A SURVEY OF PETER’S LETTERS, PART 5

Living and Growing in Christ

2 Peter 1:1—21

Some two years after writing his first letter, the Apostle Peter thought it necessary to write a second letter to the same people; believers scattered hither and yon.  During the intervening 24 months, circumstances changed for these believers.  In the first letter, these believers faced insurmountable problems as they found themselves forced to live in new countries, surrounded by strangers, families separated, no jobs, no friends, and no prospects.  But now, the problem facing the fledgling church was not persecution but apostasy, which Peter thought a far more serious problem.

The very subtle deception of Gnosticism had insidiously found a home among Peter’s friends.  These Gnostics were false teachers who claimed to have superior knowledge of divine things, and taught that the earth was created by an evil spirit or god originally created by God in eternity past.  They also taught that Jesus Christ visited the earth, not as a man of flesh and blood because anything of the earth is evil, but merely as a spirit, only “appearing” to be like a man.

Against this background, Peter wrote to encourage his friends to hold to fast to the truth because there were these false teachers roaming the landscape.  The best way to avoid false teaching is to grow in the faith.

1.  Steady growth, 1:1—9

(a)  Promises, vs. 1—4

The first phrase Peter uses shows us how Peter viewed his faith and that of his friends:

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours…

Given the original wording, Peter is telling these people that the faith they received is equal in honor and privilege with that of Peter and the other apostles.  He had no more advantage living with Jesus and receiving his faith than these people, who had never met Jesus and were separated from him in time and distance.  When Peter writes of “a faith,” he is not necessarily referring to a set of doctrines, but rather the subjective side of faith—the gift of salvation and all that comes with it.

All believers receive the faith, the same way.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  (verse 3).

Peter was a man who understood the power of Christ, having experienced it first hand when he travelled with Him.  Not only is there power in Christ, but that same power that calmed the seas, healed the sick and cast out demons has made available everything every believer needs to live a life that pleases God.  There is, as part of the package of salvation, a moral and spiritual power that enables us to live a life of holiness.

The power is “activated” in our lives as we gain more and more knowledge of God.  Here we see the work of the Spirit combined with our own efforts in the development of holiness and righteousness in our lives.  Without a doubt, as verse 5 indicates, though we live in the world, we are not part of the world, and we are not corrupted by the evil in the world, and thanks to the inherent power in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, we may mold our natures around God’s nature.

(b)  A growth process, verses 5—7

While the Gnostics stressed an other-worldly kind of knowledge in reaching a state holiness and piety, Peter stresses the necessity of human activity in participating in the Divine nature.   The Christian faith is not a passive faith; faith is the root of salvation but works are the fruit of that faith.  Wesley noted;

Our diligence is to follow the gift of God, and is followed by an increase of all His gifts.

The Biblical idea of the Christian life is not at all like the idea modern Christians have.  Modern Christians seem to think that their Christianity is not something to be taken into their offices or their boardrooms or their schoolrooms.  Instead, faith to the modern Christian is like their “Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes,” pulled out and used every once in a while but certainly not every day.

This group of verses gives a list of practical virtues Peter wanted believers manifest in their ay-to-day lives, and while the virtues are self-explanatory, the last two are very significant:

…and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  (verse 7b)

“Mutual affection” is the way the TNIV translates “brotherly love,” and when believers show this kind of love and affection to each other, we are, in fact, fulfilling the summary of the Ten Commandments found in Matthew 22:37—39.

“Brotherly love,” or philadelphia in the Greek, implies that we express our love to fellow members of the church.  In addition to expressing our love, we are to love (agape) those same members deeply, and from the heart.

(c)  A warning, verses 8, 9

The purpose in cultivating these virtues is very practical:

…they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (verse 8)

Knowledge of God is the beginning, the continuance, and the goal of the Christian life.  Without that knowledge we become little more than decorations in the church, good for next to nothing.  There are wonderful blessings that come along with growing in grace:

  • Increased fruitfulness, verse 8;
  • Sustained perspective, verse 9;
  • Assured perseverance, verse 10;
  • A guaranteed promotion, verse 11

2.  Be sure of your calling, 1:10—21

(a)  Be diligent, verses 10, 11

Back in 1 Peter 1:2—3, the divine side of election was emphasized, but here it is the human side Peter is writing about:  we must be “sure.”  Because our election begins here and carries on through eternity, our lives here on earth may be regarded as a sort of “probationary period.”  Fortunately, Christians don’t have to be “good enough” to get into heaven, but we should begin to prepare ourselves now for life in heaven.

(b)  Remember, verses 12—15

Truth must be repeated in order to be remembered.  Peter well understood this, which is why he wrote of things they already supposedly knew.  And the best way to remember the truth is to practice it continually.

Notice how Peter speaks to his readers; he is the consummate pastor:

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.  And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. (verses 14, 15)

Peter was absolutely convinced that it was his duty as a pastor to help his people remember what he had taught them and what they had learned.  He regarded this work as the essential duty of the pastor; nothing is more important and vital to the continued health of a church than the proper exposition of Scripture, in both teaching and preaching.

(c)  Discern truth from fables, verses 16—21

Peter’s strong to call to action in Christian living is followed by a strong affirmation of the Gospel he and the other evangelists preached, as distinguished from the fairy tales taught by the false teachers.

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  (verse 16)

Unlike the unfounded fabrications taught by the Gnostics as truth, the Gospel preached by Peter is verifiable; it is part of a historical record attested to by the other apostles, especially of the Transfiguration, which was witnessed by Peter, James, and John.   These “cleverly invented stories” (mythos in the Greek) of the Gnostics were obviously well-known in Peter’s day and he simply refused to have anything to do with them, so sure he was of his own faith.  He had, after all, been witness to, along with James and John, the glorious transfiguration of Christ, along with Moses and Elijah, which was a harbinger of the Kingdom of God.  Nothing the Gnostics could dream up would touch what Peter knew to be true.  And this is the truth he had given his friends.

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it…(verse 19)

In addition to what Peter saw with his own eyes, he adds another piece indisputable evidence to the superiority of the Gospel over the funny ideas of the false teachers:  the prophetic word.  Peter links his experiences with Christ and the teachings of the true Gospel to the words of the Old Testament prophets.  So in addition to urging his readers to hold fast to the Gospel, he also wanted them to pay careful attention to the Old Testament, especially to the words of the prophets.  The supremacy of the written Word of God is as powerful as the living Word of God in terms of changing lives.  Peter’s time with Christ changed him forever, but the recipients of Peter’s letter, while not having Christ with them in Person, had the eternal Word, in the form of the Gospel and the Old Testament, and together that Word could do to them what Christ did to Peter.

How can the written Word be superior to any so-called divine revelation coming from the false teachers?

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  (verses 20, 21)

The main thing for us to understand is that the prophetic Scriptures did not come from the imagination of men, as the teachings of the Gnostics did.  Given that, no individual believer has the right to twist the words of Scripture to fit their own agendas, as the Gnostics did in Peter’s day and as we see many church leaders doing today.  There is only one meaning to any passage of Scripture and that’s the meaning God assigned to it when it was composed.  And even in the composition, God the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to write what He wanted them to, respecting each author’s education and personality.

The word for “carried along” is pheromenoi, which means propelled or borne along.  So we see that, just as in salvation, it was God who took the initiative in the composition of the Scriptures.  From this teaching we get the doctrine of “plenary inspiration,” that is, men wrote and spoke the Word of God because the Holy Spirit impelled them, and not the other way around.  What they wrote and taught, therefore, is as trustworthy as God Himself.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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