(To listen to the podcast version of this episode, click here.)
In Part 1, we talked about the desire to grow in our faith, and the first three additions to our faith according to 2 Peter 1: virtue, knowledge and self-control. Faith is our foundation; coming to Christ and receiving salvation supernaturally is the starting point. But like we discussed last week, for the survival of our faith and our overall spiritual health, we must immediately begin building on the foundation.
The final four components that Peter urges us to add to our faith might seem a bit intimidating: patience, godliness, kindness and love. We can all be comforted, though, by the fact that God never asks of us something we are unable to give or do. In this matter of growing and maturing, it is a process. The point is that we continually make every effort to develop beyond a primitive spiritual state.
Make Every Effort
Before we dive in to these four supplements to our faith, it is worth noting that Peter uses the phrase “make every effort” a few different times in his short book. He uses it at the start of the passage in verse 5:
In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises…
This is where a lot of believers get tripped up before they’ve even really begun: they don’t make the effort. Somehow, we have this idea that faith and spirituality just come to us supernaturally and that it requires nothing from us but mere acceptance. Not true. We forget that we have a carnal nature and a spiritual foe that work against our progression in faith. If we are not intentional and make a lively effort, the very seed of our faith will be stolen from us or simply washed away by the cares of life.
There’s a saying: “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” We are responsible for our effort in spiritual growth. It’s true that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings our efforts to fruition; He does what we cannot do. But I believe it’s also true that the Lord will not often do what we are capable of doing. We must make every effort and do what we can so that when our abilities run out, God will step in to bring the work to completion. If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
Further Layers of Growth
(For the first three layers, check out Part 1 of this series here.)
Virtue, knowledge, and self-control are the first three components that we are instructed to add to our fledgling faith. As we deepen our relationship with the Lord and grow in these areas, God calls us to even more spiritual maturity.
It’s not surprising that this one comes further down in the list! In our hyper-paced environments, it seems that these days patience is something that is even more difficult to grow in.
I picture Veruca Salt and her infamous declaration from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory: “I want it NOW!” Those who know the story will recall that Veruca is spoiled and catered to by her impotent father; she wants everything her way and immediately. We’re all a little like Veruca, aren’t we?
Patience is basically defined as the ability to wait or accept trouble or difficulty without becoming angry or upset. Beyond being able to demonstrate forbearance in trying circumstances I believe is the call to patience with other people. In either case, a key indicator of patience in an individual’s life is that they endure without grumbling, complaining or becoming upset…a tall order indeed!
For most people, patience is truly the work of the Spirit as it goes against our carnal nature. Someone once comically remarked, “Lord, I don’t want more situations to grow in patience….I’d just like the patience, please!” But the truth is, we have plenty of opportunities each and every day to practice patience. And it does take practice! But with the desire to grow and the help of the Spirit, you can’t lose! This crucial piece of our spiritual maturity demonstrates that we are truly walking according to the Spirit. Lord, help us to grow in patience!
To be honest, when considering the word “godliness,” I really only had a vague idea that it was something akin to holiness, or the pursuit of a character that is becoming more aligned to that of Jesus Christ. In pondering the idea, I came across an excerpt from Jerry Bridges’ book, The Practice of Godliness.1 Here is a quote that put into more concrete terms the feelings I had about godliness:
Devotion signifies a life given, or devoted, to God. He therefore is the devout [godly] man who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God; who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety [godliness], by doing everything in the name of God, and under such rules as are conformable to his Glory.
At its core, then, godliness is moving into a mindset and lifestyle where God truly is the center. As the quote illustrates, what pleases Him truly becomes our central focus and consideration. I think Paul illustrates this perfectly in Galatians when he says that his old self had died but it was Christ who lived in him.
Does this idea please God? Is my attitude reflecting Christ today? Would God have me to pursue this opportunity? Does my appearance bring glory to Him? Are my words projecting from a God-centered heart at this moment? When these type of thoughts consistently become ours in earnest, we can be confident that we are beginning to mature in godliness.
6. Brotherly Kindness
As seems fitting, the top tiers of growth in the passage of 2 Peter deal with our relationship to others. There is probably no greater thermometer of what is truly on the inside of someone than how they relate to others.
The phrase is actually translated as “brotherly kindness” or “brotherly affection.” At first, I was just planning to focus on the “kindness” part and sort of skim over the “brotherly” part, thinking that that descriptive word was just not really as important to the discussion. However, upon further study of the Greek word, philadelphia, which is used here in verse 7, I couldn’t ignore that it was a different word, in fact, from just the word translated as “kindness” in the general sense. It denotes a familial affection, like one between brothers and sisters. It seems as though this is specifically talking about how we treat one another in the Kingdom of God, from one believer to another.
Why is this important and why distinguish it from general kindness to all people? First, I think that caring for our brothers and sisters in the church is an often overlooked commandment, especially found in the New Testament. We tend to think that as long as we aren’t in active conflict or disagreement and are generally “being nice” to one another that we’re covered. I’m not buying it. I believe that what is called for here is an active and intentional bearing of one another’s burdens and the bond of sharing life’s difficulties.
Secondly, together we are called the Body of Christ. A passage in 1 Corinthians 12 talks about how each of us is a unique member of the Body, and that we are to care for one another for our mutual building up. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. I’m not sure we totally understand this level of unity! But I do believe that it is what God intended.
As we are growing in our faith, we will naturally be spending more time with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It only makes sense, then, that as we grow in Him, we would also grow in our tender care for one another. Why is this so far up the list? Because it’s hard! And it takes quite a bit of maturity to achieve. Just as brothers and sisters in the natural sense tend to quarrel and hurt one another, so it is with our spiritual family. We must continually work at laying down our pride and selfishness to show concern and tender affection for our brothers and sisters.
Ah, yes, love. It is the apex of our spiritual maturity. Could there be a more overused and underappreciated concept?
This word in Greek is agape, that highest form of selfless benevolence that truly looks to the care and comfort of others before ourselves. It is an emptying of me to serve you; it’s a minimizing of my own burdens in order to ensure your well-being. Who loves like this?
Jesus is our example, of course. We know this, and yet we’ve heard it so many times that I think we’ve stopped looking and listening to what it really means to “love like Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 13 undoubtedly comes to mind. Again, our familiarity with the passage has probably caused it to lose some impact. We could probably quote most of the attributes of love found in verses 4-7, but perhaps the preceding verses aren’t as well-known to us. Verses 1- 3 are quite potent declarations regarding this agape love.
The writer lists numerous practical and spiritual achievements and gifts: the ability to speak all languages of earth and heaven, the gift of prophecy, possessing all knowledge and understanding, mountain-moving faith, giving all earthly possessions to the poor, and even the sacrificing of one’s body! Listen to this: he boldly declares that were someone to attain the greatness that all of these spiritual feats, it would all be for nothing if that same person did not love others. What?? Really?? Does that seem a little offensive?! And yet, it’s the inspired Word of God.
I think we often get so involved with our “spiritual works” that we ignore that little urgent voice deep within compelling us to focus our attention and care on others. This voice is easy to ignore; after all, we are being spiritual! That should count for something, right? Paul, the author of Corinthians, says no. No, it doesn’t count for anything at all if we are not also demonstrating a sincere compassion for others.
I can’t ignore the word “focus.” A sincere and selfless love focuses on the needs of others. We have a choice every day where we place our focus; all too often, it defaults to our own problems, needs and desires. We simply don’t have the time to look outward. What a tragic mistake. Truly. We are missing the whole gospel if we neglect to practice the art of loving others well.
Friends, the bottom line is this: we must grow in our faith. These last few more relational and more challenging attributes of spiritual maturity will be made attainable by our striving after the foundational attributes. As always, we can actually do none of these things within our own strength. We can make some effort toward them, but we will always fall short unless we seek the enabling power of the Spirit. He will lead us into all truth and empower us to advance in our spiritual walk. Remember, nothing happens without desire. Let us together yearn for the deep things of God; in Him, we will never be denied.
Remember, the promise of 2 Peter 1:10 is this:
Do these things, and you will never fall away…
So we grow in our faith so that we will become spiritually mature, but also so that we will never fall away! Thank God for His faithfulness!