Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Life Verse for the American Church

"... To boldly go where no one has gone before."

A mission statement can help you filter ideas, activities, and choices based on how they correspond to your priorities. Remember when "life verses" were popular? I suppose some people still do that, but there was a time when it seemed like everyone had a life verse — basically a mission statement or philosophy of life. It's not a bad idea.

In fact, I think the church in America needs one. We need this one:

... make every effort to add to your faith goodness;
and to goodness, knowledge;
and to knowledge, self-control;
and to self-control, perseverance;
and to perseverance, godliness;
and to godliness, brotherly kindness;
and to brotherly kindness, love. (2Pet 1:5-7)
These verses are important because they highlight for us that we're supposed to striving to be characterized by more than one thing.

Let's back up and look at the context. Verse three is very important: "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." Jesus has given us what we need. We have the tools at our disposal. We have the power at our disposal.

"Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature ..." (v4). He has also given us great gifts. He has blessed us beyond comprehension.

"For this very reason ...." Because Christ has given us all the tools and power we need, and because he has blessed us so richly. God always seems to remind us of what he's done before asking us to do anything. So, in light of what Christ has given us ...

"make every effort to add to your faith goodness"
Make every effort. I kind of like the King James version: "giving all diligence." This reminds me of "train yourself for godliness." He's telling us to work. To work hard.

What are we working hard at? "Add to your faith goodness." Faith is vital to the Christian life. But we can't stop at faith. Too many churches preach faith to the exclusion of all else. Peter says we have to add goodness to our faith.

Some versions translate this "virtue." Commentators tend to agree that this is referring to a horizontal goodness. Or, as Peter put it elsewhere, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1Pet 2:12). Or as someone else put it, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt 5:16).

Someone will object that we're saved by faith. Yes! But a faith that produces results. "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds" (James 2:18).

"and to goodness, knowledge;"
Faith and virtue are not enough to be a mature Christian. You need knowledge. This is anathema to much of Evangelicalism, but I didn't write it. Talk to the apostle.

What knowledge? Definitely knowledge of God. "This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom/or the strong man boast of his strength/or the rich man boast of his riches,/but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me ..." (Jer 9:23-24). Knowledge of God is more than knowing about God, but it is not less. We have lots of alleged Christians who acknowledge that God is love without understanding that he is holy and just. Or they acknowledge that he is all-powerful without seeing that he must also be all-knowing. Bad theology kills. We cannot afford it.

But this is more than just knowing about God. We cannot "contend for the faith" (Jude 1:3) or "be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Pet 3:15) without knowledge. Christians today have more access to the collective wisdom of our brothers in Christ, both from this century and generations past, than any other generation ever. We have no excuse for the ignorance so many are proud of. Ignorance is not godliness. Ignorance is laziness and pride.

"and to knowledge, self-control;"
Paul spent a lot of ink telling us to be self-controlled. He even talked about fighting with his own body to keep it under control (1 Cor 9:27). Because "Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control" (Proverbs 25:28).

Temptation is going to come. Can you control yourself? This fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:23) is also something you have to strive to add to yourself.

"and to self-control, perseverance;"
The prosperity gospel is a cancer on Christianity and every land it touches. This verse will fight that.

If someone told you that becoming a Christian would make all your problems go away, they lied to you. The Master himself said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). Paul said, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim 3:13). Don't expect all sunshine and rainbows. Expect trouble. Set your heart for it so that when it comes, you'll be able to "suffer long."

And don't tell people this lie that they shouldn't have trouble so that they don't fall away when trouble comes. Hmm. That reminds me of a parable.

"and to perseverance, godliness;"
Godliness? Like "goodness?" The commentators say you could translate this "reverence" or "piety." Where "goodness" was being right with people, this is being right with God. What does God value? Besides love, faith, and kindness, humility gets a lot of press (Micah 6:8, James 4:10). He is the Creator; you are the created. Respond appropriately.

"and to godliness, brotherly kindness;"
"Brotherly kindness"—the Greek is a word you may be familiar with: philadelphia. The idea is simple: "As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). This command shows up in some form throughout the New Testament. It's echoed by Peter, Paul, James, John, and whoever wrote Hebrews. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

"and to brotherly kindness, love."
This one is agape. Besides being devoted to the body of Christ, we must show love to God and to neighbor. Did you think we'd get through instructions on godly living without hitting the Great Commandments? But in a sense, this just sums up what came before. If we love God and everyone else the way he told us to, we'll do everything else in this list.

This doesn't sound easy or fun. Why should we do this, Peter? "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" (v8).

Who wants to be useful? Does anyone aspire to walking into heaven with nothing to show for their time on earth? This is your time to serve your Lord and Savior. This is your time to earn your rewards. This is your chance to show the people in your life what it looks like when someone really follows Jesus. One day you will stand before your Lord. It will be a blessed time, but the time for working will be over. Send treasure on ahead.