When reading Peter’s letters we should never forget his shattering experience of denying Jesus three times in quick succession. Of course he really loved the Lord and had given up everything in order to follow him, but fear of suffering still undermined his faith at that time. So Peter well understood the pressures of the world around us and 2 Peter is written to shore up faith and moral righteousness. Like many of us today, his readers were surrounded by such godlessness and immorality as might lead them to deny the Lord and slip into the corrupt standards of the world around them.
Already in these opening verses Peter begins to talk of God’s “righteousness” (1.1) and upright “goodness” (1.3). He then affirms that through these divine characteristics we have received wonderful promises and thus may “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1.4). This Epistle’s strong and uncompromising teaching about moral holiness and God’s judgment on sin may at times shock us in our more tolerant societies, but as Christians we need it.
The Introduction (1.1-2)
What a fascinating self-introduction! Such a helpful contrast! “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle”. After denying the Lord, Peter was forgiven by the resurrected Jesus and commissioned to ‘feed Jesus’ sheep’. So Peter was deeply conscious of the enormous grace of God in his calling to be sent out as an apostle. But together with his natural temptation to be too self-assured he knew that he was also entirely a slave of Jesus, his master. Slaves have no rights and must follow the commands of their master in total obedience. As Christians, we are all called to go into the world to share the good news of Jesus, so we too share the privilege of being apostles (sent ones). But at the same time we are called to follow Jesus in total obedience, doing his will rather than just our own.
Being a slave of Jesus as well as an apostle reminds Peter not to feel in any way superior to other Christians. So Peter addresses this letter to “those who received (the Aorist tense signifies a once-for-all event in their past) a faith equal to ours” (1.1). This faith was in no way deserved by them, but came to them “in the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ”. No wonder Peter’s next word is “grace” – “grace to you and peace abound (the Greek gives the sense of fullness) in the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord” (1.2). It was quite traditional to start a letter with ‘grace and peace to you’, but surely Peter will have really meant it. We all need God’s amazing grace and his deep peace to fill our lives in relation to God, to ourselves, to our fellow Christians and indeed, as far as lies in us, with all people.
What has God given us in order to achieve his purposes for us? Through God’s glory and goodness he has called us and given us all the divine power we need in order to fulfil his purposes for us (1.3). And in his grace he has made tremendous promises (1.4) to reassure us in our struggles. We don’t go into life’s battles on our own. We go forward in the sure knowledge that God will certainly keep his promises to us and will give us his all-sufficient strength and power. Grace and peace really do abound! We rejoice in his grace for us and his peace in us as we enter the fray with the forces that try to drag us down.
What then are his purposes? God calls us to struggle for life and godliness” (“for” = Greek pros/towards – what we are moving towards). Of course God’s gift of life, life abundant and life eternal is inseparably associated with the resurrection. We share with Jesus in his return to the fullness of new life. In our day with all the uncertainties and loneliness of lock-down and self-isolation some are wondering about the meaning of life. As Christians we can proclaim with confidence in God that people can find true life with a capital L “through our knowledge of him who called us”.
Peter further elaborates on this theme of godliness in verse 4. God’s aim for us is that we may participate (the Greek koinonoi relates to the idea of fellowship) and join with God’s divine nature in a spiritual fellowship. By the Holy Spirit the all-holy God himself lives in us, and the Spirit forms the very nature of God in our being. Wow! Peter’s message here is so deep and beyond mere human thinking that we need to pause and pray it through before we proceed.
Verse 4 links fellowship in the divine nature with our need to “escape the corruption in the world in evil desire”. We see here Peter’s introduction to the main purpose of his letter. He longs for his readers to stand firm against the temptations of the world and in union/fellowship with God’s very nature to stand firm in the faith and in moral uprightness. Right believing goes hand in hand with moral holiness. Watch out! If we slip away from our faith, we shall inevitably fall back into moral sin with the standards of the world which surrounds us.