Peter suggests a unique sequence of stepping stones for a Christian to follow in moving from faith to a manifest love (2 Peter 1:5-7). I’ve been wrestling with this passage for the past several weeks and would like to show you where I am now and to invite you to join me with your suggestions of how to answer my questions. What is the logic in the sequence from one trait to the next? To what extent might this sequence a picture of Peter’s own growth from faith (“upon this rock I will build My church” — Matthew 16:18) to love (“Do you love Me? . . .Tend My lambs” — John 21:15)? Is there any significance that the earlier traits picture the character of an individual, while the later ones picture the individual’s attitudes and actions toward others? If we are to “add” one characteristic to another, in what sense is each limited without the added one?
This is where I am with it all today. Everyone has faith in something, even a misguided heretic. But the faith of God’s chosen people is a faith that manifests itself in virtue. But virtue to what end? Some virtuous behaviors can actually be manipulative for the sake of personal gain. Some can be superficial social compliance simply to make the person look good and to be admired. Peter wants the kind of virtue that furthers our knowledge of God in our relationship with Him. I think Peter used “knowing” in the Hebrew way of intimate familiarity with a relational partner, not intellectual knowledge. But even this knowledge can puff up our sense of personal power and must be monitored by self control. As Peter learned more and more about Christ, he had to exercise self control frequently to reign in his impetuous exuberance for his Lord. But this self control takes energy and, in time, can be draining. So we must add to it steadfast endurance. While Peter’s earlier life was characterized by extremes of spurts and sputters, here in his later life, he emphasizes a more steady process. But this focus on self management can result in a dangerous self-centeredness that must be countered by an attitude of godliness. This attitude is what keeps us from getting too enamored with ourselves. But even godliness can result in our becoming so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good, so we need to add brotherly kindness to get practical with our heart. I like the motto of The Salvation Army, “Hearts toward God, Hands toward People.” But even kindness can become routine and comfortable, so it needs to be augmented with the self sacrificial Christ-like love that is compelled to serve the well being of others. This “agape” is what makes a man lay down his life for the salvation of his enemies.
Now I don’t think this sequence is linear, as though it represents rungs on a ladder. Once we have experienced this kind of love coming from this sequence of life experiences, our faith is strengthened. So I think we go back to our core of faith and start all over again. I picture an old coffee pot that percolates the coffee up the stem and then as the coffee circulates through the coffee grounds, it becomes stronger and recycles through the stem, become stronger and stronger over time. This is like the process of the Christian life, becoming strong as we respond to life’s experiences with these attitudes that keep us on track. May God grant me the wisdom to continue this percolation through my life in such a way that He is glorified by seeing more and more of His character manifest through the likes of me.