Bible Study with Jairus-2 Peter 1-4

Supplement Faith with Virtue: Diligence is an Important Virtue

Let’s continue to explore how 2 Peter 1 explains the steps of spiritual growth. As we have studied before, our faith can be compared to a seed. As Peter discusses at the beginning of the chapter, we already possess God’s power, just like a seed already possesses all the potential to grow from an acorn into a full-grown oak tree. The seed of faith already contains all the power of the glory of God, as well as all the excellence of Christ (or virtue of Christ—these two words were used interchangeably). Yet even though we already have God’s power, we need to develop this power through faith. We are called to take hold of the glory and excellence of Christ. Because he has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, as well as great and precious promises, we can progressively break free from the corruption that is in the lustful world and eventually become partakers in God’s nature.

We have also mentioned that the Bible not only reveals God’s character but also his guidance. The former reminds us of the apostles’ ministry, since the apostles explained God’s character as revealed in his word, while the latter reminds us of the prophets’ ministry, since the prophets help us understand the guidance of the Holy Spirit in different situations.

Peter teaches the importance of diligence. The Apostle Paul compares Christian workers to farmers, soldiers, and athletes, three careers that require diligence. Peter acknowledges the same thing. Paul writes that a soldier should not get entangled in civilian pursuits; an athlete must compete according to the rules; and a farmer should work hard (2 Timothy 2:4-6). In the same way, Christians must devote themselves to God’s pursuits, unencumbered by civilian pursuits; they must compete according to the rules; and they must be hardworking like a farmer. In the same way, Peter recognizes that believers must be diligent in order to grow in the divine life. Second Peter 1:5 begins with the words, “Make every effort.” This indicates diligence. We are to be diligent to supplement faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love (1:5-7). In this way, we avoid being “ineffective and unfruitful” (1:8).

In addition, Peter says, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent” not to fall, so you can enter the eternal kingdom of the Lord Christ (1:10-11). Our goal is the glory of the “eternal kingdom of the Lord Christ,” and we must continuously grow in virtue, knowledge, and other character qualities that are mentioned in progressive stages. If the eternal kingdom of Christ is that towering oak tree, then virtue, knowledge, love, and the other qualities would be the root, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit of the oak tree. Each stage of development requires God’s glory and virtue to be “richly provided” to us (1:11) so we can achieve the glory of God (revealed in the Transfiguration). To obtain these supplies and grow spiritually in every stage of life, we need diligence and hard work.

Faith is important, but so is diligence. God speaks against laziness in Proverbs 10:4: “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4). The same truth applies to the spiritual life. The problem of many American Christians is spiritual laziness. A spiritually lazy person cannot make progress in life. In this message, we will explore the importance of diligence and how to obtain an abundant supply of God’s glory at each stage of life. If the spiritual life can be compared to a growing tree, it makes sense that Christian workers need to work hard to make the tree keep growing. Like a farmer, the Christian must work hard to tend the tree and make sure it has what it needs to grow.

Faith is the Root

Some time ago, the grass in some parts of my lawn was washed away by rain. I sprinkled some grass seed on the law, assuming that the grass was hardy and would grow on its own. What I didn’t realize was that it would take weeks for grass seeds to germinate. Since I didn’t have time to water the grass seed every day, none of it grew. The same often happens when I try to grow Chinese vegetables. Gourds have seeds with thick hulls and take a long time to germinate. Often, they don’t germinate at all.

One day, I watched a video that demonstrates how to germinate gourd seeds. You should nick the hulls with nail clippers and soak them overnight. Then they will germinate quickly. I tried this method, and it worked. But after germination, my job wasn’t finished. I needed to provide good soil, fertilizer, and constant watering so that the gourd would take root. This is true not only for vegetables, but for any plant. For a seed to grow into a tree, it needs the right conditions in order to germinate and the right supply of sunlight, soil, and water in order to take root.

What about the seed of faith? The same truth applies. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus speaks of seeds that were sown in suboptimal conditions, such as hard-packed soil, rocky soil, or weedy soil (Matthew 13:4-7). These are difficult places for seeds to germinate. The Lord Jesus specifically talks about the seeds that fall on the shallow rocky ground: “Where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away” (Matthew 13:5-6). In the same way, Peter knows that we Christians should be like hardworking farmers so we can take good care of the spiritual “tree.” He understands that the conditions must be right for the spiritual “seed” to take root.

This is what Peter teaches in 2 Peter 1:5: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…” What is virtue? Peter tells us clearly in 2 Peter 1:3. Virtue is the virtue of Jesus, revealed in his humanity. And the glory of Jesus Christ mentioned in verse 3 refers to His divinity. Jesus Christ is both God and man.

The seed of faith is an incorruptible seed, as Peter clearly states. He says in 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Just like grass seeds and gourd seeds could never germinate without the life force contained in the seeds, our spiritual lives could never germinate without the power of God. The seed of faith contains God’s power for regeneration, but in order for this seed to take root, it requires a constant supply of virtue. Without soil, water, fertilizer, and other external conditions, this potential for life could never be released.

Believers already have the seeds of the divine life in them, so why has their spiritual life not taken root and grown into a big, fruit-bearing tree? Because they lacked these optimal external conditions. In order for the divine life to grow inside us, we need the virtue of Jesus, the Son of Man. We must supply the seed of faith with an ample supply of the virtues of Christ. This is necessary for our faith to take root. We must constantly apply Christ’s finished work to our life. His character is our example to learn from. We need to be rooted in Christ throughout our entire life journey.

For example, one virtue that Christ demonstrates is obedience through suffering. Though Jesus was and is the Son of God, he still learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Obedience is an important part of virtue, and it is a quality that we must possess if we want to be used by God. God emphasizes this when he talks to King Saul. When King Saul disobeyed God’s command, Samuel told him, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23). Samuel had told King Saul to wait for him before offering the sacrifice, but when Samuel came late, Saul offered the sacrifice without him. God had a serious rebuke for him. Yet many Christians disobey God in similar ways today. Disobedience and rebellion hinder many believers’ growth.

If we continually disobey God, we may become less sensitive to His Spirit’s promptings. For example, when a Jesus-follower watches an obscene video that the Holy Spirit has asked him not to watch, he does not obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit. As time goes by, his conscience becomes less and less sensitive, and the Holy Spirit eventually lets him do as he wishes. Many Christians disobey God in small matters, and eventually, these small sins develop into major spiritual problems.

Obedience is a very important spiritual lesson, but it can be hard to learn. Just as the Israelites learned the lessons of faith and obedience in the wilderness, so must Christians today. Often the lesson of obedience is harder than the lesson of faith. Teenagers often struggle with disobedience and rebellion, and many adult Christians act just like teenagers. I mentioned this while speaking to a group of Christian teenagers in the United States. Though there are many Christians in the United States, they are often immature. Compared to other countries that have fewer Christians, American Christians have underdeveloped spiritual lives. The biggest problem they face is rebellion. Many other under-evangelized countries are full of people who do not know God’s law or believe in God (as Paul mentions in Romans 2). But the problem with American Christians is that they do know God’s law and are even acquainted with God Himself; yet they don’t obey Him (see Romans 2). In a country like China, which has yet to be evangelized, it is necessary to spread the gospel so that more Chinese people come to know God. Meanwhile, if you tell an American about Jesus Christ, he may say that he has known about Jesus since he was five years old. He may know more about the Bible than you do! Yet the large population of Christians in the United States is making very little positive impact on society. Why? Mainly because of their disobedience. Therefore, American Christians urgently need to develop the character quality of obedience so that they can take root in Christ and allow the great tree of the kingdom to grow more luxuriously in their lives.

I was born into an idol-worshiping family in China. Our family worshiped false gods, which is a serious sin. However, according to Samuel’s rebuke in 1 Samuel 15, American Christians who know God and the Bible yet disregard God’s teaching and guidance, are doing the equivalent of worshiping idols. Many American Christians don’t seem to think about this serious sin. They don’t believe idolatry exists in the United States. But disobedience to God is, in fact, a form of idolatry. There is a lot of idolatry in the lives of American Christians. When we remain unaware or unconcerned about such serious spiritual problems, God’s discipline will catch us by surprise. God may hand us over to our enemies, just like he handed the Israelites over to their enemies when they fell into idolatry. Why are American Christians being handed over to their enemies? Why are they helpless in front of repeated attacks from the Left? I believe the root of this problem is idolatry, stemming from disobedience to God.

Some American Christians have awakened to this fact and are actively participating in politics, hoping to change the political status quo and impact the rampant leftism in the United States. This is certainly a very important endeavor, and I believe it will bring positive outcomes. But we should not forget that the root of this spiritual problem is the individual Christian’s disobedience to God’s word. The root is idolatry. Many American Christians are not rooted deep enough in Christ. Thus, when trials come, they dry up and become fruitless. This is just one example of disobedience that helps us understand Peter’s warning. We must provide the seed of faith with an ample supply of virtue and obedience so we can take root in the life of Christ and grow into a flourishing spiritual tree.

Diligence Supplements the Virtue of Christ

I once saw a photo of a tree growing by a cliff. Since there was no place for it to take root, it kept extending its roots downward until they reached the soil at the bottom of the valley. There was a long section of tree roots suspended in the air. Many trees, especially pine trees, possess a tenacious vitality and can take root on rocks. Similarly, grass and some small shrubs can actually grow in the cracks in the middle of highways, which demonstrates their tenacious vitality. It’s amazing how diligent these plants are in seeking soil, nutrients, sunlight, and rain. However, the colloquialism “couch potato” indicates the exact opposite of diligence. This term refers to lounging on the couch, watching TV and doing nothing. Many Christians are spiritual “couch potatoes.” They may have a Bible, but it just sits on a shelf collecting dust. It has been years since these Christians were saved, yet they have never read the Bible from cover to cover. They also fail to pray. They don’t have a habit of communicating with Christ. They live their entire life in the realm of the mind and rarely enter the realm of the spirit. As a result, they cannot draw on the power, life and virtue of Christ or become rooted in God.

The power of God has given us all that pertains to life and godliness, through our full knowledge of the glory and virtue of Christ, (that is, His divinity and humanity). Through the glory and virtue of Jesus Christ, He has given us great and precious promises, so that we may escape the corruption that is in the lustful world. Through these promises, we may become partakers of the divine nature. These are the words of 2 Peter 1:3-4, and we have heard these truths many times.

The power of God is contained in the seed of faith, but this seed needs proper external conditions in order to germinate. It needs water, sunlight, and proper care. Without these conditions, the seed cannot germinate or will die shortly after germination. After the seeds begin to grow, they need to grow and take root. Only after taking root can they grow into a big tree, which represents the kingdom of God. That’s why Paul teaches, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7). Once we accept Christ, we must continue to follow the teachings of the apostles in order to be strengthened in our faith. In this way, we will be rooted and built up in Christ. We must live like Jesus did and acquire his virtue.

Peter understands the same truth: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'” (1 Peter 2:4-6). Peter acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. He unifies Jews and Gentiles and lays the foundation for our faith (Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11, Isaiah 28:16). We are living stones that are built on this “spiritual rock” and grow into a living temple (1 Corinthians 10:4). Peter’s metaphor of a spiritual temple mirrors the metaphor of a growing plant. We must take root in Christ, the foundation, so we can grow into a spiritual temple.

Conclusion

Next time, we will discuss how to “supplement virtue with knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5), and what it means for Christians to grow spiritually. The word “virtue” refers to all the excellence of Christ’s humanity, and the word “knowledge” refers to knowing about Jesus Christ through God’s revelation. We must recognize and apply these truths so we can be rooted in the virtue of Christ.