Knowing and Growing: 2 Peter 1:1-21
“Growing in Knowing”
If you knew you were soon to die, what would you want to tell other people before you went to be with the Lord? Would you want them to know how much you love them? Would you ask them to take care of one another once you’re gone? Would you write down the details of your funeral? All those are good and important things to write.
But what if one of the things you wrote was a letter of warning to your Christian friends to stay spiritually alert, to live godly lives, and avoid false teaching? That’s what the apostle Peter did to the churches of Asia Minor around 64 A.D., just before he was executed by the Roman Emperor, Nero.
If anybody in the early church knew the importance of being alert, it was the apostle Peter. He had a tendency in his early years to feel overconfident when danger was near and to overlook the Master’s warnings. Peter rushed ahead when he should have waited; he slept when he should have prayed; he talked when he should have listened. He reacted in his own strength when he should have watched and imitated Jesus. He was a courageous, but careless Christian. Can anybody relate?
But Peter learned his lesson, and he wants to help us learn it too. I find this extremely encouraging! God is not done with me yet, and he’s not done with you yet, either. We are a work in progress…PROVIDED we stay in the hands of God like the clay remains in the hands of the Potter.
So, Peter wants to get a final word across to his fellow believers that is of utmost importance. The Lord IS going to return and He IS going to judge all people of the world. We can’t go on with life as usual—as if our beliefs and our behaviors don’t matter—or else we will find ourselves under the same judgement as an unbelieving world.
While his first letter emphasized the grace of God, in his second letter, Peter emphasizes the knowledge of God. The word knowledge or to know is used 13 times in this little 3-chapter epistle. Gnosis (to know) in Greek means far more than just intellectual or head knowledge.
It means, according to Warren Wiersbe, a “living participation in the truth, in the sense that our Lord used it his great prayer of John 17—This is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. To know God is to put our whole trust in God and in the future God has for us.
Considering the imminent return of the Lord, the focus on godly living is of utmost importance. With godly living as the backdrop, this letter is broken into four parts. This morning we are going to look at two of those four parts, which are found in the first chapter. Next week we will round out the letter by looking at the other two parts in the last two chapters. Here we go!
PART 1: Growing in Knowing
The first part, found in the first 11 verses, focuses on growing in godliness. What do we mean when we say godliness? To me, godliness means to be the image-bearers of God. We are to REFLECT the nature and character of the Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
[Hold up Eclipse Glasses]. Tomorrow we will witness a celestial event that most of us will only experience once in a life-time…a total solar eclipse . Raise your hands if you were alive June 8, 1918. Nobody? That’s right because you would be 99 and we don’t have any members quite that old. Well, if you lived in Alaska in 1970 you might have see a total eclipse before. So, this is kind of special, isn’t it.
Every day the sun shines over our heads (even when we can’t see it) and every evening the moon is shining somewhere. Where does the moon gets its light? From the sun. It REFLECTS the light of the sun. Where does the sun get its light? It creates it, doesn’t it. All its power and light emanates from itself. The moon simply reflects that which is already established by its greater light, the sun.
We are like the moon. We don’t have any power, God does. Listen again to these opening words: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” Later Peter says the promises of God’s glory and excellence enable us to “share in his divine nature.” To live a life of godliness, then, is to share in the divine nature of the Almighty, and to reflect his nature to a lost and hurting world.
How are we able to claim this marvelous, glorious promise? By coming to KNOW him, the One True God, and Jesus whom he has sent. Some of us know ABOUT God. We may even know LOTS of scripture and may even believe the scriptures are good and helpful for living a good life. But we don’t really KNOW the AUTHOR of those scriptures.
Here’s why? Because we still think we can control the outcome of our lives as long as we control the information. We pray, but not to the extent that God gets control of us. We may read scripture, but not to the extent that the scripture READS US and causes us to adjust our lives according to God’s Word. In fact, that’s what Peter is getting at when he talks about the dangers of false teachers and teachings. I’ll get to that later.
To KNOW God is to LIVE IN PARTICIPATION OF THE TRUTH. We can say we LOVE God, but if we don’t obey the TRUTH of God’s Word, we violate that love relationship. We say we love God, but are indifferent about the marginalized in our world. We say we love God, but turned a deaf ear to the cry of the oppressed and poor. We say we love God, but avoid sharing with others the hope we have within us because of Jesus. To KNOW God is to LIVE IN PARTICIPATION with God in his mission to expand the reign and rule of God in the world.
Let me ask you a question: When people see you, are they likely to connect who YOU are with who GOD is? That’s what godly living does. Our relationships at home, at work, at school, in the marketplace “should” reflect the God of grace and the power of Christ’s resurrection. Does my life do that? Does yours?
So, Peter offers some ways in which we grow in our knowledge of God. While some scholars suggest that these are building blocks leading up to the most important blocks, others believe that there is no particular order of importance to them. Here’s what Peter says:
“Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.”
The Greek word, epichorégeó, literally means “to supply” or “furnish abundantly.” This word is translated in our Bibles as “supplement” or “add to,” meaning that, on top of our faith, we also need these things. I would suggest that a better understanding would be to FEED our faith with these things: knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love for everyone.
Let me see if I can summarize all of this. Our loving heavenly father, by his divine power, is the supplier of all we need to live for Him. Through our faith in Jesus Christ and our willingness to participate in God’s way of life and truth, we can live lives that radiate the glory of God. So, we FEED our faith by growing in our understanding of WHO God is through his Word, by allowing the divine power of God to work in our lives when we exercise self-control over our thinking and behavior and when we patiently endure all that we must go through in this world as followers of Jesus Christ. Our faith is fed when our lives reflect the character and nature of God, when we show Christian love for the family of God, AND as we turn that love out to a lost and hurting world.
Wow! That’s a mouthful and mindful, isn’t it? Peter doesn’t stop here. He gives us good reason for FEEDING our faith. As we do, we are more useful we will be in the kingdom of God. The opposite is also true. If we “fail” to develop in what can easily be called the spiritual gifts that Paul references in Galatians 5, then we are blind to the fact that we are dangerously close to looking like we did when we lived in our old sins.
In other words, we may have the form of Christianity, but lack its power! In fact, we are in danger of being hypocrites…counterfeits. Bank tellers are trained to detect counterfeit bills NOT by studying fake money, but by studying REAL bills. When God is looking at us, will be seeing the real deal, or a close “look-a-like” Christ-follower?
No wonder Peter felt the need to write this last letter before his death. He wants us to KNOW the Lord and to GROW in our knowledge as we FEED our faith that He alone supplied us. Spiritual growth is NOT automatic; it requires our COOPERATION with God. As Paul tells the church at Philippi: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
Knowing and Growing proves that we really are the called people of God, the chosen royal priesthood, as Peter puts it in his first letter. There’s a promise we receive. As we grow in our knowledge and love of God and others, we will never “fall away.” We absolutely WILL receive the keys to the kingdom or our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but that’s a set of keys I can’t afford to lose!
It’s important to Peter then, and is important for us now, to not only KNOW that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but also to SHOW that He is by the way we grow. Apparently, there were new Christians in Asia Minor who had come to doubt the validity of Jesus’s claims that he would in fact return to earth. And if that couldn’t be trusted, what else was untrue? And that leads us to the Second Part of this morning’s text: Wake Up and Remember!
Peter reinforces his claims by his own testimony, explaining that he was there when Jesus was transfigured on that mountain and spoke with Moses and Elijah. He heard the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” His readers must pay close attention to what the prophets of old said about the Messiah because Peter himself saw it fulfilled! He’s telling them to REMEMBER the TRUTH of the Gospel and STAY TRUE to it.
And WE, too, can have confidence in his testimony and in Jesus’s fulfillment of prophecy. If we remain steadfast, not believing any wind of doctrine that might blow us to and froe, we will not loose our faith. On the other hand, if we choose to believe other myths based on our own experiences or feelings, we are in danger of walking away from our faith when times get tough.
Imagine a woman who grew up in the church. She knew all the right scripture, sang all the right hymns. Never missed Sunday School or worship. Then one year tragedy struck. Her 17-year-old daughter was driving home from work one evening, was hit by a drunk driver, and killed instantly. Two months later, her mother (only 71) died of a heart attack. Later that year, she discovers she has inoperable ovarian cancer and is given less than a year to live.
The faith of this woman—this pillar of the church—collapsed under the weight of tragedies. It seems her love and devotion to God was based on God’s benevolence toward her. All her life, she had experienced relative comfort and happiness. Now all she knows is grief and loneliness. How could a good and loving God allow all this bad to happen to one of his own children?
Friends, this can happen to any of us. We are told in many places in scripture that trouble WILL come…suffering WILL come……hardship WILL come…division WILL come…intolerance, hatred, and evil WILL come…death WILL come…BUT JESUS HAS OVERCOME THE WORLD. Trouble, suffering, inequity, division, intolerance and hatred, even death will NOT separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Peter is telling us to REMEMBER the truth of the Gospel!
If we grow in our knowledge of Christ BEFORE trials and troubles come, we will be strong to withstand all that life can throw at us. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 3:17 , “your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” And THAT is why we gather week after week, both in worship and in Life Groups…to praise God and to build each other up into mature followers of Jesus, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. This is good stuff, ya’ll. We know so we can grow. AMEN.