The Bible is clear that a great tsunami of apostasy will wash through the church in the last days. More than that, we can expect tsunami after tsunami as the rapture draws closer. Thankfully, in 2 Peter 1:5-8 we have instructions on how to not just survive but even thrive during these challenging days.So far we have found in these verses that we are to reflect on the reality and riches of our salvation (2 Peter 1:3-5a). Second we are to resolve to give energy and resources to pursuing spiritual growth (v. 5b). Third, we are to make every effort to be a virtuous follower of Jesus which means we are to reflect the excellence of our Lord in all we do (v. 5c). Right on the heels of these Peter urges, even commands the pursuit of knowledge and self control (v. 6a).
But before looking at these closely let’s step back and look at the big picture. Peter had urged his readers to work hard (make every effort) to add seven qualities to their saving faith (vv. 5-7). What is the relationship between these qualities? Some understand these to be serially related. That is, one must first add virtue to the foundation of faith, then move on to add knowledge, then move on to add self-control, etc. However, more careful interpreters have spotted something else. The better view is that Peter is using a rhetorical approach that was common in his time and his readers would have readily understood. Peter, in their view, is not saying develop these things one at a time. Rather he is saying that each of these are ingredients for the recipe to produce a dynamic, successful Christian life.
Now I enjoy cooking. Just the other night I made Clam Chowder. When I made it I did not first chop the onions and cook them, then chop the potatoes and cook them, then heat the cream, preparing and cooking each ingredient one at a time. No, I combined them, cooked them together and made Clam Chowder. This is what Peter is doing. All these seven qualities together make up the Christian life. This is why in v. 8 he says “…if these qualities are yours and are increasing…”. The effective and fruitful follower of Jesus to have all these qualities and will be growing in all of them.
Another way to look at this is to imagine these seven qualities as a cluster of grapes. The grapes don’t grow one at a time. No the whole cluster develops together. Something similar is pictured here.
Now let’s move on to the next two ingredients, knowledge and self-control. Knowledge involves acquiring information or developing an intellectual grasp of something. The particular knowledge in view is knowledge of all that God has revealed in His word. As far as Peter was concerned followers of Jesus needed to be learning more and more about the Lord and what is in His word. Yet this is not merely mentally cataloging events, dates, theology, etc. When knowledge is present with virtue, self-control, and the rest of these qualities it is practical knowledge. Someone who is growing in knowledge of this kind is becoming more and more discerning and more and more skilled in living the Christian life.
Self-control is the power to direct one’s own thoughts, emotions, and will. Harnessed with knowledge and virtue, self-control enables the end-times followers of Jesus to think, feel, and do what is righteous and good. One commentator sums this up well. He writes, “Where virtue, guided by knowledge, disciplines desire and makes it the servant instead of the master of life, self-control may be said to supplement faith.”1
1 D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1989), 53. who quotes Barnett.