The first of these disciplines then is virtue (some translators render arete as goodness, excellence). Generally speaking, translators have struggled to define the term as it relates to the recipients to whom Peter was writing. Originally, the term appears in ancient Greek as what characterized the Olympic contestants: physical prowess. The Greek Games eventually included poetic readings, and the term arete referred to the qualities of oratory as well. By First Century usage the term is understood to connote an ‘all-around excellence.’

In connection with faith and excellence, Christians are to add “knowledge” (gnosin). This “knowledge” doesn’t have to be bible knowledge, necessarily, since in a very real sense: ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ Many areas of study will either directly indicate God’s truth or support it indirectly. Bible knowledge is necessary regardless of what other knowledge is gained as indicated by vs. 19: “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The study of the scriptures is assumed by the writers of the N.T. since they quote so much of the previous given revelation contained in the O.T.

The next discipline is self-control, which Peter connects with knowledge, which is connected with arete. Here, I wish to point out that while the disciplines are all interconnected, they are added to our faith (vs. 5); therefore, they are performed in faith. Noting their progressive nature, the disciplines seem more defined as they are listed. While excellence is added to faith, it needs some knowledge to perform cogently. Overall, excellence is directed by knowledge. Knowledge, though, may overextend itself if not corralled by self-control. Self-control may give up without perseverance. Perseverance may devolve into stubbornness without true godliness refining the Christian along biblical ways. Godliness can be cold if it is merely an exercise without a horizontal dimension of brotherly kindness toward others. Brotherly affection will remain earth-bound if another quality is not present: love.

Verse 8 also tells us the default nature of a believer is bareness without these qualities. The Greek construction is very indirect which makes its message all the more poignant. Fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom is produced through the Spirit. Much of our walk of faith should be directed by the goals Peter sets out for us. He frames the intended Christian life as spiritual development in or with faith. Paul notes a similar progression in the Christian walk in Rom. 5.3-4: Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Yes, its different in many respects, but also similar, such as acting from faith by rejoicing in suffering. Discipleship is a death where a cross is taken up for another: Christ.

Peter warns those who lack these qualities since the results are blindness and shortsightedness. The perennial question often arises: which one? It’s either blindness or nearsightedness, it can’t be both! Well, actually, it can. On some issues we can be merely shortsighted while completely blind on others. I am not sure if this is the final answer to the conundrum or if the apostle meant partial blindness.

Simon Peter tells his readers that great promises toward Christians will enable them to experience the divine nature and so not be mired in things which corrupt: inordinate desire (vs. 4). These disciplines continually performed and perfected contain two promises: 1. Will never stumble into sin (vs. 10), and 2. A fully furnished entrance provided into the eternal kingdom (vs. 11).

The qualities or disciplines that Simon Peter lists are regarded as crucially important to the early Christians since he eagerly desires to remind his readers of their deployment in their lives (vss. 12-13). These followers of Christ already knew the disciplines, but Peter thought they were so important as to continually remind his audience of them and to even diligently record them for posterity before his own prophesied death (vss. 14-15).

Simon Peter’s 7 Disciplines Part 1

For this reason make all effort to supplement your faith with excellence, and to excellence, knowledge, and to knowledge, self control, and to self control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. If you practice these increasingly, they will not leave you idle or fruitless in the [personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these [attributes] is blind or short sighted and has forgotten he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, rather, my brethren, give all diligence to confirm your calling and election. For if you practice theses [exercises], you will never ever stumble. For accordingly your entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly furnished. Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these [godly aspirations] though you know and truly have them. I esteem it fitting while still in this tent to to awake your recollection of them knowing that the laying aside of my tent is at hand as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. Also, I will still be diligent now to provide for your remembrance of these [disciplines] after my departure. (2Pe. 1.5-15)

Nearly 50 years ago I was so intrigued with 2Pe. 1 that I chose it as a memory exercise to learn in a week. I kept it in my memory for several years along with a few other chapters. Sadly, full recollection has now slipped but key parts of the first chapter are still known and pondered. Also, I have thought how to follow the apostle’s teaching by applying it to my life. By seeing the text in a Greek edition, one is struck concerning the emphasis Peter laid on the importance of this instruction. The translation is mine and the bracketed words are my ideas (implied by the context) to help make the text palatable to the English reader. We moderns are used to identifying labels which this text never gives. The ancients also had a much longer attention span requiring less referencing and repeating of words so this way of writing was very normal for them.

How the Disciplines Relate to Faith

I propose that these qualities in 2 Peter resemble the instructions given in the O.T. book of Proverbs. This analysis traces their function in the community of faith. Believers under the Old Covenant had the law of Moses to instruct them about what to do and what to avoid doing. When the Old Testament saints failed in their duties or even transgressed the regulation, they could go to the Tent of Meeting (the Sanai Tabernacle or the Solomonic Temple), present the requisite sacrifice and expiate their sins. The Law of Moses was primarily about The Ledger, both in individual lives and the life of the nation. It was about right and wrong, justice. However, in the composition of the people of Israel, there were those who “knew the Lord” and who were “sons of belial.” Even though at times the Lord may have saved the nation as a whole (Passover in Egypt, Crossing the Red Sea, Covenant at Sinai, Covenant at Moab), the subsequent generations were a mixture of the Lord’s people and unredeemed sinners.

The Lord’s people needed insight on not only what to do or avoid, but how to discipline one’s self and function in a fallen world. This is where the bible’s Wisdom Literature instructs the saints through the course of their lives to continually perfect their relationship. The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon give wisdom to aid us during our earthly struggle instead of a list of laws. These written words of wisdom help us to understand the Lord’s work and His will, thus help us to know Him better.

In Pr. 1.2, a summary statement appears at the beginning of Solomon’s work indicating purpose: “to know wisdom and instruction.” This idea of knowing (lada’at) speaks of realizing, perceiving, personal internalization. This experiencing of wisdom that Solomon calls his listeners to in 1.2 is, in essence, what Peter says the disciplines he lists accomplishes by the term epignosko (personal knowledge) of Jesus Christ in 2Pet. 1.8. This is a more fuller knowledge than in 1.5, since that term “knowledge” (gnosin) is distinguished as preparatory, and, in part, toward the personal knowledge (epignosko) of Jesus Christ. All the elements Peter lists complete this knowledge, so it seems. In context, epignosko  indicates a fuller orbed realization or an experiencing of the spiritual wisdom that is in Christ. In Col. 2.3, Paul agrees with this sentiment, saying that in Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” An analogy of these kinds of knowing could be: a biographical knowledge about someone verses an intimate knowledge where the biographical one is also known but tempered by intimate personal experience.

The Spirit Gives Full Knowledge of Christ

Every effort we make to add these qualities or disciplines in our lives, the Holy Spirit is present to teach and guide as to how we accomplish this feat. This is the great unmentioned reality of the Christian life that many commentators fail to recognize: the ministry and leading of the Spirit enabling what we could not do on our own.

Simon Peter in vs. 5 uses very strong and intensive words to urge participation. The attitude we should have to add these disciplines to our faith is spoudain: speed, effort, diligence, earnestness. This attitude is intensified by the “all” which precedes: “all effort.” Peter will use the term again in vs. 10 to exhort his readers to diligence to secure their calling and election. Peter pledges his own effort or diligence so that his hearers might have a record of these disciplines. Here is a self- conscious decision by Peter, an apostle, to transmit and preserve divine instruction. This might have involved making more copies than usual.

A temporal aspect may be seen by another word indicating simultaneous action along with our faith: pareisenegcantes. Therefore, from the start of one’s Christian walk, these qualities should “furnish” our lives. However, it is unreasonable to expect an overnight transformation in all areas of one’s life. It can take decades to realize certain aspects that are deficient. Also, since we never stop growing spiritually, we will never arrive at ultimate perfection.

Still, Christians are commanded to be characterized by these features at all times since the next verb is in the imperative mood. These disciplines seem to be meant as a progressive template for a godly life. Peter, a seasoned Christian, wants to communicate what is best for his audience.

This is the last word which seems supercharged by its construction: epichoreygeysateh. The idea is to fully supply something. The same word is used in vs. 11 to describe our entrance: that it will be fully furnished. It seems as if what we have furnished in our earthly walk of these qualities will reflect in our heavenly entrance.

Therefore, Peter instructs that Christians should, in all earnestness, simultaneous with faith, be fully prepared to deploy these qualities. After all, its nice to be nice and good to be good. Showing love to others blesses us, too, but that is not the motivation. We love because He first loved us.

A Covenant Establishes a Relationship

One of the most confusing things in Christian thought is the idea of a covenant and how it relates to us. It doesn’t have to be inscrutable, however, and can easily be understood by the youngest and simplest of Christians.

Different Kinds of Covenants

First of all, a very basic recognition is that different kinds of covenants accomplish different things. “Covenant” is not one thing. However, what all covenants have in common is that they establish a relationship between God and the humans with whom He makes them. Perhaps the greatest barrier to understanding the bible is the attitude of the reader. This has certainly been true for me as I sought with western enlightenment tools to achieve understanding. Often, this approach seeks to strip away elements that embarrass or seem odd to us. Or, perhaps, to categorize according to human ideas. But, in so doing, we have already placed our intellect above what God has revealed, and will, without doubt, not comprehend or distort the words of the Living God. A person cannot approach the bible to find out if the views of the bible match their own and then decide to obey it. No, God’s word is for His people to instruct and assure them among other things. Returning to the idea that a biblical covenant is relational, despite the variety of covenants found in scripture, I present Jer. 31. 31-34 as an obvious text:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to  them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

From this promise in Jeremiah, it is obvious that different covenants exist and that they do not function in the same way. With this recognition, the tendency to lump the covenants together in any sort of framework is rejected. Our text clearly states an “old” and a “new.” In other words, a covenant may be replaced after it served a function. Without bogging down and explicating the many ways the Old Covenant functioned, and Christ’s fulfillment of it, it may be said that “God found fault” and that a better hope was needed to transform lost sinners into conquering saints (see Heb. 8.7ff). This fault finding was for humans to understand both how corrupt they are and their inability to remedy their corruptness.

One additional point should be noted, however. God is gracious even in a “covenant of condemnation.” No one could keep all of the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) perfectly, except Christ; yet, the Mosaic Law was mostly about the remedy for breaking its regulations. The temple and the sacrifices, though they never could take away sin, pointed to the One who could accomplish that necessary feat. God knows each human heart and always works individually to bring some to Himself in redemption whether prospectively or retrospectively. In other words, He is able to save us whatever covenant is currently operational. The difference is the New Covenant has many more blessings along with the requisite responsibility which accompanies it.

Also, with the Jeremiah text, the relational aspect is exposed by the words: “although I was a Husband to them.” God had two wives under the Old Covenant: Judah and Israel. He divorced both of them because of unfaithfulness. In our humanity, none can be righteous before God. A better hope was needed where a relationship of sonship by adoption is made, and its subjects are transformed by the nature of the Father, which is given through the Spirit. Christians have a relationship of “sons” since the One who made us holy, and ourselves, who are made holy, are of the same family (see Heb. 2.11-12). Additionally, the relational aspect of the New Covenant may be seen by the inheritance which God gives His children. Heb. 9.15-17 speaks of the covenant God makes with humanity as a “will (or testament).” In the normal course of affairs, people usually leave their inheritance to natural or adopted children. God uses this figure of a “testament” to indicate that His children have a sure eternal inheritance.