Christians Start with Faith and End with Love by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Expository Sermons on 2 Peter.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from October 1946 to March 1947. It was originally printed in 1948-1950. The current publication is in 1999.
`And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.’ (2 Peter 1:5-7)
Let us now turn to the details of the text. The first thing we must notice is this word `add’. Here, again, it is agreed that this translation is perhaps not as good as it might be, and that a better word would be `supply’, or `furnish’. This word is interesting; it was used for fitting out the chorus in connection with the Greek plays. It was a word that was used to describe the action of one who paid the cost of supplying, or fully furnishing with everything that was necessary, the chorus, which was always such a vital part of a Greek play. So it is rightly translated by the words `furnish’ or `supply abundantly’. That is what the Apostle Peter meant when he said, In your faith, or to your faith, supply abundantly, virtue, then to the virtue supply abundantly knowledge, and so on with all these things. He does not just mean that we mechanically add each one of these to the one that has gone before; what he is concerned about is that there shall be a perfect whole, a perfect balance, that the chorus of the play shall be fitted out not only abundantly and completely, but with that perfect balance that will produce a perfect performance and a perfect result. That is the meaning of this word `add’.
Very well, let us consider exactly what the Apostle asks us to do when he names these various things. I believe that they can be grouped together into three main headings. He first of all reminds us of the character of our faith; then in the second place he emphasises our inward dispositions; and thirdly, he deals with our relationship to others. It is a perfect list; you cannot add to it. It deals with the whole of the Christian life, and all is dependent upon faith. The most important thing is that we should be right about the character of the faith. Then the next thing is to remember that we are in a world which is antagonistic and hostile, and therefore we must be quite certain about our own inward dispositions. Thirdly, we must be careful about our relationship to others.
First of all, take this definition of the character of the faith. Supply in your faith, `virtue’. What does this word mean? Well, here again is a word about which we have to be careful. Nowadays this word `virtue’ is given a very different meaning. We talk about a man’s virtues, and we mean certain excellences in his character. The temptation, therefore, is to think that Peter is here saying, Supply in your faith `virtue’ in that sense. But clearly it cannot be that, for this good reason, that all the other things that follow are in that sense virtues; so that if Peter were just saying that, he would be saying, Supply in your faith virtues, and then he would go on repeating the virtues. No, this is a word which has undergone a change in meaning since the days of the Authorised Version, and it is all-important that we should take it in the meaning which the Apostle Peter obviously attached to it. `Virtue’ here means `moral power’, or, if you like, moral energy—it means activity or vigour of the soul. See to it, says Peter, that your faith is a living faith, see that it is an active faith, see that it is a vigorous faith, see that it is a manly faith, see that it is an energetic faith.
Now this is an exhortation, surely, that we all need. I wonder sometimes whether we are not dealing here with something which keeps large numbers of people from the Christian life and faith. Is there not something languid, so often, in our Christian life and Christian activity, as you contrast it with the life of the world outside? Is there not this curious tendency for the element of passivity in our conception of the Christian faith to predominate, as if we regard faith as nothing but an attitude of waiting? A kind of lethargy and languor spreads over us, a curious kind of lassitude. No, no, says Peter, let your faith be energetic, let it be vigorous, let it be alive; stir yourself up, see that you are active and alert. That is something that you and I are called upon to do. In other words, we must not just recline on beds of ease and wait for something to move and disturb us. Our faith is to be a living, energetic, active faith, and we are to see that, on our part, we give all diligence to making it so: `add to your faith virtue’.
Then you notice he goes on to say that that virtue or energy or vigour should be furnished with `knowledge’. What does he mean by `knowledge’ at this point? Obviously he does not mean the kind of knowledge that leads to faith; he has been emphasising that already at great length. He has used the introduction of this letter to remind them of that. That is taken for granted. What, then, does it mean? It must mean `insight’, `understanding’, `enlightenment’. Here again we see the wonderful order which is preserved by the Apostle. He is exhorting these people to a vigorous, energetic, alert life—‘Don’t just settle down in spiritual lethargy and lassitude,’ says Peter, `waiting for amazing things to happen; be up and doing, be vigorous, seize the opportunity, put “virtue” into practice.’ But, he continues, do not stop at that. If he left it at that there would be a terrible temptation to rush into false activity and false zeal. So it is needed that this vigour, this energy, this activity be governed and controlled and qualified by intelligence, by understanding and by enlightenment. In other words, it does not just mean the display of energy without control; it must be controlled energy, it must be enlightened virtue. Surely we cannot look at these words without feeling, in a sense, that Peter was writing from his own experience. Peter by nature was a very impulsive man, and you cannot read the pages of the four Gospels without seeing a perfect portrayal, as you study Peter, of uncontrolled energy. Poor Peter, because he was not controlled and intelligent and enlightened, did things at times which he bitterly regretted afterwards. No doubt he remembered all that, and, realising that these people were like himself, he says, Furnish that vigour of yours with intelligent understanding.
Without going into these points in detail, I would say in passing, that as one looks at the present religious situation in Britain, and in other countries, one does see the importance of adding knowledge to vigour. There is the danger of our being overwhelmed by a state of mere activity, of having an excess of organisations. Let our spiritual energy and activity be intelligent, let it be enlightened, let it be controlled. Let us make certain that the knowledge of God and of Christ and of the Christian faith is ever in the saddle, controlling this amazing, wonderful steed that is ever ready to take the bit between his teeth and bolt. We are not called upon to indulge in any unenlightened activity in the kingdom of God; it must always be controlled by understanding.
Let me now say a word about the important group that comprises the inward dispositions. In this group we have two terms, temperance and patience. These two words include everything at this point. What are the two things which I as a Christian have to watch, and to watch unceasingly? I have to watch myself. Though we are born again, though we have the divine nature, there is another man here. There are impulses and desires, there are lusts and passions; and though a man may have believed the Christian Gospel, and though he may have known the power of God, there is still a fight to wage within—`the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh’. Also there is always the enemy and the adversary of our souls to drive us into sin. It may even be in connection with our work. In a moment of success he may come and fawn upon us and flatter us, and in that elation we may fall to these lusts and passions that are within. Therefore, says Peter, always remember self-discipline, always watch these things that are within, and be temperate. As the Apostle Paul puts it, `Mortify, therefore, your members that are on the earth.‘ Or ‘ Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature’ (NIV). You remember the list which he gives in the third chapter of Colossians.
This is something we can never afford to neglect. You and I who have this faith are told that this is something we do on our part. We must not expect that while we are sitting down in a chair all these things that are within will suddenly be taken out of us. No, we are all to practise temperance, discipline, self-control. We are all to mortify these members. It is a positive exhortation to us—`temperance’. Need I remind you at this point that I am still only saying these things in the light of what we have already been told. It is because of God’s power, it is because He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, that we can do this. I am not asking an unenlightened man to discipline and control himself; I am calling upon the man who has this new life to do something which he is capable of doing.
And then comes `patience’, which means, of course, `patient endurance’. In this life, and in this Christian warfare, the problems are not only within; there are problems without also. There is, for instance, the danger that arises from other people and other things. Oh, the need of patience—patient endurance! Peter again was probably falling back on his own experiences. He it was who had said to our Lord, `Though all men forsake thee, I will follow thee’; and then, poor Peter had denied Him three times. There is not much point in making great professions and great promises if we do not carry them out. What we need to cultivate is patient endurance, not a sudden stepping out and then becoming discouraged and falling back and bringing the Christian faith into disgrace in the sight of the world. No, we must be careful to add this sense of patient endurance. Remembering the things that are ahead, remembering what has been given, we just go on, and in spite of everything we must be manly, vigorous, self-controlled. We must go on with patient endurance. At a time like this, when so many are scoffing at these things and so many have turned their back upon the Christian church, the temptation is to say, `Why should I go on, why should I be different and just go on and be patient?’ The answer is that we should remember that we are God’s children, marching on to a glorious eternal inheritance which we shall enter `after we have suffered awhile’. `Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.’
Next we come to our relationship to others. Here again there is a complete list, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. What does Peter mean? The first thing, of course, always, is that our relationship to God should be right. All Bible students, I think, will find it very interesting to work out these problems and find out why the Apostle puts godliness at this particular point. To me there is only one explanation. He puts it here because he is dealing here with the realm of relationships. And we must always put our relationship to God first. In other words, while you are controlling these things within, and while you are going on in the spirit of patient endurance, remember why you are doing it all; remember that it is all for the glory of God. Self-culture must not be practised for its own sake, and the danger is to be falling back on our disciplined nature in and of itself. But if we worship discipline we are not being godly. There is no point in any of these things unless they are centrally related to God. Godliness, therefore, first. Before I think of my relationship to anybody else, I must always be certain that my main motive and ambition in life is to honour God, is to glorify God, and to tell forth His praise. Then, having put that first, we are to consider the brethren—`brotherly kindness’. There, of course, Peter is referring to other Christian people. He was exhorting these first Christians to love one another, and to be patient towards one another. How difficult it is at times! How easy it is to become impatient, and perhaps more impatient with those who are Christian than with those who are not, because we expect more of them. How much harm is being done in the church because of the lack of brotherly kindness! Let us together read the thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. Let us take it to heart, let us have that brotherly attitude towards one another that ‘hopeth all things’. Then, finally, the Apostle says, over and above the brethren, love all men—have a great charity in your heart towards all. Try to see the souls in the sinners, try to see their need; have within you a great love such as the love of God Himself who ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’. Let that love reign in you, says Peter.
We see that each one of these qualities adds and contributes to the others; every one has its own importance and yet each one influences the others. We see the importance of vigour, and yet we see the importance of controlling vigour by knowledge. Every one has its own function, and yet each one affects the others and therefore contributes to the whole. In other words, what impresses me most of all about this list is its perfect balance; and there is nothing about the Christian life that is so glorious as its perfect balance. There is no other life that has this balance. There are people who are highly intellectual and very cultured, but perhaps not moral; there are others who are morally blameless but not very intelligent; and there are those who have great will power, but somehow there is something lacking. There is no life that shows this perfect balance but the Christian life that is depicted here. To show that, let me put it in the form of two pictures. That word `add’ has already given us one. Isn’t it the perfection and the balance of a great chorus, as we now know it—the soprano, the alto, the tenor and the bass? They are all necessary to the chorus, and you must not have too much of one or too little of the other or you will upset the balance. You must estimate and assess the volume and the strength of the voices in order to render a great chorus or oratorio perfectly; you must get your balance, you must get your proportion. That is one way of looking at it. Or perhaps you prefer to look at it in another way. You can look at the various items in this list as the ingredients in a bottle of medicine—perhaps this puts it in a still better way. It is like a mixture, in which the efficacy of the whole depends upon each ingredient being duly proportioned and yet intimately bound with all the others. Every ingredient is important and has its own particular action and yet each ingredient helps the others. There is a kind of synergistic action. And here, if you like, you have the perfect mixture for the Christian life. Oh, the importance of putting in just the right amount of each ingredient into the bottle in order that you may have the perfect whole! Or, lastly, perhaps you can look at it like this. In the Christian life you start with faith and you always end with love. Without faith you can do nothing, but given faith, and the practising of the faith, you must inevitably end with love, for God Himself is Love. May God in His infinite grace thus enable and stimulate us to manifest this perfect poise and balance in our Christian lives, and in our Christian witness, in this our day and generation! [25-31]