It has been said, probably mostly in the manufacturing world, that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I think there is truth in that statement—at least when it comes to how we pattern our life. The highest of all compliments to another is probably having a passion to be like him or her. When it comes to thanking Jesus for his unfathomable grace and love for me, I’m not sure anything would mean more to him than passionately seeking to BE LIKE HIM. This episode is the third in our study of the astonishing first chapter of 2nd Peter in which God tells us that his divine power makes it possible for us to do that very thing--become partakers of his divine nature, escaping the corruption of our sinful desires. Today, we examine step 3 for accessing that divine power.
Let’s review what we have seen in this text, Peter 1:3-8, so far. We noted last week that this 3-step process of becoming Christ-like, ends with the promise that continuing this process of growing into Christ-like character guarantees that our lives in Christ will NOT BE ineffective or unfruitful. Verse 8: For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being INEFFECTIVE or UNFRUITFUL in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We noted that Peter explains this three-step process beginning in verse 3: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the KNOWLEDGE of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. Step #1 in being transformed into the likeness of Christ is KNOWING him well, personally, gazing upon his gory and excellence. Paul sends us the same message about how we are transformed writing, And we all…. BEHOLDING the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).
Last week, we examined step #2 in this process of accessing the power of the Holy Spirit to become Christ-like. Verse 4: by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, SO THAT THROUGH THEM you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. Why are God’s great and precious promises a key to a Jesus-like heart? Perhaps it is because our self-centered preoccupations, compulsions, fears, and anxieties so take over our hearts that they push the Christ-like heart commitment to love God and others to the side. However, when I can transfer all those self-centered preoccupations to God, knowing he will take care of whatever I fear or worry about, I am emotionally free to focus on loving—God and others. For example, if my heart is filled with anxiety over whether I have the money to pay my mortgage, I will not be able to concentrate on listening well or notice another's needs. I am too preoccupied with worry. But claiming God’s promise in Phil 4:19, My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus sets my heart free to focus on others.
So, step #1 in this pathway to Christ-like heart attitudes is abiding in Christ, the Vine, walking with him and being transformed as we see his glory and moral excellence. Step #2 in this pathway to Christ-like attitudes is walking daily by faith—trusting in his great and precious promises to provide all we need. Today we come to step #3: Verse 5: MAKE EVERY EFFORT to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control, with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. Step #3 in this pathway to Christ-like heart attitudes is to be intentional about building Christ-like character. That is what Peter commands. Make every effort to build a golden chain of virtues.
Let’s look at this list of virtues.
The beginning virtue, FAITH, refers back to step 2--living daily by claiming the promises of God. The foundation of Peter’s golden chain is trusting God’s promises, which frees our hearts to be OTHER-focused instead of SELF-focused. Escaping from desires ruling my heart that exhibit preoccupation with ourselves is only possible by trusting Jesus to worry about all those concerns SO WE DON’T HAVE TO. Let’s consider how this works.
- If the fear of being rejected is dominating my heart, I will not be sensitive to the other’s needs to be affirmed and valued, but unconsciously maneuver to make sure I am seen in the best light. However, if the truth of Zephaniah 3:17 captures my heart, reassuring me that I am deeply loved by God, such confidence will drive out my self-centered need to feel valuable, empowering me to love others well by affirming THEM. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
- If my heart entertains secret doubts about God’s goodness, I will not want to come into his presence. Hebrews 11:6 says, Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. But if I claim Ps 34:10, I will run to God. Even the young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
- If God has ordained circumstances that are painful for me, filling my heart with doubts about his love, rebellion may creep into my heart. But if I claim God’s promise in Rom 8:31-32, rebellion flees from my heart (momentarily)! If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Then my heart is free to love God in his love language, “If you love me keep my commandments" (Jn 14:5).
- If the fear of being alone overpowers my heart, I will easily compromise my moral convictions to fit in. The potential pain of being left out drives me. But my heart is freed from this fear when I lean upon Is 41:10. Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my right hand. I can take a stand for righteousness that will also help others in the room do what is right.
- When my heart is empty and I feel unsatisfied, like trying to follow Jesus is not worth it, discontent, and envy of others can take over. But when I lean on the truth of Psalm 37:4, Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart, my heart is free to take my empty tank to God to fill.
- When I am at the end of my rope, having asked God over and over to change a situation which causes a lot of pain but he refuses to do so, distrust can take over my heart. In such moments, I need to rely upon verses like, I Pet 5:7, You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.
Step #1 in becoming Christ-like is abiding in Christ. Step #2 is freeing our hearts from their default preoccupations by claiming the great and precious promises of God. But the process doesn’t end after just two steps; there is a third. MAKE EVERY EFFORT to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, etc. Step #3 is an intentional focus on building Christ-like character. Jesus does not say through Peter, “Walk closely with me getting to know me, then daily claim my promises to free your hearts from self-preoccupations AND THAT IS ALL IT TAKES. Rather, he says, “Walk closely with me getting to know me, and daily claim my promises to free your hearts from self-preoccupations, then, make every effort to build seven components of Christ-like character. The English translation supplement is from the verb, to bring in and the noun supply. It is the idea of furnishing completely, lavishly.
There is a logical sequence to the golden string of seven Christ-like virtues that Peter commands us to build upon the foundation of a faith that daily trusts his promises. First, we must have the right goal. We must shape our lives according to the right PURSUIT. Peter says, make every effort to pursue virtue. The Greek word for virtue, ARETE, has a rich background. We discern four facets to this diamond.
- It was the word in Greek culture to describe the ultimate moral excellence of character. It described one whose character was of the highest moral order.
- The word ARETE can also be translated praise. So, the character envisioned is praiseworthiness or even renown. It means worthy of universal praise. This virtue is used earlier of God’s praiseworthiness (moral excellence), which draws humans to praise him. The parallel suggests that the excellence of Christians character is so well-known that it draws others to praise God
- ARETE was also used to describe courage, the strength of character that refuses to back down from doing what is right in the face of external pressure. The concept is virtue that is so thorough that it refuses to compromise at any point. Integrity. Someone has said that the difference between God’s best and Satan’s best is one small moral compromise. I am reminded of the apocryphal story of Sir Winston Churchill who regularly traded insults with Lady Aster.
Churchill: "Would you sleep with a man who offered you five million pounds?"
Lady Aster: "My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose for 5 million pounds once—I suppose I would.”
Churchill: "Would you sleep with him for five pounds?"
Lady Aster: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!"
Churchill: "Madam, we've already established what kind of a woman you are. We are only haggling about the price.”
The virtue embodied by the word ARETE has uncompromising integrity.
4. ARETE describes the moral excellence of God, himself. Back in verse three the divine power given is to share in God’s own glory and excellence (ARETE). What praiseworthy examples do you see?
He entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him (Mark 3:1-6).
I am sure you would have much to add to my list. But I have, love for the Pharisees by confronting them, fearlessness, compassion, mercy, anger at hardheartedness, grieving over evil, and again sacrificial love for the healed man. This incident was one of many that caused the Parsees to execute Jesus. So, step 3a is intentionally pursuing the moral excellence of Jesus.
Step 3b is to furnish virtue with knowledge. Peter here affirms the same importance of knowledge that Paul does in his letter to the Romans, in which he criticizes the unbelieving Jews of his day, saying, I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Rom 10:2). Indeed, knowledge is so basic to the Christian walk that Paul tells the Christians at Colossae, From the day we heard (of their conversion), we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the KNOWLEDGE of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the KNOWLEDGE of God (vs 1:9-10).
Recovery of true knowledge is paramount for godliness because our sinful nature causes us to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). Paul identifies this corruption of our thinking when he urges the Ephesian believers, You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. The knowledge needed to overcome ignorance due to the fall is in Scripture. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16). This tool is vital for the transformation described by Paul: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Rom 12:2).
The importance of gaining the knowledge of God is revealed in Paul’s words about spiritual warfare. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor 10:4-5).
The Greek word for knowledge is, GINOSKO. Besides being the word used for personal knowledge, it has the connotation of practical, everyday knowledge, what we would call “know how.” The knowledge of Scripture brings PERSPECTIVE to everyday life. For example, in Hebrews 12, God gives us the correct perspective to have about our trials. The Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (vs 7-10).
The sinful, un-Christ-like attitudes of our hearts result from a loss of perspective.
- Resentment is allowing the momentary pain caused by others to do long-term damage to my soul. We can’t afford bitterness; it will destroy us from the inside out.
- Judgementalism views others as morally beneath us, forgetting that God’s standard is that to whom much is given, much is required.
- Selfish anger forgets that wounded people wound people and being hurt is the chance to put salve on the other’s wound.
- Sexual impurity satisfies a momentary urge now, only to make the battle to “say no” to illicit sexual cravings next time harder.
- Murmuring when God allows frustration and pain in my life results from forgetting that I am creature made for HIS glory. He is not my genie in a bottle to help ME escape the unpleasantness that he knows is best for me, building character.
The Greek word, EGKRATEIA, means literally, the ability to get a grip on oneself. It is the ability to resist our passions controlling the decisions we make. This word means that WE control and steer our physical appetites into righteous avenues in which they are satisfied, not our desires steering US. But I want to suggest that EGKRATEIA goes way beyond controlling our physical appetites. It is choosing to look at life from a biblical perspective. Our attitudes, be they right or wrong, are shaped by our perspective. The principle that choosing your perspective is to choose your attitude was understood well by motivational speaker Zig Ziggler. He recounts this story about arriving at his airport gate upon his return to Dallas after speaking.
The ticket agent looked at me, smiled, and said, “The three o’clock flight to Dallas has been canceled.” To this I enthusiastically responded, “Fantastic!” When I said that, the ticket agent, with a puzzled look on her face, asked, “Now why in the world would you say ‘fantastic’ when I’ve just told you the three o’clock fight to Dallas has been canceled?” I smiled back at her and said, “Ma’am, there are only three reasons why anybody would cancel a flight to Dallas. Number one, something must be wrong with that airplane; number two, something must be wrong with the person who is going to fly that airplane; number three, something must be wrong with the weather they are going to fly that airplane in. Now, Ma’am, if any one of those three situations exist, I don’t want to be up there. I want to be right down here. Fantastic!
Your perspective determines your attitude! So, the sequence of Peter’s golden virtues makes sense. Add the pursuit of moral excellence to your foundation of trusting God’s promises. But pursing righteous attitudes requires the right perspective, so next we must add knowledge. Knowledge gives you the right PERSPECTIVE to produce godly attitudes. But just having the knowledge yet not letting that knowledge shape your perspective won’t lead to godliness. You need to add self-control to your knowledge so that you choose the right perspective to have resulting in right attitudes. Here are some examples of the way that the self-discipline of choosing the right perspective empowers godly character.
- Forgiveness: refusing to demand that another person treat me perfectly when God has forgiven a thousand times more imperfections in me.
- Humility: recognizing that God and others are actually the ones responsible for the achievements in my life.
- Contentment: realizing that God has already provided everything I need for my present happiness.
- Patience: realizing that others’ imperfections that inconvenience me provide the opportunity to show them Christ-like unconditional love.
- Security: structuring my life around what is eternal and cannot be taken away.
- Attentiveness: Showing the worth of a person by giving sincere attention to his words.
- Truthfulness: Earning future trust by accurately reporting past facts.
- Orderliness: Preparing myself and my surroundings so that I will achieve the greatest efficiency.
- Thoroughness: Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected.
I can’t think of anything more honoring to Jesus than for each of us to conclude this episode by saying, “Lord, I want to spend my life honoring you by striving to be just like you. Please help me.”
For Further Prayerful Thought:
- In this episode’s review of last week we again looked at how claiming the specific promises of God to care for our needs frees us from having to worry about them knowing they are taken care of. Why might this step be required before we can focus on Christ-like attitudes towards others?
- What ideas about pursuing virtue, praiseworthy character stood out to you.
- What do you think of the statement having the right attitude comes from looking at life from God’s point of view? What reasons for knowing the Word of God stand out to you as most important.
- Do you agree or disagree with this statement. Self-control is more about choosing your perspective in a given situation than about resisting cravings?