For this very reason, 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… – 2 Peter 1:5-6

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Clouds over the Gulf of Mexico | May 2018

On a recent getaway cruise (brief, cheap, and restful!) we came upon a game of giant Jenga® blocks – a tower made of cardboard boxes stacked three on three stacked cross wise one row on top of another. People would take out various blocks one at a time without allowing the tower to tumble down. It wasn’t long until the tower was leaning to one side. Soon it fell. A strong foundation is important, but so is a continuous steadfast balance of blocks all up and down the tower.

The Christian walk is far more important than a Jenga® game. But steadfastness is more far-reaching and vital in the life of a follower of Jesus. As important as it is, however, steadfastness can be its own worst enemy. Those who have achieved a level of faithfulness that is built on virtue, knowledge, and self-control, can easily become prideful. After all steadfastness proves itself in the heat of battle. When it’s difficult to keep the faith our consistent confession of Jesus marks us as steadfast. If we’ve been through the flames and remained true, it’s easy to relish in our ability to keep the faith.

A lack of steadfastness puts one in the category of wishy-washy. It is of such a one that James speaks of when he says that one who doubts is “like a wave tossed about by the wind.” Jesus asked if the people of his day went out to see John the Baptist thought that he was a “reed shaken by the wind.” John was not. Steadfastness is a true adornment of saving faith. It allows us to stand on truth, and grace, in clarity and confidence. That’s a beautiful thing.

Under-utilized or overplayed steadfastness becomes something ugly and unseemly. Sadly this happens all to often in the church today: people cave to modernity, comfort, fear, and peer pressure on the one hand or become so intractable in their faith that no one can stand to be near them.

Steadfastness with humility is one thing. Arrogant stubbornness is quite another. The first is a true adornment to faith; a treasure to the faith. The latter is unbecoming and off-putting if not hurtful to weak believers and off-putting to the world.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness… – 2 Peter 1:5-6

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Sunset in the Gulf of Mexico | May 2018

When I think of issues around self-control, I tend to go to places where I lack self-control. Whether it’s eating, spending, gossip, alcohol use, or aggressive driving, many people can identify with at least one area of our lives where we lack self-control to the extent we would wish. Whether it’s losing weight or lowering our blood pressure, finding joy in our own station in life, we all have room for personal growth in the area of self-control.

Consider the immediate context of this faith-adornment: knowledge and steadfastness. If we want to gain self-control we will not bypass leaning certain things about good and evil, right and wrong, or beneficial and harmful things. Knowing these things helps us to have a clear focus for our efforts to live our faith in a fruitful manner. Steadfastness helps us to stay the course when the fruit is not immediately forthcoming. This is so necessary whenever we are dealing with any personal growth matter: spiritual growth happens over the long-term, and will involve long periods of plodding faithfulness.

Nor is this quest ever complete this side of heaven. We all struggle somewhere in our lives of self-control. If you think you do not, I’ll clue you in: you struggle with self-deception (cf. 1 John 1:8). Controlling this urge is most important of all! Paul says it this way:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. – Romans 7:15

Perhaps you can identify an area where self-control would supplement your faith’s fruitfulness. The key isn’t to jump immediately to producing more fruit, but to attend to that area of self-control for the sake of a life of fruitfulness. Such efforts are grounded in knowing the truth about good and evil, within the context of that which is of good replete, all founded on faith in God’s grace to us in Jesus. The good news is that Jesus offers us the opportunity to exercise self-control in our faithfulness. We’re not puppets on a string.

The opposite of self-control is not licentious debauchery; although that is an abandonment of self-control. The opposite of self-control is slavery, jail, or hell where we are completely under the control of another whose evil intent is to steal, kill, and destroy. Better we should learn to control ourselves within the realm of Christ’s rule and reign than let ourselves be taken captive by another whose purpose is evil.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control… – 2 Peter 1:5-6

Canoeing the Mountains is the title of a very insightful book by Tod Bolsinger. He draws on insights from the exploration mission of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to find a waterway passage to the Pacific Ocean. The title comes from a key turning point of their trek when what they thought were clouds were actually the Rocky Mountains! There was no waterway passage forward. They had not reached the Pacific Ocean. They had reached the headwaters of the Missouri River. What do you do when you run out of river to navigate? You sell the canoes and move forward on foot.

The book is about adaptive leadership, and is quite insightful about the need to move into new territory with heretofore untested and undiscovered methods. That was literally true for Lewis and Clark. It is also a great analogy for the current state of affairs in the church today. We face new challenges and need to discover new methods and means of ministry in our post-Christindom era. If we fail to do so, we’ll fail to fulfill God’s calling for his church and mission.

One unexpected lesson Bolsinger lifts up is that there are fundamental and foundational truths that must not be abandoned in pursuit of the mission. That’s where knowledge comes in. There is a certain body of knowledge that both explorers possessed that equipped them for their task. Without it they would have failed.

So to for us today in the church. There is a base of knowledge that is foundational for our mission. We need to know things about God (as well as knowing God personally). There is a substance to our faith. There are realities that undergird the sublime nuances of faith. Faith is essential. Peter makes that point clear. But faith embraces virtue, knowledge, and other characteristics if it is to be productive and effectual in bringing glory to Jesus by bearing fruit.

Some people belittle knowledge. They make it seem as though it’s not really necessary to know about God, life, theology, or the corpus of Christian doctrine. Peter points us toward increasing our knowledge as a worthy adornment of faith.

Peter is not alone in this appreciation for knowledge:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might… – Ephesians 1:16-19

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory – Romans 9:22-23

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. – Philippians 3:8

Martin Luther was supposedly advised in the face of his personal crisis of faith to “learn more about God.” That is good advice for anyone of faith: that we not rely solely on feelings or a 8th grade understanding of God and his word. Learning more about God is a lifelong pursuit that not only adorns faith, but makes it stronger and enables us to bear fruit of Christian love.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with… – 2 Peter 1:5-6

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Somewhere along life’s way virtue has been set aside as an undesirable characteristic by much of the American people. What used to embarrass us now entertains us. What used to be honorable is now thought of as quaint or even foolish. Who would have thought of a movie called the 40 Year Old Virgin 40 years ago?

Peter, however, lists virtue as the first of characteristics that supplement our faith in order to be effective and productive in our lives as God’s people. When one is virtuous, the doors are opened for people who need help to receive it without being taken advantage of. Virtue is not its own reward, but a blessing and adornment to a living faith in God. Virtue elevates relationships between men and women – a powder keg of potential troubles in today’s world.

Virtue is sometimes thought to be a weakness in today’s world. There is, however, a tie between virtue and strength. That comes from a clear conscience; one that is untainted by greed, fraud, or duplicity. It allows one to be helpful in a manner that brings glory to God and seeks the other’s true good.

A careful look at the Greek word behind virtue (ἀρετήν) reveals one more key aspect of this character trait. Paul lists a very similar word in Philippians 4:8 (“…whatever is excellent or of good repute”). Peter also refers to our identity as God’s chosen people who “declare the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

The world thinks little of virtue; they consider virtuous people those to be taken advantage of. God’s opinion is quite the opposite. And whenever we express this character trait in our lives not only are we able to be effective and productive as God’s people, but we are reflecting a key element of Jesus’ nature.

For this very reason, 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. – 2 Peter 1:5-8We take supplements daily, a special blend of fruits and vegetables that are said to combine to prevent us from poor health. It’s difficult to tell whether they do any good or not, but we have some confidence in them to help support our health. Peter says, add to your faith the supplements of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love, and you will keep from being ineffective or unfruitful in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, faith saves, but knowledge, virtue, self-control, and so forth leverage our faith and bring a return to our faith. Implied in these words are the more straight-forward words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:15, where he says that Jesus “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Jesus himself said we are to abide in him so that we bear much fruit. Being saved is one very important thing; we have an eternal destiny with God in heaven. But it’s not the only thing to which God calls us: we are called to bear fruit, to bring forth the fruits of repentance, to serve our neighbor in love. Archimedes is to have said, “Give me a place to stand and with a lever, and I will move the whole world. Peter says, give me a woman or man of faith, add these virtues and good fruit will abound.

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, 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. – 2 Peter 1:3-4

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Foxgloves | Juneau, Alaska | August 2016

I met with the elders of St. John tonight as well as some new men who have been invited to be part of the elder team. As part of that meeting we went over a list of 20 characteristics that “properly apply to all Christian men, and therefore especially to those who have roles of responsibility in the church:

  • Spiritual maturity
  • Above reproach
  • The husband of but one wife
  • Temperate
  • Prudent
  • Respectable
  • Hospitable
  • Able to teach
  • Not addicted to wine
  • Not self-willed
  • Not quick-tempered
  • Not pugnacious
  • Gentle
  • Peaceable
  • Free from the love of money
  • Manages his own household well
  • Loving what is good
  • Just
  • Devout
  • Self-controlled

As we read through these characteristics all us us at one time or another had to take a little or big breath. Does this character trait show up strongly in my life? We all had to admit that there are moments when we fail to live up to that list and need God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace. We are thankful that we have been saved by grace through faith!

Peter speaks here of Jesus’ followers as “having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” I must wonder how this is true even though we still sin and daily need God’s forgiveness and grace. 

The answer is at once obvious and obscure. Obvious because we who follow Jesus – albeit imperfectly – do not embrace a lifestyle of sinful and rebellious behavior. We do not embezzle. We do not engage in orgies or drunken debauchery. We avoid those things that dishonor Jesus and seek to honor him in all we do, think, and say.

At the same time, we all lose our tempers from time to time. We are not as self-controlled as we know we ought to be. We make sometimes foolish and intemperate decisions. These do not define us, however, because they are not the end of the story. Followers of Jesus turn regularly to him in repentance, contrition, and faith. We pray the Lord’s prayer earnestly as we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

To escape the corruption that is in the world is to live a life of daily repentance and faith. It is to honor God by returning to him, denying the sinful desires of our flesh and leaning on his precious and very great promises. The world does not do this, and will pass away in corruption and decay.

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, 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. – 2 Peter 1:3-4

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Alaskan Flowers | Juneau | August 2016

Peter teaches us here that God’s promises are not only great but precious. They are not only far-reaching, dramatically impactful, and extremely significant. They are also delightfully valuable, richly worthy, and wonderfully desirable. Charles Spurgeon observed:

“Many things are great which are not precious, such as great rocks, which are of little value; on the other hand, many things are precious which are not great-such as diamonds and other jewels, which cannot be very great if they be very precious. But here we have promises which are so great, that they are not less than infinite, and so precious, that they are not less than divine.”

What a comment: Not less than infinite nor less than divine: such are God’s promises. God’s promises are great because of their breadth, reach, impact, and certainty. God promises eternal life to all who believe. His love extends to every nation, tongue, tribe, and people group. He promises to answer all prayers brought before his throne of grace in Jesus’ name. He had declared: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He has assured us that he would send the Holy Spirit, the Helper who will be with us forever. These are but a few of the great promises of God.

These promises are also precious; they are more valuable than gold, silver, jewels or riches. They are more precious than the most valuable painting. They are priceless, for they were secured by the suffering, death, resurrection and promised Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were ransomed from the powers of sin, Satan, and death by the holy precious blood of the Lamb of God. God promises that through faith in him, and by his promise we will partake of the divine nature. Our glorious future is secured in Jesus Christ.

Jesus himself is great and precious, and he calls us precious and has great promises we claim by faith.