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.