Having an effective life for Christ is far from automatic or guaranteed. The very real possibility that one can be useless and unfruitful in “the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8) ought to shake us out of complacency and be a call to action. That is why Peter urged his readers to “make every effort” to build on their faith.
Let’s take a close look at 2 Peter 1:8. The Greek word argos is translated “useless” (NASB) or “ineffective” (ESV). The word pertains to being unproductive and means that one is not fulfilling their intended or expected purpose. The word akarpos is translated “fruitless”. When used figuratively, as it is here, it also refers to uselessness. We can say that it means to be void of good or helpful results. No one wants to be known in heaven or on earth as useless or unfruitful in their Christian life.
Thankfully, Peter has given us clear and compelling guidance on how we can be both useful and fruitful. He says that if these seven qualities that we have examined are ours and if we are increasing in them the result will be that we will be neither useless or unfruitful.
So often it seems as if only one or two of these qualities are present or emphasized. Peter however urges that we give ourselves to possessing and growing in all of them. A moments reflection will reveal the wisdom of Peter’s command. How many times have you come across someone, either personally or virtually (on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, through a PodCast, or even a blog like this one!) who has clear and detailed knowledge of God’s word yet reacts to others with harshness, sarcasm, and ridicule? Or perhaps you know someone who is the epitome of self-control and steadfastness? They never waiver in their commitment to righteousness and holiness. You might even admire their ability to say no to every temptation that seems to present itself to them. Sadly, you also see that they alienate themselves from others through self-righteousness and condescension toward the weakness of others.
Lacking just one of these qualities can make a wreck of one’s life. How many have ruined their witness for Christ through a lack of virtue in some area? Put another way, those who are proud of their knowledge of Christ boast in vain if they do not also possess virtue, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.
How much of these qualities are we to strive to have? The NASB, ESV and NIV all say that we are to be increasing in these qualities. This paints a picture of a steady growth in these qualities. So, taking this view, how much of these qualities are we to have? Just a little bit more.
Yet the Greek word behind “increasing” is the word pleonazoo. The word means to be present in abundance. So, I think the other translations such as the KJV, NKJV, and AV get it right when they translate this “abound”. Thomas Schreiner comments that Peter’s “point was that godly qualities must both exist and overflow in the lives of his readers.”1 So, we are not to be steadily increasing but rather we are to abound in these qualities to the point of overflowing.
So what are we to do to have and overflow with these qualities? First, let’s pray for them. Having these things in abundance is both super-human and super-natural. Once we understand their necessity we are immediately driven to our Savior to plead that these qualities be in us. Second, let’s strive for them. Peter urged, even commanded that we give every effort to add these qualities to our faith. Having prayed hard we are to work hard. We are, in the words of Paul, to work out our salvation knowing that it God who wills and works in us (Philippians 2:12-13). Third, let’s go. In 2 Peter 1:10 he wrote that if we practice these qualities we will never fail. Have a bias toward action. The Spirit of God working through the word of God has already pointed out to you what your strengths and weaknesses are in this list of qualities. It is now up to you to act. Don’t hesitate. The Father, Son, and Spirit want you to be, and are at work to make you both useful and fruitful. Yield to God and get going!
1 Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 302.