2 Peter 1:5-9, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities and continue to grow in them, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever lacks these traits is nearsighted to the point of blindness, having forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”
We often describe our walk with God as a journey or better yet, as a process of growth. We are called to be like a tree firmly planted by rivers of water (Psalm 1:3). The righteous are noted as one who will “flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12). In Matthew 7, Jesus noted the need to bear good fruit. All these passages speak of growth in the life of the believer. A tree grew from a seed. It did not stay simply as a seed planted in the ground. Furthermore, its ability to flourish was and continues to be dependent on a firm root structure that survives by drinking from the fountain of living water.
Peter picks up on this important concept in his second epistle. He begins chapter two by noting how we have obtained faith through the righteousness of God through Jesus. Peter then declares that is through God that we have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness. Also explained is the expectation that through those marvelous gifts, we will be a people who give glory to God through a life that is virtuous (i.e. a life of modesty, purity, and obedience).
If we stopped right there, we certainly have quite a bit upon which to chew. What a blessing it is to be counted a child of God. But Peter does not stop there. He moves on to provide a list of attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives on life that are built on the foundations of faith.
The first element we are to add to the building block of faith is that of virtue. There are a lot of passages in Scripture that speak of virtue. We are instructed about the virtuous woman in Proverbs. The term used by Peter is the Greek noun aretē, which simply means to be someone devoted to moral excellence and purity.
Second, Peter exhorts us to add knowledge to virtue and faith. This makes perfect sense. Without knowledge of how to be pure in heart and how God defines in His Word what moral excellence looks like, we are left to our own opinion and devices.
The Greek word for knowledge used by Peter is gnosis, a term that can and does reflect a general knowledge of something or someone. Peter is referring to something more than just a passing knowledge of God. He is referring to gnosis as being related to a deeper understanding of the things of God, namely rooted in a personal relationship with our Creator. We should desire to grow in knowledge and in our relationship with Jesus.
Next on Peter’s list is that of self-control. Being a person who exudes self-control demonstrates maturity in your life. The Greek noun Peter uses is egkrateia, a term that describes someone who “masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites”. This is not an easy task. Self-control, most notably in the area of the tongue, is a virtue for which many of us struggle mightily. Fundamental to having self-control is knowing what we are to have self-control over. Without a desire to live a virtuous life and to grow in the knowledge of the things of God, growing in the area of self-control will be quite difficult, if not impossible.
The fourth element Peter notes is that of perseverance/patience. In the “have it now” society in which we live, patience is a virtue that is often missing. Scripture repeatedly calls us to persevere. Those who count it joy to endure through trials and tribulations are extolled.
A helpful definition I ran across of how perseverance is defined in the New Testament is that it is “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings”. Notice how this definition fits nicely with the flow of what Peter has outlined thus far. One who perseveres is rooted in faith and piety, in other words, the first two elements noted by Peter.
Peter next notes we are to add godliness to perseverance. By godliness, Peter is describing reverence and respect towards God. The Lord’s Prayer states “Hallowed be thy Name”. When we have reverence towards God, we are recognizing His status as Creator. Furthermore, to hallow the name of God is described quite well by the Puritan author George Swinnock in the below quote:
“Worship is an act of the understanding, applying itself to the knowledge of the excellency of God, and actual thoughts of his majesty. … It is also an act of the will, whereby the soul adores and reverenceth his majesty, is ravished with his amiableness, embraceth his goodness, enters itself into an intimate communion with this most lovely object, and pitcheth all his affections upon him.”
A shift takes place by Peter as he next describes a more horizontal aspect of growth, that of brotherly kindness. This is a familial term denoting love exhibited by the believer for their fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. This is far more than a firm handshake or hug before fellowship with a fellow sojourner.
Thomas Brooks aptly describes what this brotherly love looks like in practice:
“Actuated by the same principles, cherishing the same hopes, animated by the same prospects, laboring under the same discouragements, having the same enemies to encounter, and the same temptations to resist, the same hell to shun, and the same heaven to enjoy, it is not strange that they should love one another sincerely and often with a pure heart fervently. There is a unity of design, a common interest in the objects of their pursuit which lays the foundation for mutual friendship and which cannot fail to excite the “harmony of souls.” The glory of God is the grand object which commands their highest affections and which necessarily makes the interest of the whole the interest of each part, and the interest of each part the interest of the whole. There are no conflicting interests and there need be no jarring passions. In a common cause which in point of importance takes the place of every other and all others, the affections of the sanctified heart are one. The Lord Jesus has given peculiar emphasis to the duty of brotherly love, by constituting it the easy and decisive standards of true godliness. It is by this standard that His disciples are to judge of themselves.”
Note again how this description fits perfectly into the flow of thought outlined by Peter. True godliness is exhibited in brotherly love. Think about that for a bit and examine how you are committed to the pursuit of godliness and the building up of one another towards love and good deeds as noted by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Don’t just hug your brother and move on with your day. Remember your collective commitment to the faith, the reality we are the body of Christ, and that we are to be pursuing a common cause, namely glorifying God by declaring through word and deed the message of the gospel.
Finally, the icing on the cake, if you will explained by Peter, is the need for love. This is no generic love. It is agape love, one that exhibits a personal relationship of affection towards one another and that recognizes we are to care for the needs of our fellow man all for and to the glory of God. As Paul so clearly reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” We are nothing but annoying noise if love and affection are not part of our life.
Our walk with God must involve growth in these areas outlined by Peter. In fact, we are informed, “they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, those who lack these traits are described as being nearsighted to the very point of absolute blindness. Being spiritually blind is not a good place to be so may we all meditate on the words of Peter and may we have a passion for growing in the faith in a manner that exhibits maturity in the traits outlined in 2 Peter 1:5-9.
 George Swinnock, The Works of George Swinnock, Volume 1 (London: James Nichol, 1868), 31.