And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge,and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. (2 Peter 1:3-9)
Three times Peter uses the term ‘excellence’, and twice tells us he is referring to moral excellence. “In view of all this,” Peter says, “make every effort to respond to God’s promises.” What is he talking about? What promises?
The promises Peter is referring to are found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. In short, when we live a life of personal holiness, God has promised to be with us, to be present in our lives as a loving parent with their child.
The word ‘excellence’ is the ancient Greek word arete. It literally means excellence, and can refer to anything – a chair or a bowl of hummus can exhibit arete. The New Living Translation Study Bible adds another dimension to the word, telling us it can also refer to a manifestation of God’s power. We might understand this in two ways. The first is that moral excellence is an example of God’s power at work in us. As fine as this statement sounds, it implies that moral excellence is not possible except as a work of God. Although I won’t completely deny that implication, I want to push-back on it a little bit. Morally upright actions are always the result of a choice, a decision that we alone make.
Another way to understand this secondary meaning of arete is say that when we live a life of personal holiness God’s power becomes manifested in our lives. That is, we begin to see the miraculous in our everyday life.
“…make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)
“Make every effort,” Peter says. Too many of us treat our spiritual journey as something that just happens, never giving it much thought or effort. “Make every effort,” says something altogether different. It says we need be invested in our journey. We need to invest energy, effort and attention. We need to have some kind of plan.
In a cafe yesterday I saw a young woman with a tattoo running the length of her forearm. It read, “Live With Intention.” Do I live with intention? Is prayer a practice that I make a time and place for, or is it something I do only when I’m in a crisis? Is worship, immersing myself in the Word, meeting with other Christians something I do as intentional practices or are these things I do haphazardly?
“The more you grow like this,” Peter says, “the more productive and useful you will be…” In other words, if I don’t make every effort, I might very well turn out to be unproductive, and completely useless to God.
Half measures avail nothing.
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.
There are other places in the bible that use trees as an illustration, but these few verses are particularly lovely. Those of us who invest our hearts, minds and lives in the Lord are promised life. Our ‘leaves’ will never wither, and we will prosper in all we do. This is because our roots – the deep, unseen parts of our heart – are connected to the river of life that is Jesus, flowing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We will bear ‘fruit’ this psalm says, “each season.” What this phrase “each season” tells us is that there will be periods of time when we are not obviously or evidently bearing fruit. There will be seasons in our life when nothing much seems to be happening spiritually, when we seem to be spinning our wheels, or just going through life without seeing miracles, or the power of God in our life. These quiet seasons are the times when we must remain faithful to God. We must keep praying, keep ourselves immersed in the Word, keep on being faithful. These ‘quiet seasons’ are the time God is preparing us, or preparing the place he would have us to be next. God is still at work, but at a level far below the surface of our life.
There is a time and a place for everything, the bible tells us. The River is always flowing. God is always at work, and patience and faithfulness are virtues that God still rewards.
Be still, and know that he is God.
From S.J. Mattson’s tumblr:
Which of the following statements is the most inspiring?
I’m a religious person.
I consider myself to be Lutheran.
I’m a Christian.
I try to live like Jesus.
As Christians, we can identify ourselves by many labels, communities, belief systems, theologies, traditions, and doctrines, but nothing is as profoundly powerful as simply emulating the life of Christ.
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
I saw a response to a post this week – on another website – where the person commenting began with the words, “Alright, first of all, you’re an idiot.” I was struck by how casually hurtful – even abusive – that sentence was.
I’ve really become conscious lately of the power of the words I speak. I can be abusive, saying anything that causes harm and wounds the spirit of another, or I can speak words that are an encouragement to others. I want my words to continually speak blessings to those I interact with. First, though, I must listen – really listen – trying to discern the heart of the person I’m talking with.
One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to speak blessing over another is to aknowledge what I see God doing in their heart. As Christians, too often we journey alone, and we long to hear someone say we’re on the right track, and that the love of God is visible in our hearts and lives. I know I long for that, and I imagine many others do as well.
If you see God visible in someone, tell them. Speak words of blessing, speak words of love. And God will be honored and lifted up.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.
How do we let the Holy Spirit guide our lives?
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The presence of the Spirit of God is obvious. So are the consequences of not following the Spirit. In everything we do, we have a choice: Act out of love or self-interest. Create joy or create pain. Bring peace or bring conflict and discord.
Follow the Spirit, and you will always know what to do.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for what he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:6-7)
Almost every day I find myself in a conversation with someone who is worried, concerned or fearful about something in their lives. I’ve done it myself far too many times – stressed over something for days or weeks before finally taking it to the Lord in prayer. It really doesn’t make sense for a child of God to live like that. Worry is like praying for what you don’t want, and that doesn’t make much sense for a child of God either.
These verses don’t promise us freedom from troubles in this life, just a divine peace as we move through life. That’s good enough for me.
Some observations from today’s discussion of faith, taken from the story of Stephen in Acts 6-7:
- “And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility.” (Acts 6:3) . We have almost completely lost this perspective when choosing church leaders today.
- Stephen is described as a man a “man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (verse 5)
How does one become “full of faith”?
- Taking risks. A ‘step of faith’ requires uncertainty, requires entering into the unknown. It requires us to trust God for a successful outcome and, when we experience success, our faith grows. Even when we experience failure, we often come to a deeper understanding of God as a result.
- Faithful in a little, faithful in a lot. Stephen was given a task that might have seemed menial. He was asked to take on the role of a servant, and God increased his role. Making our faith grow requires us to first be ‘faith-full’ with what we have right now. Which leads to our third point…
- Don’t worry. Trust God for the every day things of life, trust God amidst the ordinariness of life. God will provide. God is already where you need to be, and God already has what you need to have. God is not sweating it.