We have been looking at Peter’s guidance on how to survive and thrive at the end of the end times. The first item was to reflect on the reality and riches of our salvation (2 Peter 1:3-5a). The second item was to resolve to give energy and resources to pursuing spiritual growth (v. 5b). Today we will begin to examine the specific goals the apostle urged his readers to pursue.
This was important. On the one hand, general exhortations to pursue spiritual growth often end up going nowhere. Energy and resources can be wasted if they are not directed to clear goals. After all, nearly every Christian will agree they need to grow and be more effective spiritually. What they want and need to know is how.
On the other hand, there were all sorts of noble goals Peter’s readers could spend their time and energy pursuing. What they needed to know and what Peter tells them were the goals that were the most important.
The importance of these goals was rooted in the fact that reaching them guaranteed that the readers would be effective and fruitful (v. 8). In other words, Peter was commanding them to pursue specific qualities and if they had them, and grew in them, then they were guaranteed to thrive. Even at the end of the end times.
The first of the seven qualities that Peter commanded them to whole-heartedly pursue was virtue (ESV). The Greek word is arete. At its core arete referred to the highest level of excellence. Excellence in any pursuit invites recognition and admiration. So, we can understand virtue as a display of excellence that is worthy of praise. To the Greek mind to be a virtuous baker what you baked was excellent, a virtuous soldier was one who was excellent in battle, a virtuous athlete competed according to the rules, trained hard, and competed well.
Besides here, Peter used arete in 1 Peter 2:9 and 2 Peter 1:3. In both instances it was used to describe God. God is the ultimate standard of virtue. To be a virtuous follower of Jesus then was to reflect in their lives the standard of virtue or excellence of their Lord. The scholar Edmond Hiebert, noting that in 2 Peter 1:3 “excellence” is an attribute of Jesus notes, “As an attribute of the incarnate Christ, it is appropriate that it should be evident in the lives of His people as well.”1
We can see what this means in practical terms in 1 Peter 2:21. The context of this verse is Peter’s instruction for servants to be submissive even to unreasonable masters. Peter grounds his guidance for them in the example of Jesus. He writes, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps”. In other words, to be an excellent Christian servant in trying circumstances they were to reflect Jesus by patiently enduring abuse.
So Peter’s command to His readers was that they were to pursue a life that reflects the virtues of Jesus. Was He compassionate? So should we be. Was He merciful? So we should show mercy. Was He a defender of the truth of the God? So we should stand ready with an answer.
How are we to live such a virtuous life? Let me make a few suggestions. First, let’s all just start where we are. We have been given everything we need in Jesus. So, there is nothing standing in the way of pursing a more Christlike life. Second, don’t make excuses. I sometimes hear brothers and sisters attempt to squirm away from developing in Christlikeness with the excuse, “This is how God made me.” So, the person who is abrupt and rude might euphemistically say “God made me blunt.” The impatient person may say, “God made me to be in a hurry.” The insensitive person might say that they were not made to be a “people person”. Those who won’t grow in knowledge will say God didn’t make them smart, or a learner. Let’s leave euphemisms for sin behind. Let’s join with Paul who wrote “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14). Third, remember this is not easy. It takes time and effort. There will be challenges and setbacks. In fact, none of us will ever outlive the need for a Savior. Jesus knows our weakness better than we do. He is ready to intercede for us. So, failures are not final. Fourth, don’t let the evil one use your failures to discourage you. Instead, use those failures as a spring-board for greater dependence on the presence and the power of the Spirit. When you fail, simply, specifically, frankly, and clearly confess it. Then acknowledge your need for the Spirit’s power to sustain you and move on.
Brothers and sisters, we can do this. Let’s make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue.
1 D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1989), 52.