Guidance: Making Sure
Date: 14 Aug 2016
Text: 2 Peter 1:1-11
Over the coming weeks I intend to look in some detail at the three chapters that make up the Apostle Peter’s second Epistle. This is a fascinating if short Epistle containing lots of guidance for Christians wherever they may be. Peter is concerned with warning Christians against false teachers by providing guidance in how to develop as Christians by growing in their faith and knowledge of Jesus; how to be aware of the dangers that they face; and the hope that they have as they follow Jesus Christ. In warning believers against false teachers Peter was following Paul’s example provided by the letter to the Colossians.
This Epistle was probably written when Peter was in Rome in 67 AD about three years after he wrote his first Epistle. Most letters in the New Testament were written to specific individuals or churches whereas this letter seems to have been written to the church at large rather than a particular individual church. The intended ‘audience’ were believers everywhere, which includes us, and as such it is still applicable to life today as we face many of the problems that the Christians of the 1st century also faced.
As with a number of letters in the New Testament there are scholarly disputes over authorship, when it was written and for whom it was intended. I’m not too bothered about that, even though I probably should be, as the teaching is sound.
So, this morning I want us to look at 1:1-11 and follow that next week by looking at 1:12-21.
Peter starts his letter with what is a fairly standard introduction for a New Testament letter. The writer identifies himself then those to whom he is writing and finally sends greetings to his readers. It is interesting to see that Peter calls himself a servant. The Greek word that he uses is doulos which actually means slave. You may recall that a couple of weeks ago we looked at Romans 6:15-23 where we learned that we are all to consider ourselves as slaves of Christ. From his opening in 1:1 it is obvious that that is how Peter saw himself. Peter identifies his readers as being those “who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” (1:1b). For believers at the time it was all too easy for them to think that the Apostles were a cut above the rest; that the faith of these Apostles carried more weight or was more important than their own. Peter’s use of the word “precious” indicates to me that he regards all faith in Jesus as being precious and of equal status. He uses the same word in 1 Peter 1:19 where he tells us that we have been redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”. In 1 Peter 2:4 the Apostle refers to Jesus as “the living Stone” Who was rejected by humans “but chosen by God and precious to Him”. In 1 Peter 2:6 the Apostle quotes Isaiah 28:16 when he reminds his readers that Jesus was “a chosen and precious cornerstone”. The final occasion that Peter uses the word “precious” comes in 2 Peter 1:4 where he refers to the “very great and precious promises” that God has given us when we come to faith. Peter’s aim in doing all this is to remind everyone that all faith is precious not just that of the Apostles. The greetings are completed in 1:2 with Peter reminding everyone that “grace and peace will be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
Peter obviously regards the “knowledge” as being an important part of our faith since he uses the word on four more occasions in 1:3-8. Now, depending on the context, this could mean that we have a deep and thorough understanding of Jesus. However, in 1:3, it is more likely to refer to our knowing Christ when we initially come to faith in Him. It is from that moment on that we begin the process of receiving grace and peace in abundance, and it is from then that our faith rests solely on knowing God and knowing Christ. This knowledge should not be seen as head knowledge as if knowing Jesus was an academic subject but rather heart knowledge as we let Him into our lives more and more and grow in our faith in Him. As we grow in faith we discover the truth of Peter’s comment in 1:3 where he tells us that through His divine power God has given us “everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him”. Notice that; God has given us everything that we need. That thought is very similar to the comment that Paul made when he told the Philippians that “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). God will provide everything that we need; that is for both our physical lives and equally importantly our spiritual lives. Notice too that both Apostles refer to “needs” and not “wants”, something which may not be too popular in the 21st century! God will provide everything that we need to help us grow in faith and draw nearer to Jesus, which is all part of our living godly lives. Last week when we looked at 1 Corinthians 6 and in particular 6:11, we learned that as part of our growth in faith in Christ, we have been sanctified and are being sanctified. Sanctification is the process whereby we grow in Christ and begin to live lives of holiness. We cannot do that unaided, we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit to grow more and know more about life in and with Jesus and to help us with that, it is through the glory and goodness of Jesus that we have been given the “precious promises” which enable us to participate in the “divine nature”.
All of this is intended to help us as we escape the “corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1:4b). As Christians we should endeavour to avoid the evil desires in which we used to indulge before we came to faith in Christ. That may not be easy which is why God helps us through His Holy Spirit and the gifts that flow through His divine nature. Although we live in this corrupt world, we are not to participate in its corrupt activities since we have escaped them through God’s divine nature. In Romans 12:2a Paul urges Christians to avoid such activities when he writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Grow in Faith
In 1:5 Peter encourages every believer to “make every effort to add to your faith”. This could on the surface imply that our faith is not enough. However, I believe that the context shows that Peter is actually urging us to grow in our faith. In support of that thought he provides a list of things that we should do as we grow in Christ. Just look at the list that Peter gives: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love. That’s quite a list although it is a list that is very similar to Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit which he says are, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22b-23a). Paul gives a shorter but similar list in Romans 5:3-4 when he tells us that, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” The suffering to which Paul refers is all part of our growing in faith in Jesus Christ.
I don’t believe that any of these fruits appear overnight or as soon as we come to faith. Rather, we grow into them as we learn more and draw nearer to Christ. Just as a new born baby has to grow before they can walk and talk so we as Christians have to grow in our faith. As we do so then we will grow into these attributes that Peter has listed. We all come to faith in Jesus from different angles since we all have different problems. Not all Christians come from a gentle middle class background where they have been brought up in a loving and caring home. There are many who come to faith in Christ having come from troubled and difficult backgrounds or having had problems with alcohol, drugs and violence. However, all new Christians face the same problems; we all need to learn and grow in our faith. It is as we grow in our faith that we add goodness to our lifestyle by being less self-centred and more focussed on helping others. Peter has already spoken of knowledge in 1:2. The knowledge that he was referring to then was the knowledge of Christ that we receive at the time of our conversion. Now, I’m not suggesting that that is a superficial knowledge but it is an early knowledge that needs to be developed as we grow in faith. The knowledge that Peter is talking of here in 1:5 is a deeper knowledge, a knowledge that leads to wisdom and discernment that enables us to live holy lives. We can learn more about life in Christ by reading the Bible, by attending regular services and Bible study and Prayer groups, and by being amongst other Christians. We learn self-control because we have Jesus Christ as the perfect role model. It is important that we also learn to persevere. It is sometimes all too easy to give up when we come to an obstacle in our daily lives and particularly in our attempts to serve Jesus. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews wrote to people who faced similar problems which is why he urged them to persevere. He wrote, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36). As we grow we also add godliness to our faith. That means that we should live lives that exemplify Christ and reflect Him in all that we do. We should always endeavour to be in a right relationship with God and with other believers. We should also add mutual affection to our faith. An earlier version of the NIV put this as “brotherly kindness” whereas the version that we use, and the NRSV, use the phrase “mutual affection”. In non-Christian circles this tended to refer to the relationships within families. However, here Peter is talking of our relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters. It also involves a concern and care for others, people who may not be Christians but who are desperately in need of the life and love that Jesus brings. The Apostle John also reminds us that we are to love our brothers and sisters when he writes, “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:21) To all this we are to add, love. I don’t think that Peter means the love that we have for our husbands, wives and children, but rather a love for others who are in need. It should go without saying that we should also love God, after all “God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is absolutely vital that we realise that we don’t just receive these qualities in our spiritual lives for them to then remain static. They should all increase as we practice and demonstrate them in our everyday lives.
It is quite a task list! However, just look at what is promised when we possess these qualities. They will all help us to avoid “being ineffective and unproductive” (1:8) in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. That can only mean that we are to put our faith into practice just as James urged us to do when he spoke of faith without deeds being dead. We must keep on keeping on and never simply rest on our laurels. Yes, it can be tiring but we should always remember that God is with us every step of the way and He will always give us what we need when we need it.
There is a downside though for those who do not have or do not develop these qualities. Peter talks of them being “short-sighted and blind” since they have obviously forgotten that they have “been cleansed from their past sins” (1:9b). We should all remember that we have been cleansed from our sins at a very great price; Jesus shed His blood to enable us to be cleansed. We thought about that cleansing last week when we considered the thought of being “washed” as mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11. Anyone who does not grow in Christ and thereby build up their Christian lives in the way that Peter is describing has very obviously got a very short memory.
In 1:10 Peter urges everyone to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election”. That doesn’t mean that we can lose our salvation unless we go through some confirmation process. Rather, we need to demonstrate that we have been called by God to be members of His family and we do that by growing in our faith and adding the seven other qualities that Peter has outlined in 1:5-7. We should never think that coming to faith in Christ is the end; it isn’t, it is only the beginning of a long but ultimately rewarding journey; a journey that will lead us to eternal life with Christ in heaven.
Just notice though the promise that we receive in 1:10b-11. If we do grow in faith and work on these qualities then we “will never stumble” in our spiritual walk. We will always be near to Christ and He will walk beside us wherever we go and whatever we do. Eventually this will all lead to “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. What greater reward can we receive than that? All of this comes about as we grow in our faith in Jesus Christ and as the Holy Spirit works in us to help us develop the qualities that make up a full and rounded Christian.
I find these verses to be both challenging and encouraging. We are challenged to live our Christian lives in such a way that we grow, develop and demonstrate the qualities that Peter has been talking about in 1:5-7. It is quite a list and at first glance it may appear daunting. However, the encouragement comes when we see what will happen when we do overcome these challenges. As we walk with Christ we will never stumble and the path that we walk together will lead to a life with Him in His “eternal kingdom”. I urge you all to take up this challenge but also to be encouraged by the rewards that await us.