The Seven Keys to SPIRITUAL GROWTH
According to the Bible there are seven keys that guarantee spiritual growth whatever stage or level you’re currently at. Here’s our main text:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge (epignosis) of God and of Jesus our Lord.
(3) His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge (epignosis) of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (4) Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
(5) For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge (gnosis); (6) and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; (7) and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (8) For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge (epignosis) of our Lord Jesus Christ. (9) But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
(10) Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, (11) and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:2-11
This long passage contains a wealth of information absolutely vital to the effectiveness and productivity of every believer, as specified in verse 8. Let’s address a few preliminary items and then examine the seven keys to spiritual growth.
Experiential Knowledge (Epignosis) of God
The word “knowledge” is used five times in the passage, but two different Greek words are used. In verse 5 it says that we are to add “knowledge” to our faith. This is the Greek word gnosis (NOH-sis), which simply refers to the textual Word of God and the knowledge or sound doctrines thereof. This same Greek word is translated as “knowledge” in verse 6 as well. However, the other three times “knowledge” is cited it’s a different Greek word— epignosis (ep-EE-NOH-sis)—which is simply gnosis with the prefix epi. This isn’t just textual knowledge or doctrinal knowledge; it’s experiential knowledge. One lexicon defines it as “contact knowledge” or “experiential knowing” and hence “knowledge gained through first-hand relationship” (HELPS Word-Studies Lexicon).
With this understanding let’s look at verses 2-3 again:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge (epignosis) of God and of Jesus our Lord.
(3) His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge (epignosis) of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
2 Peter 1:2-3
In both verses “knowledge”—epignosis—refers to the knowledge of God and therefore to the experiential knowledge of God. In other words, knowing the LORD because you’ve experienced Him through applying the Word or textual knowledge, which is gnosis.
The passage reveals three things we can have through knowing God rather than just knowing about Him:
- We can have “grace and peace… in abundance” (verse 2).
- We can have “everything we need for life and godliness” (verse 3).
- We can “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (verse 4).
Verse 5 says that it’s “for this very reason” we need to “make every effort” to add seven things to our faith, which are listed in verses 5-7: goodness, knowledge (gnosis), self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual (Christian) affection and love. The prefix “make every effort” shows that we need to be diligent about seeking and applying these seven virtues. They’re not going to be automatically added to our faith and so we need to make it a top priority.
The context shows that we’re to add them one-to-another, which helps in determining their precise meaning here. Their meaning is obvious, of course, but the context sheds light on their specific meaning in this text, as you shall see.
How to Be Productive for God and Never Fall
Verses 8-9 reveal that if we possess these seven qualities “in increasing measure” it guarantees that we’ll be effective and productive (i.e. fruitful) in our walk. Those who don’t have them are said to be “nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” This is talking about spiritual nearsightedness and spiritual blindness, not physical. Believers who fail to develop in these seven qualities will not be able to see afar off spiritually. In other words, they’re unable to view life through the eternal lens of the Divine perspective and will thus be hampered by the limited scope of the temporal viewpoint. Moreover, they’ll be spiritually blind. They won’t be able to see the most common-sense blatant spiritual truths. In short, they’ll be dull and constrained by the disadvantages thereof.
Another benefit of possessing these seven qualities “in increasing measure” is that it guarantees a “rich welcome” into the eternal kingdom when you come face to face with the LORD. A rich welcome is when people are excited to see you; they passionately run up to you and shake your hand, hug you or kiss you. Don’t you want a welcome like this? Of course you do. Have you ever had a tepid welcome? It’s no fun and it tempts you to make an about face and flee. How would you like Father God to say to the Son when you come face to face: “Oh, here comes John” with little or no enthusiasm? Thankfully, no Christian has to have such a welcome from God, but you’ll have to cultivate these seven virtues to assure a rich welcome. The Word says so.
Adding the Seven Virtues to Your Faith
The seven virtues that we are to add to our faith should be viewed as keys to spiritual effectiveness and productivity (2 Peter 1:8). They could also be viewed as steps to spiritual maturity because some of them depend on the previous one to be effective. For instance, the reason you add goodness before knowledge is because only a “good and noble heart” can produce fruit when the Word is planted in it (Luke 8:15). I’ll elaborate in the next couple sections.
The starting point for every believer is faith because our covenant with God is a covenant of faith. ‘Covenant’ means “an agreement or pact having complete terms determined by the initiating party, which are also affirmed by the one entering the agreement.” A good English word for covenant is contract. All Christians have a contract with Father God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is the New Covenant or New Testament. Everything we receive in our agreement with the LORD is by faith because “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
The Bible says that every believer has a “measure of faith” otherwise they wouldn’t be a believer (Romans 12:3). It’s a done deal—“God has distributed” the measure of faith to everyone who’s a believer. It’s a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and every believer starts with the same measure.
However, it’s clear from the Scriptures that faith can grow. For instance, Jesus noted the “little faith” of his disciples on occasion (Luke 12:28 & Matthew 14:28–31), which shows that they could’ve had more faith. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3 Paul observed that the faith of the Thessalonian believers was growing. Your faith can likewise increase, but it’s dependent on YOU adding the seven qualities relayed in 2 Peter 1:5-7—goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual (Christian) affection and love.
You’ll note that there are seven virtues. This is fitting since the number 7 is identified with something being “finished” or “complete” in the Bible. Thus, if you are diligent to add these seven qualities to your walk you will be complete as a man or woman of God. Praise the Lord!
Let’s now look at each one.
1. Adding Goodness (Virtue)
I’m probably going to spend a little more time on this first key than the other six. You’ll see why.
First, let’s review the applicable verse from our main text:
make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;
2 Peter 1:5
“Goodness” is translated from the Greek word arête (ar-ET-ay), which means “moral excellence,” “uprightness” or “good quality” and is translated as “virtue” in the King James Version. The same Greek word is used to describe the LORD in verse 3 of the text and, as such, God is of superior moral excellence and uprightness.
Note that goodness must be added before knowledge. As pointed out earlier, “knowledge” here is gnosis in the Greek and therefore refers to textual knowledge. Why add moral excellence before knowledge? Simply because it prepares the soil of your heart for the seed of the Word of God. You see, the quality of the soil of your heart determines the productiveness of God’s Word in your life. If your heart is of bad quality the Word will produce little or no results; if it is of mediocre quality, it will only produce okay results. However, if it is of good, moral quality it will produce good results!
For proof of this, let’s look at…
The Parable of the Sower
Luke 8:4-8 relays the story of a farmer scattering seed that lands on four types of soil: 1. The hardened soil of a path where the seeds were trampled by people, and then birds came and ate them; 2. the rocky ground where the plants started to grow, but withered because there wasn’t enough water; 3. the thorny soil where the plants started to sprout, but were choked by the thorns; and 4. the good soil, which yielded a huge crop. We don’t have to wonder what this parable means because Jesus explained it:
This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. (12) Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. (13) Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. (14) The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. (15) But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
The “seed” that’s scattered on the four soils is the Word of God. Notice that Jesus didn’t specify what element of God’s Word the seed represents, like the gospel message. That’s because the seed refers to the Word of God in general. It refers to any truth contained in God’s Word that can bless you or save you.
The four types of soil represent the quality of four types of hearts. Observe the results of each type of soil:
- The Hardened Soil: The seeds could not take root at all in the hardened soil of the path and birds came and ate them. Some people’s hearts are so hard for one reason or another that the Word of God can’t even take root. So Satan is able to immediately steal the Word.
- The Rocky Soil: The seeds could not take root in the rocky soil because there wasn’t enough moisture; that is, water. God’s Word is likened to water in the Bible (Ephesians 5:26) because it feeds our faith on any given truth. When there’s not enough water faith withers and dies.
- The Thorny Soil: The seeds that fell in the thorny soil started to sprout but were choked by the thorns, which represent life’s worries, riches (the love of money) and various pleasures. The rocky soil and the thorny soil show that there are four things that will prevent the Word of God from bearing fruit in our lives: (1.) Lack of the watering of the Word, which feeds faith, (2.) the anxieties of life, (3.) preoccupation with money/wealth and (4.) various pleasures—good or bad—that preoccupy one’s time.
- The Good Soil: The Word of God can only produce fruit from “the good and noble heart” (verse 15).
I trust you see why it’s necessary to add goodness before the knowledge of God’s Word.
How Do You Add Goodness?
Adding goodness is a simple matter once you understand the nature of your mind & heart and the fact that each person is the “guardian” of his/her soul. To explain, let’s turn to a powerful passage that conveys a vital principle that, believe it or not, determines the very course of your life:
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
When a passage prefaces what it says with “above all else” it means that what it’s about to say is of the utmost importance. So this verse is saying that guarding your heart needs to be a top priority in your life.
Your heart is the core of your mind and things get rooted in your heart based on your thought life and the ideas, desires or fears you choose to meditate on, that is, feed. This explains why the New Century Version of the Bible —a paraphrase—translates the verse like so:
Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.
Proverbs 4:23 (NCV)
Be careful what you choose to think about—impulses, images, inclinations, worries, desires, fears, etc.—because what you decide to dwell on in your mind will run your very life!
Notice again how the NIV puts it: Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. The word “wellspring” in the Hebrew is totsa’ah (rhymes with matzah ball), which means “source” or “geographical boundaries.” In other words, whatever you allow to occupy your heart—your thought life—becomes the source of your very life and determines your geographical boundaries; that is, how far you go or how far you don’t go. Put differently, what you allow to get rooted in your heart determines what you will be!
This corresponds to what Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). People produce according to what’s in their heart. This is why the Bible likens the human heart to soil, as shown in the aforementioned Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15). Just as soil is neutral and grows whatever is planted in it—whether quality produce or weeds & thornbushes—so the heart is neutral and grows whatever you allow to get rooted in it, whether good or bad, productive or destruction, beautiful or hideous, pure or profane.
You must understand that you have two conflicting natures: a godly nature, which is your spirit, and a sinful nature, which is your flesh. This explains something Jesus said: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Because your spirit is your godly nature it wants to do what is right, but because your flesh is your sinful nature it wants to do what is wrong. Your higher nature wants to do what is positive, productive and righteous whereas your lower nature wants to do what is negative, destructive and unrighteous. These two natures are in conflict with each other and are constantly sending images and impulses to your mind (Galatians 5:17). Whichever ones you accept and feed will get lodged in your heart. This explains Paul’s instructions to meditate on positive things in Philippians 4:8 because whatever you meditate on inhabits your thought life and will get lodged in your heart. The more you feed it the more it’ll grow. You’ll thus produce accordingly.
(click image to enlarge)
God works with you through your spirit—your godly nature—by the Holy Spirit whereas demonic spirits work with you through your flesh—the sinful nature. These two natures are in conflict and the one you heed will determine if you’re spirit-controlled or flesh-ruled. If you’re spirit-controlled you’ll produce the fruit of the spirit whereas if you’re flesh-ruled you’ll produce works of the flesh (Galatians 5:17-23). It’s your choice because, whether you know it or not, you possess the power of volition; that is, the power of decision.
Let me give an example of something negative getting lodged in a person’s heart: A pedophile in prison wrote Ann Landers years ago. He confessed that he was a pedophile and that his time in prison had not set him free—the walls could not change him. There was this “monster” in his heart, he said, and when he would be released in 7 months he was going to continue to do the very monstrous things that got him sent to prison in the first place. Why? Because he was in bondage to this evil desire that was lodged in his heart. In other words, this wicked desire that he allowed to get rooted in his heart by occupying his thought life was literally determining the course of his life! The good news is that there’s hope for people like this if they’re willing to humbly turn to the LORD in repentance & faith and put into practice the wisdom of God’s Word (e.g. Isaiah 55:6-9).
So you “add” goodness by:
- Actively meditating on good things—images, impulses, desires—which automatically push out the bad. This is the law of displacement: Two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. You can’t walk in faith and fear simultaneously; you’re walking in one or the other. By choosing to focus on faith you weed out fear. Needless to say, weed out the negative things from your heart!
- Guard your heart from negative things. In other words, be proactive as the guardian of your soul. Don’t allow bad things to occupy your thought life because the corresponding desire will manifest as you dwell on them. And the more you meditate on them the more the desire grows. For instance, if you dwell on negative, hopeless thoughts it’ll give birth to depression, meaninglessness, frustration and, if it’s bad enough, suicide. Another example: If there’s a married person at work who starts flirting with you and you’re tempted to think about her or him in unwholesome ways, don’t allow such thoughts to get rooted in your thought life. If you do they’ll give birth to desire and desire ultimately gives birth to action (James 1:14-15).
Since things get planted in your heart through 1. what you see, 2. what you hear and 3. the company you keep or the atmosphere you permit, it’s important to discipline what you allow your eyes to see, your ears to hear and the people with whom you spend time.
You can look at adding goodness as removing the “dross” from your life so the LORD can forge a worthy vessel for His purposes. This coincides with Proverbs 25:4: “Remove the dross from the silver and out comes material for the silversmith.” Dross is waste material that a metallurgist removes in order to forge the quality instrument of his choice. It’s the same thing with God and you. Here’s a harmonizing New Testament passage:
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. (21) Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
2 Timothy 2:20-21
So be sure to weed out the dross in your life and, above all else: Be careful what you think because your thoughts run your life! By doing this you’re “adding” goodness to your faith.
2. Adding Knowledge to Goodness
Verse 5 of our text says that we are to add knowledge to goodness. As already noted “knowledge” in the Greek is gnosis (NOH-sis), which means textual knowledge or sound doctrine.
In order to add knowledge you must make the decision to feed on God’s Word and cultivate passion, as David did:
I have chosen the way of truth;
I have set my heart on your laws.
David decided to live according God’s truth and so he set his heart on God’s law, which is a reference to the revealed Word of God at the time.
My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
Note David’s palpable passion! No wonder he’s referred to in both the Old and New Testaments as “a man after God’s own heart.” I encourage you to develop the same passion for God’s Word.
The best way to tackle this topic is to simply throw out numerous points to keep in mind in your pursuit of knowledge:
- YOU have an anointing to receive from the Word yourself, by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27). Feed on it yourself!
- Always remember the four basic laws of hermeneutics, but they bear repeating:
- Context is king: Meaning the surrounding text reveals the obvious meaning of each passage
- Scripture interprets Scripture: Meaning every passage must be interpreted in light of the context of the entire Bible and that the Bible itself is its best interpreter. In other words, one’s interpretation of a passage must gel with what the rest of Scripture teaches; the more overt and detailed passages obviously expand our understanding of the more sketchy and ambiguous ones.
- Take the Bible literally unless it’s clear that figurative language is being used: In which case you look for the literal truth that the symbolism intends to convey.
- If the plain sense makes sense—and is in harmony with the rest of Scripture—don’t look for any other sense lest you end up with nonsense: This includes the “plain sense” of the whole of Scripture on any given topic. In other words, if an individual or group comes up with an interpretation that is opposed to the plain-sense meaning that all the passages in the Bible obviously point to on that subject then it must be rejected. You may have noticed that this fourth rule is essentially the other three combined.
- Develop a reading plan as you’re more apt to stick with something if you have a plan (Proverbs 16:1 & 9).
- A good plan that works for me is to split the Bible up into sections and read 1 or 2 chapters from each section. The sections are: Gospels & Acts, Epistles, Psalms, Proverbs, the Law (or Torah) and the Prophetic books.
- Change translations from time to time. Everyone has a favorite translation, but periodically reading other translations keeps things fresh as it provides the opportunity to read the same text in a different light.
- A thousand mile journey begins with one step.
- “Feed” from the Scriptures via hearing, reading, memorizing, studying and meditating (Matthew 4:4):
- Notice that the thumb refers to meditation, which shows that you hear the Word and meditate; read the Word and Meditate; study the Word and meditate; and memorize the Word and meditate.
- Growth in the Scriptures is like taking a helicopter ride—you see more and more the further you go up.
- Consider topical studies from time to time. What subject interests you?
- Endeavor to master that subject.
- What’s the Bible itself say on the subject? Religious tradition isn’t always right. Sometimes it’s downright false.
- Research what others have to say via books, websites, audio teachings, videos, etc.
- The proof of desire is pursuit (Proverbs 2:1-6). If you want knowledge, understanding and wisdom you have to earnestly pursue it!
- If your Bible reading time seems dry and you’re not getting much out of it, get into the habit of sincerely praying for understanding before you read. After all, Jesus said “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). This explains why Paul prayed for believers in this manner: “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). This also explains this powerful passage from the biblical book of wisdom:
if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, (4) and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, (5) then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (6) For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
- The passage encourages us to passionately seek insight and understanding by crying out for it and calling aloud. God blesses such diligent pursuit because “He rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). It’s an axiom.
- After praying for knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Expect to learn and be blessed.
- Make sure a revelation is true and ‘works’ before proclaiming it. Don’t jump the gun; be patient. As an example, I first discovered the truths conveyed in Sheol Know back in 1996 and waited twelve years before going public with the information!
- The Bible says the mind needs to be renewed (Romans 12:1-2) and is therefore perfectly capable of coming up with all kinds of erroneous “insights.” Also consider the fact that the Bible acknowledges the teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1), which suggests that whoever teaches or embraces these teachings received insight or “revelation” from demonic spirits, who are lying spirits. Revelation that’s accurate, by contrast, comes from the Holy Spirit, who guides us “into all truth” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13); consequently, whatever revelation you get from the Spirit of truth will gel with the “word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), meaning it will conform to sound hermeneutics; that is, the aforementioned four principle rules of bible interpretation.
- Apprehend quality mentors near and far. A mentor is simply someone who positively influences you through knowledge, example or motivation.
- Realize that you can only go so far by yourself (Acts 8:30-31). Don’t be an unteachable, stubborn fool.
- “Feed” from those who minister the Word locally (via church services, etc.) and long-distance (via websites, books, videos, radio, etc.). The primary purpose of the fivefold ministry gifts—apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher—is prayer and the ministry (i.e. serving) of the Word (Ephesians 4:11-13, Acts 6:1-4 & 1 Timothy 5:17).
- The ministry of the Word prompts spiritual growth and enables you to reach your maximum potential in Christ.
- One of the main reasons believers fail to reach their maximum potential is because they cut themselves off from the ministry of the Word (Proverbs 19:27).
- Learn from mentors but don’t worship mentors; that is, don’t make the mistake of viewing them as infallible in doctrine and practice because you will be let down.
- Flee from unworthy “mentors” who are arrogant and abusive, utilizing methods like bluster, intimidation and unnecessary insults.
- Realize that those who transfer knowledge can also transfer error. So “eat the meat and spit out the bones.”
- Don’t limit yourself to the limitations of a mentor. Just because they’ve limited themselves doesn’t mean you have to do the same.
- If you are diligent you’ll likely pass up your mentors, as David did (Psalm 119:99-100).
- Develop the all-your-heart ethic; don’t settle for okay or good—strive to be exceptional! (Ecclesiastes 9:10 & Colossians 3:23).
- Persevere through spiritual growth pangs.
- Be aware of hindrances to growth and shun them like the plague, such as:
- Pride—an “I know it all” attitude or superiority complex.
- Erroneous religious tradition—false beliefs that have passed on for centuries are difficult to escape. Escape!
- Rigid sectarianism (Luke 9:49-50 & 1 Corinthians 1:12-13). You can read more about staunch faction-ism in here.
- Closed-mindedness. Endeavor to cultivate the “Berean spirit,” like the Bereans who were excited about Paul’s teaching, which deviated from the Berean’s set doctrine and the limitations thereof (Acts 17:11).
3. Adding Self-Control to Knowledge
Verse 6 of our text (2 Peter 1) says we’re to add self-control to knowledge. ‘Self-control’ in the Greek is egkrateia (eng-KRAT-ee-ah), which means self-mastery, self-restraint or dominion within. It’s self-control proceeding out of oneself, but not necessarily by oneself. Since we’re to add self-control to knowledge it contextually means we’re to control ourselves according to the knowledge we received. In other words, we’re to put into practice God’s Word after we receive it. That’s all it means.
The reason adding this quality is vital is obvious: What good is knowing God’s Word if you don’t actually practice it? Doing so is foolish and Jesus addressed it in this passage:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (25) The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (26) But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. (27) The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
The Lord is talking about two kinds of people who hear the Word of God. One is wise because he puts it into practice whereas the other is foolish because he doesn’t put it into practice. In both cases Jesus says the “rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew.” This refers to attacks from the kingdom of darkness “for the Word’s sake” (KJV). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, earlier this chapter we saw in the Parable of the Sower that those who receive God’s Word will undergo a “time of testing” (Luke 8:13). Mark’s account puts it like this: “trouble or persecution come because of the word” (Mark 4:17). Whenever someone receives the Word the enemy will come and try to steal it via some kind of attack. The wise person who puts into practice God’s Word will withstand the attack whereas the foolish person who fails to put it into practice will not. The latter person is apt to conclude that “God’s Word doesn’t work” when it has nothing to do with the truthfulness of the Word of God or the faithfulness of the Lord.
So “build your house on the rock” by simply putting into practice God’s Word. If it says “husbands love your wives” then love your wife if you’re a husband (Ephesians 5:25). If it says “slander no one” then be sure to slander no one, which includes gossip since gossip typically devolves into slander (Titus 3:2). Whatever the Word of God instructs you to do—as long as it’s relevant to the New Testament believer*—put it into practice. In short, DO IT. If your life is messed up due to the flesh or adhering to false beliefs, practicing “the word of truth” is the remedy (2 Timothy 2:15); it’ll turn your ship around, so to speak, just give it time.
* In other words, don’t practice anything that’s strictly applicable to someone else of a different era and covenant, like the Israelites under Old Testament law who offered animal sacrifices to cover their sins; Jesus took care of all that in the new covenant so believers don’t have to concern themselves with it.
Practicing Positional Truth
As important as it is to practice practical truth it’s just as important to practice positional truth. A “positional truth” is any truth from Scripture that reveals how God sees you in covenant with Him, which is your position. For the New Testament believer, meaning YOU, this is who you are in your spirit, the “new self” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Who are you in your spirit?
- You are holy (Colossians 1:21-22).
- You are a child of God (John 1:12-13).
- You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- You are the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- You are dead to sin (Romans 6:11,14,18).
- You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).
- You are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
- You are rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
- You are healed (1 Peter 2:24).
- You are a royal priest or priestess of the Most High God (1 Peter 2:9)!
How do you practice positional truths? You practice them simply by believing them and not disagreeing with them. Remember, “The tongue has the power of life and death” so utilize this power accordingly (Proverbs 18:21). Never speak words that contradict who God says you are. Never! This is tantamount to calling God a liar. Be sure to chew on these amazing positional truths and others as well. Make them your meditation and your confession. Take David, for example. He was diligent to “meditate” on God’s Word, as shown in Psalm 119:15-16. The Hebrew word for ‘meditate’ is siyach (SEE-ahk), which means “to ponder and converse with oneself and, hence, out loud” (Strong 115). As you do this, you’ll grow in understanding and power. The more these truths become a part of you the more you’ll be set free of the flesh and the more you’ll soar in the spirit FREE of the limitations of the mental plane. (For important details on this topic see the video How God Sees YOU).
Again, Jesus said we must “continue” in his word if we are to “know the truth” and be set “free.” Growing in knowledge, understanding and wisdom on a continuing basis is the key to this.
The Power of the Tongue
Speaking of the power of words, Proverbs 4:24 says to “keep corrupt talk far from your lips.” The root Hebrew word for ‘corrupt’ is luz (looz), which means “to turn aside or depart from what is right or good.” To practice this Scripture you must realize the power of your tongue:
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
The “fruit” of the tongue is good, but only “those who love it will eat its fruit.” This means only those who realize and value the tongue’s power.
You must get a hold of the fact that your tongue is a powerful gift from God, which has the potential to bless or destroy. Only those who realize the value of the tongue will experience the fruit it has to offer.
Exactly how powerful is the tongue? The Bible likens it to the small rudder of a large ship that steers the vessel wherever the pilot wants it to go (James 3:2-6). Think about it: The very course of your life is linked to what you do with your tongue. How so?
Your words are creative forces or destructive forces. Let’s look at examples of both.
Words have THE POWER OF LIFE:
- The earth & universe were created at God’s command (Hebrews 11:3). You were created in God’s likeness and therefore your words have creative power as well.
- God promised Abram countless offspring (Genesis 15:5), but Abram was still childless 24 years later at the age of 91.
- God changed his name to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude” (17:3-5).
- Abraham and everyone else were in essence forced by God to speak of Abraham as “father of a multitude.” And so the promise came to pass (Romans 4:18).
- The priestly blessing blessed people: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:22-27).
- To ‘bless’ means “to speak positive words that have a productive impact.”
- Jesus blessed the children (Mark 10:13,16).
- Your words, combined with belief, can remove obstacles (Mark 11:22-23).
Words have THE POWER OF DEATH:
- To ‘curse’ means “to speak negative words that have a destructive impact.” The Bible likens the tongue to a sword that can harm people (Proverbs 12:18 & Psalm 64:3).
- An influential person tells a little girl she’s “fat,” which she takes to heart and becomes anorexic.
- Parents curse their very own children; the kids take the evil words to heart and the words essentially become a deadly prophecy in their lives.
- Thankfully, underserved curses have no power over you, unless you allow it (Proverbs 26:2): “an undeserved curse does not come to rest.”
- Counteract curses by speaking blesses over yourself. For instance, you can take 1 Peter 2:9 and say: “I am a part of a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that I may declare the praises of Him who called me out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Speak it with fervor!
- People speak curses over themselves: e.g. “I’m so clumsy,” “I always get sick during flu season,” “I can’t do it”—“I can’t,” “I can’t,” “I can’t,” “I can’t.” Because they speak it and start believing it the words come to pass.
- Never speak ill of yourself, your worth, your work or your goals. If you do, you’re cursing your own life, which could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- If you say anything enough you’ll eventually believe it; and as a person thinks or believes in their heart, so they are (Proverbs 23:7 KJV, Proverbs 27:19 & Matthew 12:34-35).
- Your words advertise who you are and where you are going, like signposts.
- Reject the victim vocabulary—“I was abused” or “I don’t have an education.”
- We are to bless others (Romans 12:14), but sometimes cursing is in order, like when Jesus cursed the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21) or when Paul cursed Elymas (el-OO-mass) (Acts 13:8-12).
Here’s one last powerful passage on the subject to chew on:
From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, as surely as the works of their hands reward them.
Needless to say, “add self-control” to knowledge by lining up your actions and tongue (words) with the Word. Amen.
4. Adding Perseverance to Self-Control
Verse 6 of our text (2 Peter 1) says that we are to add perseverance to self-control. ‘Perseverance’ in the Greek is hupomoné (hoop-om-on-AY), which means endurance, stead-fastness or to wait patiently. So after preparing the soil of your heart to insure that it’s good soil and then adding the Word and putting it into practice, it’s then necessary to add perseverance for the Word to produce fruit in your life.
Let me give an example: several years ago I had an irritating skin rash on the back of my hand for over two years. I showed it to my doctor during a check-up and he referred me to a dermatologist. I had no desire to waste time or money on a skin doctor so I continued to put up with the rash until I got righteously angry over it one night. The Spirit strongly impressed me to curse the rash from the roots repeatedly and speak healing over the back of my hand until it was gone and that’s exactly what I did. I cursed the rash, commanded it to die and leave my body; and then blessed my hand, loosing healing and health. Guess what happened? The rash completely disappeared, but it took a while—nine weeks, in fact— and I had to be stubbornly tenacious, especially when it would reoccur after starting to die out. This is perseverance or following through. Faith and the Word of God are not enough in such cases; you must add perseverance, which is patience. The Bible emphasizes that it’s through faith and patience that we inherit what is promised, not just faith:
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
I said above that it took nine weeks for the healing to manifest. What if I gave up on week 8? The healing wouldn’t have manifested. This shows that you have to persevere when you practice the Word in order for it to produce lasting fruit.
Now consider adding perseverance to something else entirely, like your pursuit of truth and all that goes with it; i.e. acquiring knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Notice what Jesus said:
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”
John 8:31-32 (NRSV)
The Christ said that only those who continue in His Word—persevere in it—will know the truth, not those who give up after a season of seeking and studying. He also didn’t say that those who conveniently and lazily embrace the official doctrines of this or that sect will know the truth. No, only those who continue in God’s Word will know the truth; and the more you continue—honestly seek and study—the more knowledge, understanding and insight you’ll have. Persevere in God’s Word and don’t give up!
The Last Three Keys
Applying the first four keys to your faith—goodness, knowledge, self-control and perseverance—will result in fruit in your life. In other words, these four keys guarantee the fruitfulness of God’s Word. They each concern the planting, cultivation and fruit-bearing of the Word.
The last three keys, by contrast, involve walking in love in our relationships, starting with the LORD (“godliness”), then fellow believers (“mutual affection”) and, lastly, people in the world (“love”). The reason this is important is revealed in this passage:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
Galatians 5:6 (NASB)
Our covenant with God is a covenant of faith and therefore it works through faith; and faith works through love. If you cancel out love you cancel out faith and your covenant won’t “work” as it should.
With this understanding, let’s freshen up on our main text and then consider the fifth key, which is godliness:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (4) Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
(5) For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; (6) and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; (7) and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (8) For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (9) But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
2 Peter 1:3-9
5. Adding Godliness
The Greek for “Godliness” in the Bible is not the same as the Greek for “religion.” The former is eusebeia (yoo-SEB-ee-ah) whereas the latter is thréskeia (thrays-KIH-ah). Notice how the Greek scholar E.W. Bullinger distinguishes the two words:
Eusebeia [godliness] relates to a real, true, vital, and spiritual relation with God while thréskeia [religion] relates to the outward acts of religious observances or ceremonies, which can be done in the flesh. Our English word “religion” was never used in the sense of true godliness. It always meant the outward forms of worship (Bullinger 335).
So godliness refers to genuine spiritual relationship with the LORD as opposed to religion, which refers to outward religious acts. Godliness cannot be performed by the flesh whereas religion can.
Godliness could simply be translated as “like-God-ness.” In other words, it’s behaving and speaking as the Lord would behave and speak. You could say it’s imitating God, which we are plainly instructed to do in the Bible (Ephesians 5:1 & 1 Peter 4:11). There are two ways to do this. One is to find out what the Word of God instructs and simply put it into practice. Since this is already covered in verses 5-6 of our main text—i.e. adding self-control to knowledge—this is not what verse 6 is talking about when it says we’re to add godliness. No, godliness in this context refers to loving God in a different way than obeying His Word (1 John 5:3); it’s referring to loving Him in a relational sense.
How would this make a person godly; that is, like-God? Simple: The more time you spend with a person, particularly someone you love and respect, the closer you’ll become and the more like him or her you’ll naturally be. It’s the same thing with your relationship with God. The more time you spend with Him, the closer you’ll become and the more like Him you’ll be. The LORD will “rub off” on you and you’ll thus be increasingly like-God or godly.
With the understanding of what godliness is, we are encouraged to pursue it in the Bible:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
(11) But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance [and] gentleness
1 Timothy 6:10-11
We’re also encouraged to train ourselves to be godly:
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. (8) For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:7-8
(NOTE: Both “godly” in verse 7 and “godliness” in verse 8 are the same Greek word, the aforementioned eusebeia).
I’m citing these two passages to stress that godliness—which is an active and increasingly intimate relationship with the LORD—won’t automatically happen; it must be pursued and you have to “train yourself” to habitually walk in it. This is understandable when you consider that all good relationships take time, energy, attention and discipline. It’s no different with your relationship with God.
Godliness Vs. Religion
As noted above, godliness and religion are altogether different. Godliness refers to an active relationship with God and the corresponding “rubbing off” effect where you become increasingly like-God whereas religion relates to outward acts of service and devotion. Religion in this sense is good as long as the person balances it out with godliness. However, religion without godliness devolves into sterile go-through-the-motions religiosity.
Godliness involves both simple communion with the Lord and praise & worship. I have to be careful how I word this because I don’t want to be taken the wrong way, so please read with discernment:
Of course it’s better to enter into praise & worship once or twice a week in the assembly of the saints than not at all, that’s a given. But celebration and adoration of God should become more of an everyday thing as the believer grows. Praise & worship should flow out of us as naturally as water from a spring (Hebrews 13:15). This is the way it should be for growing believers and more seasoned ones alike. But something’s seriously wrong if praising and worshipping God becomes mere outward antics at church services. When this happens, the believer is essentially just putting on an act because he or she is around other believers, but it’s not a reality in his/her personal life. Beware of falling into this mode because it’s a form of legalism—counterfeit “Christianity”—which Jesus denounced when he quoted Isaiah:
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
It’s possible to praise & worship God with our mouths and yet not really mean it with our hearts. Please be careful to never slip into such a legalistic mode!
Believe it or not, churches sometimes unknowingly facilitate this problem. They put so much stress on coming to every church service and being involved in the church that believers end up running around like headless chickens doing this or that for the ministry, which leaves very little time for the most important thing, their relationship with God. This is especially so when you factor in other life essentials like work, kids, education, shopping, cooking, physical fitness, rest and recreation.* In other words, believers are so pressured to run around doing this or that so their pastors will deem them faithful and godly that they don’t have time and energy for the very things that create true godliness—personal time spent with the LORD and His Word.
* Yes, some measure of recreation is essential: “There’s a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
This could just as easily happen to pastors and worship leaders or musicians. Such people become so involved in the work of the ministry that they forsake the core of all Christian service, the Lord himself. The story of Mary and Martha applies here:
As Jesus and the disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. (39) She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. (40) But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
(41) “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, (42) but only one thing is needed, Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was so focused on the busy-ness of working for the Lord that she unintentionally forsook what was most important—spending time with him and “listening to what he said,” an obvious reference to spending quality time with the LORD personally and His Word. In fact, Martha was so involved with the work of her service—her ministry—that she got mad at someone else who was free of such concerns and spending personal time with the Lord. So mad, in fact, that she started demanding things from the very One she was supposed to be serving! She TOLD the Lord, “Tell her to help me!” This is what religion without godliness does to people: It corrupts them to the point that they end up having the very opposite attitude they should have.
Serving God is a wonderful thing, but don’t be foolish like Martha and get your priorities out of whack. Think about it, the Living Lord was AT HER HOUSE—the amazing miracle-worker—and all she does is run around in a whirlwind of activity? Mary chose what was more important on this occasion and Jesus even commends her for it. There’s a time for doing works of service for the Lord, of course, but there’s also a time for your relationship. The latter’s more important because our service for the Lord must spring from our love for Him. Otherwise it’s just religious works or, worse, putting on a show.
E.W. Bullinger noted above that godliness in the sense of communion with the Lord and worship cannot be performed by the flesh, whereas religious acts can. The flesh gets uncomfortable during praise & worship or intimate prayer. It can’t handle godliness, but it’s perfectly fine performing religious works, including going to church, taking notes, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with these activities, as long as they’re balanced out by godliness. The flesh is comfortable working for the Lord or doing things in the name of being devotional rather than spending relational time with Him, which was the case with Martha.
Adding Mutual (Christian) Affection and Love
As noted at the beginning of this chapter, the last three virtues we’re instructed to add to our faith in 2 Peter 1:5-7 have to do with walking in love in our relationships. “Godliness” has to do with loving God in a vital relationship whereas the next two virtues—“mutual affection” and “love”—have to do with loving 1. fellow believers and 2. people in the world.
These last two qualities stem from two well-known Greek words for love. The Greek for “Mutual affection” is often translated as “brotherly kindness” in other English versions and that’s how the original NIV renders it. The revised NIV obviously changed it to “mutual affection” to make it more applicable to all believers, whether male or female (Galatians 3:28). The Greek word for “mutual affection” or “brotherly kindness” is philadelphia, which is where the name of the American city was derived, “The City of Brotherly Love.”
Adding philadelphia love to your faith simply means walking in love toward your brothers and sisters in the Lord with the emphasis on growing in affection, meaning warm feelings.
By contrast, the Greek word for the seventh virtue—“love”—is agape (ag-AH-pay), which doesn’t primarily refer to affection, but rather practical love.
To understand the difference of these two types of love let’s look at…
The Four Types of Love
Storge love is familial love. It’s the bond, affection and loyalty that develop between family members. Although the word itself, storge (STOR-gay), is not found in the Bible we see numerous examples of it, like Martha & Mary’s love for their brother Lazarus in John 11.
Unfortunately family members don’t always develop storge love for each other and instead develop hatred. A couple examples from the Scriptures are Cain & Abel (Genesis 4:1-11) and Joseph & his jealous brothers (Genesis 37).
Phileo love is friendship love or brotherly love like the platonic affection of David and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:25-26). Both phileo (verb) and philadelphia (noun) stem from the same word, philos (FEE-loss), which refers to a friend or someone who’s dearly loved in a non-romantic sense. You could say that phileo love is storge love applied to non-family members or that storge love is phileo love applied to family members. In either case, there’s an element of “tender affection” or a bond. The word phileo (fil-LAY-oh) can be found some 25 times in the original Greek text of the New Testament. The noun form, philia, appears much less often.
Jesus had phileo love—that is, warm affection—for Martha, Mary and Lazarus, as observed here:
(5) Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
(35) Jesus wept. (36) Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
John 11:5, 35-36
Eros love is phileo love between members of the opposite sex, but heightened to a romantic level. It doesn’t, however, refer to shallow sexual lust. Although the word eros (eer-ROSS) doesn’t appear in the original manuscripts there are many examples of this type of love in the Scriptures. One overt instance can be observed in the amazing Song of Songs. Here’s a passionate expression of love in that book where the man is speaking to the woman:
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
Song of Songs 2:14
Agape love is simply practical love or love-in-action and is therefore not dependent on affection (although it obviously includes affection in cases where phileo love, storge love and eros love apply). This can be observed in the Scriptural definition of agape love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, which says that agape love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude or selfish or easily angered, etc.
The word ‘love’ in the most popular passage of the Bible is agape:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The Creator was walking in love toward all humanity when the Father allowed the Son to die in our place as our substitutionary death. This was agape love, practical love, and not phileo love.
Phileo Love is Not Necessary to Agape Love
With this understanding, you don’t have to have phileo love for people—warm affection or respect—to agape love them. Why? Because agape love refers to practical love and has little to do with affection; that is, liking the person. This explains how we can fulfill Jesus & Paul’s instructions to love our enemies (Luke 6:27 & Romans 12:20-21). Do you like your enemies, that is, phileo love them? Of course you don’t. But this isn’t a problem because we are not commanded to phileo love our enemies, we’re told to agape love them. Are you following? This explains why agape love is often defined as “unconditional love” since it is practical in nature and, again, not dependent upon liking an individual or how well they treat you.
However, I should stress that agape love does not refer to only the nicey-wicey kind of love. Agape love is love-in-action and refers to doing the kind thing or good thing for the person in question. Are you truly being kind or good by condoning something that will eventually ruin or destroy a person? Or, worse, enabling them? This explains how Jesus—who is love because “God is love” (1 John 4:8)—was able to chase the fools out of the temple with a whip, yelling and throwing over tables (Mark 11:15-18); or when he rebuked Peter as “Satan” (Matthew 16:23). His actions may not have been nice, but they were kind and good because they benefited the people. See the article Gentle Love and Tough Love for more details (there’s also a video version).
In light of all this, allow me to point something out that you won’t hear very often: God is agape love and so He loves (agape) the world, just as the most popular passage states, John 3:16. What this means is that God is extending practical love to all human beings even though unbelievers are unregenerated “objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-5). I was only saved and “made alive with Christ” because of God’s great agape love!
However, God doesn’t phileo love everyone, that is, have tender affection for them. He doesn’t have a close bond with everyone. For instance, do you think God is up there observing the many pedophile priests and saying, “Oh, I just have so much warm affection for these sick perverts?” Do you think the LORD was close buddies with Hitler? Of course not. There’s so much false teaching about love in the body of Christ because people don’t understand the different types of love. One doozy is that agape love never existed in the human race until spiritual rebirth was made available through Christ. Poppycock! While it’s true that spiritual regeneration and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit heightens the believer’s ability to walk in agape love this doesn’t mean practical love didn’t exist before the Church Age. People who teach such things apparently never actually read the definition of agape love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, which we’ll look at momentarily.
(For details on the four types of love see this video).
“Come Near to God and He Will Come Near to YOU”
The Bible says that the Father phileo loved Jesus when Jesus was on earth (John 5:19-20). Why? Because Jesus imitated the Father, that is, he was godly—like God. As such, Jesus grew in God’s favor (Luke 2:52). We too can grow in God’s favor by coming near to Him (James 4:8, 2 Peter 3:18 & Ephesians 5:1).
Think about it in terms of a “teacher’s pet,” in a positive way. The pupil is the teacher’s pet because she honors the teacher and is compliant. She does her homework and strives to do well on tests. If she offends the teacher she readily apologizes. The teacher will naturally have phileo love for such a student—affection and respect—but not for a student who’s aloof and shows contempt. Of course the teacher will care about the latter student because the noble instructor unbiasedly cares about all his students. He wants each one to learn, mature and be successful in life. But when the student is foolish and disrespectful there’s only so much the teacher can do. The teacher will walk in agape love toward such students—practical love—but he will not have phileo love for them. Why? Because they’re fools who regard the teacher with contempt. All the instructor can do is continue walking in agape love toward them—including praying for them and tough love when appropriate—in the hope that they’ll positively respond at some point and turn from their folly.
Let’s relate this to you and God: YOU can grow in God’s phileo love just like the teacher’s pet! “Come near to God and he will draw near to YOU.” It’s an axiom—a universal law. Strive for a closer relationship with your Creator. Cultivate a more intimate prayer life, which is simply talking with the LORD. Paul instructed us to “pray without ceasing,” which indicates a 24/7 bond of communion (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Love God by obeying His instructions, both the general instructions from the written Word and the specific instructions of the living Word, the Spirit of Christ (1 John 5:3). As you do this you’ll grow in God’s favor just as surely as Jesus Christ did when he was on earth (Luke 2:52) and others as well, like Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26). Peter put it like this:
But grow in the grace [i.e. favor] and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
2 Peter 3:18
Just as important as it is to grow in the knowledge of the Lord, it’s also vital to grow in God’s grace; that is, his favor. DO IT. This is adding godliness to your faith as covered earlier.
Now that you understand the four types of love, let’s separately look at adding “mutual affection” and “love” to our faith.
6. Adding Mutual (Christian) Affection
In the context of 2 Peter 1:7 “mutual affection” refers to loving our brethren and sistren in the Lord. Again, the Greek word for “mutual affection” is philadelphia, which corresponds to phileo love. The Bible repeatedly encourages us to phileo love—philadelphia love—our Christian brothers and sisters:
Be devoted to one another in love (philadelphia). Honor one another above yourselves.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, (4) not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
What if every believer started seriously loving his or her fellow Christians by honoring them above himself or herself—selflessly looking to the interests of other believers? It would be revolutionary!
Now about your love (philadelphia) for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love (agapaó) each other.
1 Thessalonians 4:9
Believers are to phileo love one another—cultivate tender affection in our relationships. Again, if every believer did this it would be revolutionary!
The second time “love” appears in this verse it’s the Greek word agapaó (ah-gahp-AH-o), which is the verb form of agape. It’s much easier to agape love someone when you have phileo love for them, which is the way it’s supposed to be with all genuine believers. If you find it extremely difficult to muster phileo love for someone who says they’re a Christian, but who is typically obnoxious due to arrogance and fleshly traits it’s likely that you’re dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sad but true.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love (philadelphia) for each other, love (agapaó) one another deeply, from the heart.
1 Peter 1:22
Let’s apply this verse to us: Now that we’re spiritually regenerated Christians and therefore have genuine affection—phileo love—for our fellow believers let’s be sure to agape love one another—that is, walk in practical love toward each other—and let it stem from the heart, that is, the warm affection of phileo love.
Hebrews 10:24 instructs us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Do this in accordance with your particular grace gifts:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; (7) if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; (8) if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Utilize whatever gift you have to bless your brothers and sisters in the Lord. My gifts are teaching and encouraging. What are yours?
7. Adding Agape Love
Adding “love” in the context of 2 Peter 1:7 refers to walking in love toward those who are lost and dying in the world. As already noted, the Greek word for ‘love’ here is agape, which refers to practical love as shown in this popular passage:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (5) It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (6) Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (7) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
(8) Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Allow me to restress an important point: Since agape love is practical love, it doesn’t require phileo love in order to walk in it (or storge love or eros love). You don’t have to have any affection or respect whatsoever toward an individual to agape love him or her, which explains Jesus and Paul’s instructions to love our enemies. You don’t have to have warm feelings or respect for your enemies to agape love them because the Biblical definition of agape love shows that it’s practical in nature.
Nor does agape loving someone one mean always being sugary-sweet nice. Yes, agape love is kind, but sometimes the kindest thing you can do for a person is boldly tell them the truth. Why? Because only the truth will set him/her free. Christians aren’t mandated to be nice; we’re mandated to be good. And sometimes doing the good thing for a person or situation isn’t the nice thing; but it is the right thing, as long as you’re led of the Holy Spirit.
That said, you should only take the tough love route if it’s absolutely necessary and more gentle measures have proven ineffective.
The Bible encourages us to add agape love to our faith because it’s easy to get saved, hook up with a fellowship/sect and not have much to do with unsaved people. It’s so easy to get preoccupied with activities within Christian circles that we forget about the multitudes captive and hurting in this lost, dying world. There are Christians who pretty much refuse to have anything to do with unbelievers, not unlike the Israelites during Jesus’ era who shunned Samaritans. Let’s not be like that! Jesus wasn’t. He went out of his way to talk with the outcast Samaritan woman and ministered to her (John 4:4-26). He agape loved her. Even though Christ was called specifically to “the lost sheep of Israel” he ministered to a Canaanite woman and, indirectly, her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28).
What are some ways that you can agape love unbelievers? Pray for them regularly, consider ways to bless them, do a good deed, share the message of Christ, “turn the cheek” when necessary and, by all means, don’t be a Pharisaical hypocrite.
Here’s a good passage:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
1 Peter 3:15
The important thing is that you don’t forget the lost on your Christian pilgrimage and act like they don’t exist. Be sure to agape love them!
Adding the Seven Virtues Guarantees Spiritual Growth
This ends our study of the seven virtues from 2 Peter 1:2-11. The passage encourages us to “make every effort” to add these qualities to our faith because they guarantee spiritual effectiveness, productivity and growth. It’s no accident that there are seven virtues because the number 7 signifies completeness or completion. Notice what Paul said to the Philippian believers on this:
I thank my God every time I remember you. (4) In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, (6) being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
While Paul was confident that the Lord would carry on to completion the good work He started in the believers at Philippi, it would only happen if they were attentive to adding the seven virtues to their faith. Do you want to be productive in your Christian walk and go on to maturity, to completion? Of course you do. Then diligently add these qualities to your faith on a regular basis!
This teaching was edited from Dirk’s book The Four Stages of Spiritual Growth:
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