Be good! (1.5)
In Peter’s introductory words (1.1-4) he stressed God’s righteousness, grace and peace. Our faith and knowledge of God and Jesus Christ with all his “great and precious promises” come as a gift from him. Grace prevails rather than anything we may try to achieve. But now in 1.5-11 Peter underlines our response to God’s gracious working on our behalf. The connecting “And . . .but” at the beginning of 1.5 (Greek: kai . . .de) joins our responsibility to God’s preceding work of grace, while at the same time it denotes something of a contrast.
So 1.5 exhorts us to “make every effort to add goodness in your faith”. That means that righteousness and generous kindness are to characterise our lives as God’s people.
Peter invents an amazing word for ‘add’! The key element in the word gives a sense of bringing such goodness close to us, but the verb has no less than three prefixes. The closeness of God’s nature of goodness comes alongside us (Greek para), moves into/unto us (Greek: eis) and is indeed in us (Greek: en). What a challenge to strive with all our energies to “participate in the divine nature” (1.3)! God’s nature is entirely ‘good’, morally pure and holy and we are to be ‘holy as he is holy’ (e.g. Leviticus 11.44/45, 19.2; 1 Peter 1.15/16).
Be better than good! (1.5-7)
Peter makes it clear what we are to strive for in our lives in addition to ‘goodness’- knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly love and finally the climax love. God’s fundamental goodness is the foundation, on which these further characteristics are built.
- Knowledge. In today’s use of this word we think only of intellectual understanding, but in biblical usage the word has a bigger meaning. Just as in modern English we say that we know someone, so ‘knowledge’ in the Bible signifies relationship. Of course the brain should also come into play in our relationships (sadly that is not always the case!), but biblical knowledge involves the whole of our being. Indeed it is even used of the most intimate of relationships when a man ‘knows’ his wife. So we add to ‘goodness’ an in-depth knowledge of God and of each other.
- Self-control. Self-control implies such concentration on godly goodness that it inevitably excludes all that is second-rate or wrong. It allows no compromise with the common everyday standards of the world around us. Inevitably too self-control requires a determined effort of self-discipline which stands in contrast to our modern desire for easy-going freedom.
- Patient endurance. The word used here conveys this double sense of patience and endurance. The recipients of this letter were going through times of persecution and suffering. We too, if we share our faith openly, are likely sometimes to experience rejection which may be hurtful. And all of us will have to struggle with personal suffering through failure, mistreatment, sickness, bereavement or some other problem in life. As followers of Jesus who showed such patient endurance on the cross, we are called to renounce all bitterness and revenge. May we all exhibit true patience and endurance!
- Godliness. The same word was used in 1.3 (translated ‘goodness’) together with ‘grace’ as a key characteristic of God himself. Now we are urged to work such righteousness and generous kindness into our lives. Again we are reminded of the awesome words of 1.3 that we are to “participate in the divine nature”. We are called to become like God himself in lives that follow the Lord in holy righteousness and in loving kindness. What a goal for us, both as individual Christians and also corporately as the church of God!
- Brotherly love. With almost boring repetition I hear our church leaders rightly telling us that we are to serve the wider community. But we rarely hear the New Testament’s constant demand that we must develop a truly loving fellowship in the church. In these days of lock-down and self-isolation I sense that God is working in us to deepen our relationships not only with our neighbours in society, but also very much within the fellowship of our churches. The reality of our loving fellowship together as Christians will surely be our particular selling-point to draw our neighbours into the love and salvation of the Lord. Let the world see our love together and so be attracted into our fellowship as God’s people and church!
- Love. The climax has come! Love – ‘Agape’. This word outshines every other emotion or relationship imaginable. It reveals the fundamental nature of God himself. He not only ‘loves’, but he actually is love. Our words can go no further than to quote 1 John 4.8: “God is love”. Amazingly and wonderfully, ‘participating in the divine nature’ even includes his Agape. I am lost for words and can only be silent before this awesome call.
Whereas those who fail to strive after these qualities have clearly lost sight of God’s cleansing from past sins (1.9), those who are seeking to possess and develop them will be kept from lives that are “barren and fruitless in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1.8).
The repetition of two words from 1.5 links 1.10/11 inseparably with the necessity of adding ‘goodness’ to our faith. We are to be ‘eager’ (NIV “effort” in 1.5) to “make our calling and election sure”; and we shall “receive a rich welcome” (NIV “add” in 1.5 where the verb has an additional prefix and means ‘minister’ or ‘supply’).
Just as the command to add goodness to our faith applies both to us individually and also to us as the people of God corporately, so also our “calling and election” relates both to each one of us individually and also corporately to the people of God. Peter’s Jewish readers will have been very conscious of belonging to Israel as God’s chosen people. As such, they had particular promises from God. Today still Jewish Christians are very aware of our calling with its promises and responsibilities. Individually too all of us as Christians rejoice in our calling and election with equal grace and call to service.
Our passage promises that, if we do indeed add goodness to our faith and thus make our calling sure, we “will never fall”, and entry into Jesus Christ’s “eternal kingdom” will be granted to us. This promise takes the sting out of death and gives us assurance of glory eternally.
This passage has emphasised strongly what we need to do (the word ‘do’ comes twice in 1.10/11), but its final words are in the passive and remind us that it is God who gives and we merely receive by grace. Everything depends on him. We can never become good enough to earn the gracious goodness and saving mercy of our all-holy God. We owe our salvation to God’s wonderful promise that finally entry into his glorious kingdom will be ministered to us by the Lord himself. Let us praise and thank him for this!