In our study of 2 Peter 1:5-9 I didn’t give any attention to the seven qualities that Peter instructs us to add to our existing faith. For those who might want to study them further, I have taken the comments of Dr. Tom Constable on this passage and provided them below. Dr. Constable was a professor of mine at Dallas Seminary. If you would like to see his comments in their entirety you can click here.
THE BELIEVER’S NEEDS 2 Peter 1:5-9
Having established the believer’s basic adequacy through God’s power in him and God’s promises to him, Peter next reminded his readers of their responsibility to cultivate their own Christian growth. He did so to correct any idea that they needed to do nothing more because they possessed adequate resources.
“In this beautiful paragraph Peter orchestrates a symphony of grace. To the melody line of faith he leads believers to add harmony in a blend of seven Christian virtues which he lists without explanation or description.”27
Since believers have resources that are adequate for a godly life, we should use them diligently to grow in grace (cf. 3:18). Escaping the corruption of lust takes effort (cf. 1 Tim. 6:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2). It is possible to frustrate the grace of God by having “faith without works” (James 2:20).28 Therefore we must apply all diligence. This is the most basic requirement for experiencing effective Christian growth (cf. vv. 10, 15; 3:14).
“Spiritual growth in the Christian life calls for the strenuous
involvement of the believer.”29
“The Christian must engage in this sort of cooperation with
God in the production of a Christian life which is a credit to
“Spirituality, then, is a choice. It does not come automatically or inevitably.
“Indeed, if the Christian fails to add ‘virtue’ to his faith, his faith will soon become what James described as ‘dead faith’ (James 2:14-26). Its vitality and productivity will disappear. In fact, Peter says this same thing in his own way in v. 8, 9.”31
To his faith, as a foundation, the believer needs to add seven qualities with God’s help. Each virtue contributes to the total growth of the saint. Note that Peter placed responsibility for attaining them on the Christian. Though, again, we can only make progress in godliness as God enables us.
“The Christian life is like power steering on a car. The engine provides the power for the steering, but the driver must actually turn the wheel. So the Lord provides the power to run our lives, but we must ‘turn the wheel.’ To a great extent the Christian determines the course of his life.”32
Peter said add in and mix together, as in a recipe, the following ingredients to produce a mature godly life. He used a literary device common in his day to impress upon us the importance of giving attention to each virtue.
Unlike other New Testament ethical lists (except Rom. 5:3-5) Peter used a literary device called sorites (also called climax or gradatio). Sorites (from the Gr. soros, a heap) is a set of statements that proceed, step by step, to a climactic conclusion through the force of logic or reliance upon a series of indisputable facts. Each new statement picks up the last key word or phrase of the preceding one.33 Other examples of sorites are in Romans 8:29-30; 10:14-15; and James 1:15. We should not infer that before we can work on the third virtue we must master the second, and so on. This literary device simply arranges the virtues in a random order but presents them so each one receives emphasis. The total effect is to create the impression of growing a healthy tree, for example, in which several branches are vital.
Often children want to grow up faster than they can. They sometimes ask their parents to measure their height again, perhaps only a week or two after their last measuring. The wise parent will tell the child not to be so concerned about constantly measuring his or her growth. Rather the child should give attention to certain basic activities that will insure good growth over time: drink your milk, eat your vegetables, get enough exercise and rest. This is the spirit of Peter’s advice.
“Moral excellence” (Gr. areten) is virtue or goodness (v. 3; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9). Moral purity and uprightness of character through obedience to God are in view. This Greek word describes anything that fulfills its purpose or function properly. In this context it means a Christian who fulfills his or her calling (i.e., Matt. 22:37-39; 28:19-20; et al.).
“Knowledge” (Gr. gnosis) refers to acquired information. In particular the Christian needs to know all that God has revealed in His Word, not just the gospel (cf. Matt. 28:19-20).
“Gnosis here is the wisdom and discernment which the Christian needs for a virtuous life and which is progressively acquired. It is practical rather than purely speculative wisdom (cf. Phil 1:9).”34
“Self-control” (Gr. egkrates) means mastery of self, disciplined moderation, controlling one’s desires and passions (cf. Prov. 16:32; 25:28; Acts 24:25; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Gal. 5:23; Phil. 3:12-16; 1 Tim. 4:7-8; James 4:17). Many of the early Christian heresies taught that since the body was evil (some claimed) or unimportant (others claimed) it was not necessary to curb fleshly lusts, only to think correctly.
“Any religious system which claims that religious knowledge emancipates from the obligations of morality is false.”35
“Perseverance” is the need to keep on keeping on in spite of adversity. It is patient endurance in holiness when we encounter temptation to give in or to give up (cf. Rom. 5:3-4; 15:4-5; 2 Cor. 1:6; 6:4; Col. 1:11; 1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:4; James 1:3). The Greek word (hypomonen) literally means to remain under something, such as a heavy load.
“Many folk have the wrong concept of what patience really is. They think it means sitting in a traffic jam on the freeway in the morning without worrying about getting to work. Well, that is not patience. It just gives you an excuse for being late to work. Patience is being able to endure when trials come.”36
“Godliness” (Gr. eusebeia) refers to behavior that reflects the character of God (cf. v. 3; 3:11; et al.). It presupposes a desire to please God in all the relationships of life.
“Brotherly kindness” (Gr. philadelphia) is thoughtful consideration of fellow believers (cf. 1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8; Rom. 12:10; 1 Cor. 12:25-26; 1 Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1). Overt acts of kindness manifest this characteristic (Gal. 6:10).
“Love” (Gr. agape) is the highest form of love, God’s kind, that seeks the welfare of the person loved above its own welfare (John 3:16; 13:35; Gal. 5:22; 1 Pet. 4:8; et al.). It reaches out to all people, not just fellow believers.
This list of qualities begins with those inside the believer and progresses to those he or she demonstrates outwardly. It moves from private to public qualities. This list begins with faith (v. 5) and ends with love. Another shorter virtue list that begins with faith and ends with love is in 2 Corinthians 8:7.
“Christian faith is the root from which all these virtues must grow, and Christian love is the crowning virtue to which all the others must contribute. In a list of this kind, the last item has a unique significance. It is not just the most important virtue, but also the virtue which encompasses all the others. Love is the overriding ethical principle from which the other virtues gain their meaning and validity.”37
This is a good checklist that helps us evaluate whether we are all that God wants us to be. These are the traits of a maturing Christian whose faith is vital, not dead.38
“Their presentation here seems to observe an order from the more elemental to the more advanced, but they are all of them facets of the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer, aspects of the glory of the indwelling Christ, his character shown in the Christian’s character.”39
Each child in a family bears some resemblance to his or her parents while at the same time remaining distinctive. So each growing Christian normally manifests similarities to Christ and yet remains different from every other Christians.
27Gangel, p. 865.
28Hiebert, Second Peter . . ., p. 51.
29Ibid., p. 50.
30Michael Green, The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude, p. 67.
32Barbieri, p. 96.
33See H. A. Fischel, “The Uses of Sorites (Climax, Gradatio) in the Tannaitic Period,” Hebrew Union
College Annual 44 (1973):119.
34Bauckham, p. 186.
35Hiebert, “The Necessary . . .,” p. 46.
37Bauckham, p. 193.
38See Frederic R. Howe, “The Christian Life in Peter’s Theology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 157:627 (July-
39Stephen W. Paine, “The Second Epistle of Peter,” in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1458.