Online Text Sermon - Adding to our Faith, 2 Peter ch.1 vv.5-11
|Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
|Adding to our Faith
|2 Peter ch.1 vv.5-11
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"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. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1, 5-11).
ADDING TO OUR FAITH...
The writer here is the apostle Peter. Peter, as you know, has written two letters which appear in our New Testament. His first letter was written to encourage the Lord's people as they go through trials. Every true Christian will find, as he lives his life in this world, that there are many trials and tribulations. So, Peter, all through his first letter writes to give encouragement and fresh heart to the Lord's suffering people. He reminds them, for instance, that the trying of their faith is like a crucible: faith is made stronger by the fire, just as gold is made more pure by being placed in a furnace of fire. The dross is removed by the heat. Therefore, our faith as Christians is made the purer by the experience of the trials and tribulations of this life. Peter works that theme many times over in the course of his first letter. You could say that is the burden of his first Epistle.
BEWARE FALSE DOCTRINE
There is a second different concern, here in this second epistle by Peter. His concern here is with the possibility that the Christian could slip back because there is another great danger to the Christian, apart from persecution and suffering. This second temptation of the Christian faith is from false doctrine. I am not going to look at this in any detail now, but the whole of chapter two in this second letter deals with false teaching: bad Christianity, spurious doctrine, erroneous and misleading forms of the Christian faith; especially those forms of the Christian faith that have no regard for holiness of life. We have a generic term for all of that; we call it by the name 'Antinomianism'. It is a long word and all it means is, simply a type of Christianity that does not live the holy life; and it is worthless says Peter. Those who preach that kind of Christianity are blind leaders of the blind. He castigated them in language which is quite unparalleled, I think, in the New Testament or anywhere else in the Bible. He says, "Their judgement lingereth not" "Their damnation slumbereth not" (2 Peter 2, 3). He reminds them of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities that behave like that will suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. I do commend a study of that second epistle, chapter two if you are not familiar with it. It is full of strong language, and the purpose of the strong language is not mere denunciation, it is to show the Lord's people their need to keep away from false forms of Christianity which have no regard for holiness of life.
As you see in the text, he is telling us now that the proper way for the Christian to live is to continually seek to add to his faith. This really is the burden that I have here today. "Besides this," he says in verse five, "giving all diligence, add to your faith..." and then he gives a list of things which we are to add to our faith. If you want a title for this you could call it 'ADDING TO OUR FAITH'. He makes it very clear that it is not simply an option but an obligation. It is our bounden duty, if we have the faith of the Gospel, to be spending all our days adding to it: not haphazardly but with all diligence.
Peter is now an old man. You must have noticed that in the reading. "Shortly," he says, "I must put off this my tabernacle" (verse 14). The word 'tabernacle' is a reference to his earthly body. "My decease," he says, "is at hand" (verse 15). He was shortly going to die. This, if so, should touch our hearts all the more. He was an old minister now. His hair was grey, his physical strength, no doubt, much diminished from the vigour that he had as an outstanding apostle of Christ. You remember his youthful courage, filled as he was with the Holy Spirit, preaching on the day of Pentecost - opening the gate of faith to the whole world: Jew and Gentile. Now he is an old man. "I must soon die", he means, "therefore my concern is to make sure that when I am gone and my voice is heard no more among you, that you won't slip away, but that you will hold your ground against all forms of falsehood and error and pernicious misrepresentation of the Christian religion. When the temptation comes and I am gone and I can't speak to you," he says, "my great ambition is that you may be strong in Christian character." It is not enough to have knowledge. We must so have that knowledge worked into us that we may also have the character of a strong Christian. If he spoke in those days of the need to be a strong Christian, I think, my beloved friends, it is still more needed today. If there is one thing our poor nation needs, it is strong Christians with conviction: those who will not bend; those who are not like Pliable in Pilgrim's Progress; those whose backbones are not made of rubber, but of steel. Men and women who have conviction concerning the truth; Christian characters who will believe, even when the rough road is difficult before them, when the winds of change are blowing about them - when they will not change, but remain steadfast.
THE FORMULA FOR BEING STRONG
You could say that what he is doing for you and me here is this: He is giving us a sort of a formula for being strong in a day when many errors were blowing about the church and much falsehood was attacking the cause of Christ. This is the formula, if you like, he gives us in verses five and following. " Beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith." So, the Christian life then must be lived with diligence. Young people may not know what the word 'diligence' means. It means - it must be lived with deliberate concentration. You must put your heart and your mind and your soul and your strength into it.
FLOATING ALONG WITH THE STREAM
The difference between some churches in the next ten years, in this country, is going to be this. I am not a prophet, but I think wise enough to see the way ahead is going to be something like this. Many churches and many professing Christians in the next ten years are going to be like a log of wood on the River Ness. They will simply float along with the stream. It will be so easy to do that because, if that is the way the current is going, then all they need to do is bob along with everything else that is floating down the stream.
Some churches and some Christians, for a long time, in this city and in this nation, have been going in that way: bobbing along with the River Ness. The tide or the stream is taking them out. However, others will be going against the stream and against the tide. They will have to work very hard to keep their souls and minds in a right frame and attitude, if they are going to hold their ground and even make progress against the stream and against the tide. These are the ones who will gain the true blessing of God in the end.
Peter saw that scenario in his day. You and I, unless we are more than half blind, must see it today. The choice therefore is between drifting with the stream, and with the current, and with the tide on the one hand or going against it, in order to maintain those high values: spiritual, moral and experimental, which belong to the true essence of the Christian faith and of the church in its best phases, and phrases and moods.
DO WE BELIEVE THE WORD OF GOD?
We begin, of course, he says, with faith. The things we have to add in the Christian life are things that have to be added to faith. So, you see how faith is first. That is to say, to be a Christian at all, in any true sense, you must believe the Word of God; that is the starting point. Do we believe the Word of God? Do we take the Bible's attitudes for our attitudes? Never mind what some clever men are saying to the contrary; do we believe that God created the heavens and the earth? Do we believe that God is Lord of history and of destiny? Do we believe that He is in charge of the international affairs of the world, and He is steering and guiding them, and overruling them? Do we believe He is Lord over our life, and has a supreme claim upon your life and mine? Do we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Do we believe that He is the only Saviour? That is what it means by 'faith'. Faith is: an empty hand taking the gift of truth and the gift of salvation from the hand of God. If we haven't even got faith then, of course, we are not really Christians at all.
Christianity begins with faith, but it doesn't end there! As we see Peter telling us, we are called upon to add various things to this faith. I take a little while then, to look with you at what we are to add. The first thing you notice in verse five is this: we are to add 'virtue'. It is very easy to misunderstand the point here and to think of virtue as meaning what it doesn't really mean. What is this virtue we are to add? Many people think of virtue as being morality, decency, respectability and a conforming style of life. A virtuous person we sometimes say is a person who has a decent, moral kind of life. That's true, but that's not quite what Peter means. The particular sense of this word 'virtue' here is more like the Latin word 'virtus'. Let me explain 'virtus'; it will help. This is not meant to be a Latin lesson, but it does help sometimes to mention where words come from. The Latin word 'vir' means, a man; and 'virtus', is the abstract noun to do with a man, and therefore, manliness. Manliness, that's the idea: manliness, courage. The old fashioned word is 'fortitude'; we don't often use it any more. Certainly, courage is what is meant. We are to "play the man" (2 Samuel 10, 12). We are to "quit ourselves like men" (1 Samuel 4, 9) (1 Corinthians 16, 13). This is not, of course, a sexist way of speaking, it is not being disrespectful to ladies: to women. The Bible idea is this: That those, whether they were men or women, need this quality added to their faith, which is courage. We need it very much today, beloved friends.
THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD
We need not simply to nod the head to a certain set of rules or a certain set of doctrines; we need to say, "This is our very life." Those who take from us, or try to take from us the Word of God and His truth and His doctrine, are taking from us our very blood and our very life. We are therefore to treat the things of God as so important, that for no reason at all are we prepared to surrender these things for anyone. They are subjects which are so precious to us that we are not prepared to budge to accommodate anyone, or to please anyone who tries to take from us, these sacred and precious things of God. My friends, there are many, who in every age, try to take away from the people of God these precious things. Can you think of any age in the history of mankind, where this was not the spirit of the world? The spirit of the world is to take all that we believe away from us. At the Reformation, it was the same; that is how many Scottish, English, French and Dutch people died; they died for their faith. They died gladly rather than give up believing these teachings that are in the Word of God.
It is not simply that John Knox and his friends wrote Confessions and Catechisms - which they certainly did and very great things they are; but they put their very life's blood into doing so. You remember in the Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, in the year 1638, when people were signing their names to the doctrines of the Word of God; they literally, in some cases, opened a vein and let the blood flow. They dipped their pens in the blood, and they wrote their signature with their own blood to the document, to say they were prepared to believe these things though they should die for doing so. You don't need me to tell you - it is a matter of fact - that many thousands died in Scotland alone. Now that is what is meant; we are to have courage, my friends, for the truth.
To courage, we have to add knowledge. Where does this come? This is at the end of verse five: "...and to virtue knowledge." That is to say, all the days of our lives as Christians we are to be increasing in our knowledge of the things of God. It is not enough that we should coast along on the little knowledge we have at our conversion. We have to have some knowledge in order to be converted. No one is converted to Christ without any knowledge at all. What we know when we are first converted is like the ABC; it is not the whole alphabet. So, my friends, the appeal of Peter here is to be always at our Bible. Always, either reading it or, when we have a moment to spare, thinking about it. Even when we are resting, our minds go back to this Book and its teaching, its truths; even as we are going about our ordinary business. This is the way our beloved forefathers were. I am sure you know this better than I do.
Mary Slesser of Dundee, for instance - just to take one of many cases - was working at her little job as a young woman. She had her Bible beside her as she was doing her job and she was reading the Word of God. That was common. If you read about the Cambuslang revival (near Glasgow) of 1742, that is the way the people were. As they were doing their work at the loom, for instance, the Bible was beside them; they were reading it. Of course, you can't do that driving a car down the motorway, nobody would expect it, but you can put in a cassette and listen to it being read back to you.
In other words, we are to be adding knowledge of the Bible. This is the very life of our life: the very soul of our faith - the Word of God. If you and I intend to be diligent Christians, able to stand against the wiles of the devil, there is no other formula on earth, but that we must have the shield of faith, and the breastplate of righteousness, and the knowledge of the Word of God, which is a sharp two-edged sword. Therefore, Peter tells us we must needs add knowledge; and that is why we have to read the best books. There are a million books that we will never read; even good books that we will never be able, in our lifetime, to read. I have more books in my study that I will ever read, I am sure, much as I regret that thought. I wish I had time to read them all, but there isn't time. Time is rushing us on with so many duties, night and day. But, O my friends, there is one book that we dare not be ignorant about, the Word of God. We must read it from Genesis to Revelation over, and over, and over again. Not simply that we might have a cursory knowledge of it, as a person may scan over a newspaper and pick out a bit here and a bit there. No, we must know its very language, its very verbiages; its very spirit must be ours.
It was said about John Bunyan, you remember that he knew his Bible so well; and you can see that from his books. They said humorously about John Bunyan you could have pricked his body anywhere, the blood that flowed out was bibline; that is to say, it was the colour of the Bible. It is only a phrase, and it is a humorous phrase, but it is a good phrase. And, dear friends, would to God that you and I were more like Bunyan: our blood were bibline. "Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge" (text).
In verse six he is adding more. "To knowledge," we must add something he calls, "temperance." The word tends, in modern speech, to have the idea that we don't take any alcohol: Temperance Movement. You may say to me: Is that what it means? Not quite. You may want to say: Should we take alcohol or not? Well, I will tell you this. The Bible doesn't make it a sin to take a little alcohol in moderation, but if you want my personal advice, I would never take it; it has ruined so many thousands of people. That is only my advice. The Bible doesn't say it is a sin to take some alcohol, and we take a mouthful every six months at the Communion Table of fermented wine, because that is the ordinance of Christ. If you want my personal advice, that's quite enough to last six months, unless for medical reasons where it is prescribed for you. That is up to your conscience. It is not my business. I am not here to dictate anything but what is in the Bible, but if you want advice, I give it. It is up to you what you do with it.
Temperance here means something a little different. Temperance in the Bible here means 'self-control', 'self-restraint'. That is a much wider concept than the use of alcohol. It means that we are to grow in self-control, and the more you know yourself, the more you realise your need of it. How dangerous you and I are. How quickly our moods can swing. How quickly our temper can arise. How quickly irritability manifests itself. How temptable we are. In next to no time we can be swept up in a train of thought which is very dangerous. You know all about this. That is why we must watch what we watch, and what we read, and what music we hear. Because everything that comes in to the eye gate and the ear gate, has a big effect upon our minds. It affects the way we think, and act, and behave.
It is not altogether surprising that there is a lot of violence in society today. It is obviously going to be like that because people are watching violence, and the music they hear is full of sensuality and even worse than that: diabolical ideas, devilish ideas and sinister ideas. It is no wonder young people go about looking as though they could half kill you. That is the way they are thinking, because that is the way they are listening and seeing everything in their own moments of entertainment.
The Christian has to abandon and reject all that. He must pray for grace to have self-control. It is extremely hard. The Bible puts it like this: "He that ruleth his spirit (is better) than he that taketh a city" (Proverbs 16:32). You can see that because there are plenty of people in governments, in all countries, who try to rule the country, but they cannot rule their own marriages. Their families are a disaster and their marriages are a disaster, through their own fault. They haven't got self-control. They have gone in for lust. It is very common. The Bible says it is much easier to rule over nations and cities than to rule over yourself. Of course it is. It is a tremendously difficult thing to say no to my own lusts, and passions, and to refuse temptation; much harder, because it is like pulling the very flesh off your own bones. There are certain things we are inclined to do. Our minds go after certain things. The flesh lusts after certain things, and we must say, "No, no, you will not." We must be our own masters and say to ourselves, "This must not be." Even our very thoughts, we must control them and say, "No, I will not think like that", and if I have thought like that I go immediately on my knees and meekly pray for God's gracious forgiveness. That is the way we exercise this temperance: self-control over out tempers and our indwelling sins.
Then he goes on and he adds something else: patience. This is to be found in verse six: "To temperance patience." We know what patience is: it is going on and on and on and on. There are so many temptations for the Christian to stop and to turn back. You read again the Pilgrim's Progress and you will see that time and time and time again as the Christian was on his pilgrimage, he met a problem and his first temptation was to turn back from where he had come. Patience means we keep going on to the very end. Nothing, no, not even our sin, deters us. That is one of the cleverest tricks of the devil. He argues like this: "Now look here, Christian, you have sinned and you have failed and you are worthless. There is no point in wasting any more of your time pretending to be a Christian. Just you turn your back and go where you came from: right back into the world - into the public house and the bingo hall and the dance hall and these disco places. You get yourself thoroughly drunk and enjoy life because you're a failure and a dead loss anyway." How many times does the Christian get that? I get it probably every day, every day of life: "A worthless, worthless sinner who has done no good in all this world. You would be far better in your grave." The devil therefore is very clever at saying, "Time to stop your service for God and to go back into the world." Patience means that we don't listen to that voice. We go on and on and on. O, it is true that we haven't done all that much good, but it will be to the glory of God if you and I reach the heavenly city at last, by patiently enduring to the end. "He that shall endure unto the end," saith our Lord, "the same shall be saved" (Mark 13, 13). That is what Peter is underscoring here by the word 'patience'.
What do we add to patience? Well, says he, in verse six, "To patience godliness." Now here is an unpopular word. If there is one word that many would strike out of the dictionary, it is this word 'godliness'. As I speak, I think of my late, beloved friend the Rev. Innes MacRae. I never heard him pray but this word was somewhere in his prayer - do you remember it - godliness. He saw that is on its way out.
My dear friends, if a Free Church of Scotland in its best days was famous for anything, it was famous for godly men. O, they were scoffed at and laughed at as old fashioned and out-of-date, but there was no denying our old ministers were godly men; and our old elders were too, and our old ladies in the membership - they were godly people. Well, I say, here is what Peter tells us to cultivate. We must add this to all the rest. We can't live without it: the holy life, the obedient application of the standards, procedures and principles of Scripture to myself, to my family, to our congregation, to our whole denomination. Godliness begins by submitting to whatever God Himself has said. That is what godliness is: living as unto God. The art of living unto God - that is godliness. Where people have faith of a sort without godliness, their faith is like Mickey Mouse religion: it is no good. There is a lot of Mickey Mouse religion around; godliness is what transforms it into saintliness: purity of life; living to the glory of God. No one pretends that it is easy but it is the duty and it has to be added to all the rest: to patience godliness. No matter how we fail we must go on diligently adding, diligently striving, diligently pursuing. "Give diligence to make your calling and your election sure" (2 Peter 1, 10), he says.
ADD BROTHERLY KINDNESS
What do we add to godliness? In a sense, you might think that he would stop at godliness. You would think that as he goes up the rungs of the ladder, you would say that he was going to stop at godliness. That must be the very summit of all that a Christian is aiming to be and to do. No, he doesn't stop at godliness; he goes higher. To godliness, we add, brotherly kindness. There are some churches and some Christians that are godly and very strongly emphasise godliness but they are not so strong on brotherly kindness. This one adds a little bit more. My friends, we are not only to be kind to those who sit in our pews with us, or in our denominational pews, and count all the rest like scum. Not at all! We are to salute every saint in Christ Jesus - be they Baptist or Brethren. If they are the Lord's true people, let no denominational label destroy our love for them; even though they might belong to churches that we think are far from being the perfect church they ought to be, and have many blemishes. Yet, if they truly serve Christ; if they accept the Bible as infallible; if they talk the language of heaven, then we are to love them and to show them kindness. If it is within our powers, we are to do them all the good we can to help them on the way. We don't ignore them because they are not 'of us'. This is brotherly kindness and brotherly kindness means that sometimes we have to rebuke one another.
It is the measure of our grace whether we can take a rebuke or not. We are none of us wonderfully good at it. I don't claim to be wonderfully good at it myself. My friends, here is the test of how good you are as a Christian: can you take a rebuke, given in brotherly love from a brother? Or, do you rise up on your hackles and resent it. You say, "I'll never talk to him again. How dare he say such a thing to me. Does he not know who I am? Does he not know his place?" No, no. Even Peter himself had to be rebuked on an occasion by Paul, remember? "I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Galatians 2, 11). Peter did something quite wrong and inconsistent with his position as a Christian minister: he compromised and Paul pointed down to him. "Peter," he said, "you have compromised. You shouldn't have done that," and he rebuked him.
My friends, it is not easy to take a rebuke but here is our duty. Let me give you a text to make it very clear. The Bible says, "Open rebuke is better than secret love" (Proverbs 27, 5). If you see your brother going astray, it is not your duty to turn a blind eye and say, "I had better not say anything, because if I do he will take the huff and go off somewhere else." That is not the way at all. In love, yet firmly, we are to say to the brother or sister, "You have done what is wrong." I'm afraid if you do that you raise Cain today and all heaven falls about your ears, as it were. The skies collapse and people won't take it, but, O my friends, if we are real lovers of Christ, let us learn to have brotherly love enough to help one another out of our bad habits with love and kindness. There is a way of doing it, of course, and a way of not doing it. We need to be prayerful and look into ourselves, lest we also be tempted. So there is this brotherly kindness.
At the very top of the hill of graces - the best grace of all - is charity or love. We know that this is best of all, because Paul tells us so in Corinthians. Does he not say, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity (or love), these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Corinthians 13, 13). What sort of love is this? The Greek word is 'agape' and it is worth knowing the word: 'agape'. It is a special kind of love. It is Christian love.
There are various forms of love, of course. There is the kind of love which comes from that place called Hollywood, where they make all the romance films. Hollywood is full of love. Many of the people there have been married six or seven times; they call it 'love'; nothing to do with this kind of love here. Hollywood love is what the Bible calls 'lust'. It is physical love, which is of a kind that gives way to the lust of the flesh. Agape love is unselfish love: love that seeks the betterment of the other, and never does harm to the other. Love, of this kind, worketh no ill to his neighbour. Love is the fulfilling of the whole Moral Law: to do to others as we would have them do to us and to do nothing to others but what we would have them do back to us; that is the love talked about here. My dear friends, as soon as this love is practiced anywhere, in any church, in any age - then heaven on earth pervades the society. If this love were practised for a fortnight in any city in the world, be it Inverness, or Korea, then I say, heaven would come down. If people loved one another as God requires us to do, then the police would have nothing to do, the courts would have nothing to do. The world would become a very paradise, and our churches should become a very paradise of love.
Well, dear friends, this is the Christianity of the apostle Peter. This is what he wishes you and me to do: to be adding these things to our faith.
As I close, what can I say? Concerning myself, I say, wretched beginner. When shall I begin to begin to be a Christian? What sort of Christian am I, when I see the standards of the apostolic teaching of these great men of old? Where do we stand, but like pygmies, at their feet. They were giants in the faith.
Nevertheless, we are not to despair, but to go on, and to endeavour to become these things and, says Peter to cheer us up and to gladden us, "If you do these things, ye shall never fall" (text). When you die, "An entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (text). In other words if you are this kind of Christian, when you die, in heaven all the trumpets shall sound for you on the other side.
My friends, let this be your faith, and mine.
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