Everyone loves the children’s story, Alexander, and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day because we all know Judith Vorst took a page out of OUR diary to write it. Alexander’s day started badly but got worse. By evening he was saying,
“There were lima beans for dinner, and I hate limas. There was kissing on TV, and I hate kissing. My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad-train pajamas. I hate my railroad-train pajamas. When I went to bed, Nick took back the pillow he said I could keep, and the mickey mouse night light burned out and I bit my tongue. The cat wants to sleep with Anthony not with me. It’s been a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. My mom says some days are like that.”
Every one of us has days like Alexander’s. We realize that God is sovereign, ordaining whatsoever comes to pass. If we are honest, we can’t escape God’s role in taking us through frustrating, painful, difficult, even crushing experiences of life. If you are like me, you wonder sometimes, “Why does life have to be so hard so often?” As both everyday irritations and more serious problems crowd into our lives bringing out our bad attitudes, we are slammed in the face with James’ almost impossible command, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. “Be joyful,” says James, “because when it hurts, God is building into you the Christ-like quality of steadfastness.” This same, priceless attribute of Christ-like character, steadfastness, is identified by Peter as one of the eight in the golden chain of Christ-like virtues we’re studying. This episode examines how on our terrible horrible, no good, very bad days, we can exhibit the inner toughness of character that responds as Jesus would—with steadfastness, i.e. not giving in to lousy, self-absorbed, wrong attitudes. We continue to examine the final three virtues in Peter’s golden chain of virtues.
Today we complete our study of the process God uses to empower Christ-followers to become LIKE Jesus, or in the words of Peter, to become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. As we’ve noticed, in 2 Peter 1:3-8, God lays out a three-step process of accessing Christ’s divine power for becoming Christ-like. Let’s review.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, 1) THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has 2) 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. For this very reason, 3) 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. 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.
Step # 1: through the knowledge of him. The Greek word for knowledge is GINOSKO, which refers to personal knowledge. It is the knowledge that comes with abiding in Christ, walking closely with him. Knowing Jesus means knowing that he empathizes with us as our High Priest. When it comes to responding to the painful experiences of life, I believe Jesus wants us to take our feelings to him; that is what the Psalms were written for. For example, when those shaping culture rage against the Lord, we can process our emotions through Psalm 2:1-2. When the evil prosper more than the godly, we can identify with Asaph in Psalm 73. When we are slammed by earth-shattering calamity, we can take our feelings to God through Psalm 46:1-4. When I am in despair over the evil of my own heart, I have Psalm 51. When our souls are deeply troubled, we can find comfort in Psalm 6:1-3. When God seems to ignore my pain, Psalm 13:1-2 helps me express my frustration.
Step # 2. After we take our pain to Jesus, we are ready to trust the great and precious promises of God. Regarding our painful trials, we can claim Romans 8:28-29. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. We trust God’s promise that whatever pain he allows into our lives is for his good ultimate purpose—which is conforming us to the image of Christ. I personally believe that the more Christ-like we become in this life, the greater will be the depth of our joy in eternity.
Step # 3. After we still our hearts by trusting God’s promises, we are to Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, etc. This step is making an intentional commitment to build this golden chain of Christ-like virtues. Notice the deliberate order, revealing a process.
- Focus on VIRTUE. This quality is pursuing supreme, moral character, righteous attitudes that are so visible to others that we are renowned for our character.
- Supply this commitment to virtue with KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge of Scripture and God’s purposes is required to build a biblical perspective. For example, James tells us to have an attitude of joy in trials because of our perspective—they are necessary to produce in us the Christ-like quality of steadfastness. When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:3-4).
- Although knowledge gives us an understanding of the biblical view of life, our attitude in any given situation is determined by which perspective we choose, which requires SLEF-CONTROL. I can choose to have an attitude of welcoming a trial as a friend because enduring that trial produces endurance, a vital part of the character of Christ—and being like Jesus pleases him. Or I can choose to ignore that perspective, feel sorry for myself and complain.
So far, what we’ve shared has been a review. So, let’s move on to the last four components to Christ-like character in Peter’s golden chain.
As I’ve suggested, the grammatical structure of adding each virtue to the others suggests a logical sequence. So, the above logical sequence continues. FAITH, i.e. trusting the promises of God takes care of the anxiety, fear, and self-preoccupation that clouds our hearts. VIRTUE—a commitment to Christ-like character is the starting point for building character. But that takes KNOWLEDGE to gain God’s perspective, but then SELF-CONTROL to choose to put the Biblical lens to our eye through which we look at the situation. The problem is that doing that once or twice isn’t God’s goal. He is building character—which means that it is characteristic of us that we have this good attitude towards trials. That is why he is so relentless. The word to describe a consistent attitude under trial is STEADFASTNESS. The Greek word, HUPOMONE is HUPO under + MONE from MENW, the word for abide. So, it means literally to remain under. It is also translated persevere. Perseverance is the only way character can be fully built. Notice what James says about steadfastness, And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
A good coach makes his team persevere in running hills and wind sprints all week long. He has to get them into shape (mature and complete), so in the last quarter they can overpower their opponents and win. He knows the truth of the saying, “No pain, no gain.” Our God is a superb coach. His focus is the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed—a day that will continue into eternity. We can not become like Christ in our character without enduring pain. Pain is the fire that refines our attitudes. We hate pain because we focus on right now instead of game day. God loves us too much to do that. So, steadfastness, even though it hurts, is the only way to grow in character towards godliness, the next virtue
The Greek word EUSEBIA comes from EU well + SEBOMAI reverent. So, the concept is being well-pleasing to God. This virtue is being motivated throughout my life to please God—to shape my life so that on the Day of Christ, we will hear, “Well done” from the lips of the master before the whole world and celebrate what those words refer to for eternity. Those shaped by this value take as their life-verse, John 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. The Father is the owner of the vineyard. The reputation of the vineyard owner is based on the quality and abundance of the grapes. The ultimate vineyard owner is glorified by the quality and abundance of fruit of the Spirit, Christ-like attitudes, which demonstrate that we are patterning our life, as disciples do, after the behavior of our Master. One commentator describes this character quality this way, "The great characteristic of EUSEBIA is that it looks in two directions. The man who has EUSEBIA always correctly worships God and gives him his due; but he also correctly serves his fellow man and gives them their due” (Barclay Commentary). This is the attitude of one whose heart’s greatest desire is to please Jesus. It is a mark of inner valor—of one who regularly fights the battle against his selfish inclination to please himself and whose devotion to Jesus is mighty enough to regularly win that battle.
This quality is more than just friendship love, PHILEO. It is friendship love combined with the word for brother, ADELPHOS, thus PHILADELPHIA, which is why the city in PA with this name is called the city of brotherly love. Godly character always moves Christ-followers towards relational connection in the Body of Christ. Men, especially, need to hear that although the call to manhood is the call to strength—to be those others can lean upon—it is never a call to autonomy. Maturing, godly masculinity moves towards deeper connection in the Body of Christ, not isolation. Former Army Ranger, Stu Weber writes,
“How can a man learn to be a man, a husband, a father, a provider and protector—a full-orbed king, warrior, mentor, and friend? By walking with other men who are doing it. You learn to play ball by playing ball. And masculinity is a team sport. You and I, as men living in a tragically disoriented culture, need to experience the life-building of what Paul called a “brother, fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier.” It is time we heed the call of the High King to His High Communion. It is time God’s men come to his table in the round and, in the company of men, drink deeply of a fresh understanding of his kingdom and just what it takes to enjoy a man’s role in it” (Locking Arms).
It feels counter-intuitive, but Peter tells us that as we grow into mature, stronger character, i.e. up the golden chain of virtues, we will increasingly exhibit not autonomous, independent strength but greater recognition of our need for horizontal connection, brotherly love. The more we grow in godliness, the more we recognize the truth that we grow up into Christ the head of the through connecting with each other in the Body of Christ. Tom Joyce, a retired Navy pilot, gives us a great picture of brotherly love and affection while stationed at the Naval Air Station Miramar. He recounts:
“Six other brothers and I met in the chaplain’s office every Tuesday morning at 6 AM for bible study and prayer. These were strong brothers--accountability partners of mine. They found out that I had been selected to command a squadron that was located right down the road from the chaplain’s office. One Tuesday morning, they all got to the study early, but when I arrived there was a note on the door, ‘Report to Squadron 111 immediately.’ That was the squadron I was going to command.”
So, I drove over to the squadron, a young sailor let me in and took me upstairs to the commanding officer’s office, and there were my six brothers in that office. They had a chair in the middle of the office and said, “Here’s your chair.” They sat me down and one spokesman of the guys said, “We know you’re heading to this squadron right here to be the CO in the next couple of months. We want to help prepare you for that.” Then, one by one, they began praying into me the leadership principles from Joshua 1. “Will you help this man, God, to know your word?” “Will you help this man, God, to live out your word?” Will you help this man, God, to never forget who he has to report to—that he reports to you.”
You see, I had 270 men, an all-male fighter squadron, thirteen airplanes each worth fifty-five million dollars, and umpteen number of families connected to these men—a huge responsibility on my shoulders. And I knew where I was going. I was taking these men to a combat zone. My brothers sitting here with me were helping to prepare me for leadership.
There are at least four words for love in Greek. PHILEO is friendship love, two standing side by side both absorbed in a great calling. EROS is romantic love, man and woman face to face delighting in each other. A third is STORGEE, humans in a circle, familial love. Peter’s word is AGAPE, which is sacrificial love, supreme allegiance. It is sacrificing even what is dearest to you to meet another’s need. God so AGAPED the world that he gave what was dearest to him—his own Son, that whoever believes in him should have his need for a savior met, not perishing but having eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus said, “Greater AGAPE love has no one than this that he lays down his life (what is dearest to him) for his friend.”
Jim and Bill were best friends who enlisted together to fight in World War I. During the long muddy days of trench warfare in Europe, the battle became a stalemate. Every so often the men would be ordered over the top to move up to the next trench; but in this new era of the machine gun, row upon row would be mowed down. On one occasion, Jim and Bill were ordered over the top to advance to the next trench. Enemy fire broke out and Jim fell mortally wounded. Bill worked his way back in retreat to the previous trench with his commanding officer. But he could hear Jim out on the battlefield crying in pain and wanted to go rescue him.
His commanding officer said, “No, don’t risk your life. Didn’t you see where he was hit? He’s a gonner.” But when the C.O. turned away, Bill went out of the trench into the fire to be with his friend, Jim. A little bit later, he returned alone to the trench in a hail of bullets. The C.O. snapped, “Why did you do that? I told you he wasn’t going to make it. He’s dead isn’t he?” Bill said, “Yeah, he is.” The C.O. replied, “That was the stupidest thing you could have ever done.” Bill mumbled, “But he was alive when I got there.” “He was—well what did he say to you?” Bill answered, “He said, ‘I knew you’d come…I knew you’d come.’”
This virtue is both unwavering allegiance, supreme devotion to our Commander in Chief, and a willingness to die to myself for those around me in need. One of the most striking examples of this kind of love in the Body of Christ that I know of is the example of some of the Christian men who surrounded Chuck Colson, when he came to faith in Christ. While serving his prison sentence, Colson found out that his son named Christian had been arrested for narcotics possession. In Colson’s words,
“I picked up the phone in the prison and heard the words of my attorney, ‘Your son, Christian, has been arrested for narcotics possession. He’s in jail, but we’ll have him out on bail in a few hours.’ I couldn’t reply; my stomach went again, like someone had kicked me in the middle. I thought I had been through all the tribulations one person could take. My son in prison seemed the worst blow of all.”
“The brothers at Fellowship house rallied to my aid. On Tuesday, January 28, Al Quie called. ‘Chuck, I’ve been thinking about what else we can do to help you. All of us today signed a letter to the President appealing for mercy, but is there anything else?’ The voice on the other end didn’t sound like Al; the words came slowly and seemed laden with sadness. ‘Al, you guys are doing everything possible,’ I told him, ‘and I love you for it. I just don’t know what else you can do.’
‘There’s got to be something else, Chuck. I have been thinking.’ There was a long pause. ‘There’s an old statute someone told me about. I’m going to ask the President if I can serve the rest of your term for you.’”
Stunned, I could only stammer a protest. Al Quie, with twenty years in Congress, was the sixth ranking Republican in the House….That very day, Doug Coe sent me a handwritten note. ‘All the brothers would volunteer to serve my sentence,’ he explained. As it turned out, they never had to. Yet, their willingness to sacrifice their own freedom for their brother is a striking picture of the greatest virtue of all—love.
For Further Prayerful Thought:
- Why does becoming like Jesus hurt?
- Character is not having the right attitude once in a while but consistently enough so that such an attitude is characteristic of you. How is this truth related to the quality of steadfastness?
- How would you answer a Christ-follower who said, “When I was a younger Christian I needed to be connected in the Body of Christ because I was so screwed up, but now that I am stronger, I’m handling things on my own okay?”
- As you look back upon the 3-step process for accessing divine power to build the golden chain of virtues that rest upon one another, where would you say is the biggest breakdown in your life?