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A study in 2 Peter 1:5-11 (1b): Adding to our faith

A study in 2 Peter 1:5-11 (1b): Adding to our faith

This is a study on 2 Peter 1:5-11 by Martyn McGeown. Previous article in the series: A study in 2 Peter 1:5-11 (1a): Adding to our faith.


#2 The Necessary Addition
After introducing faith, then, the apostle Peter writes, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, etc.” We could translate it this way: “And for this very reason, or exactly because of this.” Exactly because our whole salvation is found in Christ, and exactly because our whole salvation is received by faith alone without faith’s works, and exactly because by faith alone God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness, add to your faith virtue, etc.

That brings us to the exhortation: “Add to your faith.” The verb translated as “add” is rarely used in the New Testament. It always includes the idea of generosity so that to add to or supply lavishly or abundantly is a good translation. We often think of “add” in terms of increasing the size or quantity of something in order to make it bigger or larger. That is what addition is in mathematics: you add one number to another. In Matthew 6:27 Jesus asks, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?” In Acts 5:14 we read “And believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” If that were the meaning, the exhortation would be this: “Increase your faith by adding these extra components to it.” But these things are not components of faith: virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity are not components of faith. Instead, the meaning is similar to passages such as Titus 2:10: “showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” Virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity do not add anything to the doctrine of God, but they adorn it, they decorate it, and they make it beautiful in the sight of others. Thus, they bring glory to God. Similarly, when we adorn our faith with virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity, God’s glory shines. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works—we might add, that they may see your virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity—and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

In fact, this verb “add” comes from the world of music—the world of choirs or orchestras. A wealthy person who supports music, a patron of the arts, generously supplies the needs for a musical performance: a choir concert or an orchestra. Thus he adds singers, musicians, musical instruments, and whatever else is necessary to give a great performance.

In addition, we should take note of the preposition “to” in these verses “Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, etc.” The Greek preposition that the apostle used is “in.” “In” has many meanings, but the best option here is “in connection with.” Thus a chain of virtues flows from faith: virtue in connection with faith; knowledge in connection with virtue; temperance in connection with knowledge, etc. Each of these links is necessary; none of them may be neglected. To omit one of them is like having a choir without alto, tenor, soprano, or bass; or an orchestra without woodwind, brass, strings, or percussion. Each voice and each instrument contributes to the harmony.

Perhaps, then, we can capture the meaning like this: “And for this very reason, making every effort, supply your orchestra or your choir generously or lavishy: in connection with your faith, supply virtue; and in connection with virtue, supply knowledge; and in connection with knowledge, supply temperance; and in connection with temperance, supply patience; and in connection with patience, supply godliness; and in connection with godliness, supply brotherly kindness; and in connection with brotherly kindness, supply charity.” Supply all these things generously, and your chorus/orchestra will be harmonious. Neglect them, and you will make a discordant, even obnoxious, sound.

#3 A Beautiful Chorus
Let us briefly examine the orchestra/choir. I call these things “the chorus of virtues” or “the orchestra of graces.” I call them “the chorus of virtues” because they are activities of the believer—we practice virtue; we know; we practice temperance, patience, and godliness; and we exercise brotherly kindness and charity. I call them “the orchestra of graces” because God gives them to us. God works virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity in our hearts and lives by his grace and Holy Spirit. These things are part of the “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (v. 3). These things are part of the “exceeding great and precious promises” (v. 4). These things are the fruits of faith. As God works them in our hearts and lives, we bring them forth.

First is virtue: “add to your faith virtue” (v. 5). The English word virtue comes from the Latin for man, vir. Virile means manly, strong, and energetic. But virtue is a particular kind of strength or manliness: it is moral excellence or ethical strength. A virtuous man is mighty in holiness. A virtuous man is honest, trustworthy; he is a man of integrity. A virtuous man is not like Samson—Samson was strong and physically virile, and women loved him and were attracted to him, but he was very weak in virtue. There are virtuous women, too, who are strong when faced with temptation. About Ruth Boaz said, “All the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11). Proverbs 12:4 says, “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.” Are you virtuous? I am not asking if you are mighty in your studies, mighty in music, mighty in sports, or physically attractive, but are you mighty in virtue? Do you pursue moral excellence? “In connection with your faith, supply your choir or your orchestra with virtue.”

Second is knowledge: “add [to virtue] knowledge” (v. 5). Knowledge is your understanding of the truth of God’s Word. Without knowledge you cannot be virtuous, for the opposite of knowledge is ignorance and error. Ignorance and error invariably lead to wickedness and ungodliness. If you do not know God, you will not love, obey, and praise him. Do you have the knowledge of God and are you growing in that knowledge? “In connection with virtue, supply your choir or your orchestra with knowledge.”

Third is temperance: “add [to knowledge] temperance” (v. 6). Temperance is the ability to master your own desires and passions, to be self-disciplined, or self-controlled, so that you are balanced and not given to excess. Such temperance applies to bodily passions—eating, drinking, and the like—and to emotions. The opposite of temperance is to indulge your every lust and whim. A good example of temperance is 1 Corinthians 9:25: “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” If you want to excel in athletics—running, for example—you practice self-discipline and even self-denial. You get up early to run, you watch what you eat, you avoid unhealthy habits, you stick to your training schedule, and you obey your coach. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb. 12:2). A temperate person controls his passions so that he can better serve God: “In connection with knowledge, supply your choir or orchestra with temperance.”

Fourth is patience: “add [to temperance] patience” (v. 6). Patience is endurance, the ability by God’s grace to remain under trials and afflictions. If God gives a patient man what he does not want, or if he withholds from him what he desires, he reacts without grumbling, complaining, or giving up in despair. A patient person responds like Job, “The LORD gave and the LORD hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Remember this exhortation from Hebrews 10:36: “Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” Are you patient, or are you irritable so that everything unpleasant in your life makes you angry and bitter? Are you the kind of person whose bad temper makes other people nervous, so that they walk on eggshells around you? “In connection with temperance, supply your choir or orchestra with patience.” A grumbling, murmuring complainer will bring a discordant sound.

Fifth is godliness: “add [to patience] godliness” (v. 6). Godliness is a reverent, worshipful, pious attitude toward God. A godly person prays, reads Scripture, and comes to public worship not because he has to, not because he is expected to, not because his parents make him come, but because he delights in God. A godly person is devoted to God, and he shows his devotion by keeping God’s commandments. A godly person is like Joseph who, when faced with temptation, cried out in horror, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). A godly person is like Mary who in the midst of the busyness of life, and in the midst of the fussing of her sister Martha, chose the better part of sitting at the feet of Jesus to commune with him (Luke 10:42). “In connection with patience, supply your choir or orchestra with godliness.”

Sixth is brotherly kindness: “add [to godliness] brotherly kindness” (v. 7). The phrase “brotherly kindness” is the one word philadelphia. Literally, philadelphia is “affection for the brother.” The brother is the fellow believer. Hebrews 13:1: “Let brotherly love continue.” 1 Peter 1:22: “Love one another with a pure heart fervently.” Do you have deep, genuine affection for your fellow believers in the church? “In connection with godliness, supply your choir/orchestra with brotherly kindness.” What a delightful sound is philadelphia!

Finally, seventh is charity: “add [to brotherly kindness] charity” (v. 7). Charity is love: love in the Bible is the determination to do good to a person. It begins with a deep affection in the heart so that we long to do good to a person, we long to make that person’s life better (by helping him, by supporting him, by showing kindness to him, and by serving, as much as we are able, his salvation), and we long to draw nigh to that person and, where possible, to establish a relationship with him. This love is not shown only to believers in the church—it begins there, in a Christian home, in a Christian church, in a Christian school—but we love our neighbors, and even our enemies. Does your life evidence charity, the love of 1 Corinthians 13? “In connection with brotherly kindness, supply your choir/orchestra with charity/love.”

What a beautiful choir or band concert it would be if the special numbers were virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity! How delightful to see our fellow church members live, work, play, and perform with virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity!

#4 Necessary Diligence
So where do these things—these components in an orchestra/choir—come from? We are called to “add” them, to supply them in connection with our faith. Where do we get the supplies, the singers, the instruments, the equipment? The answer is that God gives them to us: in fact, we have them already; we are called to exercise them or to work them out. They are included in “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (v. 3); they are included in the “exceeding great and precious promises” (v. 4); they belong to our “being partakers of the divine nature” (v. 4).

And yet, we are called to activity: “And beside this, giving all diligence.” Not no diligence or no effort; not some diligence or a little bit of effort; but all diligence—wholehearted pursuit after these things. Do not sit idly and expect God to give you virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity without any effort on your part. We are called to add these things to our faith: we are called to pursue these things, we are called to seek these things.

When a patron of the arts wants a fine performance, he makes every effort to find the best singers, the best musicians, the best instruments, and the best equipment for his choir and orchestra performance. He does not expect them to drop into his lap out of heaven while he makes no effort. And no band/orchestra performs a glorious night of music to the glory of God without countless hours of effort and practice. And If you cannot see how our effort fits with God’s grace, you do not understand what grace is: it is God’s favor, undeserved and free; and also a power which makes us active. Canons 3:17 express it beautifully: “Grace is conferred by means of admonitions—such as this admonition in 2 Peter 1:5-7—and the more readily we perform our duty (the duty here of adding virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity to our faith), the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is his work advanced, to whom alone all the glory, both of means and their saving fruit and efficacy, is forever due.”

In this way, your life will be one grand choir or orchestra performed to the glory of God.

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