The Christian life should be characterised by growth into spiritual maturity. Here Peter lists the building blocks we need for such a project and suggests a helpful construction plan.
Before looking at the ‘adding on’ and ‘supply’ of the individual blocks (‘faith’, ‘moral excellence’, ‘knowledge’, ‘self-control’, ‘patience’, ‘godliness’, ‘brotherly affection’ and ‘love’) it’s worth noting the phrase ‘all diligence’. As with all construction projects, Christian growth requires application and effort.
The starting point however is faith. Anything not built on belief and trust in Jesus’ saving work might look good but will collapse at the final judgement. The Christian is saved by faith, not by works. Although diligently ‘adding on’ / building on this sure foundation is important, so that we are ‘not idle nor unfruitful’(2 Peter 1:8), we must never think we are saved by such efforts. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works’(Ephesians 2:8-9). But in the very next verse Paul assumes that this actually prepares us for works: ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works’(Ephesians 2:10), which brings us nicely back to Peter’s construction project.
Moral excellence is the first block he wants growing Christians to put into place. It’s notable that this comes before knowledge in Peter’s list. Growth in knowledge without ever progressing in morality is a classic trap easily fallen into: the Christian version of the armchair pundit. Peter wisely puts morality ahead of knowledge in his list. Moral excellence is broad and hard to define. It has a lot to do with obedience to God’s moral law. Moral excellence comes from obeying God’s commands – avoiding what’s forbidden, doing what’s commendable in His sight. So our lives should be characterised first by faith, then by excellent behaviour consistent with God’s moral law.
But knowledge comes next in Peter’s list. Educating ourselves in Christian teaching by reading and studying the Bible, reading the works of and listening to sound Christian teachers etc., is essential to healthy Christian growth. It reinforces both our faith, by helping us understand things such as the evidence for Christianity and Jesus saving work on the cross better, and our morality, by helping us gain an ever greater understanding of what to avoid and what to do with our lives as God’s obedient children.
As we grow in knowledge, especially of moral behaviour, putting Christianity into practice requires ever greater self-control, which is the next block in Peter’s pillar of Christian growth. Then comes patience, more fully translated patient endurance, which is self-control putting faith, morality and increasing knowledge into practice over the longer term. These blocks are central to developing Christian maturity, and a great challenge. Peter warns we will face those who, ‘uttering great swelling words of emptiness… entice’(2 Peter 2:18) and mockers, ‘saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?”’(2 Peter 3:4). So he reminds us of God’s timing and patience and encourages us to cultivate ‘holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God’(2 Peter 3:11-12).
The three crowning blocks in Peter’s tower of Christian maturity are about right relationships: Godliness (with God), brotherly affection (with other Christians) and love (with all people).
First and foremost is Godliness. This can be defined as a devoted personal relationship with God. It’s a drive that makes us want to spend time with God, praying to Him, listening to Him, praising and worshiping Him, and presenting ourselves as humble servants before Him.
Brotherly affection flows naturally out from Godliness. As we come to know God, we receive and are filled with His love, which naturally overflows to others, especially our fellow Christians. As John put it, ‘Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another.’(1 John 4:11)
That brings us to the pinnacle of Christian maturity: Love, not only towards other Christians, but for everyone else. As Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, ‘the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men’(1 Thessalonians 3:12). This includes even our enemies, as Jesus himself taught, ‘love your enemies… and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven… be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.’(Matthew 5:44-48)!