The 14th Sunday After Pentecost September 2, 2007
2 Peter 1:1-10
548 (1-3), 548(4-6), 380, 36
Editor’s Note: This week’s sermon was first written for a Pastoral Conference. Keeping this in mind will help explain some of the references and the emphasis on the application to pastors. Though originally written for a group of pastors, we pray that this sermon will be a blessing to all. Every child of God is called by the Savior to serve others with the Gospel whether we are called to an office of the public ministry or not.
It was the third time that broke his heart. Twice Jesus had asked and twice Peter positively affirmed: “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you” (cf. John 21:15ff). There was neither rebuke in Jesus’ voice nor skepticism. Now, this third time, it wasn’t Jesus’ question at all but Peter’s bitter memory that pained him. Peter was made to know that human love and ardor for the Lord are not, could never be, sufficient to stand alone against the world’s threats.
But upon each answer, Jesus concluded the exchange with “feed My sheep.” Despite Simon Peter’s collapse into fear and denial, the risen Savior knew Peter’s repentant heart. Peter was not only accepted once more into the circle, but his apostleship was affirmed. The calling remained for him to labor in the Church of Christ, to serve the risen and triumphant Savior for the remainder of his days.
The Holy Spirit produced two epistles by Peter’s hand in which he addresses the Christian church in general; but to those who, like Simon Peter, have served the church in the public ministry (pastors, teachers, etc.), his words have a special resonance. As we examine the second of these epistles, we will see how he speaks to us, to encourage and equip us as servants of Jesus Christ. We read 2 Peter 1:1-10:
Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.
Every servant of the Lord is in a position to share the Word with people in their various situations in life. Members and acquaintances alike may look to us for answers in spiritual things and for an example of a truly Christian life. Many are the times that a pastor must recognize how inadequate he is for those expectations; and woe to the shepherd who comes to assume that he is in fact the paragon of virtue and pinnacle of wisdom.
Christians may be tempted to drift into a heady sort of confidence about life and the way things go. But it never suits us well to forget how we came to have wisdom or profound confidence about life. Paul says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Indeed, our entrance into the Kingdom of God and into His service is by no means a matter of our virtue, but of God’s grace. Peter states this right from the start in the greeting of his epistle: “…to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” [v.2]
We stand with Simon, the son of Jonah, as sinful and frail human beings, who many times have fallen short of the glory due God’s creatures. We have a history of failures, which the Law of God will expose time and again. Still, when we are haunted and afflicted by the knowledge of our weakness and the memory of our sins, we are comforted to hear that they have been covered by God’s grace—drowned in the flood of Christ’s holy blood. A living Jesus is not only our message to others, it is a constant assurance to ourselves.
But it is so easy for us to lose sight of grace and to think that we can stand on our own. That is why it is a fallen and restored disciple, a seasoned and tested shepherd, who urges us to build a spiritual vigor on the foundation of that saving faith. Make no mistake, by our faith we have become “partakers of the divine nature,” and have “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But,” Peter adds, “for this very reason…add to your faith virtue.” [vv.4-5]
Virtue refers to moral strength, the ability to stand and act boldly upon your principles. If this faith brings us into fellowship with a holy God, faith will show itself in a steadiness and conviction that binds us to God’s word and not on the shifting sands of human thought.
Add to virtue “knowledge.” [v.5] The concept of knowledge is central to this epistle of Peter. He is anxious to equip the church against false teachers who would lead us into destruction. The knowledge that matters is the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the sessions of a pastoral conference, pastors come together with the earnest desire to add knowledge so that we may “Be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God; [workers] who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15). After leaving a pastoral conference, it is the pastors’ goal to return home and use what they learn in ministering to the souls of the congregation—to build others’ knowledge in the salvation of our Lord.
To knowledge add “self-control.” [v.6] Let us daily pray that the Holy Spirit will give us strength to control the lust of our flesh including the passions that sometime rise up unexpectedly when dealing with others. May we stand firm against the barrage of sinful suggestions and false notions that can wear down our resistance to sin.
To self-control add “perseverance.” [v.6] Remember, as the apostles undoubtedly did, the patient endurance of our Good Shepherd as He went to the cross, bore the weight of our sins, and endured ridicule and abuse for the sake of those who would be saved through the message preached by His under-shepherds.
Self-control is empty without “godliness,” [v.6]—a quality worked in us by the Spirit to reflect God’s goodness, truth, and love. May the time we spend before the Word and Sacrament make us fruitful in all godliness.
Godliness demonstrates itself in “brotherly kindness.” [v.7] One of the greatest joys in the pastoral ministry is the rich fellowship and love we have for one another. Pastors have to guard against either a divisive spirit among fellow laborers, or a false “old boys club” atmosphere that stifles honesty and accountability. But such brotherliness is even more challenged in our congregation, where there is more of a variety of backgrounds and understandings. Let us always check our own words and assumptions about others, and “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Brotherliness, finally, becomes an opportunity for “love” [v.7]—for the outworking of God’s love toward man in our every action and words toward others. May God’s love be in you.
Where our confession of faith in Jesus’ righteousness is adorned and confirmed by such Spirit-bred qualities, neither despair over our faults, nor heady conceit over our abilities, will be able to carry us away. “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” [vv.10-11] Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.