2 Peter 1:5-7 “The Christian Life, Part 2a: Faith Produces Love”
“And for this very reason, by applying zeal, supply to your faith excellence. And to excellence, knowledge. And to knowledge, self-control. And to self-control, endurance. And to endurance, godliness. And to godliness, brotherly love. And to brotherly love, love.”
It is necessary to understand the immediate context before venturing any further. Peter has just explained the gracious and generous gift of salvation (everything for life and godliness) from Christ. The verses before us are hinged on that explanation. The command stated here to supply to your faith does not suggest that there is something lacking in the security or reality of genuine faith. To think otherwise dismisses the entire argument of the previous verses where it is plainly stated that Christ has already granted everything for regeneration and sanctification (life and godliness). It is therefore essential that we see faith here as already being in the possession of the readers (1:1). Peter is not demanding a legalistic or works-based righteousness. He is simply following the example of all New Testament writers as he issues imperatives that naturally flow from indicatives. The reality of Christ’s gift assumes a response from those on whom it is bestowed.
In short, it is on the basis of Christ’s gift (vv. 3-4) that Peter demands his readers to strive for maturity. It is because of this generous gift that Peter here demands and describes spiritual maturity and growth. This growth is presented as a golden chain that flows from faith to love, and thus covers the entire breadth of the Christian life. In this chain are seven virtues, presented as gems that adorn and define this Christian life.
Maturity Demanded (v. 5a)
“And for this very reason, by applying zeal, supply to your faith excellence.”
The link back to vv. 3-4 is made with the initial καὶ (and). The demonstrative pronoun τοῦτο (this) points to the whole of what precedes while αὐτὸ (very) intensifies and emphasizes what Peter points to. It is because of this very thing that Peter makes his demand.
The main verb that drives Peter’s exhortation is buried rather deeply in this first line, yet it is the aorist imperative from ἐπιχορηγέω that controls this verse. Translated as “supply” (NASB) or “add” (NKJV) this verb carries the idea of providing what is necessary to support someone/thing with emphasis upon the fact that this provision comes at one’s own expense. The aorist aspect indicates a strong command that is not up for debate. This action is to be carried out immediately and fully. “Your faith” (ἐν τῇ πίστει) expresses the indirect object of this action while the accusative case of the following virtue chain (vv. 5b-7) reveals what is to be applied. Plainly stated, Peter commands that this list of qualities be applied to the readers’ faith. We’ll continue to flesh this out in due time, but first we should notice how Peter demands that his readers supply this provision.
The participle from παρεισφέρω (applying, giving) explains the means by which the readers are to supply the following chain to their faith. It is through the application of all zeal (σπουδὴν πᾶσαν) or by giving all diligence to the matter at hand that Peter’s audience is now commanded to apply these virtues to their faith. The sense is quite plain: they must become busy with the task of actively and vigorously supplying their faith with the following chain of qualities.
After examining the syntax of this command, it is now necessary to make a few notes. First, we must understand that the readers are not commanded to supply their faith. Peter has already made it quite clear that their faith, which they share with Peter and the apostles (v. 1), is a gift from the Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 3-4). Faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8-10) that one cannot conjure up but can only receive in humility through repentance. To this we must add that Peter does not indicate that believers must add or supply what is lacking to their faith, for he has already stated that in this gift Christ gave everything for life and godliness. It is not that there is something lacking in their faith, but there is a requirement of participation in their faith.
Second, when we read faith (πίστις), we do not suppose that Peter has in mind faithfulness as some suppose. Rather, it is a reference to the object of belief and trust. The command drives these believers to join action to what they know and believe to be true. The orthodoxy expressed in vv. 3-4 summarizes the content of what they believe. To this Peter demands that a strict orthopraxy is added.
Third, just as this text does not indicate that faith is somehow deficient, neither does it advocate any kind of works-based righteousness or legalistic sanctification. It is important that we do not confuse legalism with obedience. Legalism seeks to earn favor with God through external works. Christian obedience seeks to follow God because of the grace He has shown. The two could not be more different. While the gospel is a gospel of grace alone, the New Testament is forever commanding believers to act upon their faith. Grace never cancels out the need for strenuous moral effort.
Modern evangelicalism has much more in common with the false teachers Peter warns against than the churches to whom he writes. Any call for obedience from the pulpit is immediately answered by a cry of “legalist!” from the pew. The idea of Christian libertarianism, where Christians are at liberty to do whatever they desire so long as they claim the name of Christ, has become mainstream. While this idea is popular among evangelicals, it is a foreign concept to Christians. The Scriptures contain 5922 imperatives or commands. Of those, 1637 are found in the New Testament. Conclusion: there are a lot of commands given in Scripture. God has freely and graciously bestowed the gift of salvation upon His elect. But that demands, rather than excuses, the elect roll up their sleeves and get to work. The indicatives of salvation in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone assume and demand the imperatives of obedience. As Davids writes, “We do not automatically become more virtuous as if God infused virtue into us intravenously; we need to make plans and expend effort.”
Maturity Described (vv. 5b-7)
The objective faith of Peter’s audience is the center pendent to which the following virtues are commanded to be vigorously applied or added. Each virtue is an additional link in what will become a chain. Grammatically, we should read the imperative “supply by applying all zeal” before each virtue. Each of these are hereby ordered to be added or supplied to the faith. This is where what we do is joined to what we believe.
As we read through this list, we will undoubtedly see a connection between the various virtues, but we should not see them as rungs in a ladder. For example, there are many observations we can make connecting our knowledge of the faith to the self-control which our faith demands. But it would be completely erroneous to suggest that we must first master all knowledge before applying self-control. This is not a ladder to be climbed so much as it is a chain that requires all links to be connected and intact. There is, however, a logical flow of thought.
The first jewel in this golden chain of faith (excellence) observes faith from the outside looking in. Here we see how outsiders should perceive our faith. From there, Peter moves in to view the internal workings of the faith (knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness) as the believer grows in Christlikeness. Finally, Peter reveals how our faith should impact others (brotherly love, love).
Outward Perception (v. 5b)
“Supply to your faith excellence.”
The first quality in this chain links us back to the description of Christ’s effectual call (v. 3). There “excellence” (τὴν ἀρετὴν) described the revelation of Christ’s sinless humanity and His uncommon moral character. That same quality is here demanded to be applied to the Christian faith. It is not a stretch to imagine that Christ desires His people to appear like Him. It is imperative that Christians strive to apply an objective excellence to their faith.
It has been said that Christians should make the gospel attractive by the way they live. That is true so long as our terms are properly understood and defined. Nowhere in Scripture will you see any hint of commands for believers to make the gospel appealing to the unregenerate. The gospel of righteousness will never seem appealing to those who hate righteousness. Christ did not reveal Himself in such a way to appeal to the rebellious masses but rather revealed Himself to be objectively praiseworthy. This is the sense here. Even while the masses hated Christ, there was never a charge that they could bring against Him. He spoke the truth, obeyed the law, and committed no sin. Objectively speaking, nothing about Jesus was worthy of condemnation and everything about His person, character, and deeds were worthy of praise. To their objective faith, Christians must supply an excellent lifestyle of this same caliber. That is what it means to make the gospel “attractive.” Why evangelicals insist upon improving upon the thoughts and words of Scripture I will never know.
Vertical Progression (vv. 5c-6)
“And to excellence, knowledge. And to knowledge, self-control. And to self-control, endurance. And to endurance, godliness.”
The next four qualities are aimed at the Christian’s internal life and personal relationship with Christ. These virtues describe who this person really is rather than who he appears to be. To the outward perception of excellence Peter now commands that knowledge is to be added. While he uses the more basic form here (τὴν γνῶσιν), Peter’s thought is running along the same line as the knowledge (ἐπιγνώσει) of God and of Jesus our Lord (v. 2) as well as the knowledge (τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως) of Him who called us (v. 3). Christians must increase in their knowledge of God, Christ, and the Scriptures.
Too many Christians spend their entire lives in ignorance of their faith. Christianity is no blind faith. Those who believe without knowing are fools and deserve all the scorn that others will undoubtedly throw at them. Christians must not provide the fuel for such scorn. The connection between excellence and knowledge is not progressive (as we have already warned against) but communicative. What we know of our faith informs how we should live excellently. Likewise, this excellence is defined by what we know.
In addition to knowledge, self-control (τὴν ἐγκράτειαν) must be supplied to the faith. Paul used this same noun to describe one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23) as well as the adjective form to describe one of the qualifications of an elder (Tit. 1:8). The term describes the ability to restrain one’s impulses or emotions. A man who is self-controlled is not ruled by his passions, desires, or emotions. Throughout this list, Peter has been preparing his readers for his warning against false teachers, who are virtually a point-by-point antithesis of what he here demands of believers. The inclusion of self-control is an obvious sideways glance at these wolves among the sheep who are ruled by their passions (2:2, 10, 13, 14).
The connection between knowledge and self-control should be obvious. Rather than emotion and desires controlling our lives, Christians are controlled by what they know to be true. “Because I want to” or “because I like it” are never valid reasons for the Christian. Believers are commanded to hold our emotions in check with an iron grip informed by what is right, what is true, and what God has said.
The next link in this chain of faith is endurance or perseverance (τὴν ὑπομονήν) depending on the translation. This term could be translated by several different English terms like patience, endurance, steadfastness and perseverance. This term is a favorite of James (1:3, 4; 5:11) and assumes a context of adversity. Any sort of perseverance or endurance in view is in the context of difficulty or trial. The biblical authors never use this term as the secular world does. To the world, endurance is simply the ability to bear the weight of the burden or to continue to place one foot ahead of the other. While perfectly describing the English “stiff upper lip,” this fails to understand Peter’s idea. It is true that ὑπομονή describes the capacity to bear up and continue on, but this capacity is fueled by an anticipation of the trial’s end. Christians continue to strive for holiness knowing that they will one day be glorified with Christ (Rom. 8:28-30). Christians endure trials knowing that trials are temporary (1 Pet. 3:13-17). But most importantly, Christians persevere and remain in the faith because they know and anticipate the victorious return of Jesus Christ. The context of 2 Peter demands that we understand this perseverance and endurance as describing Christians who continue as Christians. They do not fall away, apostatize, or become converts of the false teachers. The practice of self-control which is informed by knowledge fuels the determination to persevere.
Godliness (τὴν εὐσέβειαν) completes these internal qualities that mark an individual’s true relationship with God. This term also links us back to v. 3 and the description of Christ’s gracious gift. All that we have said about this term is repeated here. Godliness or well pleasing describes the attitude and actions that are found pleasing to God. If Christ has already given us everything to live and to please Him, then we are commanded to zealously endeavor to supply our faith with thoughts and deeds He approves of. The link between godliness and perseverance is informative. It is one thing to bear up under trials or endure hardships, but is God pleased with the way in which we endured? The world may cheer any man who drags himself up from the ash pile by his bootstraps, but the Lord is pleased by the one who clings to Him.
To repeat our earlier warning, these qualities are not steps in a program to be completed in order but are links in a chain. This chain began with an objective view from the outside before moving in to reveal the heart, head, and hands of those who Christ called to be His own. Peter concludes his list with virtues that describe the outward results of these internal qualities.
Horizontal Production (v. 7)
“And to godliness, brotherly love. And to brotherly love, love.”
The sixth link in the chain is brotherly love (τὴν φιλαδελφίαν) or brotherly kindness (NASB). The Greek term is the root of Pennsylvania’s most historic city: Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. The term describes the affection and love of familial relationships. There are certain expectations and assumptions to be made in the context of close relationships. A child assumes that his mother will supply the necessary band-aid to a scraped knee and that his father will provide the means to put food on the table. These assumptions are not made by those outside the family because they do not share the source of such actions. The source being the relationship of family.
Likewise, Peter speaks of love between brothers and sisters in the Lord. There are a certain number of assumptions that can be made (or should be made) in the context of the local church body. If a member is in need, there is an assumption that the body will meet those needs. This brotherly love does not describe warm feelings so much as it describes the actions of overt kindness and love toward the family.
It is impossible to love the world and the unregenerate in this way because they do not share any relation with the church of Christ. Lenski says it well when he writes, “The godly must cling together like so many brothers of one family, like so many friends, in close friendship and friendliness. There can be no Philadelphia for the ungodly but only complete severance from them.” It is not that the unbelieving world is excluded from this chain, but this virtue is exclusively aimed at the relationship between believers.
As the chain begins with faith, so it ends in love (τὴν ἀγάπην). Too many bad sermons have pitted φίλος (love) against ἀγάπη (love) by stating that the former means “like” and the latter means “love.” As we have already stated, this is devoid of sense and fact. In reality, φίλος is no less loving than ἀγάπη. The difference is not found in the quality of the love, but rather the motivation of the love. Believers love the brethren motivated by their common relationship (φιλαδελφία). Believers are commanded to love the world based on nothing except the world’s need. The love Peter has in mind here is devoid of sentiment as a motivator. God did not like the world or feel strongly for the world when He gave His only Son (Jn. 3:16). His love was based purely on the fact that without His Son, the world would perish. His love was not driven by emotion or based on an existing relationship. His love (ἀγάπη) took only the world’s benefit into account. To their faith, Peter demands that his audience zealously supply love, the decision to benefit another without consideration of self.
It is noteworthy that Peter has moved from faith to love. The gift of faith that Christ has already supplied must result in love as if flows through each link in the chain. It would be wrong to think that a Christian can have one or two of these qualities without the others. This chain is presented as all or nothing. That doesn’t mean that every Christian has developed all these qualities to the same extent, but if any of these qualities is missing completely, there is reason for concern. After all, Christ has already given His elect everything for life and godliness. Christians are reborn into this world with the tools of their trade. Now they are commanded to put them to work.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 264.  Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006), p. 177-9.  D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 50-3.  Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 298-9.  Davids, p. 179.  Hiebert, p. 52.  Lenski, p. 267-8.  Schreiner, p. 300.  Lenski, p. 269.